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Non-Domination, Institutional Power, and Social Freedom

610a28d49ac14df09d3f7e90d167bd1c?s=47 Titus Stahl
October 12, 2012

Non-Domination, Institutional Power, and Social Freedom

Presentation at Association for Political Theory Conference 2012.


Titus Stahl

October 12, 2012


  1. Non-Domination, Institutional Power, and Social Freedom Titus Stahl, Goethe University

    Frankfurt Association for Political Theory, Columbia, S.C., October 12, 2012
  2. The Republican Intuition According to neo-republicans, the value of political

    freedom can be best understood if we contrast situations of domination (e.g. slavery) with situations of political freedom.
  3. Freedom as Non-Domination Distinction between two conceptions of freedom Freedom

    as non-interference: Persons are free to the degree to which they can perform actions without interference by others. Freedom as non-domination: Persons are free to the degree in which their actions are protected against arbitrary interference by others.
  4. Freedom as Non-Domination There can be domination without interference and

    there can be interference without domination. Paradigm of non-domination: the constitutional republic. 1. Power is subject to constraint by laws. 2. Laws track relevant interests of those affected. 3. Contestability of authority decisions by those affected.
  5. A Liberal Conception of Power In the republican model, freedom

    is defined as the absence of (a certain kind of) power, not as positive empowerment of persons. The reason for this negative view on freedom is connected to a liberal understanding of power: Power is only understood as capacity for constraining individual choices.
  6. Two Complaints (II) In adopting such a negative model of

    power, neo-republican theories restrict themselves in two ways. Objection I: The distinction between arbitrary and non-arbitrary exercises of power depends on a positive conception of power. Objection II: In restricting itself to a narrow view of exercises of power as acts of (arbitrary) interference, neo-republicanism is forced to ignore certain dimensions of domination.
  7. (I) Normative Constraint (1) All neo-republican theories define freedom as

    the absence of non-arbitrary power. Forms of power which are compatible with freedom are thus to be characterized by being subject to normative constraints. (2) Normative constraints do not apply themselves, they need interpretation. (3) Constraint according to unconstrained interpretation of norms is itself domination.
  8. (I) Normative Constraint (4) Consequence: In order to avoid domination,

    all persons affected by some power relation must share in a mutual practice of evaluating each other’s interpretations of a norm constraining the exercises of this power. In this practice, they must attribute a defeasible authority to each other and recognize each other’s authority.
  9. (I) Normative Constraint No absence of domination without normative constraint

    No normative constraint without mutual constraint of interpretations No mutual constraint of interpretations without mutual recognition Recognition establishes relations between persons in which the success of one person’s normative self-attribution depends on the reactions of others, and they thus create forms of social power.
  10. (II) Normative Scope of NR Republicanism is concerned with the

    degree to which certain forms of agency are consistently available for persons without them needing to secure the favors of others. The self-restriction of neo-republican theories to interference of persons with the choices of other persons entails that it cannot criticize all objectionable forms of domination in this respect.
  11. (II) Action Options: Institutional Actions and Social Identities (1) Institutional

    action options: Persons can be vulnerable to domination as far as social practices determine the possibility and impossibility of certain socially created forms of action. (2) Social Identities: Persons can be vulnerable to domination as far as social practices determine the possibility and impossibility of certain socially shared forms of self-understanding.
  12. (II) Action Options: Collective Action (3) Collective agency: Persons can

    be vulnerable to domination as far as social practices determine whether there are certain socially recognized forms of collective agency available for them to take part in. All three aspects concern domination without potential interference in choices.
  13. (II) Constitutive Power The creation and maintenance of institutional action

    options, of social identities, and of forms of collective agency are exercises of constitutive power. Constitutive power can only be exercised collectively, in virtue of persons authorizing each others as co-participants.
  14. (II) Constitutive Domination Exercises of constitutive power which prevent persons

    from participating in collective processes of institutional change amount to constitutive domination. Thus, there are forms of domination which fall into the scope of normative concern of republican theories which cannot be described as the capacity to arbitrarily interfere with the choices of persons.
  15. Social Freedom Instead of the negative conception of freedom, a

    plausible form of non-domination theory should adopt a radical picture of social freedom. Social freedom: persons are free from domination whenever it is institutionally secured that they can fully participate in collective processes of institutional change and contestation together with others to the fullest degree possible.
  16. Consequences Consequences for a politics of non-domination: 1. Focus on

    potentials for outside contestations of rules instead of on agreement 2. Focus on social authority attributions that support institutional contestation 3. Focus on collective agency, but not as a result of fixed allegiances but in relation to suppressed forms of joint action