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Axel Honneth

The Idea of Social Freedom.

On the Intellectual Roots of Socialism.
(First draft, without footnotes)

The idea of socialism is an intellectual product of the period of capitalist

industrialization. It first saw the light of day in the aftermath of the French
Revolution, when it turned out that the Revolution's demands for liberty,
equality, and fraternity had remained empty promises for large segments
of the population, and that they were still far from becoming social
realities. It is true that the term "socialism" had already entered the
vocabulary of philosophical debate in the second half of the eighteenth
century, when Catholic clerics set out to expose the doctrines of the
German school of natural law as dangerous aberrations. They used the
term "socialistae", a neologism derived from the Latin term "socialis",
with a polemical intention to refer to what they suspected to be a
tendency in the writings Grotius and Pufendorf: namely, to think of the
juridical order of a society as being founded on the human disposition to
sociability (Geselligkeit) rather than on divine revelation.1 There is a
straight path leading from this early critical use to the German
jurisprudential manuals of the late eighteenth century, which referred to
Pufendorf and his disciples as "Socialisten". By that time the term had
shed its connotation of reproach and was meant simply to indicate the
project of providing natural law with a secular basis in human sociability.2


Yet when the English expressions "socialist" and "socialism" gained

currency throughout Europe in the twenties and thirties of the nineteenth
century, their meaning was no longer in any way related to their original
use in the context of the natural law debates. The followers of Robert
Owen in England and of Charles Fourier in France now employed those
terms to refer to themselves, without any intention of participating in
philosophical disputes over the foundations of law and right.3 In this new
context, the two expressions became (in Wolfgang Schieder's words)
"future-oriented movement concepts" which denoted the political aim of
founding associations that would contribute to moving society as a whole
closer to a "social" condition properly speaking.
To be sure, there existed efforts long before the first half of the
nineteenth century to implement specific measures that would first make
society properly "social". Take, for example, the Scottish moral
philosophers who sought to remind us of the human sentiment of mutual
sympathy and who were hoping to derive from it the principles of a wellordered society. Or take Leibniz who in his youth was flirting with ideas
of this sort when he sketched plans for the establishment of learned
societies, partly moved by political ambitions. Initially these societies
were called "Sozietten", later "academies", testifying to their inspiration
in Plato's idea of philosophers' rule. They were meant to serve the
common good by performing not only an educational and cultural role but
also by facilitating the social integration of economic life.4 In his brief
manuscript "Society and Economy", written in 1671, Leibniz sketched the
economic tasks of the future academies and proposed that they should
support the poor and ensure a minimum wage in order to end economic
competition and thus to inaugurate "true love and trust" among the


members of society.5 Some passages of these writings read like

anticipations of the radical aims that Charles Fourier, a hundred and fifty
years later, was hoping to realize by establishing the kinds of
cooperatives that he named "Phalanstres".6
Yet Fourier's plans for a cooperative society were developed in a
normative context quite different from the one constituted by the feudal
environment of Leibniz's time. In the intervening century and a half, the
French Revolution with its principles of freedom, equality, and fraternity
had instituted a set of moral demands which amounted to a list of
requirements for any just social order and which could henceforth serve
as a reference point for anyone aiming at a further improvement of social
conditions. The French and English thinkers and activists who began to
refer to themselves as "Socialists" in the 1830s did so with full
awareness of the normative debt they owed to those revolutionary
innovations: In contrast with Leibniz and other social reformers of prebourgeois times, who had to think of their own proposals as being at
odds with normative reality, they were able to appeal to already
institutionalized and generally validated principles, from which more
radical consequences could be derived. It is not quite transparent in what
ways exactly the groups that in retrospect came to be called "early
socialists" thought of themselves as developing the three fundamental
norms established by the French Revolution. From the 1830s onward
there was a lively exchange between the followers of Robert Owen in
England, on the one hand, and the two French movements initiated by
Fourier and Saint-Simon, on the other. It seems that the thought of jointly
presenting themselves as "Socialists" arose only after Owen had visited


