Republican Freedom

Freedom as non-domination

Probably, the most suggestive concept in political theory is “freedom”, and its most typical definition would be likely that my freedom finishes where the freedom of the others begins. In developing this affirmation in logical terms, it should follow that if the other’s freedom diminishes, mine will broader in an inverted proportional way. Consequently, it should conclude that I would be the only individual totally free insofar the others lose such a condition. That is, a zero sum paradox. Such a definition is useful to understand the “negative” and “positive” notions of freedom coined in 1958 by Isaiah Berlin, influenced by 1819 Constants’ distinction between the freedom of the “ancients” and of the “moderns”. Nevertheless, the republican tradition has never used such a framework, since it rather defines freedom as the capacity to do X when this doesn’t damage the sphere of the social autonomous existence of others, and without the existence of the possibility of these arbitrary interferences by part of third. Republicanism understands freedom therefore, not as the absence of interferences or constraints, but as the absence of domination.(1) In other words, “domination is subjection to an arbitrary power of interference on the part of another –a dominus or master– even another who chooses not actually to exercise that power. Republican freedom (…) should be defined as non-domination, not non-interference.”(2)

The political economy and sociological framework in which Republicanism is historically framed focuses on the idea that social life is constituted by a dense set of asymmetrical power relations constituted by unequal socioeconomic conditions. On the one hand, republican sociology holds that few individuals can always monopolize some resources and consequently become “more free” to impose some conditions (although not always formal) under which others have to manage their own lives.(3) In doing so, some individuals are not as free as others to establish, manage and control (their) social interactions. Once again, the accumulation of wealth by a few hands contributes to generate different and multiple bonds of socioeconomic dependencies, and therefore, jeopardize social freedom understood as non-domination.

A republican political economy also framed within a republican social framework, have always supported different institutional designs capable to restrict those socioeconomic conditions where social dependencies and dominations relationships tend to flourish. This is the reason why democratic republicanism has always tried to widespread those resources to assure material independence for all, so that democratic governments have implemented distinct measures to secure both socioeconomic independence and, simultaneously, limits the accumulation of wealth. The common goal of all democratic-republican thinkers and activist was tried to universalize those conditions that “materially” fosters a real free civil society, namely, the association of free and equal individuals –equal in the sense of being equally free–. Accordingly, republican civil society was never understood as the sphere of free concurrence of “negatively protected” individuals. Rather, it was the free and republican association of the small and equal small producers.(4)

In this sense, republican civil society can only flourish on those institutional and economic conditions that promote individuals as really free-choosers,(5) that is, those who can take “freely” all kind of decisions in their own life plans without any type of arbitrarily interference. Philip Pettit summarizes this idea (1997: 158-9) arguing that, “if a republican state is committed to advancing the cause of freedom as non-domination among its citizens, then it must embrace a policy of promoting socio-economic independence”. Moreover, as Casassas pointed out (2007: 1), the republican tradition revolves around the idea that “freedom requires the enjoyment of a certain set of material assets granting individuals socioeconomic independence from others”. In other words, people cannot be free without the material existence politically guaranteed. Here appears the importance of property by republicanism. So understood, property is an instrument or political-constituted economic device promoting a free civil society. It is, therefore, a mechanism to ensure material independence, which allows the creation of a sphere of autonomous social existence (autonomous in the sense of being non-dominated rather than being atomistic detached from human beings). To summarize these requirements of republican freedom, it can be useful to focus on Raventós’ outline (2007: 75-77), which groups the core axioms of republican political sociology. According to this, one is a free individual, when:

a. Does not dependent on the will of another to live.

b. Nobody can interfere arbitrarily in his/her sphere of social autonomous existence.

c. The Republic should interfere rightfully in his/her sphere of social autonomous existence.

d. Any kind of interference into his/her private sphere of the autonomous existence that might damage this space and thereby to damage his/her autonomous social autonomy is illicit.

e. The Republic is obligated to interfere into his/her private social sphere if it qualifies him/her to compete (with possible success) against the Republic’s right to determine what is “public good”.

f. He/she is insured in his/her political freedom by a set of constitutive rights (not only formal) that nobody can snatch, nor he/she can alienate without losing his/her condition as citizen.

