In my recent research into the features and conditions of liberty, I find myself strongly focussed on concepts of "the public." Ultimately, I am interested in the relationship between freedom and the law. Not least because I feel we can learn much about freedom as method by studying the law. In looking at freedom-regarding concepts of the law, I discovered that liberal law depends on a particular model of the public, in fact, an exceedingly egalitarian and democratic notion of the public; a public that is supposed to include all sane and non-criminal adults in order to bring about the common weal in its most supreme form.
Two things strike me at this point: (1) just how important, I am beginning to realise, having a public and handling its affairs is for freedom. And (2) the disregard of or strong reservations vis-à-vis the public sphere (democracy, politics) elicited in liberal thought, when in fact an active democratic public appears to be indispensable to any regime of freedom, being both a precondition and the natural fruit of a free society.
The Meaning of Politics Is Freedom
"Der Sinn von Politik ist Freiheit," writes Hannah Arendt (1906-1975), no doubt inspired by Immanuel Kant: "The meaning of politics is freedom."
Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) was one of the first to argue that it is in the public realm, too - i.e. in the arena of politics - that notions of justice and moral appropriateness are formed and tested. Kant's seminal intuition points to a new, the modern idea of politics and the public:
In this perspective, politics is a form of human interaction that creates a deliberative public, a dimension of the social world where we can voice our ambitions and complaints, design and make use of shared decision processes, while holding one another accountable for our contributions to this process.
Politics is no longer allowed to be the unqualified, direct exercise of power. Rather, politics becomes a field of application for the critical method, of Popperian objectivity, of calling one another's ideas into question to detect the sooner what is dubious and debatable about them.
The Democratic Culture of Freedom
The modern public is based on the full inclusion of the adult population, the protected right to criticise political opponents and designated powers, and the enforcement of meaningful accountability.
The modern meaning of politics is that personal freedom extends beyond the private domain to the public realm, replicating in the public sphere the scope that liberty brings with her in personal life as well as the restrictions that ensure viable freedom among individuals.
The meaning of politics is that the free individual is being empowered to shape the public realm in accountable manner.
The meaning of politics is that no longer shall the important issues affecting the community be left to be shaped and decided upon by a set of (usually rather few) higher human beings of a status, prestige, and power denied to the remainder.
Personal freedom sets the individual free to use with unprecedented completeness and positive social effect two mighty sources of creativity inhering in her: her imagination and her critical faculty (her ability to examine matters critically).
The meaning of politics is to unleash the individual's creative and critical power for the purpose of taking responsibility for public affairs.
Personal freedom for all creates a democratic public that has the ability to put all public matters under high scrutiny. At the same time personal freedom demands mutual considerateness, to prevent the exercise of personal freedom in ways that infringe upon somebody else's freedom. The democratic public deriving from a general regime of personal freedom requires us to put ourselves in the shoes of others, to be considerate and aware of the limits of one's rights and ambitions.
We become morally accountable to one another, owing to the radically other-regarding implications of a regime of personal freedom that includes all citizens. Personal freedom becomes a standard that protects daring new demands on the public while disallowing ambitions that go too far.
The meaning of politics is to limit one's freedom to ensure that everyone enjoys freedom.
Writes Hannah Arendt
It so happens that human beings do not appear in the singular, but in the plural [...] The moment I start to act, I find myself in the company of the many. [...] Politics is based on the fact of human plurality. Politics is about handling the being-together of humans that differ from each other. [...] The meaning of politics is to see to it that people consort with one another in freedom, in the absence of violence, coercion and domination, equals among equals, [extreme emergencies and wars aside] handling all of their affairs by talking to one another and by convincing each other. Politics in this sense is centred around freedom, whereby we conceive of freedom - in a negative sense - as a state of neither being dominated by someone, nor dominating anybody else, and - in a positive sense - as a space that can only be built by the many, who are strictly equals.
(My translation - The source)
What Hannah Arendt is telling us succinctly is that the democratic concept of the public, in short: democracy, is a demand, a requirement, and a consequence of personal freedom.
The meaning of politics is freedom.
Why, then, is the libertarian so uncomfortable with politics?
Why is politics to him a game largely usurped by evil players who mostly pile up freedom-destroying outcomes?
Why does he not see that the games played in the public sphere are complicated, of imperfect quality, and prone to awkward improvisation and failure -- but the games, notwithstanding their often messy upshot, must be played to keep freedom ticking? Not to mention the good that is brought about by them: Why It Is Not True That Politics Makes Us Worse ...