Fourier in Paris in 1837.7 But their respective ideas about the shape of
the desired social reforms were too different to reveal any sort of shared
For all three groups, however, the starting point of these protests against
the post-revolutionary social order was indignation at the fact that the
concurrent expansion of the capitalist market prevented large segments
of the population from effectively claiming the liberty and equality
promised to them by the revolutionary principles. It was regarded as
"humiliating", "shameful", or simply "immoral" that rural and urban
workers along with their families were subject to the arbitrary power of
private landowners and factory owners, who regardless of their
willingness to work forced on them a life of constant hardship and the
ever-present threat of immiseration. If we are looking for a common
denominator of the normative responses that the awareness of these
social conditions elicited in the different strands of early socialism, it will
be helpful to start with a proposal made by mile Durkheim. In
attempting to provide a definition of the term "socialism" in his famous set
of lectures by that name, Durkheim suggested that what the various
socialist doctrines had in common was the goal of placing the control
over economic processes, which had slipped away from other social
mechanisms, back into the hands of society as represented by the state.
However great the differences between the multiple currents of
socialism, in Durkheim's view they all shared the idea that the destitution
of the working masses could be remedied only by re-organizing the
economic sphere so as to tie its activities back to collective social
decision-making.8 Even though this definition is not sufficient for an
adequate understanding of the normative goals of socialism, it does at


least reveal the shared experiental basis of the various different

movement and schools that soon developed under that name: Robert
Owens and his disciples as well as Saint-Simon, Fourier, and their
respective schools all thought that the injustice suffered by the working
population was due to the fact that the capitalist market had moved
outside the reach of social control and was now governed solely by its
own law of supply and demand.
But if one takes a closer look at the vocabulary shared by all the early
socialist movements regardless of their differences, one is soon struck
by the fact that Durkheim's proposal makes no attempt at all to explain its
pervasive reference to the normative ideals of the French Revolution.
Durkheim treats the various groups as though their sole concern were a
problem of social technology, namely the social re-embedding of the
market, rather than the historically much more salient goal of realizing for
the broader population the recently proclaimed principles of liberty,
equality, and fraternity. Similar attempts by other thinkers to articulate the
central ambitions of socialism, impressive as they are in some respects,
suffer from the same lack of attention to the underlying moral ambitions
of the movement. To name just two examples, both John Stuart Mill's
and Joseph Schumpeter's writings on socialism tend to reduce the
socialist project to the sole aim of achieving a more equitable distribution
of resources, without examining the underlying moral or ethical
purposes.9 But the extent to which the early self-described "socialist"
thinkers were in fact moved by genuinely normative principles, drawn
from the list of demands put forward during the still recent revolution, is
immediately apparent when we consider what justifications they offered
for their projects. Robert Owen, who was more of a practical than a


theoretical bent and who was certainly least influenced by the

reverberations of the great revolution, explained his initiation of workers'
cooperatives in New Lanark by saying that the experience of mutual
assistance would lead members of the lower classes to acquire "mutual
benevolence" and would thus teach them a type of solidarity that
extended even to strangers.10 Similarly, albeit with a commitment to
more ambitious claims in social philosophy, Saint-Simon and his
followers were convinced that workers' lack of freedom under capitalist
conditions could be overcome only through a social order in which
centralized planning would make it possible to remunerate each person
according to his abilities and which would thus amount to a "universal
association" of mutually supporting members.11 Finally, Fourier and his
disciples justified their plans for a cooperative society by claiming that
only the establishment of voluntary associations of producers, i.e. the
"phalanges" I already mentioned before, would allow an adequate
realization of the normative demand that all members of a society
cooperate without coercion.12 Nowhere in these arguments for socialist
aims is the socialization of ownership in the means of production
presented as an end in itself or a simple instrument for a more equal
distribution. Rather, to the extent that it is deemed necessary at all, it is
conceived of as a prerequisite for the realization of quite distinct and
properly speaking moral or ethical aims. Foremost among these are the
first and the last of the three principles of the French Revolution, that is
to say, liberty and fraternity, whereas equality is often given a
subordinate role. At times one gets the impression that the three socialist
groups were content with the rather incompletely realized legal equality
of the time and were mainly concerned to establish on this minimal




