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September 25, 2003



If you follow this up, you should maybe take a glance at John Gray's "Beyond the New Right," which tries to square exactly this circle, without notable success.

Russell Arben Fox

I wish more people would think about this perfectly obvious problem. Or rather, since many people (partisans of all stripes, mostly) do, in fact, think and talk about it a lot (usually with the aim of exposing politically useful faultlines and inconsistencies in whatever group or ideology they oppose), I should say that I wish more people were willing to think about how we should rework our political labels, groupings, ideological clusters and so forth, and then act upon those thoughts. Of course, I suppose a comment like that shortchanges libertarians, who have been trying to pull together this sort of rethinking in the U.S. for years. But on the opposite, communitarian side of things (which is where I find myself), little headway has been made, or even attempted. Try to find a social conservative who is willing follow through on their cultural beliefs to a demand for stability and equity in the fabric of the economic order. Or worse, try to find an economic redistributivist who understands that achieving fairness in society requires a collective concern for the moral prerequsites for said society. Unfortunately, you probably won't have much luck.

Walt Pohl

Russell: I read your comment about "economic redistributivists" several times, and I can't figure out what you mean.

Russell Arben Fox

Walt: I mean, much too simply, that someone who wants to redistribute wealth, opportunities and/or income (or at least strive towards a less regressive distribution) with the aim of achieving a more equal society, ought to (in my mind at least) be attentive to the cultural bounds and presumptions which make said "society" possible in the first place. It's an argument Will Kymlicka and many others made against John Rawls: for his theory of justice to work, it had to kind of implicitly presuppose the existence of a fully functioning "rational" culture or state from the get-go. Yet such communities can't (or at least, in my view, shouldn't) just be presupposed; they require moral cultivation and collective work.

Walt Pohl

Hmmm. What you're saying can be interpreted to either be a) obviously true, or b) controversial. Which do you mean?

(By obviously true, I mean, a world where everyone agrees that the most desirable thing is to stick it to the other guy is not one where the value of equality is going to make much headway. A controversial interpretation would be one that required, say, everyone to be a devout Christian.)

Russell Arben Fox

I'd like to think that the alternatives a) and b) aren't necessarily as stark as you present them (i.e., a community of bare minimal rule of law and tolerance vs. a culture of, for example, deeply embedded traditional Christian orthodoxy). Still, if push comes to shove, then yes, I'm talking about something which is, for most people, rather more controversial than otherwise.


This is a tension much explored in 'right' thought, as you might imagine.

One very nice place to start would be Michael Oakeshott's essay "On Being Conservative," and the sideways response by Irving Kristol (Kristol, amazingly enough *rejected* the essay as editor of, I think, encounter). Briefly, Oakeshott takes a purer route, describing conservatism as a temperament, a Conradian appreciation of the fragility of current goods. Kristol notes that conservatism in the American context, defined as "faithfulness to the principles of the founding" essentially means a conservative commitment to revolutionary, transformative notions of freedom and human equality. Both seem to me exactly correct.

Walt Pohl

Russell: in what way more controversial? I'm genuinely curious -- I can't decide if I agree with your point or not.


Greetings, all. I'm proud to be the possessor of such a lively comments box. Henry, I'll check out the Gray. Baa (if that IS your name) I've never read Oakeshott. He's one of those I sort of should have gotten around to reading by now. Walt and Russell - talk amongst yourselves. Oh, all right, one little comment. Russell writes in his first post:

"Try to find a social conservative who is willing follow through on their cultural beliefs to a demand for stability and equity in the fabric of the economic order. Or worse, try to find an economic redistributivist who understands that achieving fairness in society requires a collective concern for the moral prerequsites for said society. Unfortunately, you probably won't have much luck."

The first of these failings does seem hopeless to me. That is, if you are a social/cultural conservative, you have just got to distrust capitalist creative destruction. Otherwise you're incoherent. The second has its risks but strikes me as not patently hopeless. You can be a redistributivist without being a communitarian. (But maybe that isn't quite what you meant to claim, Russell. In which case, what exactly are you claiming? I think that's Walt's question, too. I'm not quite seeing it either.)


