Conclusion: Politics without Certainty
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Conclusion: Politics without Certainty book
We have been trying throughout this book to make philosophical sense of the political world that citizens of modern liberal democracies inhabit. To be a bit more speciﬁc, we have been trying to make sense of the idea that there could be a political authority among free and equal individuals; in this way, we have sought a philosophical justiﬁcation for the modern state. Toward this end, we took up a few of the concepts central to our shared political world: liberty, authority, justice, and democracy. We explored the problems, puzzles, and diﬃculties each raises, but tried at the close of every chapter to articulate a tentative suggestion for how each concept might be best understood. It’s time to review and take stock. The opening two chapters laid out the task. To begin doing philosophy
with the political world as we ﬁnd it, we must start with the idea of a liberal democracy, that is, a democracy constrained by the rule of law and a constitutionally codiﬁed public menu of individual entitlements and protections. The liberalism that underlies democracy sets the central question of political philosophy. To explain, liberalism is the commitment to the political understanding of individuals as free and equal, each with his or her own life to live and author. States are large-scale institutions that not only wield enormous coercive power, but also claim authority, the entitlement to such power. Hence the central question: “Given what individuals are, can states be justiﬁed?” Why not anarchism? Liberty was addressed ﬁrst. Although it may seem obvious that states stand in
need of justiﬁcation precisely because they limit and reduce individual freedom, it is no easy task to devise a plausible view of what this freedom consists in. After ﬁnding signiﬁcant fault with three distinct conceptions of freedom, it was suggested that we entertain a hybrid view according to which liberty is the absence of interference among autonomous social equals. A society is free, then, to the degree that each enjoys the broadest sphere of non-obstructed activity that is consistent with everyone having the civic standing and the relevant capacities for pursuing a life of his or her own. Freedom, we might say, is the absence of something (namely, others’ interference) in the presence of other things (namely, autonomy and equal civic standing). Neither the absence of interference nor the presence of autonomy or civic standing suﬃces for freedom.