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QMU Are the Modern State and Freedom Compatible Essay

QMU Are the Modern State and Freedom Compatible Essay


Section A:

  1. When Rawls writes, “Justice is the first virtue of social institutions,” he means that justice should be the foundational and guiding principle upon which all social institutions are built. In essence, the primary purpose of any social institution, such as government, law, and economics, should be to ensure justice for all members of society. This suggests that before considering economic efficiency, political expediency, or any other factor, society must prioritize justice.
  2. Rawls describes the ‘inviolability’ of each person as the inherent and unassailable moral worth and dignity that every individual possesses. According to Rawls, this inviolability is grounded in justice and cannot be overridden, even for the greater good of society. It means that no one’s fundamental rights and liberties should be sacrificed or violated for the supposed benefit of others. In essence, each person’s rights and dignity must be respected and protected, regardless of the consequences for society as a whole.
  3. The concept of the “priority of the right over the good,” as expressed in the quote, means that individual rights and justice take precedence over collective welfare or the pursuit of the common good. Rawls argues that justice requires that the loss of freedom or well-being for some individuals cannot be justified by claiming it serves a greater good for society as a whole. In other words, the moral principles of justice should not be sacrificed for utilitarian calculations of overall happiness or benefits.
  4. When Rawls mentions that in a just society, the liberties of equal citizenship are ‘settled,’ he means that certain fundamental rights and principles of justice are considered non-negotiable and beyond the realm of political bargaining. In his principles of justice, as outlined in “A Theory of Justice,” Rawls emphasizes the importance of equal basic liberties, such as freedom of speech and equal opportunities, as primary and inviolable. These liberties are not subject to compromise or trade-offs based on social interests, as they are the foundation of a just society.

Section B:

Are the modern state and freedom compatible? Discuss with reference to Habermas and Foucault.

The question of whether the modern state and freedom are compatible has been a central concern in political philosophy. Jürgen Habermas and Michel Foucault, two prominent thinkers of the 20th century, offer distinct perspectives on this issue.

Habermas’s Perspective:

Habermas argues that the modern state and freedom are indeed compatible, provided that certain conditions are met. He emphasizes the importance of communicative action and deliberative democracy as essential components of a just and free society. According to Habermas, the modern state can facilitate freedom by ensuring that citizens have equal opportunities to participate in public discourse and decision-making processes.

In his work “Between Facts and Norms,” Habermas introduces the concept of “communicative power,” which refers to the ability of individuals to influence political decisions through rational discourse. He believes that the modern state should provide a framework for inclusive and rational public deliberation, where citizens can engage in reasoned arguments and reach consensus on matters of public importance. In this way, the state can protect and enhance individual freedom by fostering a deliberative democracy that respects the autonomy and agency of its citizens.

Habermas also discusses the idea of “popular sovereignty as procedure,” emphasizing that legitimate political authority arises from the rational consensus of citizens participating in democratic processes. Through this procedural approach, he seeks to reconcile the modern state’s role in governance with individual freedom.

Foucault’s Perspective:

Foucault’s perspective on the compatibility of the modern state and freedom differs significantly from Habermas’s. He challenges the notion that the modern state inherently promotes freedom, arguing that modern forms of power often result in the disciplining and control of individuals.

In his work “Discipline and Punish,” Foucault analyzes how modern institutions, such as prisons and schools, exercise forms of disciplinary power that regulate and normalize individuals. The modern state, according to Foucault, plays a crucial role in creating and perpetuating these disciplinary mechanisms, which limit individual freedom by subjecting individuals to surveillance and control.

Foucault also explores the idea of “biopower,” where the state exerts control over the population’s biological and social life. This biopolitical control, he argues, can be repressive and restrict individual autonomy. In his lectures titled “Society Must Be Defended,” Foucault delves into the historical development of power structures that govern populations, revealing how the modern state’s apparatuses often operate in ways that undermine individual freedom.


In conclusion, the compatibility of the modern state and freedom is a complex and contested issue. Habermas contends that, with the right conditions and a commitment to deliberative democracy, the modern state can promote individual freedom. Foucault, on the other hand, highlights the ways in which modern state mechanisms can curtail individual freedom through disciplinary and biopolitical control. The debate between these two thinkers underscores the ongoing philosophical discussion about the role of the state in safeguarding or constraining individual liberty within the context of modern society. Ultimately, the question of compatibility hinges on the balance between state power and individual autonomy, and it remains a subject of ongoing exploration and debate in political philosophy.

QMU Are the Modern State and Freedom Compatible Essay





Section A

Section A (50%, 1000 WORDS)

In relation to the following passage from John Rawls’s text, answer ALL of the four questions below. Each of the questions should be answered in a short paragraph of approximately 250 words.

‘Justice is the first virtue of social institutions, as truth is of systems of thought. A theory however elegant and economical must be rejected or revised if it is untrue; likewise laws and institutions no matter how efficient and well-arranged must be reformed or abolished if they are unjust. Each person possesses an inviolability founded on justice that even the welfare of society as a whole cannot override. For this reason justice denies that the loss of freedom for some is made right by a greater good shared by others. It does not allow that the sacrifices imposed on a few are outweighed by the larger sum of advantages enjoyed by the many. Therefore in a just society the liberties of equal citizenship are taken as settled; the rights secured by justice are not subject to political bargaining or to the calculus of social interests.’ (Rawls, A Theory of Justice, Chapter 1, Section 1)

Briefly explain what Rawls means when he writes: ‘Justice is the first virtue of social institutions’.

What is the ‘inviolability’ of each person, according to Rawls?

What does Rawls mean by the priority of the right over the good? Answer withreference to the quote.

What does Rawls mean by ‘settled’? How is that reflected in his principles ofjustice?

Section B (50%, 1000 WORDS):

  1. Answer the following essay question: Are the modern state and freedom compatible? Discuss with reference to Habermas and Foucault.
  2. Could you please do a 1000 word essay on the following essay question stating what they both believe in regards to the question and separate paragraphs on what they say and a conclusion. Use examples and quote from sources. REFERENCE/CITE YOUR QUOTES.
  4. 1. Kelly, Michael (ed.), Critique and Power: Recasting the Foucault/Habermas Debate (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1994).

2.Ashenden, Samantha and David Owen (eds), Foucault Contra Habermas: Recasting the Dialogue between Genealogy and Critical Theory (Sage, 1999)

3. Foucault, Michel, ‘What is Enlightenment?’, in Paul Rabinow (ed.), The Foucault Reader (New York, Pantheon Books, 1984), pp. 32-50.

4. Jürgen Habermas, The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity (Cambridge: Polity, 1987), Chapters 9-10 on Foucault, and Chapter 12 on modernity.

5.Jürgen Habermas, ‘Popular Sovereignty as Procedure’, in Between Facts and Norms (Cambridge: Polity, 1996), Appendix I (pp. 463-90. Also in James Bohman and William Rehg (eds), Deliberative Democracy: Essays on Reason and Politics (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1997), pp. 35–65.

6. Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison (Hamondsworth: Penguin, 1979), Part 3, Chapter 3: ‘Panopticism’.

7.Michel Foucault, Society Must Be Defended: Lectures at the College de France, 1975-76 (New York: Picador, 2003), pp. 239-54 in Chapter 11.

8.Lois McNay Foucault and Feminism: power, gender and self. (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1992).

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