The way in which these two strands of "conservative" thought are brought together is hinted at in my favourite JK Galbraith quote ...


Oh god, not Galbreith again! D^2 -- stop quoting him! He's not smart, and the quote to which you refer is not insightful. It's just elegant aristocratic partisanism.

Walt, there are *lots* of conservatives willing to hinder the free market. Irving Kristol even wrote a book "Two Cheers for Capitalism" arguing basically this point. And there's also Hegel. Of course 'equity' may not mean to them what you want...

(and BAA are initials...)


He is smart, and it is insightful. If you want an alternative, try Michael Oakeshott's definition: "A conservative is a man with something to lose".


Casino, you make some good points, but I'm a little unclear on what you mean when you say "woman lingeries lingerie boobs boob tits big." Perhaps this ties back to some work of Oakeshott's that I'm not familiar with. Can you clarify?


We may never know, Realish, because I have so rudely deleted the man's thoughts. I think he expressed himself poetically.

Jacob T. Levy

By now I would think of Gray as someone who does *not* try to square the circle, who embraces social-cultural reaction along with economic etatisme, precisely because the economic liberalism he once endorsed is too unsettling, too associated with change. (I recognize that "by now" is a dangerous thing to say about Gray; by this week he may have declared himself to be a Camille Paglian gender-subverter. But for most of the past ten years he's been arguing that social conservatism of one sort or another-- including Greenism-- is of such great importance that the market must be overthrown. He's actually gone all Ruskin/ Carlyle on us.)

Pat Buchanan's turn to etatisme in 1992 had much the same character-- he finally understood that the market meant change and that he was agin' it.

Serious conservatives-- cf Russell Kirk-- have always been uneasy about the market, and for very sound reasons. That's part of why I insist that libertarianism is a species of liberalism; and lots of the folks at NRO seem to agree with me. And, in a way, this was the Big Idea of Virginia Postrel's first book, for those who don't feel like wading through Gray, Kirk, Ruskin, etc etc.

Jacob T. Levy

(Or, for a very serious and grown-up academic take-- besides that of the better-knwon Charles Taylor-- see the collected works of David Miller. He's not a liberal, he's a social democrat; not a liberal, a nationalism; not a liberal, a civic republican-deliberative democrat. his whole career he's been maybe the key example of what Russell calls for above: "an economic redistributivist who understands that achieving fairness in society requires a collective concern for the moral prerequsites for said society."


When reading Gray, I'm always reminded of a Bloom County strip from years back where Bill the Cat runs for President with a campaign ad that runs something like - "He's been a pro-choice gun-smuggling Moral Majority member. He's been a dope-smoking Republican Scientologist. Vote for Bill: He's one of us." Millsian liberal, post-Millsian, Rawlsian for half a second, green pro-market conservative, green managed market conservative, und so weiter; I'm sure I'm missing a couple of stages in his evolution there.

I suspect that David Miller may be a bit liberal for Russell Arben Fox's tastes. In some ways, he's very pro-market. I've always liked that chapter in "Market, State and Community" where Miller argues that Marx implicitly embraced the idea that markets were a good thing if you wanted to create fully realized individuals. I don't think that it's a very good exegesis of Marx; but that's beside the point.


You've gotta check out "Straw Dogs", where Gray develops fully into nihilism and explains in painstaking detail why nobody ever, ever, ever will give a tiny little toss whether any of us live or die.


>>That's part of why I insist that libertarianism is a species of liberalism

I insist that in its common language use, it isn't, because a) it's a natural rights theory, which is inconsistent with all forms of liberalism except liberal natural rights theories, and b) it assimilates all natural rights to property rights, which means that it fundamentally doesn't recognise liberal rights, except conditionally as exercises of property rights. I honestly think that it would be better called "propertarianism", because that's the distinguishing feature.