To sum up, republican freedom requires that people achieve an autonomous position protected from potentially arbitrary interferences. Hence, it must be necessary to count on a certain kind of “property” to guarantee a minimum degree of material independence, which might provide individuals with those necessary material recourses to escape from dependence (or servitude) bonds that social configuration entails. Therefore, material independence becomes a necessary condition (although, not sufficient) to ensure freedom as non-domination, as Republicanism defined it. This freedom should be understood as those social conditions that allows individuals to take decisions in all domains of their lives “with the security that nobody will have the possibility to arbitrary interfere in the decisions he/she might make with regard to his/her own life plans” (Birnbaum and Casassas, 2008: 2). It is true, though, that republican freedom was also attached to the practice of virtue. As Erik MacGilvray notes, the republican idea of freedom in the pre-modern era consisted in the enjoyment of certain political status (protection from arbitrary powers) and certain virtues. In addition, as he also remarks, the specific republican view of freedom arises at the point “where the practice of virtue is made to depend on the absence of arbitrary power, and vice-versa” (MacGilvray, 2011: 16). Nevertheless, this paper focuses on “arbitrary power” and its both political and economic dimensions, rather than in the practice of virtue. To illustrate both conditional dimensions, Pettits’ metaphor (2005: 30) may be suitable:

Freedom, in contrast to such subjection and servility, was presented as a condition in which one could walk tall and look others in the eye, knowing that one could not be pushed around with impunity, and knowing that this knowledge was shared among the members of one's community.

The quote above reflects the collective or social (and political therefore) character of republican freedom. Against the hobbesianan-influenced liberal-atomistic view of freedom as non-interference, republicanism and particularly its democratic branch, was always concerned about how to build and protecting the “civil society”. That is, those who share the same status as free citizens or, as Pettit says, those who can look the others in the eyes, knowing that nobody can push around her fellow citizen. The classical republican meaning of freedom was set up according to two concerns, both the internal and the external defence of such freedom. The former shows the awareness to keep the liberty inside the nation against the potential despotism of a ruling-mastery government (the imperium) or a particular class (dominium), which implied a set of political and economic arrangement, such as the dispersion of political power, the axiom of ruling of law, the limited terms of the public offices and its accountability, on the first case, and the dispersion of capital, wealth and productive assets, on the other. The second concern alludes the external security, reason why classic republics were so vigilant their frontiers and external-military menaces.

Thereby, when reinterpreting these classical freedom’s concerns (internal and external), the American Independence and the French Revolution were two historical events in which an innovative republican agenda was introduced. In the American case, it was through the redaction of the Federal Constitution, the defence from British control and the “critique of any form of colonial rule”, as Pettit stated (2005: 31). In France, this was internally developed by the fight against monarchy and despotisms, and externally, by the defence from the European monarchies incursions (supported by internal parties). Therefore, the core concern of both the American and the French revolutions was to create a government, its rules, and a particular institutional design, according to which the state would reduce private dominion without becoming a public imperium; the cost of which, they said, “is the eternal vigilance”.(6) In echoing these concerns, Jefferson and Robespierre were the key characters of both revolutionary events.

Conditional Material Independence

As it is shown above, by the classical framework the free individual was expected above all to be self-sufficient. To be free, in these terms, implies to be under one’s own jurisdiction and not under the rule of others. Hence, in order to understand the classical republican thought it is necessary to consider not only the domination relations within the state and public institutions (imperium), but also the private domination relationships, namely, those civil-dependency interactions (dominium), which are also “the origin of the imperium” as Casassas notes (2005: 239).

In this sense, and as MacGilvray notes (2011), in the classical language of freedom, one is free if “one is able to act under one’s own initiative instead of merely reacting to the deeds of others, benevolent though they might be”. To be free then “is to be free of necessity (…) to depend on another person, whether tyrant or patron, master or benefactor, is to be unfree to that extent”. In the above quote, it can be noted that a free man has to be economically independent because, as Hannah Arendt pointed out (1958: 64), “poverty forces the free man to act like a slave”. The way of bridle the power of riches is by regulating the possession and consumption of property or indeed, to redistribute property, indeed, “When a man assumes a public trust, he should consider himself as public property.”(7) Of course, such classical agenda interpreted property –of land– as the essential device to enjoy social freedom. Nevertheless, in contemporary welfare market societies such a function is better understood through a schema of tax and benefits to redistribute wealth and productive resources. In doing so, classical and current societies did not just tried to spread out property, but also a way to balance political power among social classes.

Restricting power through the distribution of its material foundation (property and wealth) was not only a way of maximising the civic virtue improving the material conditions of the middle class (as Aristotle wished), but also, a way to constrain the capacity of certain classes (the riches ones) to political define and control the public sphere. Nevertheless, it should be noted that wealth redistribution by itself was not the primary goal of republicanism, but rather the protection of civic freedom. Therefore, distributive justice was rather a necessary condition to achieve the pursuit of such a freedom. In inegalitarian societies, domination relations are highly likely if political institutions and economic policies are not designed to avoid it because, as Pettit remarked (2006: 139), “(...) if the property system or distribution has the contingent effect of allowing domination, then that makes a case for institutional adjustment.” Hence for the republican tradition, the conception of freedom as non-domination provides powerful arguments towards the redistribution of property or the restriction of powers associated with, so that the domination caused by extreme inequality must be minimized.

