Volume 30, Issue 1, Spring 2016
Democratic Liberty and Poverty Eradication
Priority and Co-Originality in Hennie Lötter’s Philosophical Scheme
This article engages with H. P. P. Lötter’s account of democracy, liberty, and poverty in this IJAP symposium devoted to his book, Poverty, Ethics, and Justice. For Lötter liberty and democracy are intrinsically part of what is meant by poverty eradication and necessary instrumentally to secure whatever else it means. Lötter insists that liberty rights and socio-economic rights are interdependent and that neither has moral priority. This account is pitched at a level of generality, and contains ambiguities, that evade certain hard but necessary questions, the main one being whether Lötter’s theory of the ‘co-originality’ of liberty and social rights is opposed to all reasonable constructions and entailments of the thesis of the priority of liberties. I suggest that he must accept a ‘weak’ priority thesis in order to insulate his overall argument from an authoritarian reading. Yet it is not clear whether Lötter’s would accept that politics enjoys a necessary centrality in adjudicating uncertainties within economic theory and policy-making, that democracy is irreducibly procedural in ways that licence particular voting and governing actions that are not necessarily pro-poor, and that political liberties plus a range of ‘negative’ civil liberties ought to be protected from trade-offs with prospective welfare and equality gains. Several aspects of Lötter’s account seem to block such moves, but I contend that the struggle against poverty and inequality is necessarily undertaken on a terrain of political and epistemic uncertainty, and that a democratic polity premised on institutionalised respect for uncertainty offers the best bet for realising welfare and social justice at an acceptable cost while respecting autonomy.