Choice and Voluntariness
This paper aims to critically examine an argument put forward by Brian Barry in his book ‘Culture and Equality’ according to which groups should be free to associate provided that their members have an exit option. Moreover, this exit option has to be real as opposed to a formal one, that is to say groups should compensate their members should they be expelled. This requirement is necessary, in Barry’s view in order to ensure that membership in a group is voluntary and the criterion of voluntariness is to be the absence of external costs, namely costs that the state could and should try to prevent or at least reduce their scale. The problem with this argument is that, as Barry admits, there will be situations where although a real exit option exists the costs of staying could be as high as to make membership non-voluntary and this opens the group to public intervention. The aim of this paper is to show that once you go down the path of imposing any restrictions on groups’ freedom to associate, such intervention is inescapable. I will argue that this problem arises because of the criterion of voluntariness proposed by Barry. I will show first that a real exit option it’s not necessary for performing an action voluntarily. However, it may be necessary for having a choice that is to be a voluntary one but in this case, the conditions imposed by Barry are not sufficient for ensuring the voluntariness of choice. My argument is twofold. Firstly, one problem with his account seems to come from the very definition of costs. Thus, although the absence of external costs is to be the criterion of voluntariness, the presence of costs that the group can permissibly impose can render membership non-voluntary and so, it opens the group to intervention. Hence, if these costs count in the calculus of voluntariness, there is no reason why we should only consider external costs. Secondly, when noticing that agents can choose the staying option not because of a lack of a real exit option but their choice is not voluntary, Barry refers to the amount of freedom of choice that agents have. Indeed, although that may be an acceptable option and it does increase their freedom, it may not increase their freedom of choice and this is what vitiates their choice. So, if you want to maintain the presence of an acceptable alternative as a condition for voluntariness, but at the same time you want to make sure that all the conditions for voluntary choice are there you need to supplement the criterion for voluntariness with an account of what is required in order to have the necessary amount of freedom of choice.