Just Freedom: A Moral Compass for a Complex World

Just Freedom: A Moral Compass for a Complex World

by Philip Pettit


View All Available Formats & Editions


An esteemed philosopher offers a vision for the central role of one of our most cherished—and controversial—ideas.

In this rigorous distillation of his political philosophy, Philip Pettit, author of the landmark work Republicanism, champions a simple standard for our most complex political judgments, offering a challenging ideal that nevertheless holds out a real prospect for social and democratic progress.

Whereas many thinkers define freedom as the absence of interference—we are left alone to do as we please—Pettit demands that in their basic life choices free persons should not even be subject to a power of interference on the part of others. This notion of freedom as non-domination offers a yardstick for gauging social and democratic progress and provides a simple, unifying standard for analyzing our most entangled political quandaries.

Pettit reaffirms the ideal, already present in the Roman Republic, of a free citizenry who enjoy equal status with one another, being individually protected by a law that they together control. After sketching a fresh history of freedom, he turns to the implications of the ideal for social, democratic, and international justice.

Should the state erect systems for delivering mandatory healthcare coverage to its citizens? Should voting be a citizen’s only means of influencing political leaders? Are the demands of the United Nations to be heeded when they betray the sovereignty of the state? Pettit shows how these and other questions should be resolved within a civic republican perspective.

Concise and elegant in its rhetoric and ultimately radical in its reimagining of our social arrangements, Just Freedom is neither a theoretical treatise nor a practical manifesto, but rather an ardent attempt to elaborate the demands of freedom and justice in our time.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

In this slim volume, Princeton University political philosopher Pettit (Republicanism) reiterates his long-held idea that universal freedom revolves around non-domination. Pettit begins the book with tests of freedom: the eyeball test, the tough luck test, and the straight talk test. Unfortunately, he doesn't follow through on these themes or build his book around them. Instead, he abstractly ponders the relationship between the individual and private and public power. This earnest book reminds us that freedom is a precious thing and emanates from republican ideals. Stating that these ideals of freedom, justice, and democracy have achieved more than other political systems, Pettit nonetheless tries to spin something more cosmopolitan. (Pettit is Australian-born and teaches part-time at Australian National University.) His "ideal of global sovereignty" is far-fetched and implausible. Pettit's political instincts and efforts to extend republicanism are commendable, even noble, but the compass he uses, while erudite, is more appropriate to the ivory tower. Pettit's book contains far too many "oughts," never confronting the many confident enemies to freedom of thought and action in today's complex, often amoral world. (Mar.)

Rainer Forst

Just Freedom is a comprehensive vision of politics by one of the leading thinkers of our time. With great clarity and originality, Philip Pettit develops the idea of republican freedom as non-domination and pays close attention to what it means for institutions. To combine theory and practice in that way is a Herculean achievement.

Anne Marie Slaughter

Only Philip Pettit could offer us a ‘moral GPS’ that combines philosophical depth with practical advice for decision-making on issues ranging from taxation to social insurance to surveillance. I found Just Freedom to be a lively, compelling, and deeply useful book that opened my eyes to new ways of thinking from both an academic and a policymaking perspective.

Kirkus Reviews

Pettit (Politics and Human Values/Princeton Univ.; On the People's Terms: A Republican Theory and Model of Democracy, 2013, etc.) offers some clear definitions of justice and freedom and suggests what those definitions have meant in history—and could mean in the contemporary world. The author writes extensively here about republicanism (lowercase r), but most of his arguments will do little to delight today's GOP. He devotes an early chapter to the evolving notion of freedom, beginning in ancient Rome and moving through the Middle Ages and Renaissance. He arrives at a list of eight freedoms, some of which appear in our Bill of Rights but others of which derive from his definitions: "the freedom to change occupation and employment" and "the freedom to spend your leisure time in one or another activity." Pettit emphasizes throughout that citizens must be equals, and he continually employs the example of Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House to show how Nora's liberty is not genuine since her "freedom" is always conditional upon Torvald's largesse. In later chapters, Pettit discusses features of states based on freedom and justice, features that include civic protections, infrastructure and insurance (all, he writes, should receive a "basic level of social security, medical security, and judicial security"). He proceeds to a discussion about the relationship between freedom and democracy and argues that a constitution should remain in a perpetual state of revision. Near the end, he looks beyond the United States, considers how his ideas might play out on a world stage and urges the employment of "soft" rather than "hard" power in international relations. He ends by noting that "democracy is hard work" and by blasting unnamed news organizations that are the "enemies of democracy." Pettit's logical and humane yet ultimately utopian approach to human organizations will leave many muttering, "If only!"

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780393063974
Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date: 03/10/2014
Series: Norton Global Ethics Series
Pages: 288
Product dimensions: 5.70(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.20(d)

Customer Reviews