The Public and the Private, the Comprehensive and the Political, and the Foundational Role of Injustice Claims (Baehr)

The distinction between public matters (which are the proper object of political concern) and private matters (which are not) plays an important role in liberalism. One might worry that dependency and the arrangements through which dependency needs are satisfied fall on the private side of the ledger in liberalism. If they did, they would not be recognized as matters of political concern, and many of the dependency-related injustice claims made by social justice movements, and of interest to dependency theorists, would be unaccounted for. We can gather from the chapters in this volume a set of responses to this worry, that is, a set of explanations of the political nature of dependency and caregiving.

For example, some of the chapters argue that a proper understanding of key liberal political values requires appreciating the fact of human dependency and the value of care. Khader, for instance, reveals in great detail the dangers of misunderstanding individualism as independence and self-sufficiency; Hartley and Watson argue that a proper understanding of equal citizenship requires attention to various ways in which human beings are dependent upon one another; and Engster shows that realizing the sort of freedom and autonomy liberalisms cherish depends on individuals receiving good care. Other chapters, working in the Rawlsian tradition, understand the institutions and social arrangements through which caregiving is given and received as part of society’s basic structure - which, as a whole, is the subject of political justice - and understand care as a primary social good. Including caregiving institutions and arrangements in the basic structure makes it imperative that we have an adequate understanding of the activity of caregiving. We may appreciate Brake’s argument that caregiving is best understood as a kind of work in this context.11

Several of the chapters - those by Schouten, Stark, and Baehr - apply liberal standards to the distribution of caregiving work and, not surprisingly, find that they rule out our current gendered division of labor. As Bhandary argues, they also rule out our current racialized distribution as well. In addition to applying liberal standards to the distribution of caregiving work, several chapters examine the distribution of the receipt of care. Eichner points to deficits in needed care due to poverty and insufficient time off for caregiving, for which she blames an insufficiently regulated market. Baehr proposes principles of justice in caregiving that promise caregiving to all who need it and disallow inequalities in receipt of caregiving that track past injustice. In addition to directing our attention to society-wide patterns of distribution of caregiving work and receipt of care, some of the chapters direct our attention to the internal workings of caregiving arrangements and to the norms that structure them. The chapters by Bhandary, Hartley and Watson, Donner and Brake, for example, identify caregiving arrangements as frequent sites of exploitation, social hierarchy, and lack of reciprocity, and as breeding grounds for interpersonal despotism and subservience.

The focus on internal workings might lead one to think that situating dependency and care in liberalism means proposing what Rawls calls a “comprehensive doctrine” (1993, 13). Indeed, some feminist liberals endorse comprehensive liberalism - for example, of Kant or Mill - rather than political liberalism, arguing that political liberalism’s focus on what Rawls calls “the basic structure of society” (1993, 11) makes it unable to get at precisely the injustices in the internal workings of associational life with which feminists are concerned (Okin 1989; Hay 2013). After all, on Rawls’s account, comprehensive liberalisms include values with broad scope, values for personal relationships, for example, rather than merely for the political. The chapters by Donner (on Mill) and Varden (on Kant) surely reveal some of the power of comprehensive liberalisms to shed light on parts of associational life. But Brake, Schouten, and Baehr situate their chapters in the tradition of political liberalism and focus on the ways in which the justice of society’s basic structure depends - to some degree and in diverse ways - on what goes on in, and on the norms governing, the internal workings of that structure’s many parts.12

The comprehensive liberal/political liberal distinction concerns not only the range of application of relevant standards but also the nature of their justification. Feminist critics have argued that political liberalism is incapable of grounding feminist and other progressive calls for social change because it relies for its justification on an overlapping consensus of doctrines actually existing in society - which we can expect are insufficiently critical of the arrangements we seek to criticize (Okin 1994). They have argued that only a comprehensive liberalism, grounded in a distinctive morality - say that of Kant or Mill - has the normative heft necessary to critique extant arrangements that exploit, disempower, and oppress (Hay 2013; Abbey 2007). Rejecting this reading of political liberalism, Schouten and Baehr suggest that its core normative conceptions of citizenship and legitimacy can be put to work grounding measures necessary to undermine oppressive and hierarchical social arrangements.

The opening section of this chapter asserted that liberal political theory must acknowledge the fact of human dependency - any theory that fails to do so is inadequate. It might be worthwhile to reflect a bit on why. Perhaps the reason is, simply, that human beings are dependent. But people are many things, and the passage from facts to values is notoriously difficult. I want to suggest here another reason for building in the fact of dependency, a reason that emerges when we think of liberalism in the tradition of critical theory. That tradition suggests that normative theorizing emerges out of an appreciation of injustice claims arising out of lived experience and articulated by social movements. It suggests that normative theorizing’s task is to work out the “alternative visions” of a just, or more just, society implicit in such claims (Young 1990, 7, see also 5, 10), that is, to give expression to their animating sense of justice. So we might think of building the fact of dependency into liberal political philosophy as a way of being accountable to the individuals who, and social movements that, have articulated dependency-related injustice claims over many decades.15 I lack space to offer an exhaustive list of dependency-related injustice claims. Students of history and social movements will know that they range from the calling out of forced childbearing,14 forced caregiving,1S and forced sterilization16 to the calling out of the racist forcible removal of children from families.17 From the deleterious effects of mass incarceration on caregiving relationships18 to the national and international exploitation of the caregiving labor of disadvantaged communities by privileged communities.19 From opposition to the dismantling of the welfare state20 to the demand for legal recognition of queer families21 and the demand for living arrangements that afford persons with disabilities the opportunity to develop their talents, live as equals, and thrive in community with others.22

In The Return of Feminist Liberalism, Ruth Abbey recommends that we understand feminist liberalism as a kind “transformative liberalism.” Abbey means by that a doctrine that advances a “transformative ethos” (Abbey 2014, 261, citing Button 2008, 5-7). While Abbey suggests that such an ethos may be forthcoming from feminist liberalism only if it is a comprehensive liberalism, recent work on feminist political liberalism suggests we should keep an open mind about this (Schouten 2019; Watson and Hartley 2018). In any case, I suggest that we might understand the source of that transformative ethos to be the sense of justice - and the vision of a more just society - expressed in actual dependency-related injustice claims arising out of lived experience and articulated by social movements.

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