Republican Political Economy in Historical Context

The normative and political conceptualization of freedom is already explained. Nevertheless, as a result of multiple historical interpretations of freedom and property, it can be also examined how different institutional arrangements have been deployed in each historical context. It is already explained too that the link between both concepts was the core of republican tradition. Following these different historical experiences and interpretations then, it can be analysed how property institution has been implemented in multiple ways. An implementation that was committed with (and was the result of) distinct normative conceptions of democracy. In other words, each republican distributive agenda was strongly related with its particular ideal of democracy, as well as with a more or less restricted kind of freedom. From here onwards, we shall examine two of the most prominent events regarding the republican tradition. On the one hand the American Revolution, the first revolutionary experience that, as Arthur Rosenberg (1966 (1937)) and Charles Richard (1955) pointed out, keep the most relevant teachings of ancient republicanism. On the other, the French Revolution, influenced by classical republicanism as well as by the American experience. To do so, we shall use the works of Jefferson and Robespierre, as intellectual and political chiefs of both “constitutive moments”. Despite that both authors were quite different (or even contradictory), the way they shared the freedom-property framework and how they applied it in their political agenda, is something that remains under-studied.

As it has been shown, to pursuit republican freedom required certain conditions and some constrictions, which represents what it may be called “an institutional system to support freedom”.(8) This institutional system is set up upon two major measures. First, to ensure a sort of “material sufficiency” and, second, to restrict those private powers that might control or arbitrarily interfere into the free civil society, as explained above. In other words, both a normative and a positive notion of republican freedom required that government implemented two significant policies. First, some sort of floors (material sufficiency) to provide material means to individuals to allow them a certain degree of autonomy and assure a cohesive and active civil society, as well as a more democratic public sphere. Secondly, a set of economical ceilings (restrict private powers), by restricting the excessive wealth accumulation by a few private hands that tended to jeopardize individual autonomy and popular political sovereignty.

On the one side, the first condition –floors– is already seen. If individuals have not their material existence politically guaranteed, then they tend to do whatever they can to obtain it, even to accept the external rule, alienate their freedom, and so on. This is the reason why republicanism has always had a “proprietor character”. In this sense, the private propriety represents the necessarily condition of individual independence that, in its turn, makes possible the political freedom and virtue.(9) As Charles Beard (2002 (1922)) pointed out, propriety constitutes a necessarily background to provide the means protecting life and freedom, so that, propriety and wealth’s redistribution were two of the most controversial issues of this tradition of thought. On the other hand, –ceilings– are related, not only with the dispersion of wealth, but also with a particular political arrangement to prevent the centralization of political power.

To sum up, (democratic) republicanism always tried to build political governments based on the deliberative and consent process where all members of the republic might participate from an equal social status. In this sense, private interests must be excluded from “deliberative arena” because, as Pettit (1997: 63) suggests, “it must always be possible for people in the society (…) to contest the assumption that the guiding interests and ideas really are shared and, if the challenge proves sustainable, to alter the pattern of state activity”.(10) The deliberative, and particularly, the “consent” ideal that republicanism defended, implied that all members of political arena should participate as equals, not in the sense of being equals, but in the sense that they must have the same resources to deliberate in the same conditions, being equally influent into public deliberation. In doing so, private interests backed by excessive influent social powers must be bridled to keep the public consent. As we shall see, both ideals were shared by different thinkers and republican activists, although they may differed in how these policies must be applied, and above all, which part of population should be included within such policies. (11)

Floors and Ceilings in Context

In order to arrange such “institutional system to support freedom” or, in order to build those institutional conditions that might guarantee freedom as non-domination, both Jefferson and Robespierre shared some elements which allows us to assume that both were part of democratic republican tradition, despite their differences in crucial aspects. Nevertheless, between the late eighteenth and the first years of nineteenth century, democracy was associated with Robespierre in France and also with Jefferson in the U.S. In the former case, bourgeoisie was ruling the revolution until 1791, when Jacobins and radical revolutionaries took the power. In the former case, the American policy was ruled by the proto-liberal Federal party, although since 1800 the Republican one won the presidential elections defending the small and republican ownership as well as peasant interests. Both movements, as Rosenberg reminds us (1966: 17), were understood in that moment as “democrats” or “radical republicans” because they supported people’s (or demos’) interest against the moneyed sectors or “artificial aristocracy”, as Jefferson used to say.

