Monday, August 13, 2007

Paul Patton Deleuzian 'freedom' (part 1)

As an earlier blog stated I am co-authoring a paper reviewing Deleuzian inspired politics. At present I am reading Paul Patton and his Deleuzian concept of freedom. This is the first part, which looks at Patton's critique of two classical concepts of freedom. The next section, which I will post at a later date, will describe Patton's concept of freedom.

Patton on the concept of freedom:
As part of Patton’s philosophical and political project he considers how Deleuzian philosophy can alter and construct one of the fundamental concepts of Anglo-American political philosophy: freedom. Patton’s Deleuzian freedom is constructed through encountering two classical definitions of liberal freedom. The first is the negative freedom of Isaiah Berlin, and the second is the positive freedom of Charles Taylor.
Negative freedom is defined as the ‘area of non-interference’, where the subjects are left to do or be what they are able to do or be.[1] This concept of freedom contains two elements. Firstly, a majoritarian subject, who represents a ‘normal human being’ with ‘desires, goals, and capacities for action which fall within the range of normality for a given time and place’[2], and, secondly, the presence of external limits to the subject. The result of Berlin’s spatial concept of freedom is it lies between two agents – the subject and the external limits. Freedom is therefore ‘a matter of where the line is drawn at any given moment’ and ‘presupposes a static subject with capacities and interests.’[3]
In contrast, positive freedom, defined by Charles Taylor ‘is based upon a more complex concept of the subject as action as an individual capable of “strong evaluation.”’[4] This involves the subject internalising limits and ‘exercising control over one’s life.’[5] Talyor therefore implies that the control over ones life ‘demands that one have a sense of one identity…on the basis of which one can discriminate between one’s authentic or essential desires.’[6] Talyor’s concept of freedom critique’s Berlin’s negative freedom as it already presupposes ‘this kind of qualitative judgement about the purposes or kinds of action that are significant to persons.’[7] The result, for Taylor, is that negative freedom is only possible because of positive freedom and the characteristics of ‘strong evaluation.’
However, Patton critiques Taylor’s concept of freedom for remaining tied to the concept of the subject as a given. This ‘concept of positive freedom overlooks the importance sense in which a person is deemed free only to the extent that they are able to distance themselves from the structure of values with which they grew up and acquires others.’[8] Taylor is therefore unable to understand, or contemplate, how ‘ freedom must allow for the possibility that agents will act in ways that lead them to alter their desires, preferences, and goals.’[9] While Talyor may argue that ‘strong evaluation’ in the subject can transform and affirm freedom, he does not consider how forces may cause this ‘strong evaluation’ to occur. In other words, the important point to ask is how people, or groups, are affected, or have the capacities to be affected, that transforms and re-evaluates their desires, preferences, and goals. This could occur, for example, when a mono-cultural society receives an influx of immigrants who hold different values and beliefs, which may challenge both the core beliefs of the newcomers and the residents.[10] Patton’s main critique of Taylor is his inability to consider the forces of what Deleuze (and Guattari) term subjectivication.

[1] Isaiah Berlin, ‘Two Concepts of Liberty’, Four Essays on Liberty (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1969) p16
[2] Paul Patton, Deleuze and the Political (London: Routledge, 2000) p83-84
[3] Paul Patton, Deleuze and the Political p84
[4] Paul Patton, Deleuze and the Political p84
[5] Charles Taylor, ‘What’s wrong with negative liberty?’ in Charles Taylor, Collected Papers II (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985)
[6] Paul Patton, Deleuze and the Political p84
[7] Paul Patton, Deleuze and the Political p84
[8] Paul Patton, Deleuze and the Political p84
[9] Paul Patton, Deleuze and the Political p84
[10] Paul Patton, Deleuze and the Political


The Brooks Blog said...

A few thoughts:

(a) Why think 'freedom' is 'Anglo-American political philosophy' specific? Are you suggesting that those who work in metaethics or moral philosophy (esp moral agency) place freedom lower than political philosophers? And are you suggesting that the concept of 'freedom' is alien to the non-Anglo-American tradition? This will be news to Sartre on the continent and anyone who reads the Bhagavad-Gita.

(b) The Berlin-Taylor debate is a bit tired and few people these days get exercized about the positive-negative freedom debate anymore (besides a few defenders of TH Green). I've heard characterized more than once that Berlin's essay demonstrates that high citations does not equal a lack of several major errors. The debate on freedom since has moved on a lot over the last 30 years or so. An excellent guide is Blackwell's recent anthology of freedom (which I've ordered for the Newcastle library) by Carter, Kramer, and Steiner. Another place to look is teh growing debate surrounding the capabilities approach (a view of positive freedom?), esp. as formulated by Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum. I am not convinced that this approach suffers the problems you've attributed to Taylor's outdated view, although the capabilities approach has problems on its own.

Otherwise, I suggest you speak with Jon Pugh (Town Planning, Newcastle) who I know has done a bit of work on Deleuze, even if he has been unconvinced (and prefers Mouffe).

Mark202 said...

Thanks for your comments thom:

a) I am not claiming that 'freedom' is specific to the anglo-american political philosophy, or that it is non-relevant to other non-anglo-american traditions, but merely that it is a key concept of the anglo-american tradition.

b) Yes, the Berlin-Taylor debate is 'outdated', but Patton only uses it as an introduction to build his concept of freedom, which allows him a platform to construct a Deleuzian concepts of freedom, which moves onto considering 'critical freedom' (i.e. Tully). I will write about this in part two, which should hopefully make clearer Patton's concept of freedom.

c) The article is not making an argument for Deleuzian politics (whatever that would look like?), but rather reviewing various political thinkers (Patton, Massumi, Hardt & Negri, Colebrook, DeLanda) and considering their convergences and divergences through their 'use' of Deleuzian philosophy.

I'll look for the book once I am back in Newcastle.

The Brooks Blog said...

Thanks for these helpful remarks, Mark. Only two notes then in reply:

(a) I still worry about the claim of 'freedom' as 'a central concept in Anglo-American philosophy'. This is either an obvious truism (not needing mention) or it is misleading. I continue to think the latter. In singling it out in this way I still think you suggest that (1) the Anglo-American tradition somehow differs from other traditions in giving freedom such centrality (which is simply untrue) and (2) perhaps Anglo-American philosophy is wrong to give freedom such centrality (as you suggest a real critique on the way).

This leads me to my next point:
(b) Instead of an article as such, I'd suggest that you consider writing a review article--let's call the topic 'Deluezian Freedom' or something similar--as your subject, in fact, is *not* Anglo-American philosophy as such (often regarded as a synonym for 'analytic philosophy), but the current reception of Delueze's work in a number of important new contributions. A review article with this remit would be a very appropriate medium for a piece that wanted to provide a commentary on the contributors to this debate that you note above. (Whereas an article demands you have a thesis to defend---and going for 'freedom' is a *very* big topic: I'd strongly recommend narrowing your focus into a review article.)

The way forward now would be to potentially approach RIS, BJIPR, or even Political Studies Review with a proposal for the review article. I would think they would all be agreeable, although all will insist on peer review prior to any offer to publish.

Either way, I still suggest you contact Jon Pugh when you're back. He doesn't seem like an expert by any longshot (and he's very critical of Deleuze), but he's a clear 'postie' and highly well read on Deleuze in a way that could be helpful. Neelam Sreeniva...(I forget the rest of her name) in English Lit is also a major Deleuze fan at Newcastle worth speaking with.