Philosophy: Chapter Two - Part Five: The Value of Autonomy in Relation to Personal Power - The Origins of Citizen XRead Now
Chapter Two - Part Five
The Value of Autonomy in Relation to Personal Power - The Origins of Citizen X
Another look at Oshana
The mechanics that legitimize state authority bear a remarkable positive parallel to the negative description presented in Oshana’s theory.
By this I mean that the mechanisms involved with legitimizing the state’s authority to exercise its power are parallel to the restrictions placed upon individuals from exercising their power and usurping the common authority of the liberal state.
To explain, let us look a little closer at the structure of State Power.
A first look at the Structure of Political Power
Political power is traditionally spoken of in terms of a “sovereign,” traditionally a particular individual or select group “holding the reigns” of state authority.
Using the insights of Foucault, we see the idea of political power as an exclusive possession of a lone ruler or cabal does not describe the modern state, but “sovereignty” instead is embodied in “more-or-less organized, hierarchical, co-ordinated cluster(s) of relations.”
In the modern capital-based liberal state, Princely State power has become structural and bureaucratic and is exercised in three distinct forms: Argumental/Persuasive, Compulsive/Brute, and Deontic/Structural. I will be speaking primarily of deontic power in this blog.
The term 'Deontic" comes from the Greek, deon, meaning obligation or necessity. Deontic power therefore concerns, is related to, or is explicitly about the duties and obligations inherent in large scale social arrangements.
Broadly, deontic power constructs the basic structural limits of the socio-political system and it is expressed in varied, interrelated manners: the standing directives of criminal law and civil society, the rights and duties imposed by constitutional amendments, the permissions and restrictions inherent in institutional bureaucracy.
The enforcement of deontic apparatus involves the legitimate interference of the state into the personal lives of its citizens. Rights, obligations, restrictions, the standing intention and threat of violence empowering authorized military and police action, and the basic assumptions, habits, and norms of our social background all constitute the basic structures of the state and all serve to actively create, express, and maintain the legitimacy of state power.
The dispersion of authority throughout the system allows for the deontic mechanisms at work to strengthen the identification and recognition of state regulations and authoritative patterns. And once the recognition of an external authority is internalized, it is the acceptance of deontic state power that allows for its authority to compel, by law, force, and argument, the choices and actions of agents standing as subjects to its will.
It is collective recognition of agents as both objects and subjects of state deontic power that empowers state authority and the greater the element of control over the autonomous actions of agents, the more efficient and effective the powers of the state can be exercised.
The tensions of Power
Agential acceptance of state authority is established and maintained when individual agents recognize the state’s claim of possessing the sole means to provide citizens with the structured and level playing field in which to develop the skills and opportunities needed to live their own chosen ‘good life,’ a liberal cornerstone that I must assume, for the sake of this blog, to be generally understood.
Recognition of state authority ultimately hinges on the state’s monopoly of legitimate violence within it territory and the state’s ability to peacefully resolve group conflict.
This conflict resolution is tied to a larger issue of the state being seen as capable of creating a space for individuals to live lives free from unwarranted intrusions and dangers, thus to promote conditions of security and personal value.
To do this, the state must be recognized as legitimately having the authority to sanction or punish any activities taking place within its borders and must have absolute control over legitimate means of violent behavior within that territory, making itself the lone source of authoritative coercive punishment and legitimate intervention.
Further, it must be known to exercise its power through its police, military and penal systems. The main justification for such interventions, to speak in broad terms, is for the protection or good of the people, as it must be seen as able to provide relative security and opportunity for those who live under it laws.
The state must make use of and justify certain paternalistic measures so that it may promote an environment of mutual safety and respect for all of its citizens. Placing restrictions on drunk driving, shouting ‘fire’ in a crowded theater, or the compulsory mandates of education and minority-group equality fall into arguably justifiable interventions, but beyond such notions, the needs of state authority are at odds with the needs of agential authority.
In theory, the state must be seen and known to promote general social conditions favorable to individual growth, prosperity, and self-authoritative control, but, in practice, the state must create underlying conditions that go against these basic ideals.
