Nondomination and the Ambitions of Employment Law

Aditi Bagchi


There is something missing in existing discussions of domination. While republican theory, antisubordination theory, and critical legal theory each have contributed significantly to our understanding of domination, their focus on structural relationships and group subordination can leave out of focus the individual wrongs that make up domination, each of which is an unjustified exercise of power by one person over another. Private law (supported by private law theory) plays an important role in filling out our pictures of domination and the role of the state in limiting it. Private law allows us to recognize domination in wrongs by one person against another, and it has the potential to articulate the state-enforced boundaries on domination as well as a framework for thinking through inevitable compromises between the aspiration to nondomination and other basic interests of a liberal state. We can understand employment law as continuous with private law, that is, attempting to vindicate a nondomination principle in the context of employment by regulating specific acts of employers. Alternatively, we might understand employment relationships to define group membership, commonly recognized along class lines. In that case, employment law is not about individual nondomination but about mitigating class subordination. It might do this in service of the antisubordination principle, or in order to ensure that employees are capable and ready to exercise the responsibilities of democratic citizenship. While these various purposes largely coincide, there are points of normative divergence which sometimes require that we prioritize one or other function of employment law over the others.

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