Albert O. Hirschmann’s Exit, Voice, and Loyalty: Responses to Decline in Firms, Organizations, and States is a “generative” book: the ideas it contains are deceptively simple but enormously fruitful. The book starts from the premise that individuals faced with a “decline” in service or performance from an organization (including a state) can either “exit” (switch to a different product, move to a different jurisdiction, etc.) or exercise their “voice” (complain, vote, protest, etc.), and that the degree to which they will opt for exit over voice depends in part on their “loyalty” to the organization. What makes the book interesting is Hirschmann’s detailed exploration of the complex and sometimes counterintuitive interactions between exit, voice, and loyalty: e.g., how the threat of exit can make voice more effective, and yet actual exit often undermines its effectiveness, or how exit can serve as a signal to activate certain forms of voice (as in Hirschmann’s analysis of the fall of the GDR, extended and refined in Steven Pfaff’s excellent Exit-Voice Dynamics and the Collapse of the GDR).
Anyway, this is probably utterly obvious, but it occurs to me that Hirschmann’s conceptual framework can be used to make sense of some important features of contemporary political thought. In particular, to the extent that contemporary political thought conceptualizes the key political problem not as a problem of performance (pace Hirschmann) but as a problem of domination (how should we think and what should we do about the fact that some people appear to dominate others?), specific positions will tend to emphasize one or another of the three Hirschmannian “mechanisms” for dealing with it. Thus, “right-liberals” (libertarians, but also others) tend to focus on exit as the most important component of a solution to this problem, “left-liberals” (and many other leftists who would abhor the label “liberal,” but I want to leave these aside) tend to focus on voice, and “conservatives” tend to focus on legitimacy.
To me, this framework makes sense of many features of contemporary theoretical (and not-so-theoretical) debates, at least those I more or less follow. For example, right-liberals (from Nozick and Friedman to so many others) are especially attracted to markets as solutions to political problems in great part because they think that whenever such markets work well, they enable some people to escape from particular relations of potential domination: to leave jobs, or to switch products, or to escape oppressive social conditions, etc. The competitive market functions here as an ideal of exit, even if actually existing markets do not always work as advertised. Similarly, where left-liberals typically prefer to tackle domination within markets by encouraging unionization and other forms of organized voice, like worker-controlled enterprises (see, e.g., Michael Walzer’s Spheres of Justice), right-liberals might prefer to make the costs of exiting relations of domination smaller by lowering barriers to employment (so that people who quit have other options). Thus, at the extreme, many right-liberals are fairly comfortable with “private” governments not because they are secret authoritarians, as some people on the left might argue, but because private governments are typically predicated on easy exit: if you don’t like it, you can leave. (Many right-liberals tend to tie “legitimacy” to the possibility of exit: a relationship is legitimate when it does not unduly close off the possibility of exit). Domination, from this point of view, is captivity, and freedom is primarily understood as the ability to exit a relationship.
By the same token, left-liberals (and other people on the left, though not all) are often far more enamoured of democracy than the dinghy realities of actually-existing democracies would seem to warrant, with their refractory electorates, poor quality deliberations, capture by organized minorities, etc. This is not necessarily because they are blind to their failings, but because their default solution to the problem of domination is to increase voice – more consultation, more deliberation, more organized representation, and the like. They find voice itself desirable, and understand freedom partly in such terms: to be dominated is to have no means of affecting the direction of a relationship, to be voiceless, and to be free is to have input into the relationship, to have a say, which in turn legitimates a relationship. (If you don't like it, you can complain, or vote, or otherwise "make your voice heard"). And so left-liberals tend to look on exit-based solutions suspiciously, rightly understanding (as Hirschmann noted) that unrestricted exit typically undermines voice, and prefer to strengthen institutions of voice, even if these do not always work so well. Democracy is the normative ideal of voice, just as competitive markets are the normative ideal of exit.
The conservative response to domination is best seen as an attribute of other responses. Whether a person favours exit or voice in general as a response to domination, a more conservative position will typically understand existing relations of domination to be more legitimate than a less conservative position. But to the extent that there is a distinctively conservative response to illegitimate domination, it tends to stress the need to legitimate the relationship in question. This may involve increasing voice or enabling exit, but it may also involve changing other aspects of a relationship: domination can be legitimate, for the true conservative, even when there is otherwise no possibility of exit or voice, so long as the right people are in charge, or the right rules are applied, or the right procedures have been followed, etc. (Some of the “natural law theorists” around Robert George might fit this sort of characterization; but generally speaking true “conservatism” in this sense is harder to find today than one might think). Of course, the conservative response in this sense may be at odds with the conservatism of one’s position: it is, after all, possible to think that existing relations of domination are almost wholly illegitimate (and so ought to be changed), but for reasons having little to do with the possibility of exit or voice within the relationship (e.g., one may think that the wrong people are in charge; this is the Platonic position).
I do not want to make too much of this scheme. Whether one thinks that exit or voice (or legitimacy) is the right response to domination in a given situation may depend on any number of factors, such as one’s estimates of the costs of exit, the value of the community affected, the different organizational requirements of enabling exit rather than voice, and so on. (Consider: it is generally agreed today that people in abusive relationships should be given the option of exit rather than voice, since it is generally thought that voice is pointless in these circumstances). But I think that “left” and “right” strands of (broadly liberal) thought often differ in the extent to which they tend to value exit over voice or vice-versa as responses to domination: there is a style of reasoning and a constellation of theoretical commitments that favour one response over another. Left-liberals typically see high costs of exit and value group solidarity in ways that they would prefer not to undermine by promoting exit. Right-liberals, by contrast, typically see many pathologies in arrangements of collective voice and tend to more heavily discount the value of existing group solidarity. I suspect this is partly a matter of temperament and circumstance: some people seem to be “exit” people, some “voice” people (e.g., some of my relatives, when they receive bad service in a restaurant, will complain and demand their money back; I will just stop patronizing the place), just as some people seem more “conservative” than others, for whatever reasons, and these propensities may lead them to sort themselves into patterns of political thought. It may also have something to do with one’s particular circumstances; if one cannot imagine leaving a place and starting out elsewhere, or if one’s “exit” options are extremely costly, one may come to think that voice is generally the right response to domination, whereas highly mobile people with many “exit” options may come to think that exit is usually the right sort of response to domination. (And political debates may shift to left or right over time depending on whether people see themselves as fitting into one or the other category).
But this is all extremely speculative. The point of looking at domination through this sort of framework, in the end, is less to sort people into categories than to consider the interesting interactions between exit and voice, since it is clear that most of us do not see domination exclusively through either lens. Domination is both captivity and voicelessness, and freedom is both the ability to leave and the ability to talk, though we disagree about the balance between these two aspects in given situations, as well as about the legitimacy of existing relationships of domination. But, if we look at the interaction of exit and voice, we might sometimes come to surprising conclusions, just as Hirschmann did in his book. For example, we may come to see how exit and voice can be mutually reinforcing in the struggle against some forms of domination, but mutually undermining in other cases. Any thoughts?
 I use these names to indicate primarily theoretical commitments, not practical ones; in practice, who counts as “liberal” or as “conservative” in existing political debates is hardly as clear, and sometimes may be entirely dependent on temporary alliances and “tribal” affiliations. I am also talking only about the face value of these theoretical commitments; obviously any position claiming to talk about the problem of domination can be appropriated for less than noble ends by clever enough political entrepreneurs, though not always without costs.