In France, workers and peasant classes were deeply divergent from bourgeoisie, especially after the 1789, and clearly opposed during the follow years. Meanwhile, in the U.S. of 1765, the Independence war showed different methods in the struggle between small farmers and tenants, and rich businessman, traders and landlords. Indeed, the war of Independence slightly evened out these differences in favour of “national interests”, though once the war was over those contradictions were intensified during the debate on the new federal Constitution. Since then, the aim of the republicans guided by Jefferson was the opposition to capital and banking interests. Although American republicans were always favourable towards a more individualistic private propriety, and French revolutionaries placed ahead the collective and public control on propriety, to some extent, both forces tried to widespread the access of property, and therefore, keeping the tension between public and private propriety as a fundamental issue of their political agendas. As Richard (1995) highlighted, such feature is the reason why these two experiences were strongly connected with the ancient democratic parties in Greece and Rome.(12) Therefore, Robespierre and Jefferson assumed and attempted to apply a package of measures in order to introduce a floor and ceiling policy. Following James Harrington in Oceana (1656), both activists understood propriety as the real foundation and the means of power, so that they used it as the fundamental policy. They also inherited from Harrington the idea that a rightful government must be founded on the propriety, as it can be noted in the following James Madison’s words:

The diversity in the faculties of men, from which the rights of property originate, is not less an insuperable obstacle to a uniformity of interests. The protection of these faculties is the first object of government. From the protection of different and unequal faculties of acquiring property, the possession of different degrees and kinds of property immediately results; and from the influence of these on the sentiments and views of the respective proprietors, ensues a division of the society into different interests and parties.(13)

Thus, both Jefferson and Robespierre –although in different ways– made such “property issue” the core element of their governments. This was also one of the most important differentiation principles against Federals in U.S., and against Girondins and monarchs in France. While the former was focused policies supporting the yeomen and small farmers, and was concerned about the redistribution of land since “the small landholders are the most precious part of a state”;(14) the latter was concerned in developing a revolutionary program –“Popular Political Economy”– in opposition to the oligarchic and speculative interests, since as he pointed out, the propriety had been instituted “to guarantee the right to existence” for all humankind.

The Democratic-Jeffersonian agenda

Both politicians knew that political wisdom required a government based on property and on the redistribution of wealth, as well as on the control over bank and financial transactions. For this reason, Jefferson in 1816, in a letter to William Plumer, a lawyer of Massachusetts, said: “I place economy among the first and most important of republican virtues and public debt as the greatest dangers to be feared”. In the same year, writing to George Logan, a politician from Philadelphia, he added: “I hope we shall take warning from the example of England (15) and crush in its birth the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations which dare already to challenge our Government to trial, and bid defiance to the laws of our country”. According to these sentences we cannot divide the floors and ceiling ideal. Rather, both are two sides of the same problématique, namely, a republican political economy. Such a material independence was envisaged on the small farmers’ way of life, since they did not remain dependent on a master, corporation or, even on a government. The philosophical background of such an ideal was the classical republican aim, namely, the division of powers, either political or economic. However, when focussing on the economic one (the most important according to Beard’s language), Jefferson was quite clear, the land must be distributed through the population despite “that an equal division of property is impracticable.”(16) He was astonished seeing the France’s distribution of land and its poverty effects. After advocating for a system of inheritance taxation over the land and wealth, he also added that:

(…) Another mean of silently lessening the inequality of property is to exempt all from taxation below a certain point, & to tax the higher portions of property in geometrical progression as they rise. Whenever there is in any country, uncultivated lands and unemployed poor, it is clear that the laws of property have been so far extended as to violate natural right. The earth is given as a common stock for man to labour & live on. If for the encouragement of industry we allow it to be appropriated, we must take care that other employment be provided to those excluded from the appropriation. If we do not have the fundamental right to labour the earth returns to the unemployed. It is too soon yet in our country to say that every man who cannot find employment but who can find uncultivated land shall be at liberty to cultivate it, paying a moderate rent. But it is not too soon to provide by every possible means that as few as possible shall be without a little portion of land.(17)

Reading this sentence it is clear that the republican freedom he envisaged had ought to be assured from below and from above, that is, assuring a minimum –a floor– along with the application of a progressive taxation and redistribution –a ceiling–. Poverty and servitude must be eradicated, while wealth and power must be bridled. (18) None of both phenomena can produce freedom neither virtue. Because, as Appleby and Ball point out (1999: 25): “the liberty of the people is in constant danger from the predations of the powerful. The best, indeed the only antidote to concentrated power, is power diffused among the people themselves” as Pettit noted too.(19) Nevertheless, it must be highlighted that this power diffusion was not an “instrumental” policy to favour the articulation of his republican ideal. Rather, it was founded on a moral or philosophical principle based on the (progressive) natural rights tradition, as Jefferson properly remains.