To remind you, Marina Oshana’s model describes empirical conditions in which autonomy is the possession of the few and the general constitution of such conditions leave many agents with a fundamental lack of control as they face their general social environment.
The criticisms Oshana's theory faces concerning a general “lack of control” and allowing excessive paternalism could be usefully directed towards the liberal system itself where evidence supporting her claims is revealed in the actuality of lives that are marginalized, excluded, and disempowered.
By framing her theory as a description of what mechanics are involved in the creation of a social system where only a minority may qualify as self-authorities and justification for potential abuse of paternalistic measures are readily available, I have tried to explain how empowering state authority requires a general condition of disempowerment for agential autonomy to insure its power is legitimate and its authority complete and uncontested.
This is perhaps making a stronger claim than Oshana herself would want to make, but I feel it does sufficiently describe the mechanics of our liberal state where the lives of citizens become mere apparatus for its maintenance.
Objection and defense of Oshana’s theory
An objection to Oshana’s overall thesis is that her descriptive theory is simply wrong and individuals are afforded more autonomy in the contemporary liberal state than ever before in the forms of personal and civil rights. This objection points towards a potential flaw in her (and therefore my own) reasoning.
Such an argument could claim that far from facing the restrictive conditions proposed by her theory, the socio-political structure has actually increased the area of personal choice and action by affording greater room for personal control in areas such as reproduction, lifestyle choice, and employment or ownership opportunities.
The argument would conclude that the legalization of abortion and advancements in minority group rights following the civil rights movements are examples of this widened sphere of self-authority and ownership.
To respond to this type of objection, I argue that these rights, while affording a greater degree of freedom in particular choices and opportunities, do not effectively increase the more relevant ‘global’ conditions of autonomy necessary to possess de facto control over the final decisions one makes concerning his or her life.
In distinguishing autonomy from freedom, Marina Oshana says, “To be free is to possess the power to decide or to act, but autonomy deals with agential authority over those decisions and actions”. To truly be autonomous, to have actual authority over oneself and one’s decisions, requires more than having the freedom to choose between options that are controlled by an authority higher than oneself.
The more entrenched and internalized the mechanisms of power come to be, the more outlets for the expression of localized autonomy are needed. These outlets afford the agent a relative degree of freedom and independence, but the general conditions within which the agent operates are fundamentally structured to force an underlying subjection to the authority of the state. To recognize that one has the right to choose what to do with her body is to recognize the prior standing authority of the state to be able to decide if your capacity to choose or act according to your own intentions and deliberations is a legitimate option or not.
To be autonomous, not merely free, in the reality of our social system, requires more than having the capacity to be an authority over one’s own choices and actions. To be autonomous, one must fully exercise that capacity and hold de jure entitlement over ones deliberations and actually be the de facto authority over oneself.
Once the structure of the modern state’s dispersion of authority is recognized and internalized, the range of individual freedoms is able to open even as the range of the conditions suitable to autonomy is diminished.
Conclusion to Chapter Two
This blog has argued that autonomy, traditionally believed to be a granted state all agents share in common is, in the reality of our social environment, quite the opposite.
Not everyone has the opportunity to develop a life conducive to self-directed behavior; there are social, political, and economic conditions operative in the liberal socio-political system that rely to an important degree on creating conditions non-conducive to autonomous behavior.
Oshana recognizes the importance of the relational aspects of our empirical world, and her theory takes pains to stress the fact that actual self-authority is tied to the development of critical cognitive and social skills, as well as to underlying economic and political conditions.
The critiques to her theory, that her model is overly paternalistic and exclusionary, would be more usefully directed towards the liberal system I read her as describing.
Finally, I need to say that there is a movement in contemporary political philosophy towards applied theories, where it is understood that our conceptions have verifiable results, and one may in fact do philosophical work to “get things done”.
By understanding the dynamic practical and ontological mechanics of political systems, I see the potential for applied work in areas such as domestic and international relations, distributive economics, privacy, and various forms of oppression.
In Chapter Three I will begin tying several themes together by discussing in detail the concept and structures of Power and the Identity of Citizen X.
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