You are here

The Progressive Implication of Republican Liberty

Republican Liberty

Following the civic republican conception of liberty, I define freedom as the absence of domination. According to this classical republican conception, a man is free to the extent that no one has the ability to arbitrarily intervene in his choices. This contrasts with the liberal conception of liberty. The liberal conception defines liberty as the absence of interference. A man is free to the extent that no one does interfere. The absurdity of the liberal conception is that you can, according to their definition, have a free slave or a libertarian totalitarian monarch. If a slave has a benevolent master that simply never makes him do anything he does not want to do, then he is actually totally free upon liberal assumptions. If a king has absolute rule but chooses not to exercise it, and lets his subjects do whatever they like without restriction, then the liberal conception sees the king's subjects as totally free men.

The American founding fathers rejected liberalism in favor of republicanism. They rebelled against the king of England, but not because he was a particularly harsh ruler. In fact, according to liberal standards, American citizens were actually much freer before the revolution than they were after it. But the founding fathers did not see it that way. According to them, their relation to the kind of England was that of a slave to a master. They saw themselves as unfree because they lacked representation. If there are others who can impose arbitrary rules upon you without your consent, then you are unfree, even if they never actually choose to impose any such rules.

The flipside of the liberal conception of freedom as non-interference, or negative liberty, is what has been called positive liberty—the position of being the master of oneself and having the capacity to do as one wills without impediment. This conception is perhaps more associated with modern liberalism of the Rawlsian variety. The republican conception, in contrast to this alternative liberal conception, does not see the capacity to do as you want without impediment as a desirable goal, nor does it require that one be their own master in order to be free. On the contrary, I remain free in the republican sense even if I lack the capacity to do something I would like to do. I may not have the ability to fly, but that does not mean I am unfree. Furthermore, I do not have to be my own master to be free. If, for example, I am bound by democratic consensus, then I am not unfree in civic terms. If there is a rule, established deliberately through democratic processes, which says that no one may break into another person's home and eat their food, I am not unfree as a result of that rule, so long as I am part of the democratic community that can make and challenge rules in general.

The republican tradition, then, is not concerned with natural liberty but rather with civil liberty. A man is free if he lives in a democratic polity, has a participatory role in politics, and is not dominated. This means he must not be ruled over by kings or politicians, but also that he must be free of domination from landlords, bosses, and plutocrats.

Republican Liberty and the Workplace

To be free, a person must not be dominated by anyone. This means that neither politicians nor police officers ought to be allowed to arbitrarily intervene in the choices of individuals, which is to say that neither politicians nor cops ought to be able to dominate others. While non-domination in the political realm is necessary for liberty to exist, it is not sufficient. Not only must the individual be free of domination politically speaking; they also must be free from domination in the economic sphere. I cannot be ruled over by a boss or employer and remain a free man. This means that workers must be granted a participatory role in management, such that management ceases to be a separate agent with arbitrary power of interference. Republican principles of democratic governance must be transferred into the economic realm, so that factories and corporations become democratic co-operative associations. The workers themselves must have a say in the hours they work, the benefits they receive, the level of wages or dividends they are paid, etc. Workplace democracy is a republican ideal.

Republican Liberty and Land

This idea of liberty in the economic sphere, where republican liberty implies that the workplace should be democratized, can be extended also to the question of land. In my estimation, republican liberty requires the abolition of domination by landlords and the democratization of the determination of land policy.

In a free republic, land policy will be determined through a participatory democratic process at the local level, where the individuals affected have a predominant role in the decision-making. For instance, if a road needs widened and it requires the municipality to take some land away from certain individuals, then the decision-making process must be democratic. Furthermore, the affected members of the community must be allowed to openly speak in a Town Hall type environment, state the cases for and against the expansion of the road, and if a democratic consensus is reached so that it is determined that the land will be taken under eminent domain, the owners of the land in question must be able to openly negotiate for a fair price before the democratic assembly.

The best means of abolishing the dominating role of landlords, in my estimation, is to implement a geo-libertarian scheme of land value tax alongside a social dividend. Land should be taxed so that land effectively becomes communal property with rent money going into the public treasury. As Henry George points out in Progress and Poverty, and all qualified economists agree, such a policy will help get land speculation under control, making land more affordable, and reduce rent costs in the process. This will eliminate the dominating role of landlords. I would also add that the bulk of the revenue from land value tax ought to go to a citizen's dividend, a monthly payment to each citizen for their share of ownership of the land belonging to the whole community. Otherwise, the money should be used for purposes agreed upon through democratic processes.

