Freedom, Autonomy and Liberalism

The core of a liberal order is a belief in the freedom of individuals. But what is freedom? And what does it require, politically? How to order a free society? In my work, I have defended a particular view of freedom, sometimes referred to as ‘positive freedom’. It requires not just the absence of interferences by others (coercion), but also that individuals have sufficient opportunities and abilities to act freely. Such a person is an autonomous agent. Since these opportunities/abilities can be understood as ‘capabilities’, there is an overlap between my work on autonomy and my work on capabilities (see under the theme ‘Capability Approach to Social Justice’). The general statement of this view is in my book [15], and the article [16]  

In English work, I studied a variety of aspects of autonomy in more depth. Each time, the emphasis is on the political implications: how to embed a normative concern for autonomy in our political communities? These aspects include: 

  • Temporal autonomy [7]: our ability to be free in how we want to spend our time 
  • Teenage autonomy [9]: the ability of children, in particular teenagers, to grow towards autonomous adults 
  • Autonomy and justice [20]: a proposal for a set of demands-of-justice, which flow from a commitment to autonomy as a basic concept.  
  • Domination and economic agency [18]: drawing the link between republican views of freedom as non-domination and economic agency 
  • Power and liberal egalitarianism [19]: calling for liberal egalitarian theories to take the concept of (economic) power seriously.  
  • Economic inequalities as a problem for liberalism [12].  

Also, I (critically) discuss the following alternative views:  

  • Conservatism [2]: how exactly do liberalism and conservatism as political theories differ from each other? 
  • Axel Honneth’s neo-Hegelian theory of ‘social freedom’ [10, 11].  

In Dutch, I wrote a book [3] in which I discuss a large variety of salient political issues (from health care paternalism to freedom of speech, from work and leisure time to multiculturalism and nationalism) under the lens of freedom/autonomy. Each time I try to make the case that a view based on positive freedom is more attractive than a view based on negative freedom, but also more attractive than a political program based on more substantives views of the good life.  

In addition, I wrote articles in Dutch on:  

  • Neoliberalism [6]: what exactly differentiates it from liberalism? Is it a form of liberalism at all? 
  • Tolerance [13]: with reference to John Locke’s view of tolerance in religious matters, I discuss whether ‘tolerance’ is a better basis for politics than ‘freedom’.  
  • Social-democratic views [1, 4, 5, 8]: is social democracy based on freedom, and if so in what way? 
  • Karl Popper’s notion of the ‘open society’ [16]: when is a society open, what makes it susceptible to ‘closure’?  
  • The lockdown in the Netherlands due to the Corona pandemic [17]: in what way does it infringe or rather protect our freedom?  

Publications for Freedom, Autonomy and Liberalism  

[1] ‘Vrijzinnig waar mogelijk, moralistisch waar nodig’, Socialisme & Democratie 65 (7/8)(2008): 70-78. 

[2] ‘The Conservative Challenge to Liberalism’, in: Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy 14(4)(2011): 465-485. DOI.  

[3] Het huis van de vrijheid. Een politieke filosofie voor vandaag. Amsterdam: Ambo/Anthos, 2011. 371 pp.  

[4] ‘De bindingsangst van sociaal-democraten’, Socialisme & Democratie 68 (10/11)(2011): 61-70. 

[5] ‘De staat en het goede leven’, Socialisme & Democratie 68 (7/8)(2011): 23-30. 

[6] ‘Neoliberalisme als politieke filosofie’, in: Marin Terpstra (red), Onenigheid en gemeenschap. Basisboek politieke filosofie (Boom, 2012), pp. 513-527. WEB

[7] ‘Temporal Autonomy in a Laboring Society’, in: Inquiry. An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy 55(5)(2012): 543-562. DOI.  

[8] ‘Vrij en verantwoordelijk, op z’n sociaal-democratisch’, Socialisme & Democratie 69 (1/2)(2012): 36-46. 

[9] ‘Sailing Alone. Teenage Autonomy and Regimes of Childhood’, co-authored with Joel Anderson, in: Law & Philosophy 31 (5)(2012): 495-522. DOI.  

[10] ‘Justice: Constructive or Reconstructive?’, in: Krisis (1)(2013): 28-31. PDF.  

[11] ‘Social Freedom and the Demands of Justice. A Study of Axel Honneth’s Recht der Freiheit’, in: Constellations. An International Journal of Critical and Democratic Theory 21(1)(2014): 67-81. DOI.  

[12] ‘Economic Inequalities as a Problem for Liberal Thought’, in: Idee 35 (6)(2014): 12-16. 

[13] ‘Tolerantie: een religieuze grondslag voor het liberalisme?’, in: Christen Democratische Verkenningen, jaargang 35, zomer 2015, pp. 59-65. WEB.  

[14] ‘An Agency-based Capability Theory of Justice’, in: European Journal of Philosophy 25(4)(2017): 1279-1304. DOI.  

[15] Capabilities in a Just Society. A Theory of Navigational Agency (Cambridge University Press, 2018). 264 pp. ISBN 9781108473262. DOI.  

[16] ‘De open samenleving en de vijand van binnen, in: Ondernemen in de Open samenleving, Rutger Claassen & Judith van Erp (red.), Boom Bestuurskunde, Den Haag, 2019, pp. 15-27. PDF.   

[17] ‘De intelligente lockdown. Een ‘dashboard’ van drie dimensies in onze vrijheid’, in: Reeks Ethische Annotaties Ethiek Instituut, no. 7, 8 juni 2020. WEB.  

[18] ‘Why Economic Agency Matters: An Account of Structural Domination in the Economic Realm’, co-authored with Lisa Herzog, in: European Journal of Political Theory. 20(3)(2021): 465-485.  DOI.  

[19] ‘Making Power Explicit. Why Liberal Egalitarians Should Take (Economic) Power Seriously’, with Lisa Herzog, in: Social Theory & Practice. 47 (2)(2021): 221-246. DOI.  

[20] ‘Autonomy and Justice’, in: Ben Colburn (ed.), Routledge Handbook on Autonomy (London: Routledge, 2021).