Individual Liberty and the Importance of the Concept of the People

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Through publically agreed laws that correspond to a common set of public restrictions, the ‘people as a sovereign body’ serves to protect against violations of individual liberty and despotic power. Where no such common body exists, individuals are deprived of this protection. In such cases, individuals must obey without liberty, while those in power command under a state of license. Neoliberal theorists maintain that any common personality, with its corresponding set of public and arbitrary positive and negative restrictions on liberty, undermines individual liberty. Neoliberal theory only allows for private restrictions on liberty. Against these neoliberal assumptions, we argue that rejecting public restrictions on liberty does not promote individual liberty. To the
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contrary, it creates conditions in which free individuals become servile and political inequality becomes entrenched, where citizens are divided into those who obey and those who command. Tracing the consequences of neoliberalism, we argue that unless we take seriously both the people as a political category and the right to equal and reciprocal coercion, individual liberty will be at risk. We also argue that neoliberalism ultimately leads to the total exclusion of certain citizens under the veil of full liberty. With the vanishing of the people’s will comes the utter disappearance of certain citizens, who live in the spontaneous society as if they were stateless or lawless persons. To better understand the connections between the rejection of the concept of the people, private restrictions on liberty and the fostering of the servile citizen, this paper considers the political philosophy of Hayek and Nozick. It also considers key ideas from Locke and Kant—theorists who, despite the differences between their philosophical perspectives, and despite the fact that they both provided crucial inspiration for Hayek’s political economy and Nozick’s libertarianism, stressed the protective role of the people with regard to individual liberty.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-42
Number of pages42
JournalPalgrave Communications
Publication statusPublished - 14 Aug 2018


  • liberty
  • obedience
  • the people;
  • private
  • public


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