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LIBERALISM / Vol. 61, No. 3 (Fall 1994)

Arien Mack, Editor

This issue was occasioned by John Gray’s provocative article which appeared in the July 3, 1992 issue of The Times Literary Supplement.

This article focuses on the right to culture as a way of life of an encompassing group, such as an ethnic, religious, or national group. The culture of an encompassing group covers various important aspects of life. There are three levels of the right to culture. The first one is the right to maintain a comprehensive way of life within the larger society without interference, and with only the limitation of the harm principle. The second level includes the first and adds the right to recognition by the general society of the way of life of a community. The third level includes both the previous levels and adds the right to support for the way of life by the institutions of a state. [Reprinted in 70th Anniversary issue, 71:4]

Examines the phenomenon of cultural pluralism, specifically with the view that it is good that people in one society assemble themselves in ethnic, racial, religious and linguistic groups. Among the arguments for cultural pluralism is, first, the contention that cultural pluralism is inevitably present in every constitutional democracy. A second argument is that cultural pluralism is the indispensable basis of democratic individuality. A third argument is that cultural pluralism is the consummation of democratic individuality. Cultural groups persist because they license vices, they license succumbing to strong unworthy temptations.

This article proposes a typology of contemporary liberal accounts of the moral purposes of civil society, each of which has a characteristic position on the question of congruence. The origin of liberalism in the context of religious wars is a familiar reminder of the historical promise of reciprocity. The heart of liberalism is securing the conditions of personal liberty, and escape from hereditary and ascriptive attachments, the formation of new affiliations for every conceivable purpose and shifting involvements among groups are all conditions of liberty and impossible in the absence of pluralism. For its part, civil society is supposed to support liberalism.

This article examines some of the conceptual, rhetorical and ideological strategies which effect the restoration of subject-centered ethics and politics by focusing on the treatments of incommensurability, subjectivity and politics. I conclude that insights regarding incommensurable value conflicts ought not to lead to a modus vivendi liberalism, whose public-private distinction protects domestic life and the meta-narratives that shape it from political engagement and disruption. Rather, it should lead to an activist social democratic politics in which decentered subjects, riven by plural, incommensurable identities and differences, continually renegotiate their boundaries and affiliations.

This article proposes a theoretical framework presupposed by an adequate historical reconstruction of liberal democracy, including an account of its inherent frailties and characteristic disorders. Liberal democracy has proven its enormous strength as an organizing principle for modern nations. But this historically improbable political form will not be effortlessly exported from its present location in a handful of fortunate countries to the rest of the habitable world. When we cast our gaze across the globe, in fact, we now see parochial group loyalties cruelly destroying hopes for civilized coexistence and the dizzying collapse of essential state institutions.

Because institutions encode expectations, structure norms, naturalize conventions, confer identities, and promote solidarities through incentives, symbols, and classifications, the search for a properly defended liberalism mindful of difference must join contests about political principles to institutional resourcefulness and invention. A good deal of contemporary political theory has treated institutional forms only as hypothetical arrangements. But if power is always contingent on situations, and if the ambitions of normative theory can be realized only within concrete institutional settings, the tasks of political theory cannot be carried out absent a close association between rigorous reasoning about decent politics and a political sociology of existing or possible institutions.

This article offers speculative assessment of the current condition of liberalism in the U.S., as of September 1994. Treating liberalism as a related set of historical movements, as the enlightenment project, requires defense. The term project and ism imply a more self-conscious and coordinated set of human activities that historians can identify. Positions with plausible claims to the term liberalism are numerous, ranging from libertarianism to calls for massive governmental regulation, at least under some circumstances, such as dealings with barbarians. Despite their variety, these causes had sufficient overlap in their advocates and arguments, especially in the rhetoric of rights and liberties.

This article analyzes a critique by John Gray on recent liberalisms as of September 1994. It is neither surprising nor to be regretted that Gray follows his predecessors and most admired contemporaries in adopting a primarily critical, contestational stance. His self-assignment is to expose the unrealistic and politically irrelevant assumptions, presumptions and prescriptions of the new liberalism. It can also be objected that he is misinformed concerning the immediate targets of his polemic. One can agree with Gray that there is little reason to expect attention to these arguments to diminish hostilities between Kurds and Turks or Kurds and Iraqis, between Serbs and Croats, or between religious groups.

This article attempts to identify the amount of the challenge of thought of author Isaiah Berlin. It is not, in the first place, a question of difficulty, either of thought or expression. To the contrary, the writings of Berlin are exceptionally accessible to an exceptionally wide audience. As a writer and a lecturer, he has always displayed a rare gift for communicating several levels to a wide range of different publics, from specialist scholars, historians and philosophers to the general reader or listener or lover of literature with a taste for ideas. Yet the challenge of his thought presents not, in the second place, that of an ambitious, all-embracing system of thought.

This article addresses the possibility of a post-Enlightenment liberalism. What was the Enlightenment project? One answer to this question would contest the very idea that, from the diversity of intellectual and political movements and thinkers that are commonly grouped together as belonging to the enlightenment, a single project can be established to which all, or nearly all, subscribed. As it appears in the new liberalism, and elsewhere, the enlightenment project embodies a distinctive philosophical anthropology, for which cultural difference is an inessential, and a transitory incident in human affairs.


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