Before Negative and Positive Liberty

Philip Pettit

in Republicanism

Published in print September 1999 | ISBN: 9780198296423
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780191600081 | DOI:

Series: Oxford Political Theory

 Before Negative and Positive Liberty

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The negative conception of freedom as non‐interference and the positive conception of freedom as self‐mastery are not the only available ideals of liberty; a third alternative is the conception of freedom as non‐domination, which requires that no one is able to interfere on an arbitrary basis— at their pleasure—in the choices of the free person. This is the conception espoused in the long republican tradition. Thus republicans regarded all of those who are subject to another's arbitrary will as unfree, even if the other does not actually interfere with them; there is no interference in such a case but there is a loss of liberty. And, in cases where a regime of law did not subject people to an arbitrary will, they thought that legal coercion was not a compromise of people's liberty; there is interference in such a case but no loss of liberty. As the conception of freedom as non‐interference was introduced by Hobbes to defend Leviathan against republicans, it was used to defend British rule in the North American colonies against the republican criticism that Parliament had arbitrary power over the colonists. This new conception became respectable through the work of people like Bentham and Paley, who saw in it a way of conceiving of freedom that would allow even dominated agents like women and servants—so far as they did not suffer actual interference —to count as free. Unlike traditional republicans, Bentham and Paley did not feel able to limit the constituency of citizens to the mainstream, propertied males, and their inclusivism in this respect, which neo‐republicans must also share, may explain why they regarded the republican ideal of freedom too demanding.

Keywords: Jeremy Bentham; coercion; domination; freedom; Thomas Hobbes; interference; liberty; William Paley; republicanism; rule of law

Chapter.  16129 words. 

Subjects: Political Theory

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