Published online by Cambridge University Press: 14 December 2011
Libertarians and classical liberals typically defend private economic liberty as a requirement of self-ownership or on the basis of consequentialist arguments of various sorts. By contrast, this paper defends private economic liberty as a requirement of democratic legitimacy. In recent decades, many philosophers have converged upon a certain view about political justification. If a set of social institutions is to be just and legitimate, those institutions must be acceptable in principle to the citizens who are to lead their lives within them. This deliberative or democratic approach to justification is traditionally associated with thinkers on the left who are skeptical of the importance of private economic liberty. This article shows how the protection of private economic liberty is a requirement of citizens' developing and exercising the moral powers they have as democratic citizens. Democratic legitimacy does not require the affirmation of absolute economic liberty rights as sometimes defended by libertarians. But democratic legitimacy does require that a wide range of private economic liberties be meriting constitutional protection on a par with the civil and political liberties of democratic citizens. This opens the way for a wider defense of classical liberalism based upon the idea of democratic legitimacy.
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9 Imagine a classical liberal position that affirms a strong set of private economic liberties on grounds of economic efficiency, but affirms a tax-funded social safety net as a requirement of beneficence. (Milton Friedman is sometimes interpreted as having defended a version of classical liberalism exhibiting this structure.) The justification for this position would not be strongly principled.
10 Obviously, there are other logically coherent approaches available here. For example, one might seek to justify a concern for social justice in terms of the same foundational ideas by which libertarians or classical liberals commonly defend the priority of economic liberty. That is not my project.
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18 I think of indentured servitude as primarily involving questions of labor, while slavery is more fundamentally an issue of ownership. I am open to alternative ways of categorizing these issues.
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21 Ibid., 223. For most of his career, Mill advocated that governments leave the economy largely unfettered. However, this was not because he believed citizens had basic rights to economic liberty. Rather, he thought free economic regimes would tend to produce good consequences.
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25 Freeman, Samuel, “Illiberal Libertarians: Why Libertarianism Is Not a Liberal View,” Philosophy and Public Affairs 30, no. 2 (Spring, 2001): 105–51CrossRefGoogle Scholar. A more complete map would include “left-libertarianism,” on which see Otsuka, Michael “Self-Ownership and Equality: A Lockean Reconciliation,” Philosophy and Public Affairs 27 (1998): 65–92CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and Vallentyne, Peter and Steiner, Hillel, eds., Left-Libertarianism and its Critics: The Contemporary Debate (New York: Palgrave, 2000)Google Scholar.
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36 Market democracy makes room for worker-owned firms, and so for whatever forms of economic freedom might be available therein. Against liberal socialism, however, market democracy insists that citizens cannot be compelled to work in worker-owned firms. Nor can workers be compelled to join unions, though individuals may have the right to do so for purposes of collective bargaining. In all these areas, market democracy insists that we protect the private economic liberties of liberal citizens.
37 Rawls, Justice As Fairness, 41.
38 Adam Smith described people as simultaneously “self-interested” and “other regarding.” Rousseau and Kant offered accounts of the moral powers of citizens. For an illuminating discussion of the idea of moral powers in Rousseau and Kant in relation to that of Rawls, see Spragens, Thomas A. Jr., Getting the Left Right: The Transformation, Decline, and Reformation of American Liberalism (University Press of Kansas, 2009), 68–71Google Scholar.
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40 Consider another example: Imagine a society that tailored the right of religious freedom to allow the practice of any religion whatsoever—so long as such practice was conducted only in private homes.
43 I thank Jason Swadley, Zak Beauchamp, and Jason Brennan for discussion of these ideas.
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48 Charles Murray, In Our Hands, 82 (emphasis mine).
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50 Conversation with Charles Larmore sharpened my understanding of these issues, even though our convictions on these matters diverge.
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59 The account of Kant's theory of property given in this paragraph, as well as the contrast between Kant and Locke developed in the next paragraph, is informed by research done for me over the summer of 2010 by Jason Swadley, as well as by a superb unpublished article manuscript by Swadley entitled “Economic Liberty and the High Liberal Tradition” (draft of August 2010). My understanding of Kant's political philosophy also particularly has been improved by Ripstein, Arthur's Force and Freedom: Kant's Legal and Political Philosophy, (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009)CrossRefGoogle Scholar. The applications of these ideas to market democracy are my own.
60 Freeman, “Illiberal Libertarians,” 106. Note that, in a departure from my usual terminological practice, I am here using the term “high liberal” to denote a method of justification, rather than a set of substantive moral commitments. Classified in terms of his substantive moral commitments, Kant is a classical liberal (on which see the following note).
61 “Freedom (independence from being constrained by another's choice), insofar as it can coexist with the freedom of every other in accordance with a universal law, is the only original right belonging to every man by virtue of his humanity.” Kant, Immanuel, Practical Philosophy (Cambridge University Press, 1999), 393Google Scholar.
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63 In the opening lines of Anarchy, State, and Utopia, Nozick states: “Individuals have rights, and there are things that no other person or group may do to them (without violating their rights). So strong and far-reaching are these rights that they raise the question of what, if anything, the state and its officials may do.” p. ix.
64 Kant, Practical Philosophy, 468 (quoted in Swadley, 12).
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68 John Tomasi, Free Market Fairness, chap. 6 “Two Concepts of Fairness.”
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70 John Tomasi, Free Market Fairness, chap. 7 “Feasibility, Normativity, and Institutional Guarantees” and chap. 8 “Free Market Fairness.”