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02 Apr

Pettit: ‘A Theory Of Freedom’ in Spain

In 1997, Professor Pettit published a book called Republicanism: A Theory of Freedom. In it, he declares that “the traditional, republican ideal of freedom” – drawing on thinkers going back to Cicero, Machiavelli, the writers of the English Revolution and “many theorists of republic and commonwealth in 18th-century England and America and France” – could still provide “an exciting way of rethinking democratic institutions”.

At its heart is the notion of “freedom as non-domination”. Since liberals see freedom in largely negative terms, as “absence of interference”, writes Professor Pettit, that makes them “tolerant of relationships in the home, in the workplace, in the electorate and elsewhere, that the republican must denounce as paradigms of domination and unfreedom”. It is time to return to the much more demanding republican conception of freedom, he argues.

Republicanism is a clear and accessible book, but Professor Pettit saw little prospect of it changing the world. He had reckoned without the interest of Spanish opposition leader José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, who had read the book in Spanish translation and announced in 2000 that if he ever came to power, he would use it as the basis for his legislative programme.

From Times Higher Education (23 Jan 2011), “Spanish statecraft, the scholarly way” by Matthew Reisz.

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