juridical basis a community of mutually supportive producers who are led

by solidarity to complement each others' respective abilities and
contributions. Operative in the background of these normative ideas is a
conviction that is stated only in passing by the various authors, but which
is an important source of agreement among them. They all believe that
the existing conception of individual freedom, conceived mainly in legal
terms, is too narrow to be compatible with the ideal of fraternity.
Employing some hermeneutic charity we might say that the three early
socialist groups discovered an internal inconsistency among the different
principles proclaimed by the revolution. The inconsistency is due to a
narrowly legal or individualistic understanding of the freedom demanded
by the revolution. All three groups are therefore, without quite realizing it,
struggling to expand the liberal conception of liberty in such a way that it
becomes compatible with the Revolution's other goal, that of "fraternity".
The ambition of reconciling the two principles of liberty and fraternity by
re-interpreting the former is even more apparent in the writers following
the first wave of socialist movements. Louis Blanc and Pierre-Joseph
Proudhon, two critics of the expanding market economy who otherwise
followed quite different trajectories13, each explain their critique by
pointing to the specific conception of liberty that they believe to be
reflected in the institutional foundations of the market: that is to say, a
conception which ties liberty to the pursuit of purely private interests, or
in Blanc's words, to "private egoism"14. Both writers were convinced that
as long as this narrow construal of individual liberty remained prevalent,
not only would the degrading economic conditions remain unchanged but
moreover it would be impossible to realize the widely recognized
demand for a "fraternal" society, a society of solidarity. Thus both Blanc



and Proudhon assumed that one task of the socialism they advocated
was to eliminate an inconsistency among the several demands put
forward by the French Revolution. They thought that the normative goal
of fraternity, of standing up for one another, could not even begin to be
realized because the further goal, freedom, was conceived exclusively in
terms of the kind of private egoism that gave rise to the competitive
social relations of the capitalist market. The economic policy blueprints
developed by Blanc and Proudhon, which were designed either to
supplement or to supplant the market by other forms of production and
distribution15, were therefore primarily guided by the aim of establishing
in the sphere of economic activity a type of freedom that would no longer
stand in the way of realizing the demand for fraternity. Only if the
economic core of the new society could incorporate freedom as a
practice of solidarity, in which individuals mutually complement each
other, rather than as the pursuit of merely private interests, could the
normative demands of the French Revolution be consistently realized.
If we now look back again at Durkheim's definition of the basic idea of
socialism, we can venture a first intermediate conclusion: while he is
correct in claiming that all the socialist projects share the same basic
intention of re-integrating economic activity into the sphere of collective
social decision-making, he overlooks the normative or ethical reasons
that first gave rise to this intention. The early Socialists' main concern
was not simply to place the economic sphere under the direction of
collective social choices in order to avert the threat of a merely half
achieved moralization of society, one that stops at the gates of the
economy as Durkheim wants to have it. Nor did their main goal consist
simply in bringing about a more just distribution of vital material goods.


Rather a greater degree of socialization of production was meant to

serve the moral goal of readjusting the freedom proclaimed by the
Revolution to the moral demand of fraternity and solidarity. Instead of
serving the pursuit of merely private interests, freedom was to be
understood in a way that rendered it compatible with fraternity, the other
revolutionary promise.16 So conceived, socialism was from the very
beginning a movement of immanent critique of the modern capitalist
social order. It accepted the normative foundations of that order's
legitimacy freedom, equality, and fraternity but it harbored doubts as
to whether those ideals could be consistently realized unless freedom
were to be thought of in a less individualist fashion and more along the
lines of an intersubjective process.
The writings of the authors I have mentioned so far are of no real help in
actually understanding this new conception of freedom, despite the fact
that it was pivotal to their movements. It is true that the earliest socialist








