Freedom and The Weak State
In one provocative passage of his The Origins of Political Order: From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution, Francis Fukuyama challenges the assumption that freedom and a strong central state are opposing values:
Progressive enserfment was not, as noted at the beginning of this chapter beginning of this chapter, limited to Hungary. It occurred as well in Bohemia, Poland, Prussia, Austria, and Russia. Nobles throughout the region were pressing to increase taxation, take away freedoms, and restrict the movement of their dependent populations. The twentieth century has taught us to think about tyranny as something perpetrated by powerful centralized states, but it can also be the work of local oligarchs. In contemporary China, many of the worst abuses of peasant rights, violations of environmental and safety laws, and cases of gross corruption are the work not of the central government in Beijing but of local party officials or of the private employers who work hand in hand with them. It is the responsibility of the central government to enforce its own laws against the oligarchy; freedom is lost not when the state is too strong but when it is too weak. In the United States, the ending of Jim Crow laws and racial segregation in the two decades following World War II was brought about only when the federal government used its power to enforce the Constitution against the states in the South. Political freedom is not won, it would seem, only when the power of the state is constrained but when a strong state comes up against an equally strong society that seeks to restrict its power.
This seems related to Philip Pettit’s idea of freedom as non-domination. The individual maximizes his freedom when other powerful actors in his life exist in some kind of rough equipose. Elsewhere in the book, Fukuyama talks about the “tyranny of cousins” that exists in many traditional human societies whereby in the absence of a strong state or a market economy, an individual’s autonomy is sharply circumscribed by the demands of an extended kin group.