Other Normative Resources of Liberalism

Because liberal values weightier than distributive justice are at stake when it comes to the gendered division of labor, the ranking of gains from the perspective of distributive justice doesn’t suffice to establish that basic income serves the morally weightier social end. This section defends this claim and lays foundation for a different way of looking at the tradeoff. I begin by disputing the presumption that basic income’s primary liability is a threat to equal opportunity at the high end of the occupational structure.

One way to dispute this presumption is to argue that the distributional maladies of the gendered division of labor trickle down: that the gendered division of labor undermines the fairness of competitions in which the less advantaged take part and harms less advantaged citizens on absolute terms as well. I think that this case can easily be made. The gendered division of labor sustains gender injustices across the population, frustrating equal opportunity among privileged and disadvantaged women. It sustains glass ceilings that constrain women at the top of the employment structure, and it accounts for the devaluation of caregiving and the (partially consequent) feminization of poverty. It is for this reason that many feminists regard the institution of the family and its gendered division of labor as the “linchpin” of gender injustice.17 If labor market reform can dismantle the gendered division of labor, it can benefit women across the income distribution and even those outside of the formal labor market altogether.

But I want to focus on a different way to dispute the notion that basic income’s main liability from the perspective of liberalism is the threat it poses to equal opportunity at the high end of the occupational structure: not to deny that the problems of distributive justice befall only those at the high end of the occupational structure but to deny that basic income’s liability with respect to gender egalitarianism is reducible to a problem of distributive justice in the first place. Liberalism is not only liberal principles of distributive justice; it includes a set of constraints that we must abide by as we enact social policies to realize those principles or, indeed, to realize any social aims at all. In the next section, I’ll argue that the gendered division of labor is problematic from the perspective of those constraining values of liberalism. Insofar as basic income risks further entrenching the gendered division of labor, then, it jeopardizes those fundamental values.

That argument relies on some foundational theoretical commitments, which I unpack here. Ultimately, we want our theorizing to shed light on practical questions about what we should do, like: Should nonparents be taxed to help defray the costs to parents of raising children, for example, through subsidized parental leave? Or: Should parental leave be arranged to incentivize equal parenting among cooperating domestic partners? In order to settle practical political questions about what we should do, we need to consult aspirational values about what ends we should ideally seek to bring about, and we need to consult the value considerations that constrain our political pursuit of aspirational aims. Distributive justice, as I understand it, is an aspirational social aim. Questions of distributive justice are questions about what would make society fair, setting aside such considerations as the worry that in our circumstances, we cannot achieve a fair arrangement short of political intrusions that constitute objectionable governmental overreach. Figuring out what we ought to do, all things considered, requires getting it right about the relevant aspirational ideals and correctly discerning the ways in which our pursuit of those ideals is constrained by other normative considerations: most importantly for my purposes, political legitimacy. Legitimacy concerns the permissibility of coercive political intervention to pursue an aspirational ideal - like an ideal of distributive justice - given the fact of reasonable disagreement about the ideal in question and the democratic conviction that reasonable disagreement about social ideals among diverse citizens matters politically.

In addressing a question internal to liberal egalitarian feminism, this chapter takes for granted that we want to live in a society regulated by the values of liberalism - a society that limits political intrusion into the lives of citizens and allows considerable space for those citizens to act on their own conceptions of the good, regulated by values that they endorse. For cooperation to be possible in such a society, we must find some way of dealing with the disagreements that will inevitably arise, both about what values are worthy of allegiance for individuals and for the collective, and about how those first disagreements are fairly to be resolved. We also want to live in a society regulated by democratic values. In a democratic society, the state’s authority derives from its claim to be acting on the will of the people, and political interventions are regarded as exercises of our collective democratic power. A liberal democracy seeks to exercise the collective power of citizens only in ways that respect the authority of each individual to live out a life of her own choosing. Liberal democratic legitimacy concerns the conditions under which exercises of political power live up to this commitment.