Republican Liberty and the Law

In a libertarian republican system, laws should be democratically determined so as to maximize liberty as non-domination. Rules must not be arbitrarily decided by legislators. The legislative assembly ought to deliberate and discuss the matter thoroughly before passing any law and reach a general consensus that the law does in fact help to maximize republican liberty. There ought to be a constitutional requirement that for any law to be legitimate it must tend to maximize liberty as non-domination. Any law that cannot meet that criterion should be ipso facto null and void. It should be the duty of all judges and jurors to examine not only the case in question but the law itself. Any law that cannot be demonstrated to maximize liberty in the republican sense shall be nullified by judges and jurors. In fact, it shall be their duty to nullify such illegitimate laws. Furthermore, the people ought to be able to directly veto any law passed by the legislature.

Republican Liberty, Law-Enforcement, and Security

In a libertarian republic, law-enforcement officers must not be given any arbitrary authority. They must be strictly bound by law and the structure of the institutions of policing ought to be designed specifically to eliminate domination of man by man. Police must not have the power to arbitrarily intervene in the affairs of individuals. There must be certain criteria in place that must be met for intervention to be legal, and it must be required for the officer to intervene by law. It shall be the case that the officer always intervenes when the criteria are met or never intervenes at all. In other words, the officer's intervention must always be non-arbitrary and in accordance with the rule of law.

There is no single specific way that law-enforcement has to be organized in a libertarian republic. However, it cannot be organized like it is in America. I have my own proposal for how law-enforcement should be done in a libertarian republic. That proposal is detailed in the following section.

A Proposal for Reforming Law-Enforcement

My own proposal relies on making a distinction between natural law and positive law and having two entirely different organizations to deal with each respectively. If a person aggresses against the person or property of another, they have violated natural law. If a person disobeys some rule established by the community, they have violated positive law. Natural law pertains to universal rules whereas positive law pertains to rules posited or declared by the community. In my model, natural law would be the domain of securance agents and positive law should be the domain of communal police.

Securance is a mixture of security and insurance. All citizens would pay the securance agency for both security and insurance against theft and violence. It would be the duty of the securance agency to prevent theft and violence, but also to compensate victims for any damages resulting from theft or violence that the agency failed to prevent. Imagine if you called the police department after a robbery and the police were required to either get your stolen property back and return it to you or else to pay for you to replace it. The securance agency would want to catch the criminal and take them to court in order to get them to pay for the damages if possible. In the meantime, the victim has already been recompensed via the payout on an insurance claim paid by the securance agency. This securance scheme shifts the focus from retributive justice to restorative justice. The goal is not to punish criminals but rather to make things right again.

Communal police officers ought to be chosen by sortition, on a rotational basis, and shall serve for a set term of no more than four consecutive years. They shall not be permitted to carry firearms under ordinary circumstances but shall only be allowed to check out firearms when necessary for specific approved missions. Keep in mind that the communal police will not be responding to robberies, domestic abuse calls, fights, and shootings. All of that falls under the domain of the securance agency. The communal police will enforce the rules of the community. If the community decides to set a speed limit on a road and establishes a fine as a penalty for exceeding that limit, the police shall be in charge of issuing tickets for such fines. If there is a rule that no one can ride their bicycle on the sidewalk, then the police shall be in charge of enforcing that too. They shall also be in charge of issuing citations to appear in court for violations of various rules established by democratic consensus.

What is currently done by one organization would then be done by two entirely separate organizations. Dividing law-enforcement in this manner has several benefits. One of the biggest benefits is that a person calling to report a robbery will not have to call the same person who busts people for smoking pot. This will make it much easier for people to trust the securance agents than it is for people to trust cops given existing arrangements. When a cop pulls over a person for speeding, that person won't feel uneasy because he will know that the officer is unarmed. At the same time, since the officer does not deal with violent crime, he can feel safe and comfortable writing tickets without worrying about being attacked.

(Technically, in a libertarian republic, laws against smoking marijuana would be ipso facto null and void since it cannot be demonstrated that marijuana prohibition minimizes the domination of man over man.)

Whenever a securance agent or police officer is accused of corruption or crime, an independent committee of randomly selected individuals from the local community shall investigate the accusations and bring charges against them if they feel the officer or agent was in the wrong. They shall review the accusations and testimony of witnesses to determine if the accusation seems plausible. If charged by the independent committee, the investigation shall be turned over to federal detectives and the officer or agent in question shall stand trial before a jury. If convicted, the consequence of any such conviction ought to be a fine as monetary recompense for any victims harmed by the officer's/agent's actions and immediate dismissal from the securance agency or police department. Furthermore, any such conviction shall make the individual convicted ineligible to serve as an agent or officer in the future.