No man has a natural right to commit aggression on the equal rights of another, and this is all from which the laws ought to restrain him; every man is under the natural duty of contributing to the necessities of the society, and this is all the laws should enforce on him.(20)

In the above, it can be seen how natural rights were backing his philosophical framework. Thus, in order to preserve them the law must act restraining (in negative way) and also assuring (in positive way) the necessities of society. Therefore, from this sentence it can be deduced that property is one of the natural rights that individuals must protect, because as he points out, “The true foundation of republican government is the equal right of every citizen in his person and property and in their management.(21) In this sense, the freedom as non-domination ideal, based on the enjoyment of material independence and founded on individual property, was the Jefferson’s fundamental axiom that structured the thoughts and policies in the early American republic. Nevertheless, Jefferson was not radical as Robespierre, and was quite careful not to become “too much” of a democrat. Therefore, Jefferson was consistent with the classical republican concerns according to which, there are two great threats to republican freedom, one belonging to private powers or dominium, and the other, from public power or imperium. Hence, Jefferson’s central concern was how to devise a government that, reducing the private domination, did not become a source of public domination. This is the reason why he never tried to control completely individual property by governmental means. Rather, he trusted in the “private virtue” characterized by small tenants, yeomanry and “natural aristocracy” in order to manage the political matters of the Federal government.

Robespierre’s Republican Political Economy

The above may be one important disagreement between the America and French republicans, and also between Jefferson and Robespierre. The French was differentiating from the Founders in two main issues. On the one hand, referring to those who should be included in the democratic process; on the other, how propriety and wealth should be distributed. In regards to the first issue, Robespierre was a radical democrat aiming to integrate democratic procedures into society, so that poor people, small peasants and urban workers should be the core actors of such democracy. Freedom as non-domination, therefore, should shelter all the petit peuple, the whole demos who had been excluded during the feudal and despotic period. In this sense, after the King’s execution people had to become the only sovereign or the “self-ruling people”. This should be the only political authority, since as he said, “Is inside of the virtue and into the people’s sovereign where it should be search the shelter against the vices and the despotism of the government.”(22) In the French case, the “imperium of the law” was gradually replaced by the “government of people”, namely, the democratic rule of the collective people.

This ideal represented an important shift on the republican tradition. Before Rousseau, republicanism rarely recognized a central role to “people” (in general), since the concepts of republicanism and popular democracy were somehow confronted. Then, the French Revolution was the first time when both concepts were linked, making them interchangeable. This difference was also explicit comparing the American and the French republicanisms, yet in the first case the word “democracy” was always replaced by “republic”. This conceptual problématique showed that in the early U.S., the Founders were afraid of the European historical experience, and particularly of the influence of French revolutionary crowd. They were well aware, along with Aristotle, that a democracy meant the “majority rule”, that is, the poor multitude. On the other hand, the way in which the government faced property rights was also managed in a quite different way. Both activists shared the same conception of freedom as non-domination and the requirement of distributing property to achieve it. However, their historical and economical context forced them to develop such a program in different way. Robespierre was convinced that material independence for the whole démos should be achieved through a radical public intervention in property rights: redistribution of lands, wealth accumulation and price-commodities speculation (particularly over the prices of the grain and the flour). In order to assure what he called the “right to existence”, the first stage was to assure certain economic or material means, that is, to guarantee a minimum floor, as he pointed out in a famous speech:

What is the first goal of the society? To keep the imprescriptible human rights. And what is the first of these rights? The right to existence. The first social law thus is to guarantee to all members of society the means of their existence. All of the rest of the rights are subordinated to this. The propriety has not been instituted or guaranteed by other aim than to cement this. Property is, in the first place, to live.(23)

Being deeply influenced by ancient republican thought, Robespierre never rejected nor refused individual property rights. Rather, he supported them, though adding some limits: “the freedom of trade is necessary until the limit in which the homicide avarice starts to abuse of it”. Property rights must be used in order to protect the imprescriptible human right, namely, the right to existence, among other measures, through the guarantee of a minimum floor. One year later he added, following Jefferson, that: “(...) the extremely wealth disproportion is the beginning of much of the harms and crimes, but we are not less convinced that the exactly equality of goods is a chimera”.(24) Therefore, we cannot consider Robespierre an utopian-egalitarian. Rather it should be understood from a pragmatic and instrumental perspective. Propriety has a social character that must be controlled in a democratic way and it must not be lead to private interests. His aim was that social production could be allocated through market mechanisms generating benefits for individual producers, to the extent that all citizens could enjoy those goods and resources necessary for their own material preservation and, hence, for their political existence as citoyens.

The law of maximum was another part of a broader package of ceiling' schema contributing, likewise, in setting up those material and institutional conditions in which freedom as non-domination could flourish. Firstly, it was to apply a maximum commercial prices for grain and flour, a policy explicitly oriented in preventing the speculation, and therefore, constraining the “unlimited freedom” of commerce and businessmen. On July 19 1793 such a policy spread out all combustible materials, and on July 26, it covered all basic consumer goods. One day before, the stockpiled provisions –“to subtract from the circulation those commodities and basic foodstuff” in Robespierre’s words– was declared capital crime. There was a latent, but powerful amoral condemnation backing this policy: all mercantile speculation at the expense of men’s life is not traffic, but banditry and fratricide. Lastly, on September 4, the maximum policy exceeded the Paris Commune reaching all national law.

