My research focuses on the social dimensions of freedom. Throughout my work, I argue that being free is not simply a matter of pursuing one’s own private interests, but rather of acting with others and from a shared sense of the common good. My work thus defends the idea that freedom is a political rather than narrowly personal concept. More specifically, I write on a tradition of thought stretching from Rousseau to Kant, Hegel, and Marx, culminating with John Rawls and his critics. According to this tradition, freedom is deeply interconnected with questions of equality, economic justice, and the state.
I am currently exploring republican conceptions of freedom. According to republican conceptions of freedom—not to be confused with the political party of that name—political freedom involves the absence of domination by other, more powerful agents, and so also relations of meaningful social equality. I ask how one might extend this conception of freedom as non-domination to cases where the dominating force is not an individual agent (e.g., the master in relation to the slave), but rather an impersonal, structural force (e.g., housing or labor markets).
What unites my recent work is a consistent argument that central figures from the European tradition articulate a vision of republicanism more attuned to structural questions than hitherto dominant conceptions within Anglo-American political philosophy. I call the position I defend structural republicanism. It holds that freedom inheres in—is constituted by—a system of legal and other socio-economic institutions that allow for the reciprocal co-determination of political life. In other words, to be free is not merely to be out from under the thumb of more powerful people; it is also to have a voice in those institutions that shape our choices and set the terms of our common existence. In arguing for these claims I draw heavily on German philosophies of right (Recht)—Kant, Fichte, and Hegel. Right is the idea of a system of equal freedom as it is constituted by state, economic, and other social institutions.
I have published the following papers: 1. “Rousseau on the Ground of Obligation: Reconsidering the Social Autonomy Interpretation” (European Journal of Political Theory), and 2. “Autonomy and Happiness in Rousseau’s Justification of the State” (Review of Politics), both of which examine the relation between individual freedom and collective happiness in Rousseau’s political thought. 3. “The Provisionality of Property Rights in Kant’s Doctrine of Right” (Canadian Journal of Philosophy), which examines Kant’s argument for the claim that a state is required to render property claims consonant with the equal freedom of all, and 4. “Freedom and Poverty in the Kantian State” (European Journal of Philosophy), which argues that for Kant poverty is not a problem for the freedom-protecting state because poor people directly depend on rich people—as is often thought—but rather because poverty is a form of structural disempowerment, whereby the poor as a class are excluded from their share of political power.
These papers all involve critical reconstruction of major works and figures in the history of political thought. Some of my work in progress connects my historical interests to our political present. 5. “Republicanism and Structural Domination: Two Views,” argues that we need an institutional conception of domination in order to understand how concrete cases of poverty and dispossession in the modern world undermine freedom. 6: “What’s Wrong with Gentrification? A Neo-Republican Approach?” asks, does gentrification, understood as the forced movement of lower and middle-class residents away from urban centers, represent a failure of the state to provide for the essential needs and freedoms of all its citizens—and, if so, why? My answer is that gentrification is a form of unfreedom when and if the influx of new, wealthier residents prevents current inhabitants from having say in their own lives and meaningful access to social goods offered by urban centers. The wrong is less one of cultural colonization, as is often though, and more one of unequal political association.