Reading Jacob's comment, my eye fell on 'Gray', then darted for reasons best known to itself to "this week he ... declared himself to be a Camille Paglian gender-subverter"; and for a moment I thought it was true. Which just goes to show: 1) Gray IS Bill the Cat-grade weird, that I would actually think that; 2) I've got a pretty bad cold and I'm not thinking straight. You all can stay up and chat some more. There's beer in the fridge.

Before I go: I like dquared's last comment because, frankly, I've always agreed with what Jacob says: libertarianism is a species of liberalism, and our political terminology will be more healthy when we come to regard it as such. (In fact I was rereading chapter 1 of "Multiculturalism of Fear" when I composed the original post. So I am most gratified its very own author wandered by to meet this small grandchild of his mind.)

As I was saying: I feel somewhat blindsided by dsquared's comment. There is something right about what he says, and I just never thought about it that way before. But I don't buy it. So I'll sleep on it. (I think I am unmoved because I think metaphysics always gets spatula-ed on last in political philosophy - like frosting on the cupcake. Dsquared is right that the frosting is a different flavor here. Natural rights flavor. But I think the cake is the same, as Jacob says. But I'm really not sure what I think, now I think about it)


These "x are a kind of y" arguments are awful tricky with ill-defined political tags. Libertarians seem a species of liberals when libertarian = Nozick and liberal = John Locke; this is less obvious if liberal = John Rawls and libertarian = consequentialist public choice theorist. The politics/philosophy pairings are far more mix-and-match than one might imagine. Certainly, there are many roads to libertarianism besides natural rights arguments, as our host suggests.

D^2: We'll have to agree to disagree of the higher justification of selfishness quip. I think Right = selfish belongs with Left = envious in the basket of plausible but ultimately unhelpful polemics.

Jacob T. Levy

[blink] [blink] I'm not at all sure what to make of D^2's comment. For one thing, libertarianism isn't simply a natural rights theory. There are natural rights libertarians, just as there are natural rights liberals (and the latter category isn't as anomalous as the comment seems to suggest)-- but there are also utilitarian versions of each theory, something like virtue-ethics versions of each, second-order institutional versions of each, etc. "Liberal" and "libertarian" (and "conservative") describe clusters of political theories and positions, not metaethical stances. Seems to me that for libertarian as for other forms of liberalism, it's perfectly easy to find arguments that take any of the following forms:
1) Freedom is justified by the natural rights (or "moral rights") of individuals.
2) Freedom is justified because a system made up of freely choosing individuals leads to the greatest overall good. (Mill on free speech as much as Friedman on free exchange.)
3) Freedom is justified because of the moral primacy of individuality, diversity, self-development and self-cultivation (Humboldt, Mill in some moods, Whitman, Thoreau, Kateb, etc-- though a theory like this is only a liberal one if the moral good of individuality is equally available to all, else it's aristocratic or Neitzschean or something).
3) Freedom is justified because coercive interference with free choices requires implausible levels of trust that state officials have either or both of a) greater knowledge of state officials than of other persons or b) greater virtue than other persons, greater ability to resist temptation to abuse power, to resist the urge to self-aggrandize, etc. (This is present in the liberal defense of the rights of accused criminals and in procedural checks on police, military, etc, as much as it is in public choice theory.)

And so on. Contractarianism: fully a part of the intellectual heritage of libertarianism and egalitarian liberalism, alien to genuine conservatism. etc, etc.

I'm not claiming that the standard liberal defenses of religious freedom or free speech are just the same as libertarian defenses of free exchange; but they do take the same kinds of (and the same variety of) forms. If there's a bright line to be drawn between libertarianism and [what I still want to call "other kinds of"] liberalism, it can't be a metaethical line.

Walt Pohl

I don't think utilitarianism versus natural-rights _is_ necessarily a good dividing line, but I'm one of the tiny minority of natural-rights liberals, so I would say that, wouldn't I. One of the hallmarks of utilitarians, in practice, is that they are as equally committed to a certain view of human psychology as they are to utilitarianism. If they discovered that human happiness required that we be ruled by an iron hand, they would be more likely to give up utilitarianism than they would liberalism.

