Phil 103: Freedom, Rights and Justice

Phil 103:
Freedom, Rights
and Justice Freedom in context
Iris Marion Young (1949–2006)
Ideals of self-development (vs oppression) and
self-determination (vs domination)
The concept of structural oppression
The five faces of oppression:
1.  Exploitation
2.  Marginalization
3.  Powerlessness
4.  Cultural imperialism
5.  Violence
Young’s innovation
“Iris Marion Young’s Justice and the Politics of Difference (1990) was a
watershed text in social and political theory that presented a bold challenge to
contemporary theorizing about justice. Perhaps the most striking, and, in my
view, fruitful, aspect of this remarkable book is Young’s decision, announced in
the introduction, to analyze justice first and foremost in terms of injustice. With
this simple move, Young turned existing accounts of justice on their heads,
and, in the process, revealed what makes them woefully inadequate: their lack
of attention to extant injustices, a lack that results in their inability successfully
to envision how such injustices can be ameliorated. Throughout Justice and
the Politics of Difference, Young argues convincingly that our thinking about
justice must begin with reflection on injustice, which she conceptualizes
primarily in terms of the notions of domination and oppression.”
—Amy Allen, “Power and the Politics of Difference: Oppression,
Empowerment, and Transnational Justice,” Hypatia 23(3) (2008): 156.
Non-ideal theory
“Rawls’s theory [of justice] is ideal in several interrelated methodological
senses: he prioritizes principle over practice; he relies on a fictional reasoning
process; and his theory is designed for an imagined world that lacks many of
the problematic aspects of human nature and human society. By contrast,
Young’s method is nonideal: it prioritizes practice over principle; it respects the
reasoning of actual people; and it addresses the nonideal world of structural
inequality and cultural difference.”
—Ann Ferguson and Mechthild Nagel, “Introduction”, Dancing With Iris:
The Philosophy of Iris Marion Young (Oxford University Press, 2009), 12.
Multi-dimensional picture of freedom
•  The quest for freedom for all—understood as self-development and selfdetermination—requires progress on a number of fronts:
redressing exploitation,
cultural imperialism, and
•  Legal rights will play a role, but cultural norms also need to be challenged
and change, and economic systems will need to be reformed.
The politics of freedom
Liberal responses to Young
A worry about the heavy hand of the state and the reduction of freedom:
Liberal responses to Young
A worry about the heavy hand of the state and the reduction of freedom:
Recall, for instance, Brennan and Lomasky’s critique of Pettit’s policy of nondomination within marriage:
“Although the state can and should impose restrictions on physical
intimidation by one spouse over another, it is powerless to erase the
vulnerability of one to another. To be bound by significant emotional ties
to another is in no small measure to have put one’s fate in that person’s
hands. Accidents (disease and death) befalling one party profoundly affect
the other, as does withdrawal of affection. The only preventive measure
that could avert such risks is to avoid all intimate relationships and to place
one’s affections in deep freeze. This is a cure far worse than the disease. In
the domain of human relations, vulnerability is not a flaw, but rather a mark
of achievement. External agencies may have a role in limiting damage
when good affairs go bad, but it would be insanely hubristic to adopt a
goal of rendering people immune to the arbitrary will of significant
—Brennan & Lomasky, “Against Reviving Republicanism”,
Politics, Philosophy & Economics 5, no. 2 (2006): 244.
Liberal responses to Young
•  This is a romantic view of the marriage relationship, which portrays it as a
sphere of intimacy and reciprocity;
•  It overlooks the ways in which the marriage relationship has been
(historically) and still is in many cases shot through with structural and
systemic forces of exploitation, violence and powerlessness (or at least
power imbalances) and even cultural imperialism (to the extent that
dominant meanings in society are authored predominantly by men).
The rhetoric of preserving the family context from intervention by the heavy
hand of ‘external agencies’ can in fact serve to protect the privileges of male
heads of households, at the expense of women.
In other words, the rhetoric of freedom from intervention serves to legitimate
the situation in which genuine freedom is denied to certain social groups, in
this case women.
Freedom as ideology
Case study: Criticisms of corporate power and neoliberalism
Freedom as ideology
Case study: Criticisms of corporate power and neoliberalism
George Monbiot, environmental activist and journalist
•  From a recent collection of short essays:
How Did We Get Into This Mess? (Verso, 2016)
Freedom as ideology
The global market exists because of the state, not apart from it:
“In reality, the free market is a political construction, that often has to be
imposed through violence, such as Suharto’s massacres in Indonesia,
Pinochet’s coup in Chile and the suppression of protests against structural
adjustment and austerity all over the world.”
—How Did We Get Into This Mess?, 3.
Freedom as ideology
The uneven playing field of the global market:
“Far from being a neutral forum, the market is dominated by powerful
agents – corporations and oligarchs – who use their position to demand
special treatment: contracts, handouts, tax breaks, treaties, the crushing of
resistance and other political favours. They extend their power beyond
their trading relationships through their ownership of the media and their
funding and control of political parties.”
—How Did We Get Into This Mess?, 3f.
Freedom as ideology
The rhetoric of freedom:
“Freedom of the kind championed by neoliberals means freedom from
competing interests. It means freedom from the demands of social justice,
from environmental constraints, from collective bargaining and from the
taxation that funds public services. It means, in sum, freedom from
democracy. The negative freedom enjoyed by corporations and
billionaires (freedom to be or to act without interference from others; as
defined by Isaiah Berlin in his essay Two Concepts of Liberty) intrudes
upon the negative freedom the rest of us enjoy. […] The freedom of the
elite from democratic restraint limits other people’s freedom from hunger,
poverty and brutal conditions of employment. It limits free access to
health and education; freedom from industrial injuries; freedom from
pollution, addiction, loan sharks and confidence tricksters. Freedom for
the financial sector means speculative chaos, economic crises and bailouts
for which the rest of us must pay.“
—How Did We Get Into This Mess?, 4.
Freedom as ideology
How would J.S. Mill respond?
Freedom as ideology
How would J.S. Mill respond?
A violation of the harm principle!
“… power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilised
community, against his will, […] to prevent harm to others.”
—On Liberty, I, p. 17.
Freedom as ideology
How would J.S. Mill respond?
A violation of the harm principle!
“… power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilised
community, against his will, […] to prevent harm to others.”
—On Liberty, I, p. 17.
Yet structures of advantage and disadvantage mean that the liberty of the few
is prioritzed over the liberty of the many…
•  Those who are already privileged have more voice and influence in the
democratic system (despite the formal inclusion of all)
•  As a result, the system of democracy has a tendency to reproduce the
existing asymmetries of power.
The project of emancipation
•  Hence, collective action, i.e. ‘activist challenges’ (Young), is required.
Political system
activist challenges
“Without countervailing voices, naming and challenging power, political
freedom withers and dies. Without countervailing voices, a better world
can never materialise. Without countervailing voices, wells will still be dug
and bridges will still be built, but only for the few. Food will still be grown,
but it will not reach the mouths of the poor. New medicines will be
developed, but they will be inaccessible to many of those in need.”
—Monbiot, How Did We Get Into This Mess?, 5.
Freedom and the project of emancipation
‘Freedom from…’
‘Freedom with…’
Liberal freedom:
freedom as non-interference
(Thomas Hobbes, J.S. Mill)
Arendtian freedom:
freedom as political participation
Private autonomy
Republican freedom:
freedom as non-domination
(Quentin Skinner, Philip Pettit)
Public autonomy
Activist challenges:
Individual and collective speech
and action to overcome
oppression and domination
PHIL 225/345: Power, Critique and
Dr Matheson Russell, Philosophy