In the previous essays, a philosophical justification for liberalism has been provided on the conceptual level, beginning with basic, universal philosophical principles, and working through their implications. It was determined that liberalism is what results from giving priority to equal freedom from domination and equal capacity to participate in society, and that, for anyone who values autonomy at all, this principle is superior to conservatism, libertarianism and socialism. But now that the concept has been identified, it is necessary for us to go a step further, and to stray into the territory of practical policymaking. This is the gap so infrequently bridged in liberal thought, with philosophers theorising in books and articles on the one hand, and liberal politicians working in near-isolation on the other. The aim of this essay will be to build that bridge, by establishing a generic framework for the generation of liberal policy, and thereafter, in following essays, I will examine its implications for each major area of practical policymaking.
Based on the philosophical groundwork, one principle above all – our supreme principle – must be fulfilled. Liberal policy, very simply, must free people from domination. But in order to drill down into precisely what is meant when this is said, we must first determine what domination constitutes. Fortunately, our auxiliary principle helps with this.
We stated earlier that the auxiliary principle was the creation of equal capacity to participate in society. The value of equal freedom from domination, we said, was to allow equal participation. It was from there that we derived the principle that our primary focus should be on helping the lowliest in society to be pushed over the threshold at which they can be said to participate properly – and thus on an equal footing. And so it is here that we can shine a light on the definition of domination. Because domination is not simply a current, existing interference with that freedom to participate: domination encapsulates potential threats to that freedom. Liberals want to liberate people from any conglomeration of power which could choose to act to limit a person’s capacity to participate in society properly, and on an equal footing. The best example is of the slave and slaveowner. The slaveowner might be benevolent, and in practice not interfere with the life of his slave. But does that mean that the slave is free? No, the slave is still dominated, and needs liberating.
So, in sum, all liberal policy must be designed to free people from domination, where domination is a threat – potential or current – to a person’s capacity to equally participate in society. So far, so obvious.
But there is a further requirement that liberal policy ought to fulfil: policy must be radical. If a source of domination is identified, then in almost all cases, that domination is structural. It arises out of the way society or its institutions have been set up and organised, and thus is systemic. If a liberal identifies such a source of domination, then the way to eliminate it is inherently to make a structural change. These are necessarily radical. It would make little sense to identify a problem which has its roots in the way the system is set up, and then to keep the same system in place, but simply to tinker with some of the finer details of how that system is executed. The domination would remain in place, because someone could simply change those details back – the system would still be susceptible to interfere with an individual’s capacity for equal participation.
Liberalism, then, is the ideology of equal freedom from domination, and as its auxiliary, equal capacity to participate in society. It views all people as inherently morally equal, and thus no more deserving or undeserving of the benefits of arbitrary qualities. It views freedom and equality as fundamentally social concepts rather than untethered, ethereal ones, and thus views democratic, societal equality as the root of all other equality which may follow from it. It is not egalitarian for its own sake, but believes first in the priority of the poorest until they reach a point of sufficiency measured by their ability to participate in society, tolerating minor inequalities and the reaping of some fruits of arbitrary talent by the talented if by doing so, the lot of the poorest is increased. And thus, any liberal policy must adhere to two core principles: it must identify a source of domination and eradicate it with reference to improving an individual’s capacity to participate in society – the liberational element – and it must do so without falling into the temptation to merely tweak the existing systems which are the source of the domination – the radical element. It is abiding by these principles that liberals can generate policy in all areas, underpinned by a consistent set of philosophical principles.