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Gender, Class, and Freedom in Modern Political Theory

Gender, Class, and Freedom in Modern Political Theory

Nancy J. Hirschmann
Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 352
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    Gender, Class, and Freedom in Modern Political Theory
    Book Description:

    InGender, Class, and Freedom in Modern Political Theory, Nancy Hirschmann demonstrates not merely that modern theories of freedom are susceptible to gender and class analysis but that they must be analyzed in terms of gender and class in order to be understood at all. Through rigorous close readings of major and minor works of Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Kant, and Mill, Hirschmann establishes and examines the gender and class foundations of the modern understanding of freedom. Building on a social constructivist model of freedom that she developed in her award-winning bookThe Subject of Liberty: Toward a Feminist Theory of Freedom, she makes in her new book another original and important contribution to political and feminist theory.

    Despite the prominence of "state of nature" ideas in modern political theory, Hirschmann argues, theories of freedom actually advance a social constructivist understanding of humanity. By rereading "human nature" in light of this insight, Hirschmann uncovers theories of freedom that are both more historically accurate and more relevant to contemporary politics. Pigeonholing canonical theorists as proponents of either "positive" or "negative" liberty is historically inaccurate, she demonstrates, because theorists deploy both conceptions of freedom simultaneously throughout their work.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2416-8
    Subjects: Sociology, Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. INTRODUCTION Gender, Class, and Freedom in Modern Political Theory
    (pp. 1-28)

    The purpose of this book is to examine the concept of freedom in five key canonical figures: Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Kant, and Mill. The importance of the concept of freedom is, I assume, self-evident to readers of this book: it is clearly a, if not the, key concept of the modern canon. Defining “the canon” of modern political theory in terms of these five figures, rather than Hume, Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, or any number of other figures, is justified because of their centrality to at least the West’s understanding of freedom, and particularly to Western political theory arguments about freedom;...

    (pp. 29-78)

    Hobbes is one of the first of the early modern political theorists to focus on liberty as a central element of his theory of human nature and of politics. Quentin Skinner notes that as Hobbes’s work progressed throughout his life, he became more and more concerned with defining liberty as a key intellectual project, culminating inLeviathan.¹ And Hobbes is a central figure taken up by any number of contemporary freedom theorists. But Hobbes also may present a strong challenge to the notion that all of the modern freedom theorists utilize both negative liberty and positive liberty arguments, for he...

    (pp. 79-117)

    As a theorist popularly seen at the founding moment of liberalism, John Locke’s ideas have often been taken by late-modern and contemporary theorists to represent the central negative liberty ideals of radical individualism and freedom from external interference. Locke’s views on political liberty as outlined in theTwo Treatises of Governmenthave been frequently recounted by commentators, the majority of whom see Locke as a key founding figure for the ideal of freedom as a realm protected not onlybygovernment from the interference of others, butfromgovernment as well, envisioned as a powerful but extremely dangerous force that...

    (pp. 118-167)

    Whether the gender bias outlined in the previous chapter is limited explicitly to the negative liberty theory generally associated with “liberal” political theorists such as Locke is an important question, for there is an argument to be made that feminism is much more consistent with the principles of positive liberty. Its notions of community and relationship in particular suggest that positive liberty may provide a better theoretical home for feminist conceptualizations. Thus, this argument might go, if I were to consider theorists allied with positive liberty, I would have less to critique from a feminist perspective. But of course I...

    (pp. 168-212)

    The kind of complication that I noted at the end of my discussion of Rousseau characterizes Kant’s theory of freedom as well. Although the other theorists considered in the previous and following chapters would seem to be unequivocally concerned with concepts of political freedom, and while they are unquestionably part of the “canon” of modern political theory, the selection of Kant for inclusion here may seem less obvious. Although many political theorists do teach and read Kant, his discourse is moral philosophy, not political theory strictly defined, and the concerns and questions he raises are different from those Hobbes, Locke,...

    (pp. 213-273)

    The historical trajectory we might logically follow from Rousseau and Kant could lead us to Hegel and Marx instead of to John Stuart Mill. For Hegel and Marx developed understandings of freedom that worked from complicated understandings of desire and will, and they clearly adopted positive liberty’s idea of the divided self. Furthermore, truly foreshadowing, if not founding, contemporary elaborations on positive liberty, Hegel in particular lent the “fear factor” to the idea of positive liberty. By declaring that the state, as an independent entity rather than a democratic collective, was the ultimate repository of the collective will and thereby...

  10. CONCLUSION Rethinking Freedom in the Canon
    (pp. 274-290)

    The concept of freedom as it has developed in the modern canon, as illustrated by the five figures I have considered here, demonstrates considerable consistency and continuity over time, even as it displays substantive differences in conceptualization, realization into political form, and expression in the various theories. I warned the reader at the outset of this book that I was not interested in constructing one single unifying message out of these theories, but rather a series of themes and arguments that display considerable overlap but also significant variation. That should not be surprising, considering that the theorists considered here cover...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 291-316)
  12. References
    (pp. 317-330)
  13. Index
    (pp. 331-342)