JUST FREEDOM by Philip Pettit


A Moral Compass for a Complex World
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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!”

Pub Date: March 10th, 2014
ISBN: 978-0-393-06397-4
Page count: 160pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15th, 2014


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