But for libertarianism the distinction between natural rights libertarians and other kinds of libertarians _does_ seem like it makes sense. If you're a libertarian who thinks that while social spending is a good idea in theory it will be a bad idea in practice, then we at least share a _goal_. You're someone who liberals can do business with. If you are the type of libertarian who thinks that all questions on social spending can be answered by invoking "taxes are theft", then there is no definition of "liberalism" large enough to include both you and me.

(Note: I'm using "you" in the generalized sense, not directed at anyone in particular.)

Micha Ghertner


I'm not claiming that the standard liberal defenses of religious freedom or free speech are just the same as libertarian defenses of free exchange

This reminded me of Ronald Coase's article, "The Market for Goods and the Market for Ideas", in which he makes precisely that claim.

Also, while free-market social conservatives and social laissez-faire redistributivist liberals are both inconsistent when viewed from the libertarian/communitarian perspective, libertarians have a few contradictions of our own. We tend to fall back on both natural rights and utilitarian arguments simultaneously, even though they are incompatible. Read (and I assume you probably already have, Jacob): "What's Wrong With Libertarianism," by Jeffrey Friedman from Critical Review, Vol. 11, No. 3. (Summer 1997)


Wouldn't subscribing to Natural Rights ascribe the ability to believe in an individuals right to engage in free-trade and to simultaneously place judgements and restrictions on other human behaviors?

Brett Bellmore

Well, of course libertarians are liberals. The only reason we resorted to the term "libertarian", is that Fabian socialists had stolen "liberal" from our predecessors, (Now known as "classical liberals" to avoid confusion.) and linked it almost unbreakably in the public mind with big government.

It's the LIBERALS who aren't "liberals". lol


"If you're a libertarian who thinks that while social spending is a good idea in theory it will be a bad idea in practice, then we at least share a _goal_. You're someone who liberals can do business with. If you are the type of libertarian who thinks that all questions on social spending can be answered by invoking "taxes are theft", then there is no definition of "liberalism" large enough to include both you and me."

Well...while this is grounded in observable behavior, it's more than possible for someone to hold both views in a way. Say, for example, that someone states not just one or the other, but "taxes are theft BECAUSE they don't provide what is promised to justify their use" (a position I agree with for the most part, btw): this person doesn't necessarily hold their property rights to be so high that they negate any social goal even if it actually would benefit them (read: "I don't care if it would work or not, leave my money alone") -- a trigger for an economic rationality arguement if I ever saw one -- they oppose taxation out of the idea of getting the most for your money ("why should I pay when it's a ripoff?").

As for conservatism, I think this is where we'll have to say "first, clean out the gunk": it appears that political discourse currently doesn't care about much of a wide-ranging world view regardless of what it's called. We may consider it at times, like on here, but the average person doesn't really consider what they mean by the terms.

Like, when any of you hear "conservative" or "liberal", what type of person philosophically do you imagine? Is it anywhere near what the popular view of them is?

Russell Arben Fox

Man, this is one impressive thread of comments. It dies down, then starts up again.

Jacob has my number regarding Charles Taylor (the most important and interesting English-language political and moral thinker living today, in my opinion) and David Miller. Unfortunately, in light of the care with which the relevant terms have subsequently developed in this thread, I'm not sure if Henry is right in thinking that Miller is a "bit [too] liberal" for my tastes; complete aside from the issue of which regimes of redistribution are preferred, I tend to accept (as I mentioned in my original response to John and Walt) a more "controversial" reading of the moral requirements of collective redistribution than a (I assume) secular thinker like Miller might. Then again, I make use of Miller (and Taylor) in a post explaining my thoughts at more interminable length (http://philosophenweg.blogspot.com/2003_10_01_philosophenweg_archive.html#106504699300042415), so whatever their differences, I think they're both on the right track.