"community" to indicate that the various economic set-ups they

proposed, with their novel forms of production and distribution, were
designed to ensure that individuals would be mutually dependent for their
respective self-fulfillment. But they made no attempt to present this kind
of intersubjective interdependence as a conceptual alternative to the
merely individualist conception of freedom associated with the liberal
tradition. One writer who takes at least a step in that direction is
Proudhon, who in his 1849 Confessions of a Revolutionary goes so far
as to say that "from a social perspective, freedom and solidarity are
identical terms".17 To this sentence, which very clearly alludes to the
vocabulary of the French Revolution, he adds that in contrast with the



Declaration of Man and Citizen of 1793 the socialists think of "the

freedom of each" not as a "barrier" but as an "aid" to the freedom of all
others.18 Yet this proposal becomes blurred again by the next step in
Proudhon's argument. There he advocates the establishment of popular
banks that would provide interest-free loans to small workers'
cooperatives and would thereby facilitate the kind of intersubjective
freedom just discussed. But this suggests that Proudhon holds merely
that each individual's freedom should meet with the support and aid of
other individuals, not that others are strictly speaking a condition of its full
realization.19 Proudhon is still wavering between two different alternatives
to the individualist conception of freedom. The difference between them
turns on the question whether a free action can be considered complete
prior to the contribution made by the other, or whether that contribution is
a necessary element of the action, without which it remains incomplete.
Depending on which of the two conceptions one favours, one is
accordingly going to take somewhat different views regarding the
structure of the "associations" or "communities" that are supposed to first
enable a society to be properly social, by allowing freedom and fraternity
to be reconciled and indeed identified with each other. On the first
conception, a society is composed of individual members who are free
prior to and independent of their social association and for whom the
cooperation with others provides motivation and support, but not a
condition of their freedom as such. The second conception, by contrast,
views social cooperation as a precondition for each individual's full
attainment of freedom, since the latter requires that an individual's
incomplete practical plans are filled in and complemented by those of




In the writings of the early socialists and also in the writings of Proudhon,
these different conceptions of what I will from now on refer to as "social
freedom" are not yet adequately distinguished. It is true that they were
already clearly aware that continuing the as yet unfinished project of the
bourgeois revolution without becoming entangled in self-contradiction
would require overcoming the individualism about liberty that found its
expression, in particular, in the capitalist market economy. Freedom
would have to be rendered compatible with the demand for fraternity. Yet
the early socialists lacked the conceptual means to articulate in more
concrete terms what it could mean for the achievement of individual
liberty to be tied to the precondition of a communal life marked by
solidarity. The first steps towards such a further articulation were taken
by the young Karl Marx, who set himself the task, at about the same time
as Proudhon did, to spell out the theoretical foundations of the incipient
socialist movement. Living in exile in Paris, he was thoroughly familiar
with the theoretical efforts of his French socialist contemporaries. But in
contrast with them, Marx as a German did not directly face the challenge
of articulating the aims of their shared project within the normative
framework provided by the still unfinished revolution. He was able largely
to forgo terms such as "fraternity", "liberty", and "solidarity", and to build
instead on the efforts of his compatriots who sought to productively
extend the Hegelian legacy. Taking up the terminology of idealism in the
naturalistic interpretation provided by Feuerbach gave Marx an
advantage with respect to conceptual sophistication, though it brought
with it the disadvantage of greater opacity regarding moral and political
implications. But even Marx's early works still betray the intention of
demonstrating that the conception of liberty presupposed by the political
economists and actualized in the capitalist market is characterized by a
kind of individualism incompatible with the claims of a "true" community