Questions of legitimacy depend in important ways on the concept of citizenship. In one sense, citizens are actual members of society, on whose assent legitimacy depends. This is the concept of citizenship at play when we regard a suitably constrained majoritarian process as legitimacy- conferring. A second concept of citizenship generates the reasons by which actual citizens should be moved and determines the constraints within which actual citizens’ wishes carry authority. Notice, just intuitively for now, that some political interventions seem not to rely for their legitimacy on the actual consent of actual citizens. Interventions necessary to protect certain basic rights, for example, need not be approved by an actual majority in order to be legitimate. The second conception of citizenship explains why this is so. This conception is the idealized conception of political personhood that systematizes the constraints on legitimate exercises of political power that a liberal democracy should impose.

In Rawlsian political liberalism, idealized citizenship embodies two moral powers - the capacity for a conception of the good and the capacity for a sense of justice - and a higher-order interest in the protection of those powers. This concept of citizenship gives substance to political liberalism’s basic criterion of legitimacy, the criterion of reciprocity, which specifies that “our exercise of political power is proper only when we sincerely believe that the reasons we offer for our political action may reasonably be accepted by other citizens as a justification of those actions” (Rawls 1993, xliv). In a free society, citizens will reasonably disagree about what kinds of lives are good lives and what kinds of values are worth espousing. Given this reasonable disagreement, a state that acts to promote and preserve an aspirational ideal of justice will impose burdens, and will impose burdens unequally, on citizens’ pursuit of their own values. But if in promoting that aspirational ideal it abides by the criterion of reciprocity, it preserves mutual civic respect among citizens even though it imposes unequally on them. It respects all citizens as members of a justificatory community: Though we disagree about many things, we show mutual respect by exercising the coercive power of the state only when doing so can be justified using reasons that we can all recognize as such, because they derive from interests that we share.

If deep and reasonable value pluralism is inevitable, what interests could those be? While there may be few or no interests that we all actually endorse, certain interests can be derived from the very project of finding fair terms of cooperation for a pluralistic democracy. For the purposes of theorizing liberal legitimacy, we are all taken to share the set of interests that minimally value-laden project implies. The role of idealized citizenship is to systematize these interests we share. Because we assume that the project of seeking fair terms of cooperation is not futile, we idealize citizens as capable of modulating their behavior to comply with principles of justice. Because we assume that we are seeking terms of cooperation for a diverse society, but one wherein individuals can be held accountable for the values they live by, we idealize citizens as capable of forming and rationally revising their conceptions of the good life. Because we aim to specify conditions under which a just society can stably persist over time, we attribute to them an interest in protecting these moral powers of idealized citizenship.

From this characterization, we can infer still further interests of idealized citizenship. Most straightforwardly, there is a citizenship interest in protecting a prerogative for each actual citizen to pursue her conception of the good life, free from state intrusion. This interest generates a sort of presumption against coercive political intervention. But the presumption is overridden when intrusion can be justified as an essential positive means of protecting other shared interests of citizenship. Intrusions justified in this way include protections for certain basic liberties that we have a shared idealized-citizenship interest in protecting. Whether or not actual citizens actually endorse the protections in question, the idealization of citizenship licenses us to treat those protections as in their interest. That idealization systematizes the interests implied by a project we are all taken to endorse: finding fair terms on which to justly regulate cooperation and legitimately regulate state coercion in a society marked by profound disagreement.

The criterion of reciprocity thus constrains the political strategies available to us for pursuing distributive justice or any other aspirational social end; and, underpinned by the ideal of mutual civic respect among free and equal citizens, the criterion of reciprocity also positively requires that we recognize, as reasons-giving, those fundamental interests we share in common as citizens. The citizenship capacity to form and revise a conception of the good generates a strong interest in protections for the freedom to, for example, espouse a religion of one’s own choosing or none at all. Similarly with the other basic liberties, with the prioritization of the basic liberties, and with the provision of the material necessities for the effective exercise of those liberties: Because shared citizenship interests demand that these conditions be secured, any society that fails to secure them violates the criterion of reciprocity. In this way, the criterion of reciprocity takes some social arrangements off the table from the start. It is, as Rawls puts it, the “limiting feature” of a reasonable political conception of justice (1993, 450). In these positive requirements, we can find resources of liberalism, beyond the ideal of equal opportunity, for criticizing the gendered division of labor.

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