Ian Shapiro and “Power-Based Resourcism”
I just finished reading a recent article of the Yale Political Science Professor, Ian Shapiro, “On Non-Domination,” in which he contrasts his view of “power-based resourcism” and non-domination as the bedrock of justice to egalitarian and libertarian conceptions of justice.
One of the features of his discussion of non-domination that makes it appealing to me in the context of practical politics is that it eschews meta-answers to questions of “basic structure” and instead proclaims that his theory “always operates at the margin”. As a result, it calls on us to turn our attention from hierarchy or inequality simpliciter to relationships of actual domination, recognizing that while hierarchy gives rise to the risk of domination, is not always the same thing as domination in fact. Accordingly, one must give due consideration to the views of the people involved in the relationship itself before coming to a conclusion. Second, it also requires us to distinguish between degrees of domination: not all instances of domination — the arbitrary use of power by one person to interfere in the free choice of another — are equal. It is much worse to be subject to arbitrary control over the necessities of life than it is over the kind of winter coat one can purchase, for example. If one does not have time to read the entire article, the conclusion, pp. 332-35, nicely sum up how his conception of justice as non-domination rooted in access to the resources necessary for a dignified life contrasts with other theories of justice. I think his conception of degrees of domination and degrees of non-domination are also very useful for thinking — in the realm of practical politics — how one is to prioritize political action: we are always asked to triage, attacking the most egregious sources of domination in social life, which do not necessarily coincide with legal status of formal hierarchy. Accordingly, when an employer recharacterizes his relationship with an employee as one resting on principles of independent contracting, the employer, on the one hand, elevates the legal status of the employee by deeming him an independent contractor, but the substantive result, in fact, is to make that person more subject to the employer’s domination insofar as the legal rights of independent contractors are less than those of employees. Finally, I think his approach to particular political questions is, structurally speaking, analogous to certain kinds of Muslim legal reasoning, specifically, the maqasidi approach to applied law which attempts to triage legal interests — whether benefits or harms — into three categories: primary, secondary and tertiary. Protecting the most vulnerable, which follows from the notion of justice as anti-domination rather than simple egalitarianism, for example, is also consistent with an important principle (qa’ida) of Muslim jurisprudence: dar’ al-mafasid muqaddam `ala jalb al-masalih.
Politically speaking, Shapiro is a strong supporter of simple majoritarianism as the best tool against domination, not on the theory that majorities cannot engage in arbitrary exercise of power, but that, on a relative scale, majorities are less likely to engage in arbitrary use of the power given to them in the hierarchical relationship between majority and minority, than the reverse, i.e., minorities can be reliably predicted to abuse their powers against majorities, whenever they are so entitled.
He concludes his article with an interesting comment about Madison’s anti-majoritarianist opinions famously expressed in The Federalist Papers: