12th Pavia Graduate Conference in Political Philosophy – Abstract/Holme

Jack Holme

Freedom, Equality, Property: A Three Dimensional Account

It is commonly contended by the political right, notably right libertarians, that freedom and equality are mutually incompatible values. This argument can be characterized as positing a trade-off between freedom and equality, such that the more a society realizes of one, the less it is able to realize of the other. This trade-off model is often either regretfully accepted by egalitarians, who then prioritize equality over freedom, or evaded by invoking positive conceptions of freedom which do not necessarily designate interference as unfreedom. However, those concerned with freedom generally find neither of these strategies persuasive. In this paper I aim to show that for those committed to both negative freedom and equality of outcome the outlook is not as bleak as the incompatibility of these values would seem to suggest. This is because the traditional picture ignores the context in which the trade-off between freedom and equality takes place, namely, the widespread privatization of resources. I argue that in addition to the trumpeted trade-off between freedom and equality, each of these values is also subject to a trade-off with the realization of private property rights. We are therefore faced with three trade-offs: freedom vs. equality, freedom vs. private property, and equality vs. private property. By integrating these three trade-offs into a single three dimensional model I hope to present a more informative account of the way the three goals relate. The extent to which freedom and equality trade-off against one another is itself determined in part by the extent to which a society realizes private property. Consequently, by curbing or abolishing private property rights a greater capacity for joint realization of freedom and equality can be achieved.