among the members of society. Thus the young exile's writings from the
1840s can also be viewed as taking a further step within the theoretical
project of developing the idea of "socialism" from the internally
inconsistent aims of the liberal social order.
In one of his most important writings from the 1840s, which has received
much attention especially in recent years his comments on James
Mill's work on political economy Marx explains what faults he finds with
the current constitution of society and what, in his view, a non-deficient
community would have to look like.20 His debt to Hegel is even more
evident here than in the so-called Paris Manuscripts. It is reflected in the
fact that the two models of society contrasted by Marx are characterized
in terms of two different modes of mutual recognition. Marx holds that the
members of a capitalist society relate to each other only very indirectly,
by exchanging their respective products on an anonymous marketplace
through the medium of money. To the extent that other participants in the
market even become visible to any given individual, they do so
exclusively in terms of abstract qualities like business acumen and
economic interests, but not as specific other individuals with particular
needs. In an ironical allusion to Adam Smith, Marx writes that the
members of such a society are nothing but merchants to each other.21
The recognition which the members of a society must accord each other
if they are to constitute an integrated social unit in the first place amounts
here to nothing further than the mutual affirmation of the right to
"outsmart" all the others. The individual actions that constitute the "social
nexus" do not complement each other but are instead, in Marx's stark
expression, performed "solely with the intention of plunder".22





What Marx is aiming to do in this first part of his investigation is to

translate into Hegelian terms the very same arguments to which his








impossibility of "solidarity" or "fraternal social relations" under the

conditions of a market society. Since market participants encounter each
other only as subjects interested in their own respective private
advantage, they are unable to offer each other the sort of concern and
support that would be required for social relations characterized by
fraternity or solidarity. As if to convey an even more drastic sense of this
prevention of solidarity, Marx's text alludes to a famous image from the
Phenomenology of Spirit and states that "our mutual recognition" under
these conditions takes the form of a "struggle" in which who prevails is
determined by who possesses greater "energy, insight, or skill".23
Towards the end of his analysis Marx turns to a brief description of the
relations of production that would obtain if the members of a society were
united by a mutual recognition not of their private egoism but rather of
their respective individual needs. This sketch has its roots in the
anthropological notion, taken from Feuerbach and perhaps also from
Rousseau, that the satisfaction of human needs almost always requires
the activity of other subjects. Above a certain threshold of the division of
labor, my hunger can be stilled only if others produce the food I need;
and my desire for adequate shelter can be satisfied only if there are
workmen willing to produce a habitation for me. Marx believes that the
previously described capitalist conditions of production have the effect of
systematically withdrawing this mutual dependency from the view of
those affected by it. While it is true that the subjects are working in order
to satisfy a certain economic demand, and thereby the needs that give



rise to this demand, their motivation is not concern for these desires of
others but solely an egocentric interest in serving their own advantage.
According to Marx things would be quite different if the goods produced
in a society were being exchanged in ways other than through a moneymediated market. In that case, he thinks, each person would be aware of
the needs of those for whom he was producing, so that he would find the
characteristic human condition of mutual dependency affirmed both in his
own action and in the anticipated reaction of the other person.24 Marx
speaks here only of the "double affirmation" among the members of a
society, but clearly what he is thinking of are conditions of production in
which people mutually recognize each others individual needs. In what
Marx is later going to call an "association of free producers", individuals
would no longer be related to each other merely through the anonymous
coordination of their respective private aims but would rather be
motivated by a shared concern for the self-realization of all others.25
Formulating Marx's train of thought in this pointed way is useful because
it enables us to abstract from the rather vague economic proposal he
makes and to focus on those general features of it that point towards the
concept of social freedom. Like his socialist predecessors, Marx initially
thinks of freedom as the maximally unimpeded and unconstrained
realization of self-chosen goals and intentions. He also agrees with them
that under capitalist conditions, the exercise of freedom, so understood,
implies that others are regarded as mere means to the pursuit of one's
own interests, and is thus in conflict with the already institutionalized
principle of fraternity. To resolve this internal contradiction Marx offers a
rough sketch of a society in which freedom and solidarity are integrated
with each other. He thinks that such an integration would be possible in a




