Public Freedom

Public Freedom

Dana Villa
Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 448
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7rr9t
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  • Book Info
    Public Freedom
    Book Description:

    The freedom to take part in civic life--whether in the exercise of one's right to vote or congregate and protest--has become increasingly less important to Americans than individual rights and liberties. InPublic Freedom, renowned political theorist Dana Villa argues that political freedom is essential to both the preservation of constitutional government and the very substance of American democracy itself.

    Through intense close readings of theorists such as Hegel, Tocqueville, Mill, Adorno, Arendt, and Foucault, Villa diagnoses the key causes of our democratic discontent and offers solutions to preserve at least some of our democratic hopes. He demonstrates how Americans' preoccupation with a market-based conception of freedom--that is, the personal freedom to choose among different material, moral, and vocational goods--has led to the gradual erosion of meaningful public participation in politics as well as diminished interest in the health of the public realm itself. Villa critically examines, among other topics, the promise and limits of civil society and associational life as sources of democratic renewal; the effects of mass media on the public arena; and the problematic but still necessary ideas of civic competence and democratic maturity.

    Public Freedomis a passionate and insightful defense of political liberties at a moment in America's history when such freedoms are very much at risk.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3742-7
    Subjects: Philosophy, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. 1 INTRODUCTION: PUBLIC FREEDOM TODAY
    (pp. 1-26)

    Americans, we are repeatedly told, cherish freedom more than almost any other value or good. Yet the freedom we cherish is peculiarly one-sided. It is, first and foremost, a freedom of choice: the individual’s freedom to decide on a career path, choose a religion, a life partner, a place of residence, a lifestyle, how to raise and educate their children. While it is tempting to view this identification of freedom with individual choice as a more or less direct outgrowth of consumer culture, it is important to remember that its fundamental presupposition isnotthe market. Rather, it is the...

  5. 2 TOCQUEVILLE AND CIVIL SOCIETY
    (pp. 27-48)

    Tocqueville’s reflections on civil society have proven to be one of his most enduring theoretical legacies. They have also proven to be one of the most contested and promiscuously appropriated. This is especially so in America, where in recent years there has been an explosion of academic and journalistic writing on the topic of civil society. Authors from across the ideological spectrum have turned to Tocqueville for guidance in figuring out how the resources of civil society—the diverse array of political, charitable, educational, religious, neighborhood, and professional associations—might best be deployed in the fight against a wide range...

  6. 3 HEGEL, TOCQUEVILLE, AND “INDIVIDUALISM”
    (pp. 49-84)

    In his early essay “On the Scientific Ways of Treating Natural Law” (1802–03), Hegel performed a critical move that was later to form the core ofPhenomenology of Spirit(1807).¹ This was the move from a philosophical-epistemological critique of “atomism” (understood as both method and general explanatory device, such as we find in Hobbes) to a broader, cultural-psychological critique of modern individualism (in both its moral and “bourgeois” or possessive forms).

    What in 1802 and 1807 was a novelty has, of course, become a widespread intellectual tendency. Again and again, we find critics of liberal individualism—whether communitarian, post-Marxist,...

  7. 4 TOCQUEVILLE AND ARENDT: PUBLIC FREEDOM, PLURALITY, AND THE PRECONDITIONS OF LIBERTY
    (pp. 85-107)

    InThe Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere, Jürgen Habermas presents a narrative about the birth, growth, and (possibly fatal) decline of the “bourgeois public sphere” over the course of two and a half centuries. Habermas’s narrative provides a useful touchstone when considering Arendt and Tocqueville on the promise and perils of American democracy. I say “useful” not because I think Habermas is right—far from it. Rather,Structural Transformationhighlights the divergence of Habermas’s rationalist conception of the public sphere from both Arendt and Tocqueville’s interpretations of American democracy, and—more broadly—from the presuppositions of American democracy itself....

  8. 5 MATURITY, PATERNALISM, AND DEMOCRATIC EDUCATION IN J. S. MILL
    (pp. 108-142)

    Over the last 150 years, Mill’s reputation has waxed and waned. In the United States it is safe to say that it has reached its lowest ebb. A number of factors are to blame. Outside of the academy, there is a widespread disenchantment with the ideals of autonomy and moral individualism. We live in an age in which most people prefer to think of themselves as “encumbered selves”—as kitted out (from birth, as it were) with an array of moral, political, and religious commitments that they cannot and will not stand back from. To question these commitments is to...

  9. 6 THE FRANKFURT SCHOOL AND THE PUBLIC SPHERE
    (pp. 143-209)

    “Enlightenment,” Kant famously wrote in 1784, “is man’s emergence from his self-incurred immaturity.” And immaturity, he continued, is

    the inability to use one’s own understanding without the guidance of another. This immaturity isself-incurredif its cause is not lack of understanding, but lack of resolution and courage to use it without the guidance of another. The motto of the enlightenment is therefore:Sapere aude!Have the courage to use yourownunderstanding.¹

    Kant’s formulation—which presents laziness, cowardice, and a general propensity for “dogma and formulas” as holding back the majority of human beings from the attainment of a...

  10. 7 GENEALOGIES OF TOTAL DOMINATION: ARENDT, ADORNO, AND AUSCHWITZ
    (pp. 210-254)

    Sixty years on, it is difficult to recapture the shock that Auschwitz and other death camps had on the European intellect and imagination. Temporal distance (and the numerous intervening atrocities it entails) plays a role, as does the inevitable dying off not only of the survivors, but an entire generation whose formative years were unclouded by the thought of the industrial production of corpses. Though much recent writing on memory and trauma strains to preserve the shock of the unthinkable, Auschwitz has become all too familiar—and thus all too thinkable—for recent generations. The “culture of memory,” with its...

  11. 8 FOUCAULT AND THE DYSTOPIAN PUBLIC
    (pp. 255-301)

    The forming of citizens through one mode or another of “civic education” has been a central theme of Western political thought since Plato and Aristotle. For the classical mind, such education was grounded on a presumed continuity between ethics and politics, between the life of the citizen and the “good life for man.” The soul was its object, and virtue was its aim.

    Nowhere is this more apparent than in the analogy between the structure of the individual soul and that of the polity in Plato’sRepublic. Of course,genuinevirtue—the kind of virtue that characterizes the well-ordered soul...

  12. 9 ARENDT AND HEIDEGGER, AGAIN
    (pp. 302-337)

    In 1996 I published a book titledArendt and Heidegger: The Fate of the Political.¹ I had spent a lot of time as a graduate student and junior faculty member reading and thinking about Arendt, and I was consistently surprised by how little had been written in English (or any other language, for that matter) about her debt to existentialism, and to Heidegger’s philosophy in particular. Where the debt was noted, it was usually done so in passing, or in order to indicate elitist or even “reactionary” political tendencies.²

    This situation surprised me, particularly givenThe Human Condition’s clear appropriation...

  13. 10 THE “AUTONOMY OF THE POLITICAL” RECONSIDERED
    (pp. 338-354)

    As the political theorist George Kateb has written, Hannah Arendt’s work is “shocking and foreign to the prepossessions of most of us.”¹ Kateb is not referring to those moments of enraged misunderstanding that have marred Arendt’s reception in this country (the controversy over the Eichmann book being the most obvious example). Rather, he is referring to Arendt’s approach and primary concerns as a political theorist. Both in terms of content and “method,” Arendt’s work retains a strangeness, an unfamiliarity, that almost encourages misunderstanding. Nowhere is this more evident than in her effort to think “the political” as a separate and...

  14. NOTES
    (pp. 355-420)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 421-438)