Dividing law-enforcement in this manner helps to guarantee that law-enforcement officers/agents are not put in a position that allows them to dominate others.

Republican Liberty and Healthcare

The republican conception of liberty has implications on healthcare policy that differs drastically from the conclusion that would naturally follow from the liberal conception. According to the liberal conception, a populace can be free even if they are deprived of access to basic medical needs, since denial of service does not constitute interference. This liberal view takes its most extreme form in conservatism and right-wing libertarianism. The republican conception, however, realizes that lack of access to healthcare (or restricted access to healthcare at too high a price) puts people in a desperate and vulnerable situation. How much are you willing to pay to keep your mother or wife or daughter from suffering or dying from an illness? What are you not willing to do to lessen the suffering of your daughter or wife? The reality is that prohibitively high healthcare costs put people in positions where others have the capacity to arbitrarily intervene in their decision-making. The person in this scenario is at the mercy of the insurance company, the doctors, the lenders, et al. Any of them could take advantage of the situation so as to gain dominion over him. Universal free healthcare is a prerequisite for liberty. You cannot be a free man if you are so desperate that you will do anything for help. You cannot be a free man if you are a dead man.

When we say "free" healthcare, we mean free at the point of service. The costs of universal healthcare ought to be paid via justified taxes. For instance, any company with a monopoly (say a private municipal water company or an electric company) ought to pay higher taxes than other businesses. Additionally, companies that profit off of patents and copyrights ought to be taxed at a higher rate. On top of this, land value tax could be used to provide additional revenue for such welfare measures.

People will be taxed for universal healthcare for the same reason that they are taxed for national defense and law-enforcement, because it helps to minimize the domination of man over man. Without law and order, the strong would dominate the weak. Without a military, foreign powers would invade, steal resources, and enslave the populace. Universal healthcare is similarly aimed at protecting people.

Republican Liberty and Universal Basic Income

We live in a capitalist society, by which I mean a society dominated by the capitalist class, wherein the majority of people must serve capitalists as wage laborers. The normal condition of people under capitalism is subjugation. Under capitalism, the vast majority of people are dominated by bosses or employers. If we wish to maximize liberty in the republican sense, that is, to minimize domination of man over man, then it follows that we must also seek to reduce or eliminate the domination of workers by employers.

One means of doing this is to give workers control over the workplace. You could transform each workplace into a worker-managed co-operative with a democratic republican organizational structure. This is, in my opinion, perhaps necessary in order to establish the liberty of the workers, but it is not sufficient. You could have a distributist or mutualist economy, wherein corporations have been replaced by worker-managed co-operatives, but in which the workers are still put into a condition of subjugation due to inequality. For instance, suppose that I happen to work in some industry that doesn't bring in as much money as others. Consequently, I may still end up being relatively poor in a mutualist economy. The problem is that poverty makes people vulnerable and, therefore, allows other people to take advantage of them. Thus, substantial inequality always entails domination. Even if no one does take advantage of the poor, they still have the capacity to do so, which means that the poor by definition cannot be free.

In order to guarantee freedom to all citizens, a republic does not necessarily have to make everyone totally equal, but it does have to guarantee that no one is totally destitute or impoverished. Everyone must have their basic needs met. The quickest and simplest way to eliminate poverty and establish economic liberty, so as to protect the people from domination stemming from poverty or precarity, is to guarantee everyone a universal basic income. I have already mentioned the need for a land value tax, so I propose that this universal basic income be funded via land value tax. The basic income would not be sufficient to allow people all the luxuries of modern life. It would merely cover the necessities. It would be sufficient to cover food, shelter, transportation, etc. However, it would not discourage work. Most people are not satisfied with mere survival. Most people want to thrive. Most people want to be able to travel and go on vacations. Most people want to attend concerts, eat out at restaurants, and drive nicer cars. Since basic income will not be sufficient to accommodate all of these things, most people will continue to work or look for jobs to help supplement their basic income and allow them to live a more luxurious lifestyle. Nevertheless, everyone will enjoy the security of knowing that they will not starve or end up homeless even if their employer fires them. The boss is no longer a dominating figure but an equal.

Commenting on this Story will be automatically closed on September 14, 2018.