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Philosophical Topics

Volume 48, Issue 2, Fall 2020

The Political Philosophy of Socialism

Tom O’Shea
Pages 203-222

What Is Economic Liberty?

Economic liberty is best understood in opposition to economic domination. This article develops a radical republican conception of such domination. In particular, I argue that radical republicanism provides a more satisfactory account of individual economic freedom than the market-friendly liberties of working, transacting, holding, and using championed by Nickel and Tomasi. So too, it avoids the pitfalls of other conceptions of economic liberty which emphasize real freedom, alternatives to immiserating work, or unalienated labor. The resulting theory holds that economic domination occurs when someone’s access to civic capabilities is contingent on the arbitrary economic power of others. Socialist institutions—suitably configured—can deliver on this individual economic freedom, allowing the dominating power of proprietors, shareholders, landlords, and managers to be kept in check, and providing an unconditional minimum that allows individual citizens to be less beholden to others in meeting many of their most fundamental civic needs. Thus, I conclude that socialism can be championed as a politics of individual economic liberty.