Thursday, July 23, 2009

Anna Stilz's "Liberal Loyalty"

Anna Stilz is assistant professor of politics at Princeton University.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Liberal Loyalty: Freedom, Obligation, and the State, and reported the following:
One of the facts about the contemporary world we take for granted is that it is a world of separate states. Moreover, we also tend to think that our citizenship in some state makes a moral difference to us, even though most of us were born here and did not choose to “join.” We usually think citizens stand in a special relationship to their state and to their compatriots, and that they ought to do more to uphold their own institutions and support their own compatriots than to uphold institutions and support people around the world. Liberal Loyalty defends this view from two sorts of challenges: one from cosmopolitans, who believe that we do not owe more to our compatriots than to people around the globe; the other from nationalists, who believe that we owe more to compatriots not simply because they share our state but because they share our language and history.

On page 99 of Liberal Loyalty, I discuss why we ought to care more about socioeconomic inequalities between fellow-citizens than between citizens and foreigners. Should Americans be especially concerned about poverty and failing schools in Detroit rather than in Mali? I argue that they should be, and that the reason why has to do with what states are for. The reason why we need states, I claim, is to define and enforce our rights, especially rights of property and contract, in a way that allows all of us allow to enjoy freedom-as-independence from one another. What is freedom-as-independence? Freedom-as-independence, as I define it, requires that other people not be able to interfere with you in an arbitrary way, by forcing you to obey their will and do what they would like you to do.

On this view, one of the state’s basic duties is to make sure our system of property rights is compatible with citizens’ freedom-as-independence. This does not require strict equality. But on page 99, I argue some types of inequalities are worrisome, because they place freedom-as-independence into question. When citizens face poverty that drastically restricts their options, this may force them into subjection to someone else’s will. Think of the domestic servant who must cater to the whims of her wealthy boss, because she has no education and no other options. When this happens, I argue that citizens should be especially concerned because their state—which they together uphold—is failing in its job.
Read an excerpt from Liberal Loyalty, and learn more about the book at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue