Civic Republicanism

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Jose Luis Marti: Philosophers love to start with obvious truths, and then leap to an obscure language that few understand. Philosophies often seem distant from the real world; ordinary people and politicians are simply left out of such elegant discourses, while some consider them totally useless. But political philosophy is a form of practical philosophy. Thus, it should be applicable, shareable, realistic and energizing – whether or not it is idealistic... That is what I believe civic republicanism can be: in short, useful. Civic republicanism has a very simple idea: we must avoid or minimize domination in the world. No matter what kind of domination, no matter what source, no matter who is being dominated and by whom. We must minimize domination, being careful of not producing a greater domination in the process. To do so is to empower the weak, while controlling and restricting the powerful. According to this view, the source of all political evils is the imbalance of power that makes domination possible. Power, of course, comes not only from economic means – although obviously these are very effective. Power may come, for instance, from unequal access to information, from cultural inequalities, from sexist cultural patterns, and from many other sources. Socialists are traditionally concerned about workers’ exploitation by the owners of the means of production. So are republicans. Feminists are concerned about gender and domination. So are republicans. Multiculturalists are concerned about the domination of cultural or religious minorities by their majoritarian counterparts. So are republicans. Democrats want more transparency, accountability, and opportunities for political engagement and popular control by citizens. So do republicans. And republicans, in addition, are concerned about many other issues: the discrimination faced by the LGBT community, consumers at the mercy of retailers or companies, web users at the mercy of providers or regulatory states, children at the mercy of their parents or teachers, the elder at the mercy of younger disrespectful citizens, the kid being bullied by a classmate at school, the prisoner abused by his jail mates or by the prison authorities, etc. The varieties of domination are almost infinite. According to republicans, being subject to alien control constitutes domination even if such an influence is benevolent or well-intentioned. The mere fact of being at the mercy of others is a case of domination. And this is the opposite of being free. Freedom is the central republican value. But freedom understood in this particular way, as the absence of domination. This is one of the respects in which republicanism is different from liberalism, which traditionally favours a negative idea of freedom. When I am under the arbitrary power or alien control of others, I am subordinated. They may or may not actually interfere in my life. But I am being dominated, even if I believe that I am free. The idea is, again, quite simple. To be free is to enjoy an equal social and political status and an equal protection by the law. As Philip Pettit puts it, free persons – according to this republican view – are those who “can speak their minds, walk tall among their fellows, and look others squarely in the eye. They can command respect from those with whom they deal, not being subject to their arbitrary interference” (José Luis Martí and Philip Pettit, A Political Philosophy in Public Life, page 38). The forms of domination can be separated into two main sources: i) private agents, like individual citizens, criminal organizations, religious communities, corporations and companies, unions, other civil associations, etc; and ii) public agents or institutions, like governments – our own or a foreign government – any type of public institution including the agencies of the administration but also the corporations owned by the government, international organizations, and even institutions with no agency, such as cultural patterns or structures, etc. According to Pettit, the first task to avoid private domination is “to firm up the infrastructure of nondomination, providing as far as possible for a resilient economy, a reliable rule of law, an inclusive knowledge system, a sound health system, and a sustainable environment”. But the republican government, according to him, must also do at least three other things: empowering the weak by giving them the resources of basic functioning, protecting all citizens through the law from both internal and external enemies, and regulating and restricting the powerful. Republicanism, in contrast to liberalism, is not suspicious of governmental intervention. On the contrary, there is a belief that the government and the law is the only way to achieve the goal of reducing significant private domination. But the government itself must be subject to control and regulations in order to avoid the risk of public domination, the arbitrary power of public agents. This is why constitutional arrangements with separation of powers, some kind of federalism, a judicially enforceable bill of rights, the rule of law, and other traditional legal strategies are needed.” (