social order in which each individual conceives of his or her own ends as
also constituting the conditions of the ends of others; a social order, that
is, in which the ends of different individuals interlock in such a way that
they can be realized only on the basis of each individuals full awareness
of their mutual interdependency. But the reference to "love" that occurs
in a central passage of the commentary on Mill26 also reveals quite
clearly that the other person is thought to be relevant not merely to the
execution but already to the formation of each individual's plans. As in
relations of love, so too in the novel form of association envisioned by
Marx my own activities will from the very outset be restricted to those
aims that serve not only my own self-realization but also that of the other
with whom I am interacting, since otherwise her freedom would not
constitute a direct object of my concern.
This important feature of Marx's model can be brought out more clearly
by drawing on a distinction introduced by Daniel Brudney in the context
of his comparison between Rawls and Marx. According to Brudney,
social communities can be distinguished according to whether the ends
shared by their members are merely overlapping or whether they are
intertwined.27 In the first case, individuals do indeed pursue shared ends,
but these are ends that they can jointly accomplish without having to
individually aim at that joint accomplishment. An example of the
collective realization of this type of shared end is the market, at least
according to the classical conception of it. In it, each participant is able to
pursue his own economic interests while thereby simultaneously
furthering the shared aim of increasing everyone's wealth. Intertwined
ends, by contrast, are ones whose realization requires that the members
of a society jointly pursue them by each adopting them as a maxim or as




a direct goal. As Brudney points out, in this second case the individuals
are active not merely with one another but "for one another", since what
they desire is specifically to contribute to the realization of the ends
shared by all. In the first case, the case of overlapping ends, the fact that
my own actions contribute to the realization of those ends is a contingent
effect of the content of my intentions. In the second case, the case of
intertwined ends, their realization is a necessary result of the pursuit of
my intentions.
In my view it is quite apparent that Marx's proposed alternative to a
capitalist social order is based on this latter model of social communities.
Using the terminology of mutual recognition that is consistently employed
by Marx in his commentary on James Mill's political economy, we can rearticulate the relevant distinction roughly as follows: whereas in a
market-based society shared ends are realized insofar and because its
members recognize each other only as individual consumers and
systematically deny the relations of mutual dependence among them, the
realization of shared ends in an association of free producers would be
accomplished through the members' being intentionally engaged for
each other's benefit, because they recognize each other as individuals
with specific needs and because they act for the sake of satisfying those
needs. Even though Marx himself does not say it, it seems evident to me
that he takes his alternative social model to have accomplished
something that his socialist predecessors had unsuccessfully attempted
to do: that is, to provide an immanent extension or reformulation of the
concept of individual freedom, and thus of the basic principle of
legitimacy of the current social order, in such a way that it comes to
necessarily coincide with the requirements of a life of fraternity or
solidarity. At this point our task is thus to examine with a more systematic

intent whether the social model sketched by Marx can indeed fulfil its
aspiration of reconciling individual freedom and solidarity in a novel way.
To begin with, this analysis is going to pay no heed to the fact that all the
early proponents of socialism thought of their principle of social freedom
as having its place only in the sphere of social production or labor.
Imagining that this sphere alone could account for the reproduction of
society as a whole, they accorded no independent role to political
democracy and were therefore never prompted to ask whether other
forms of freedom might perhaps already have found institutional
embodiment there. But these questions I leave to a fourth chapter in the
planned book, here I will only discuss whether the model of social
freedom just sketched constitutes a sound and independent alternative
to the individualism characteristic of liberal conceptions of freedom. Did
the early socialists really develop an original and novel conception of
freedom or did they merely offer an improved presentation of what is
known to us as "solidarity" or, to use the older term, "fraternity"?
A premise of the liberal model of freedom is the idea, at first glance
hardly contestable, that it makes sense to speak of individual freedom
only where a subject is able to follow through with his own intentions
while facing as little impediment or constraint as possible. Freedom of
action, so conceived, is said to have justifiable limits only where its
exercise might create impediments to the freedom of other subjects.
Liberalism therefore ties the general protection of this kind of freedom to
the idea of a legal order designed to ensure that each individual is
enabled to act without constraint to an extent that is compatible with
everyone else's equal claim to the same freedom of action. A first
complication for this basic liberal model is introduced by Rousseau and,
following him, by Kant. Both of them share the conviction that we cannot

