Perspectives on freedom : normative and political views on the preconditions of a free democratic society
In today’s society we seem to be confronted with renewed struggles about the ideal of freedom. After decades of wide-spread belief in the benefits of globalization, marketization, open borders, and de-regulation, we are now facing a countermovement consisting of various forms of populism and nationalism that promise to restore borders, security and identity. Both movements seem to be informed by problematic conceptions of freedom: globalization and marketization are often accompanied by an ‘atomistic’ picture of society, whereby self-sufficient individuals compete in free markets, which neglects the social, political and cultural preconditions of individual freedom, and this can lead to feelings of social dissolution, powerlessness, and identity-crisis. Populists and nationalists try to fill this void by promising to restore collective autonomy, community and identity, but in doing this they de-legitimize pluralism and threaten the freedom of minorities. We thus seem to be faced once again with the problematic pendulum swing between the extremes of ‘atomism’ and ‘homogeneous unity’ that keeps returning in modern societies in different guises. This raises the question if the pendulum can also be stopped somewhere in the middle in order to realize the ideals of individual and collective autonomy in a more balanced and less one-sided way. The dissertation tries to contribute to a better understanding of this problem by turning to the insights of contemporary political philosophy, a discipline that can be divided into three camps – a moral camp (concerned with issues of legitimacy and justice), a social-ethical camp (concerned with the social preconditions of individual self-realization), and a political-historical camp (concerned with the preconditions of doing politics). Whereas recent philosophical discussions about freedom have often focused on the relation between the moral and social-ethical camp – for example in the debates between defenders of negative and positive freedom, between liberals and communitarians, or between Kantians and Hegelians – this dissertation is concerned with the relation between the social-ethical camp (specialized in critiques of atomism) and the political-historical camp (specialized in critiques of homogeneous unity). After a discussion of the different critiques of atomism and homogeneous unity that can be found in the work of Claude Lefort and Pierre Rosanvallon (both operating in the political-historical camp), and Charles Taylor and Axel Honneth (both working in the social-ethical camp), the conclusion is drawn that an important methodological difference between the two camps is that the social-ethical camp holds on to a privileged perspective for critique and to the idea that a reconciliation is possible between the different components of a free democratic society, whereas the political-historical embraces a perspectivism that denies the existence of such a privileged perspective, and stresses the incommensurability of the components of a free democratic society. After a historical reconstruction of the origins of these methodological differences, which traces the different ideas about freedom in the Renaissance, the Enlightenment and the Romantic period, the dissertation concludes that today we need a rehabilitation of the political-historical camp and its methodological commitments if we want to understand the problems related to freedom today. ...
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