Domination and enforcement: The contingent and non-ideal relation between state and freedom

Politics, Philosophy and Economics 19 (4):403-423 (2020)
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It is common to think that state enforcement is a restriction on freedom that is morally permitted or justified because of the unfortunate circumstances in which we find ourselves. Human frailty and material scarcity combine to make the compromise of freedom involved in exclusive state enforcement power necessary for other freedoms or other goods. In the words of James Madison, ‘if men were angels, no government would be necessary’ (1990: 267). But there is an opposing tradition, according to which the very idea of freedom in society entails the necessity of state enforcement. However morally good human beings are, or whatever material conditions they find themselves in, on this view, the ideal of freedom we ought to be concerned to realise is such that it cannot be attained without state enforcement. It follows a priori from an important ideal of freedom that a state with exclusive enforcement power is necessary for individual liberty in society. In this paper, I argue against what I take to be the strongest argument of the a priori kind, which begins from the neo-republican ideal of freedom as non-domination, and thereby in (partial) defence of the alternative, Madisonian, view. Insofar as it is true that some sort of problematic domination will inevitably be present in a stateless society, I argue, the introduction of a state can do nothing to eliminate it. For the state to improve on even an ideal stateless society, it would need to give individuals control over the interference of potential dominators of a sort that could not be achieved in the ideal stateless society.

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Daniel Guillery
London School of Economics


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