speak of individual freedom where a person's motives are provided not

by freely adopted ends but by merely natural drives or inclinations. Both
therefore introduce an added requirement to specify the internal
dimension of freedom, on which the older conception had remained
silent: the decision or choice that initiates an action must be an act of
self-determination, which ensures that the ends pursued by a subject
have their source in her exercise of reason.28 It seems that the early
socialists were on the whole happy to go along with this transition from a
"negative" to a "positive" conception of liberty, to use the terms coined by
Isaiah Berlin to mark the extra step taken by Rousseau and Kant (a step
against which Berlin was warning for political reasons).29 Even if the
socialists may not have been aware of the detailed arguments for the
new conception, it would still have been close to obvious to them,
whether on the basis of Rousseau's "Contrat social" or on the basis of
Kant's moral philosophy, that individual freedom is present only where
the ends of action are rationally intelligible rather than simply dictated by
nature. However, when it comes to spelling out what exactly is meant by
"rational", the socialists are certainly no longer following Kant. For them it
is not true that actions can be called "free" only if they result from an
individually executed procedure whereby one's maxims are tested for
their morality. It is more plausible to think that they are following
Rousseau or, in the case of Marx, Hegel, both of whom hold for different
reasons that individual intentions are "free" to a sufficient degree when
they are aimed at the satisfaction either of needs that are "not corrupt" in
the sense of "natural", or of needs that correspond to the reason's
current historical stage.30 For the socialists, then, individual freedom
initially means simply the ability to realize one's own free intentions that





is, those intentions that are more or less shared by all on a rational basis
by performing actions that are subject to no other constraint than the
one deriving from the equal claim of all others to the same kind of
The special twist that Proudhon and Marx give to this model of positive
freedom results from the fact that they take a much more encompassing
view of the kinds of unjustified constraints that may prevent subjects from
realizing their freely adopted ends. The early liberal view largely








paradigmatic example was the authority of a person or body to impose

its own will on a subject.31 The republican tradition, represented today by
writers like Quentin Skinner and Philip Pettit, expanded the scope of
what counts as coercive constraint so as to include ways of influencing a
person's will. This is what is meant by the now familiar formula of
"freedom as non-domination".32The socialists go much further than this.
They hold that there is coercion wherever the realization of a person's
reasonable ends meets with social obstacles in the guise of opposing
ends had by another person. In their view, the truly non-coercive
realization of an individual's rational ends within the social whole would
be accomplished only if the relevant action met with the approval of all
others and only if the action's completion strictly required complementary
actions on the part of other individuals. Ultimately, thus, individual
freedom is present only where it has in fact attained "objective" form, to
use Hegel's terminology; that is, only where an individual is able to
regard the other members of his society no longer as potential sources of




constraints on the pursuit of his own ends but rather as partners whose
cooperation is required for the realization of those ends.33
This is the point in the socialists' argument where their special notion of
"community" becomes relevant, which they tend to mention in the same
breath with "liberty". However much their terminology may vary, they
always mean by "community" something more than what is usually
denoted by the term. A community, in their sense, is characterized not
only by shared values and a certain degree of identification with the aims
of the group, but also and especially by mutual support and concern. We
already encountered this strand of the socialist concept of community
earlier in the idea of ends that do not just overlap but intertwine, so that
agents are active not merely with one another but for one another.34
Thus the question we now need to address is what connection the
socialists saw between their specific concept of community, on the one
hand, and their concept of liberty, on the other.
One way of making this connection would be by thinking of communal
solidarity as a necessary precondition for the exercise of the kind of
freedom I described. In a somewhat weaker form, one which does
without the loaded notion of community as mutual concern, such a thesis
has been defended by Joseph Raz in his book The Morality of Freedom.
According to him, individuals are unable to make use of their autonomy
unless they live in a society that offers them specific options for the
realization of their various aims.35 But the socialists want to go further
than that. The communities outlined by them are not merely a necessary
precondition of the kind of freedom they have in mind. Rather it seems
that only cooperative activity within a fraternal community counts as a