I'd agree that libertarianism is a species of liberalism generally, though teasing out the exact relationship can be tricky. I like Michael Walzer's old analysis of the terminology which presented "liberal" as an adjective; a way of organizing or ranking the cluster of preferences and needs that exist within one's meta-ethical worldview, based on a basic presumption of the value of negative (personal) liberty. Hence, "liberal democrat," "liberal monarchist," "liberal Jew," etc. That liberalism itself can constitute such an ontological frame is plain, but that in itself doesn't tell you much besides that the holder is predisposed to a normative or descriptive individualism (or both) to one degree or another, depending on the philosophical argument sustaining the frame. Liberals simpliciter, in that sense, may or may not be egalitarians, or democrats, or so forth. Hence, the need for the adjective. Walzer posited libertarianism in that essay as a kind of "liberal liberalism"--that is, a hyperliberalism which aims above all to prevent any positive interference in individual liberty whatsoever. Libertarians will presumably work towards that end in different ways depending on whether their philosophical liberalism is more utilitarian, or based on natural rights, or whatever; but it's all liberalism just the same.


Where did everyone come from all of a sudden? Let me just say: I agree with Jacob's response to dsquared (scroll up, you'll see it). He is absolutely right that there are many metaethical routs to liberalism, and to libertarianism, so neither can be defined metaethically. I guess dsquared had me going for a minute there because he and I apparently have similar metaethical paradigm cases of libertarianism and liberalism lodged in our heads. But the paradigms are just misleading because there is so much variation. So now I am back to agreeing with Jacob without reserve. And thanks for the Walzer-related thoughts, Russell. interesting.

Russell Arben Fox

"Where did everyone come from all of a sudden?"

Jacob mentioned that he'd contributed to the ongoing on thread on his blog. Never underestimate the power of Volokh.


Conservatives can be (classical) liberals to the extent that they support preserving and protecting liberty; but conservatives who seek to use the state to impose their social/cultural/religious personal preferences on others are illiberal.

The (classical) liberal worldview was large enough to include (sometimes imperfectly) Federalists and Anti-Federalists; Federalists, Democratic-Republicans, Whigs and Republicans; and today I would include libertarians, Conservatives, centrist Democrats and the large number of independents.

America is a classical liberal country and most Americans still hold views that are well within this liberal worldview. But because (as was mentioned in an earlier comment) "liberal" was appropriated by socialists, the classical liberal worldview has in a sense been forgotten among the general public. And this is serious because it was only with the emergence of the classical liberal worldview that people were able to vanquish tyranny and began to establish nations conceived in liberty.

Chick Foxgrover

I just happen to have read this fascinating essay, "Why I am not a conservative" by Hayek the other day when I heard of this conversation:
It was written in 1960, certainly a different time, but the same themes emerge. Notice also the very interesting conjunction of liberty and tolerance. There may be more to gained from such a discussion than I had first realized.

Jacob T. Levy

Just to be clear: When I say "libertarianism is a species of liberalism," I am not saying that "libertarianism is the only true liberalism, and everything else that goes by that name is a socialist misappropriation." I don'te bleieve that. I believe that libertarianism and genuinely liberal welfare liberalism-- e.g. that of John Rawls-- are both genuinely descended from classical liberalism and have important things in common with each other that they do not have with social democracy, socialism, genuine conservatism, or communitarianism (to say nothing of less-reputable doctrines). Sometimes in the U.S. a view that really ought to be described as social-democratic gets called "liberal" or "extremely liberal" or some such, by people who just equate "more liberal" with "more leftward." But there's good reason why so many on the activist left avoid the word "liberal," why it's a term of abuse when used by a Marxist, etc. They can see what libertarians also need to be able to see: that Rawlsian liberals aren't really like them. It does such liberals an injustice for libertarians to just keep insisting that the word liberal has been stolen or hijacked by socialists.