Despite the maximum laws might be interpreted exclusively as ceilings, strictly as a tax collection policy, they were a way to widespread, not just economic concentration, but also political influence. Moreover, it should be noted that Robespierre envisaged a broader and comprehensive floors and ceiling schema, as far as both elements were the two indivisible dimensions of the same moral framework. If Robespierre was going to be one of the major characters of the French Revolution, was not because his rhetoric and sharp speeches, but because he was probably the most brilliant revolutionary in reading his time. The transcendence of his political and intellectual work lies precisely in the way he apprehended the fundamental moral claims of the petit peuple –the natural right to existence and the substantive economy– within a political agenda of floors and ceiling, the so-called “Popular Political Economy”.(25) Such a label –which became the very political program of the Mountain’s government– broadly refers to a political-economy framework preventing the economic power to be independent or disembedded (26) from the social sphere, whose preservation of the natural rights, necessarily required to apply several economic and moral boundaries to markets, and therefore, to private property rights as well. More precisely, as Gauthier explains (2007: 72), Popular Political Economy would mean “that the economic power must be bridled by the political one, since the policy is the common propriety of people, of the citizens who really exercise the power”.

As Jefferson also envisaged, Robespierre’s program was directed towards the formation of an institutional arrangement to guarantee the right to existence and, in doing so, strengthen the –material conditions leading to the– flourishing of freedom and republican virtue. It may be said, therefore, that his revolutionary political program, along with the Jefferson’s too– was profoundly permeated with a sort of conditions and constrictions logic. Accordingly, revolutionary laws –particularly the economic ones– should promote those economic and political conditions over which people could enjoy such freedom. To do so, these revolutionary laws –passed by universal suffrage– could legitimately constrain unlimited freedom of those private powers that tend to jeopardize these freedom conditions.

“Why laws should not halt the homicide hand of the monopolist”, he complained to the Girondins, “in the same manner they do with the ordinary assassin? Why they (the laws) should not be concerned about the people’s existence, after to be concerned about the enjoyment of the powerful men and of the despots?”(27) No particular private interest, therefore, must interfere in ruling the republic, since “The people’s interest, is the public good. The interest of the powerful man is a private interest.”(28) Consequently, in order to restrict those vigorous private interests, both Jefferson and Robespierre envisaged, and partly applied, important conditions and constrictions policies fostering to protect individual and collective freedom. As suggested above, the very dilemma latent in both republican historical experiences remains the same, to find out the way in assuring that the démos’ sovereign could rule over economy and private interests, while simultaneously shielding the individual republican freedom from a potential governmental despotism.

Towards a Contemporary Floors and Ceilings. The Case of a Basic Income

As it has been explained, both Jefferson and Robespierre were committed with the pursuit of those institutional conditions in which an effective policy of floors and ceiling would secure individuals’ socioeconomic independence, while limiting large accumulation of wealth. Moreover, it is also discussed that they always gave priority to the achievement of material independence as a way to safeguard freedom –understood as non-domination– both from the menaces of private powers dominium, as well as from the despotism of the imperium.

Consequently, both revolutionaries implemented their republican political-economy programs through different ways. The main mechanism was a direct policy modifying the rights of appropriation, inheritance and alienation of land in order to fulfil as much the natural rights’ moral requirements as their own positive translation in the revolutionary law. Once the exactly distribution of land was recognized as a chimera, they had to face the same question Thomas Paine had deal with around 1796 in Agrarian Justice. Echoing a clear lockean terminology, Paine believed that the “common property of the human race” –the land– had been appropriated unfairly, so that some individuals possessed by far much more than others. It was the case, therefore, for a radical policy of land taxation, over its inheritance, its alienation, and its accumulation. The end was to indemnify the many, those who have been dispossessed by the unfair private appropriation of the few.

However, as Yannick Bosc suggests (2014), Paine went further in “denouncing the inequality of political rights that the constitutional project (of 1795) justifies in the name of material property. He first recalled that the notion of ‘property’ does not only mean ‘material property’, but also what is the nature of man, that is, his personal rights”. For Paine, in this sense, material property as well personal property rights must be hierarchically organized, since “Inequality of rights is created by a combination in one part of the community to exclude another part from its rights.”(29) According to him, the well-being of people is more sacred than of material properties rights, so that personal law must precedes the substantive law. Paine, like Jefferson and Robespierre, was an heir of natural rights theories that, influenced by lockean theories on the nature of fiduciary relationship of the new governments, was going to forge the modern democratic-republican framework, according to which:

(…) when property is made a pretense for unequal or exclusive rights, it weakens the right to hold the property, and provokes indignation and tumult; for it is unnatural to believe that property can be secure under the guarantee of a society injured in its rights by the influence of that property. (30)

Soon after the thermidorian coup d’état, and being horrified by the consequences of unfair distribution of land over the peasant populations, Jefferson complained that “Whenever there are in a country uncultivated lands and unemployed poor, it is clear that the laws of property have been so far extended as to violate the natural right. The earth is given as a common stock for man to labour & live on.” And here, like Paine did, Jefferson unfolded an explicit lockean argument defending that, “If we do not the (provide with other employment to those who have been expropriated), the fundamental right to labour the earth returns to the unemployed.”(31) Along with this direct policy dealing with real state properties, there was another more indirect mechanism to “silently lessening the inequality of property”, suggested by Jefferson. According to him, a republican public policy must “exempt all from taxation below a certain point, & to tax the higher portions of property in geometrical progression as they rise.”(32) Needless to say, both mechanisms, either direct distribution policies or more indirect redistribution tax system, may now be seen as a sort of precursors of current welfare policies. Nevertheless, the goal of this set of public policies was not just a mere equalization of market outputs, but rather to set up a particular distributive justice design to deal with the normative ideal of republican freedom.

Hence, the relevant question here would be not simply if our welfare public policies are more or less capable to reduce the actual unequal distribution of wealth and resources, but rather if these policies are able enough too to fulfil the normative requirements of republican freedom in our current market societies. In other words, to what extent does the current welfare design promote (the republican) material independence for individuals and thus, their social and civil freedom? In this regard, some authors have advocated for different proposals, among which, an Universal Basic Income (BI, onwards) stands out. Moreover, some of them have defended that a BI along the life may contribute to –partially– endorse these republican principles (Raventós, 2007; Domènech and Raventós, 2007; Casassas, 2005). Other scholars (Ackerman and Alsttot, 1999), argued that a system of cash transfer in once would be a better formula to support individuals from the start, that is, backing their life plans in a particular moment. In addition, some others (Wright, 2006) have defined BI as a more ambitious way to go forward –from a capitalist to a socialist society–, arguing that a BI “can contribute to a broader transformation of capitalism.” Nevertheless, the point here is not to detail all BI’s controversies, but just to highlight its republican-democratic potential, particularly to contemporary market societies. In this sense, and as Domènech and Raventós pointed out (2007: 1) what it should be noted here is that “since the aim of BI is precisely the material independence of individuals, the proposal for a universal and unconditional BI of citizenship and the republican political tradition are inextricably linked”. Furthermore, as they also suggested (2007: 7):

(…) democratic and nondemocratic republicanism share the view that “property” (interpreted as “means of existence”) is necessary for freedom (…). Democratic republicanism maintains that ways should be found to ensure that everyone becomes a “proprietor” (materially independent). In today’s societies, a universal basic income would be the most effective way of institutionally guaranteeing this material independence and hence meaningful citizenship.

From the tradition of democratic republicanism, therefore, a proposal such as the BI may contribute to endorse freedom as non-domination even, in nowadays societies. As we have tried to explain, this proposal would tend to accomplish three different conditions. First, BI could be a policy with the ability to secure the right to existence to all citizens decisively contributing to reinforce condition as (non-dominated) free citizens, like Robespierre suggested. Second, a BI can also contribute to endorse political participation, mainly for those who have no time or means to do so, as ancient republicans envisaged. Like the Aspasia’s ideal, the BI, as the predecessor of the misthon, could provide the material means to poor citizens to reinforce their capacity of participating in the public and political deliberation and consent process, and doing so, reinforcing the very same democratic sovereignty.

And last not least, BI may be a proposal that properly fits with a floors and ceilings policy, as we explained above and as Jefferson and Robespierre tried to implement too. A BI would fit within this schema not only because it implies the guarantee of certain floors for everybody, but also because it should incorporate a tax reform to ensure its own (costly) performance. On the other hand, a proposal such as a BI also entails a sort of ceiling policy, which would likely balance wealth concentration and the social power it entails. To sum up, such a proposal can contribute to maximize those material conditions that supported by an institutional schema of floors and ceiling could contribute to fulfil the republican ideal of freedom as non-domination in contemporary market societies.

Notes :

(1) As MacGilvray points out (2011: 26), the word “free” “was used in the classical world, by republicans and non-republicans alike, to describe a specific class of power as well as the kind of behaviour that was associated with or expected from members of that class.” And he adds: “Only secondarily was it used to refer to the absence of constraint.” Moreover, according to Pettit (2005: 30), a free person, the liber, is someone who does not live in potestate domini, in the power of master.

