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Prior Knowledge

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Pettit's 'Freedom as Non-Domination'

Philip Pettit (see his book 'Republicanism') promotes a notion of republican freedom to contrast with the liberal one. The liberal notion of freedom is that of non-interference. Often, the literature distinguishes freedom as non-interference, sometimes called negative liberty, from positive liberty. Positive liberty is freedom in the sense of self-mastery. However, freedom as non-domination is distinct from both negative and positive liberty. Unlike those in the liberal tradition, Pettit makes domination, rather than interference, the antonym of freedom.

Someone has dominating power over another if
(1) they have the capacity to interfere
(2) on an arbitrary basis
(3) in certain choices that the other is in a position to make.

An act of interference is arbitrary if it is subject only to the judgment of the interfering agent. In such a case, the decision to interfere is made without reference to the interests of those who are interfered with. So, an interfering act is arbitrary because the procedure whereby the decision to interfere was taken was not subject to controls that forced the act of interference to track the interests of the person affected.

Further, we are concerned only with the relevant interests of the person affected rather than with all of her interests. For example, I may have an interest in the state punishing convicted offenders. However, once convicted of an offence, I may also have an interest in the state making an exception just this once by failing to punish me. In this case, the relevant interest is the one I share in common with others rather than the one that treats me as an exception. If the state punishes me, this act of interference is not conducted on an arbitrary basis and does not represent domination.

Consent to interference is not a sufficient check against arbitrariness and domination. A slave, for instance, is dominated by the owner even if the former voluntarily contracts into slavery. Entering into a voluntary contract is consistent with its consequences being objectionable on grounds of asymmetries of power.

Domination can occur without interference. A dominating agent – the power-bearer dominates the power-victim simply by having the capacity to interfere arbitrarily. Interference can occur without domination. A public official may interfere in a way that is forced to track the interests of citizens. Since such interference is not arbitrary, it does not translate into domination over the citizens.

Pettit wants to maximise non-domination through a constitutionally bound authority that ensures that citizens do not dominate one another while itself being bound by constitutional means to not dominate citizens.