Matthew Yglesias

I'm not sure that's really why so many on the activist left avoid the word "liberal" but it's a nice idea. In practice, I think it's simply a consequence of the fact that "liberal" has attracted all sorts of negative connotations to the American man on the street.


"Liberal" does have negative connotations swirling around it. But this just underscores how unmoored the word has become from its original meaning. Now the word is used in a way that excludes many views that are liberal and includes views that are most definitely not liberal. There are libertarians who use "libertarian" and "classical liberal" interchangeably when, as Jacob points out, libertarianism is a species of liberalism, not the only form. All of this would be nothing more than the minor quibbling over the meaning of a word, but for the fact that liberalism has played the central role in the emergence of free societies. By the way, if anyone can recommend a good history of liberalism, please do.


Jacob and John: AfAICT, something like Nozick's libertarianism is the only coherent meta-ethical framework that delivers the goods which people calling themselves libertarians ordered (I'm assuming that this means, basically the current US Constitution with a lower rate of income tax).

Jacob's 2) and 4) above are species of utilitarianism. This means that the "libertarian" aspect to them is entirely contingent on the validity of propositions of the social sciences, and liberty per se has no special place.

3) gives you a meta-ethical route to a system that values "freedom" above all else, but it seems very obvious to me that it's not going to deliver "libertarianism" in the ordinary language sense of the word. For example, it's not going to deliver a system under which a black man can be seen as "initiating force" by sitting at a lunch counter, or one in which demonstrators can legally be thrown out of a shopping mall.

I'd agree that libertarianism developed historically out of liberalism, but it's an inegalitarian liberalism. And as far as I can see, once you drop the egalitarian thread of liberalism, you're content to distribute liberties unequally, which IMO makes you a conservative. Christianity isn't a form of Judaism, and nor is Islam ...


What a great discussion! It's inspired a good many thoughts on my part, which I won't burden the stream with, but will eventually post on my own blog. A couple of quick responses though, separate from what I'll be saying elsewhere:
1. Jacob: what gives with leaving out Gray's (as yet not explicitly disavowed) period as a Berlinian pluralist? True, some of what he writes makes Berlinian liberals such as me cringe; but his work on Berlin has been terribly important, both to his own development, and work on Berlin's thought and pluralism more generally.
2. I think, contra Matt, that many leftists in the US continue to disavow the label liberal, and to indeed use it as a term of abuse, not because the term has bad connotations for the usual American in the streets (let's just pause to consider how weird and sad it is that, in a country philosophically based on the principles of liberalism, liberal is a term of abuse). I think it's because leftist activists are actually in many ways good conservatives with memories of and a continuing devotion to the principles and rhetoric of earlier leftists, from the first International to the New Left. As such, they're used to using liberal as a term of abuse -- and correctly identify liberals as their enemies, since even liberal social democrats will generally balk at the practical demands, and the ideological assertions, of most leftists. It's true that, as the US has shifted to the right in many ways, the differences between social-democratic-leaning liberals and all but the most extreme Leftists have been blurred. But they still exist, they're still important, and they sometimes come out (the Nader campaign in 2000 was such a moment; so were some of the divisions over the war in Iraq and within the anti-war movement).
3. Of course libertarians aren't the only true liberals. I think Walzer's view, as presented by Russell Arben Fox, is (typically) insightful; I think it's also worth remembering that certain thinkers who can be placed within the liberal tradition of the 19th century -- Mill and, more arguably, Sismondi -- wound up embracing some (often eccentric) form of socialism.
4. Phil, there's a sad lack of recent studies of the history of liberalism. A fairly comprehensive but also ideologically hostile account, from the Left (see 2 above) is Anthony Arblaster, the Rise and Decline of Western Liberalism. Pierre Manent's An Intellectual History of Liberalism is also guided by the author's own philosophical agenda, though this is a somewhat more complex one; it's also not really comprehensive, focussing on certain thinkers who are arguably representative of liberalism. In an American context, a classic, much disputed but enduring work is Louis Hartz's The Liberal Tradition in America; a more recent work on American liberalism is James Kloppenberg's The Virtues of Liberalism. Alan Kahan's Aristocratic Liberalism focusses on one strain within liberalism at one point in it's history -- the mid-late 19th century -- and also discusses the larger history of liberalism a little. Richard Bellamy's Liberalism and Modern Society: A Historical Argument is also limited in the time-frame it covers, though broader than Kahan. Then there are Guido de Ruggiero's History of European Liberalism, and J. Salwyn Schapiro's Liberalism: it's Meaning and History, both now well out of date (I believe they were written in the 1930s), but possibly still worth reading for the general coverage they provide.
That at least is what comes to mind; I suspect that Jacob Levy, or some other learned participant, will be able to think of more and better suggestions.


