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Individualism and Autonomy

In Chapter 4, Daniel Engster argues that negative liberty and autonomy theories are incomplete without a relational care perspective. Combining accounts of autonomy from care ethics and the positive liberty tradition, he defends the view that attachment theory reveals the link between freedom and care. Attachment theory establishes that care is needed to develop a sense of self-worth and self-trust and that without these secure attachments, a wide range of capabilities are diminished. Receiving sufficient care is not merely a background condition for developing autonomy. Instead, for Engster, sufficient care is constitutive of autonomy. Consequently, a society that is committed to promoting negative liberty and autonomy must secure the conditions for secure attachment. The resultant theory of relational autonomy emphasizes the importance of attachment for self-trust, self-respect, and self-worth, which serve as a basis for autonomous action. And, the absence of adequate care leads to distress in children that predictably creates obstacles to choice and opportunity. Therefore, the absence of good care results in a lack of freedom. A corresponding conceptual modification is that liberal freedom must include the receipt of care within it. Engster concludes by remarking on the policy implications of his account. A society committed to liberal freedom should promote good care; protect people from neglectful, abusive, and other harmful forms of care; and also provide opportunities to develop the basic capabilities for the people in that society. More than merely a background condition for freedom, care is a component of negative liberty and autonomy.

In Chapter 5, Serene Khader argues that, for a form of liberalism to be a form of feminism, it cannot be committed to a variety of individualism she calls “independence individualism.” Khader’s chapter responds to the critique that individualism is a parochial value that western women impose on Southern women in the name of feminism. Disambiguating the idea of individualism that is used in development discourses into two concepts, “personhood individualism” - the view that people have interests of their own that are not reducible to the interests of others - and “independence individualism” - the view that individuals should meet their own economic needs and that only chosen relationships are of value, Khader contends that whereas the first may have value, the second is thoroughly embedded in a western imagination that assumes that moral progress occurred in the context of industrialization. She then argues that there are feminist reasons to promote personhood individualism in many practical contexts because “counting as a separate person was a currency of advantage in most societies” (6). What promotes personhood individualism is context-dependent, and this is something independence individualism - as a prescription for increased economic self-sufficiency and relationships of choice - fails to grant. Engaging in the project of nonideal theory, Khader argues that independence individualism actually hinders the project of gender justice, even in western contexts where arguments for it have typically arisen. She ultimately argues that support for independence individualism is incompatible with feminism, even liberal feminism, because a liberal feminism that endorses independence individualism will deny that costs to relationships are even costs.

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