Does collective unfreedom matter? Individualism, power and proletarian unfreedom

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When assessing institutions and social outcomes, it matters how free society is within them (‘societal freedom’). For example, does capitalism come with greater societal freedom than socialism? For such judgements, freedom theorists typically assume Individualism: societal freedom is simply the aggregate of individual freedom. However, G.A. Cohen’s well-known case provides a challenge: imagine ten prisoners are individually free to leave their prison but doing so would incarcerate the remaining nine. Assume further that no one actually leaves. If we adopt Individualism plus the standard liberal view of freedom, such incarceration seems to leave societal freedom unaffected. This is an important theoretical challenge: it seems we must either reject Individualism or reject, or at least amend, the liberal view. Cohen also suggests his case, and the collective unfreedom therein, helps us capture how proletarians are unfree under capitalism. In this article, I argue that we can solve Cohen’s puzzle, if we focus on how power can reduce freedom. If we adopt the republican view of freedom, we can say that prisoners are unfree in Cohen’s case because they are dominated by the other prisoners. This solution keeps Individualism but moves beyond liberal freedom. I then also show how this individualistic framework captures proletarian unfreedom.
Originele taal-2English
TijdschriftCritical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy
StatusE-pub ahead of print - 6-okt-2020

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