P.S. Sorry to hear about the cold, John; I'm suffering from one too at the moment, which I hope will explain any incoherence in the above post.

Craig Duncanc

For an interesting article on an important shift in the meaning of "liberal," see Ronald D. Rotunda's "The 'Liberal' Label: Roosevelt's Capture of a Symbol" (Public Policy, Vol. 17, 1968, pp. 377-408).

If I recall correctly from my reading of it years ago, Rotunda argues that FDR, worried about his New Deal being smeared as "socialist," self-consciously sought to appropriate the label "liberal" for it instead, even if this meant something of a twist in the word's usual meaning up till then.

Apparently this sent Herbert Hoover into a rage; Hoover went to his grave insisting that *he* was the true liberal, not FDR.

I'm not a historian and can't vouch for the article's accuracy. But it was an interesting read.

Also, the Economist a few years ago had an article entitled something like "We Are All Liberals Now." A search should turn it up quickly.

Roger Sweeny

Not exactly a history of liberalism but W.H. Greenleaf, "The British Poitical Tradition, Volume Two: The Ideological Heritage" (1983)is fascinating. It's about "liberalism," "conservatism," and "socialism" from early Victorian times to the 1970s.

And more a history than an intellectual history is Arthur Ekirch, Jr. "The Decline of American Liberalism" (1955, 1967), where he uses "liberalism" pretty much to mean what would today be called libertarianism.

Roger Sweeny

I also see on my shelves Arthur Ekirch, Jr. "The American Democratic Tradition: A History" (1963). I wish I could say I've actually read it :)


Can someone explain the difference between a Rawlsian Liberal and a Social Democrat? I think I could be categorized as either, but I would fascinated to hear how exactly they differ... Also, just a throw away comment: I don't think a person who follows in the tradition of Classical Liberalism should be overly concerned with whether they remain "Liberal". Classical Liberalism, at its best, represented an approach to politics and the world that focused on constant re-examination of beliefs and reconsideration (or so it seems to this Non-philosopher).

Russell Arben Fox

Practically speaking, I doubt distinguishing between the political positions taken by "Rawlsian Liberals" and "Social Democrats" will be helpful, since many self-described "social democrats" use Rawlsian or other types of liberal egalitarian arguments to push their agenda, and many self-described "liberals" have agendas in mind that are often very social democratic in nature. So I think the best way to distinguish them is to retreat (or is it advance?) to a meta-ethical level.

David Miller, to use as an example someone already mentioned in this thread, is (in addition to other things) what is usually called a "social democrat" because his philosophical/ontological frame gives primary normative force to political concepts like "solidarity," "community," and so forth. For a social democrat, what matters is that certain collective conditions obtain; a fully liberal egalitarian world, wherein all individuals enjoyed civil rights and equal treatment, would be insufficient (or doomed to fail) if it did not also produce a common (in this case, democratic) good. Other social democrats include G.A. Cohen, Michael Walzer, and Benjamin Barber (though the latter two are more often labeled, or use the labels, "communitarian" and "republican," respectively).

