Political theorists have often supposed that a right of exit held by individual members can excuse group conduct that would otherwise be considered unreasonably oppressive of individual members. As Chandran Kukathas puts it, 'If an individual continues to live in a community and according to ways that (in the judgment of the wider society) treat her unjustly, even though she is free to leave, then our concern about the injustice diminishes.'1 Kukathas seems prepared even to excuse the potentially unjust treatment on the grounds that the right of exit is available. Joseph Raz, while arguing that groups should and may be encouraged to change repressive practices, nonetheless claims that 'the opportunity to exit from a group is a vital protection for those members of it who are repressed by its culture.'2 These stronger or weaker claims are present in the work of a variety of theorists,3 and Susan Moller Okin [End Page 43] has even gone so far as to say that '[a]ny consistent defense of group rights or exemptions that is based on liberal premises has to ensure that at least one individual right – the right to exit one's group of origin – trumps any group right.'4 Exit rights, then, are thought to limit the repression of group members and thus to be either sufficient for or necessary to compliance with moral principles. We will see, however, that rights of exit are neither necessary nor sufficient. To conclude that exit rights are necessary would undermine the collective pursuits of groups and fail to realize their full value; to conclude that exit rights are sufficient would overlook more fundamental moral requirements on groups.
We can approach the issue through the recent arguments of several leading theorists, notably Leslie Green, Susan Moller Okin, and Ayelet Shachar. All have offered important critiques of the traditional, liberal understanding of rights of exit. These theorists claim that arguments for a right to exit actually necessitate much greater liberalization of groups. For the sake of clarity about the claims at hand, we should, perhaps, clarify this claim concerning their accounts before turning to show this feature thereof. On the most persuasive accounts of liberalism, a liberal theory must include equal concern for members of political society, and it must demand respect for the important interests of individuals in the ability to revise their ends, thus demanding particular respect for individual autonomy.5 To speak of liberalization of some group other than political society, then, is to speak of imposing on it requirements in some way parallel to6 those applying to liberal political society, requirements that it respect equality and, especially, autonomy in ways more extensive than background morality would demand of individuals in their private lives.7 The strain of argument present in the work of Green, Okin, and Shachar, as we will see, implies stricter demands on groups than on purely private actors, imposing further liberal requirements on groups [End Page 44] other than the formal right of exit with which some theorists, including John Rawls, would have remained satisfied.8
Green, beginning from the proposition that rights of exit are indeed necessary, argues that an effective right of exit necessitates, in turn, other rights, such as freedoms of speech that will enable discussion of exit.9 Okin highlights an inattention to realistic rights of exit for oppressed sub-groups, such as female group members, and argues that formal rights of exit need to be supplemented by external defences of the individual rights of such members against the groups.10 Shachar has questioned the logic of implied consent inherent in right-of-exit arguments, repeatedly analogizing it to old claims of alleged consent to domestic violence by women who did not leave their abusers,11 and has argued for incentives promoting the dismantling...