Should There Be Freedom of Dissociation?


ECONOMIC AFFAIRS, Volume 37, Issue 2

Abstract: Contemporary liberal societies are seeing increasing pressure on individuals to act against their consciences. Most of the pressure is directed at freedom of religion but it also affects ethical beliefs more generally, contrary to the recognition of freedom of religion and conscience as a basic human right. I propose that freedom of dissociation, as a corollary of freedom of association, could be a practical and ethically acceptable solution to the conscience problem. I examine freedom of association and explain how freedom of dissociation follows from it, showing how dissociation protects freedom of religion and conscience. Extreme cases, such as the problem of the Satanist nurse, can be handled within a dissociationist framework, so it is reasonable to think less extreme cases can also be dealt with. The serious objection that dissociationism entails unjust discrimination is answered primarily by appeal to the need for ‘full and fair access’ to goods and services by all groups. I then allay important concerns about what kind of liberal society we should want to live in. Next, I refute the charge that a dissociationist society violates liberalism’s ‘higher good’, arguing that liberalism strictly does not have a higher good. I conclude with some reflections on what a dissociationist society might look like.