An esteemed philosopher offers a vision for the central role of one of our most cherished—and controversial—ideas.
In this rigorous distillation of his political philosophy, Philip Pettit, author of the landmark work Republicanism, champions a simple standard for our most complex political judgments, offering a challenging ideal that nevertheless holds out a real prospect for social and democratic progress.
Whereas many thinkers define freedom as the absence of interference—we are left alone to do as we please—Pettit demands that in their basic life choices free persons should not even be subject to a power of interference on the part of others. This notion of freedom as non-domination offers a yardstick for gauging social and democratic progress and provides a simple, unifying standard for analyzing our most entangled political quandaries.
Pettit reaffirms the ideal, already present in the Roman Republic, of a free citizenry who enjoy equal status with one another, being individually protected by a law that they together control. After sketching a fresh history of freedom, he turns to the implications of the ideal for social, democratic, and international justice.
Should the state erect systems for delivering mandatory healthcare coverage to its citizens? Should voting be a citizen’s only means of influencing political leaders? Are the demands of the United Nations to be heeded when they betray the sovereignty of the state? Pettit shows how these and other questions should be resolved within a civic republican perspective.
Concise and elegant in its rhetoric and ultimately radical in its reimagining of our social arrangements, Just Freedom is neither a theoretical treatise nor a practical manifesto, but rather an ardent attempt to elaborate the demands of freedom and justice in our time.
In this slim volume, Princeton University political philosopher Pettit (Republicanism) reiterates his long-held idea that universal freedom revolves around non-domination. Pettit begins the book with tests of freedom: the eyeball test, the tough luck test, and the straight talk test. Unfortunately, he doesn't follow through on these themes or build his book around them. Instead, he abstractly ponders the relationship between the individual and private and public power. This earnest book reminds us that freedom is a precious thing and emanates from republican ideals. Stating that these ideals of freedom, justice, and democracy have achieved more than other political systems, Pettit nonetheless tries to spin something more cosmopolitan. (Pettit is Australian-born and teaches part-time at Australian National University.) His "ideal of global sovereignty" is far-fetched and implausible. Pettit's political instincts and efforts to extend republicanism are commendable, even noble, but the compass he uses, while erudite, is more appropriate to the ivory tower. Pettit's book contains far too many "oughts," never confronting the many confident enemies to freedom of thought and action in today's complex, often amoral world.