Republican Liberty as Liberty within Rights

Daniel Layman
Davidson College

12th November 2020

What is the relationship between republican liberty and rights? The received view is that although rights play an important role in republican theory, non-domination is conceptually distinct from rights enjoyment; like liberty as non-interference, republican liberty is a stand-alone conception of liberty that we can understand and perhaps even promote without invoking rights at all. I argue that this is a confusion, one that has left our view of republican liberty, and indeed the entire liberty debate, substantially out of focus. Republican liberty is not, like liberty as non-interference, an account of liberty that is conceptually independent of rights and which may (or may not) stand in relationships of varying importance to rights. To the contrary, republican liberty just is liberty within rights; to enjoy all of one’s rights is to enjoy full non-domination, and to enjoy full non-domination is to enjoy all of one’s rights. Rights enjoyment, we may say, is necessary and sufficient for republican liberty. It is necessary for republican liberty because there is no way to specify the range within which independence from others’ unconstrained wills matters without specifying particular rights that people may claim against one another. And it is sufficient for republican liberty because to enjoy a right is to possess securely a valid claim against one or more other people, where security is a function of institutional sanctions sufficient to dissuade others from violating that right. Thus, ‘R is a right and so requires entrenchment against others’ arbitrary power’ adds nothing to ‘R is a right.’ Once it becomes clear that republican liberty is liberty within rights, the liberty debate reappears as a contest that is fundamentally about whether there is conceptual daylight between liberty and rights.