proper exercise of freedom in the first place, while anything short of that
does not really deserve this title. Social freedom then means
participation in the social practices of a community whose members have
such a degree of mutual concern for each other that they help others
realize their reasonable needs, and do so for their sake. Here the
concept of freedom has become an element of a type of holistic
individualism, according to which what is meant by the term "freedom",
even in the basic sense of an unhindered realization of individual goals
or ends, is essentially something that cannot be achieved by any
individual person but only by a suitably constituted collective. This does
not entail that the collective should be conceived of as some sort of
higher-order entity existing over and against the individuals who are its
parts.36 It is true that on the socialist conception, freedom is a property,
capacity, or achievement of a social group taken as a whole. But the
existence of the group itself is owed to the cooperative activity of
individual subjects. The collective becomes a bearer of individual
freedom only when it succeeds in instilling in its members certain kinds
of practical dispositions. Foremost among these is a mutual sympathy
that results in everyone's exhibiting a certain amount of concern for
everyone else's self-realization, for non-instrumental reasons. The
socialists believe that to the extent that such modes of interaction
become prevalent in a society, all the negative phenomena that
characterize a capitalist society are going to disappear. Once subjects
have a sufficient degree of sympathy for each other, they will relate to
one another as equals and will refrain from any kind of exploitation or



The idea of socialism, as it is originally conceived, is rooted in the notion

that it will be possible in the future to fashion societies in their entirety
after this model of a fraternal community. This is a way of swiftly if
somewhat forcibly unifying into one single principle the three demands
issued by the French Revolution, which were otherwise seen to be
standing in tension with each other. Socialism is the idea to allow
individual freedom to flourish in such a way that it becomes congruent
with a form of life in solidarity that is the communitarism elements in all
forms of socialism, as David Miller has shown. Individual freedom is
interpreted as consisting in finding one's complement in the other, so that
it properly coincides with the requirements of equality and fraternity. This
holist idea, which conceived of freedom as something realizable not by
any individual but only by the fraternal community itself, was the point of
departure for the socialist movement. All the measures later taken by its
adherents to remedy existing evils both the beneficial and the harmful
measures were ultimately guided by the aim of creating such a
community whose members would mutually complement each other and
would treat each other as equals. It was this close link with the demands
of the Great Revolution that from the very beginning made it difficult for
bourgeois critics of socialism to simply reject the aims of the movement
as unjustified. After all, the socialists were appealing to the very same
normative principles under whose banner the bourgeois had once been
fighting for a democratically organized state. To this day, the charges
that socialism is guilty of collectivism or of a romanticization of
community therefore leave a strange aftertaste, insofar as they seem like
attempts to deny the fact that the basic principles of legitimacy of
present-day societies include not only liberty but also solidarity and


At the same time, the socialists made it easy for their critics, who
appeared on the scene very soon. They failed to develop a sufficiently
convincing version of their original and path-breaking idea. The
proposals produced during the first half of the nineteenth century all had
flaws that quickly exposed them to serious objections. Not only did they,
as I briefly pointed out above, strictly limit the idea of a fraternal
community to the sphere of economic activity, without giving any closer
consideration to the question whether a society marked by a rapid
increase in complexity could really organize and reproduce itself in its
entirety by relying solely on that single sphere. For reasons that are hard
to fathom they (also) largely ignored the entire domain of collective
political decision-making, so that they were unable to sufficiently explain
the relation between their own project and the recently established
legally defined liberties. And finally, the founders of the socialist project
above all, Saint-Simon and Marx tied that project to a metaphysical
account of history that rendered it all but impossible to view its ambition
as one of engaging in experiments designed to assess capitalist
societies' capacity for transformation. Since they thought it a matter of
historical necessity that the revolution for which they were calling would
take place at some point in the future, albeit perhaps in the near future,
all attempts to implement gradual changes here and now were dismissed
as both cognitively and politically useless. Among these several flaws of
the original socialist program we can distinguish between ones that are
due to the historical context in which this program originated, i.e. the
early phase of the industrial revolution, and others that are more
fundamental and that concern the very structure of the proposal.