Two spheres of domination: Republican theory, social norms and the insufficiency of negative freedom

Contemporary Political Theory 14 (1):45-62 (2015)
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Republicans understand freedom as the guaranteed protection against any arbitrary use of coercive power. This freedom is exercised within a political community, and the concept of arbitrariness is defined with reference to the actual ideas of its citizens about what is in their shared interests. According to many current defenders of the republican model, this form of freedom is understood in strictly negative terms representing an absence of domination. I argue that this assumption is misguided. First, it is internally inconsistent. The central republican focal point of arbitrariness is a necessarily socially-constructed ideal that only exists as the creation of the citizens themselves. Secondly, republican freedom operates in two distinct realms or spheres. There is freedom under a law that is required to uphold the collective good as reflected in society’s norms, and there is freedom within that very system of norms. The threats to freedom from within each sphere are different and must be addressed accordingly. The negative approach, however, conflates the two and emphasises only the dangers faced under the law. This exposes citizens – especially those from marginalised social groups – to domination in the second realm from oppressive social norms. Only by clearly recognising the nature of both kinds of threats can a comprehensive republican freedom be formulated.



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Alan M. S. J. Coffee
King's College London

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A socialist republican theory of freedom and government.James Muldoon - 2019 - Sage Publications: European Journal of Political Theory 21 (1):47-67.

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On the People’s Terms.Philip Pettit - 2012 - Political Theory 44 (5):697-706.
Liberty before Liberalism.Quentin Skinner - 2001 - Tijdschrift Voor Filosofie 63 (1):172-175.
Religion in the public sphere.Jürgen Habermas - 2006 - European Journal of Philosophy 14 (1):1–25.

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