(2) Pettit (2002: 340).

(3) Winters & Page (2009).

(4) For a further definition of the term ‘socialism’ in a republican style, see: Marx, The Communist Manifesto.

(5) See Casassas (2005: 2414). Pettit (2006: 134) emphases that, “On the chooser-based view, choosers will be free so far as they have resources that give them a shielded standing among others and their choices will be free so far as that standing ensures that they are not obstructed in making those choices.”

(6) This may be a little controversial since some authors attribute it to Jefferson, although there are no evidences of this. It may belong to John Philpot Curran too, who in 1790 said that: “The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance,” Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, New York (1953: 167). It is also attributed to Wendell Phillips, an abolitionist from Massachusetts.

(7) Jefferson, in an explicit republican way, to Baron Humboldt in 1807. Quoted in Rayner (1834: 356).

(8) In order to develop this idea, see Raventós and De Francisco (2005: 262-6).

(9) Although this paper does not face the debate on republican virtue, it should be noted that virtue is not an exclusive moral or psychological factor, but rather it is linked with certain institutional designs that materially allows the exercise of such a virtue.

(10) Pettit defends that “contestability” idea should rule the policy to eradicate the domination; “consent” is also important in the deliberative republican ideal. As Sunstein remarks (1988), contestability and consent are not –necessarily– opposed principles.

(11) These are the (ideological) strategies: Oligarchic Republicanism excluded from civil society those who were “dependent”, those who were not sui iuris. Democratic republicanism included all of them, those who were alien iuris.

(12) Although different authors have described this connection, (Richard, 1995; Appleby, 1992) it is true that this sentence deserves some nuances. In doing so, one can observe how Jefferson and American republicans might be connected with moderate Solon’s policies, meanwhile, Robespierre and Jacobins were strongest related with more the radical ideals of Aspasia or Ephialtes. To go further in this debate, see especially, Richard (1995: 53-85), Appleby (2001) and Adair (2001). However this classical influences over the Founders arrived indirectly to America, yet they was previous “filtered” by English Wighs and Florentine republic as Pocock highlights in his famous The Macchiavellian Moment (1975), as well as by John Locke (2003).

(13) Madison, November 23, 1787 (The Union as a Safeguard against Domestic Faction and Insurrection), in Federalists Papers (2009: 50).

(14) Letter to James Madison, October 28, 1795, in Appleby & Ball, (1999: 107). See the coincidences with the Aristotle’s Politics when he argued that, “the best republics were predominantly agricultural.”

(15) As Montesquieu said (1989: 70), England “may be justly called a republic disguised under the form of monarchy.”

(16) Ibid., 20.

(17) Ibid., 20.

(18) There exist important examples of what Jefferson could had understood as our floors and ceilings definition. The follow ones could be seen as illustrative examples: “To lay taxes to provide for the general welfare (…). For the laying of taxes is the power, and the general welfare the purpose for which the power is to be exercised. They are not to lay taxes ad libitum for any purpose they please; but only to pay the debts or provide for the welfare.” (Jefferson, 1791, “Opinion on the Constitutionality of a National Bank”, The Avalon Project: Documents in Law, History and Diplomacy, Yale Law School). “It seems to be the law of our general nature, in spite of individual exceptions; and experience declares that man is the only animal which devours his own kind, for I can apply no milder term to the governments of Europe, and to the general prey of the rich on the poor.” (Jefferson, Letter to Edward Carrington, Paris, January 16, 1787, in: Appleby & Ball, Op. Cit., 152-154).

(19) Ref. note 12.

(20) Letter to Francis W. Gilmer, June 7, 1816, in Appleby & Ball, Op. Cit., 142. (Emphasis added).

(21) Letter to Samuel Kercheval, July 12, 1816. (Emphasis added). 'Ibid''., 212.

(22) Robespierre (2005: 203). About the Constitution, May 10, 1793, to the Convention.

(23) Ibid., 154, Right to Subsistence, December 2, 1792, to the Convention.

(24) Ibid., 194, Project of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of Citizen, April 24, 1973, to the Convention. (Emphasis added).

(25) Robespierre entitled “Popular Political Economy” in opposition of “Tyrannical Political Economy” which was previously announced by Rousseau in his Political Economy.

(26) See Polanyi (2001(1944): 45-59).

(27) Robespierre, Op. Cit., 154, On the Subsistence and the Right to Existence, December 2, 1792, to the Convention.

(28) Ibid., 203, On the Constitution, May 10, 1793, to the Convention.

(29) Paine (1945: 578), Dissertation on First Principles of Government.

(30) Ibid., 581.

(31) Letter to Reverend James Madison, President of William and Mary College, Monticello, October 28, 1795, in Appleby & Ball., Op. Cit., 106.

(32) Ibid., 107.

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