John Rawls, on the other hand, is an egalitarian liberal because his primary philosophical/ontological worldview is one which lends primary normative and descriptive force to the needs and standing of individuals. Justice, for a Rawlsian liberal, means satisfying all individual demands "fairly," not necessarily in light of some collective end, but via a rational determination of all individual ends. This kind of politics is more easily implemented through redistributive measures than social democratic politics can be, making liberal egalitarianism more amenable to market economies. But then again, this approach makes the matter of boundaries (i.e., which set of individuals are you dealing with?) a real difficult for many liberals, Rawls included. Other liberal egalitarians include Ronald Dworkin, Brian Barry, Amartya Sen, and numerous others.

Jacob T. Levy

Sad to say, I *don't* have anything to add to Josh's list of histories of liberalism. Ruggerio remains a) the closest attempt to what I think a proper history of liberalism would look like and b) wildly inadequate, even up to his own time. And the likelihood of getting good intellectual histories of the subject written diminishes every year, because: 1) both Rawlsians and libertarians end up looking for the antecedents of their own position-- so that, for the former, Kant occupies a wildly outsized place in the history of liberal thought (and for the latter Mill is treated as an apostate all too often); 2) the history of liberal political parties and movements, with which many liberal thinkers were tightly associated, looks way too libertarian to be interesting to one side and way too compromise-oriented to be of interest to the other; 3) our appropriate worries about anachronism, influenced by the Cambridge School, have taught us to distrust the project of writing such a thing.

Russell Arben Fox

For what it's worth, I really like Reconsidering American Liberalism, by James P. Young. As the title suggests, it's at least as much concerned about American intellectual history as it is with the actual development of liberal thought. Still, it's the best context-specific history of liberalism that I've yet read.

Alexander Crawford

"For a social democrat, what matters is that certain collective conditions obtain; a fully *liberal* egalitarian world, wherein all individuals enjoyed civil rights and equal treatment, would be insufficient... if it did not also produce a common (in this case, democratic) good."


Is your heart in presenting the "social Democrat" (Progressive?) position accurately? Assuming your summary is acceptable... Just HOW could the world be fully Liberal (in the sense of "Liberty") AND at the same time be Egalitarian? What percentage of the electorate can satisfy and/or set the definition of "common good"? Are progressive tax rates "equal treatment"?

What reason is there for an individual (me, say) to obey laws that contradict other laws? Is my right to public expression of unpopular or ignorant opinions "protected speech"? I have the word, "misanthrope" tattooed across my back in block letters. I HATE everyone reading this (I lie sometimes as well). I am guilty of committing a Federal Crime by breathing, because with every breath I gleefully engage in HATE CRIME! lolol. So which Topological space maps the Meta-Justice Principle of "Non-Contradictory Contradiction"? Because that's a map I'd like to see.

I've always understood Progressivsm (SocDem) to claim minority "group rights" trump individual rights as the "greater good", while AT THE SAME TIME claiming minority (meaning "SocDems") "group rights" ALSO trump the majority's rights (as "Equal Protection"). But to be fair, let's admit the SocDems are "good" by definition and move on.

"John Rawls... is an egalitarian liberal ["liberal" in the sense of...? Liberty?] because his... philosophical... worldview is one which lends primary... force to the needs and standing of individuals. Justice, for a Rawlsian liberal, means satisfying all individual demands "fairly," not necessarily in light of some collective end, but via a rational determination of all individual ends...."

Rawls, if you've described his position, is no more reasonable than the SocDems. I declare to Rawls: "I, individual, NEED TO RULE THE WORLD, and DEMAND you give it to me. Otherwise I DENY there is either Justice or Fairness!!!!" (yukyukyuk). "All individual ends" (a qualifed "group". a sum) is NECESSARILY the "Collective End".

(to be sincere for a second... I'll post on Rawls reasoning next)

Anton Sherwood

"[Chip] Morningstar's Explanation of Politics: Human progress is evolutionary. Evolution is a process of variation and selection. Right-wingers want to stop variation. Left-wingers want to stop selection. Both ends of the [conventional] political spectrum are impediments to progress."

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