There are two extreme responses that the financial crisis and its aftermath have provoked. One is to say that all will be well if our governments stop trying to anticipate and deflect the movements of the tiger by propping up and bailing out the bodies that they judge too big to fail. This approach, exemplified in the stance of the Tea Party in the United States, amounts to pre‐emptive surrender in face of the profit‐seeking ventures of credit and capital. It gives government the task of law and order and calls for the abdication of the state in the sphere of production, commerce and employment.
This first response would downsize and marginalize government, letting the market rule unimpeded in the financial and material economy. The second radical response would recommend the very opposite. It would support a rejection of dependence on the sort of beast that the international financial system constitutes. Where the first approach would give the tiger free range, this would simply kill the animal. Those attracted to the response complain that that so long as the tiger survives, we all live at its mercy. They recommend that we should reject dependency on impersonal market forces and reclaim our status as a democratic people, our standing as rulers of our individual and collective lives.
Because they are simple, these two responses have a natural attraction at a time of extreme crisis. It is comforting to think that all will be well if we can only liberate the power of the market or if we can only re‐assert our will as a people. But because the responses are simplistic, we should back away from each.
Philip Pettit (2011) “Republican Reflections on the 15-M Movement“, Books and Ideas.net.
Is consequentialism in ethics a form of moral opportunism? Is torture always wrong? What about punishing the innocent? Philip Pettit, who recently gave the 2011 Uehiro Lectures on ‘Robustly Demanding Values’, discusses some common criticisms of consequentialism in conversation with Nigel Warburton in this episode of the Philosophy Bites podcast
To bring out the conflict of images, consider the property conventions that establish the titles and rights of ownership. On the libertarian picture owning is a natural relationship — you might think of it as a relationship of possession and use — and the rules of property serve to affirm and protect the natural rights of owners.
On the republican picture, owning is a relationship that presupposes law, if only the inchoate law of informal custom. You do not own something — you do not have the freedom of an owner — just insofar as you can hang onto it, frightening off or driving off potential rivals. You own something only insofar as it is a matter of accepted convention that given the way you came to hold it — given public recognition of the title you have to the property — you enjoy public protection against those who would take it from you. It is yours to hold and enjoy in private; but it is yours in that sense only by grace of public convention.
Philip Pettit on the contrast between Libertarian and Republican views.
PoliticsInSpires: Taking Back the Economy: The market as a Res Publica.
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.