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LIBERTY AND PLURALISM / Vol. 66, No. 4 (Winter 1999)

Arien Mack, Editor

The article discusses several papers published within the issue which deal with the concepts of negative and positive liberalism. As exemplars of negative liberalism, the authors were sent quotes from two articles that appeared in the March 27, 1998 issue of the Times Literary Supplement. The first quote was taken from a review by Mark Lilla of two reprinted books by Judith Shklar, entitled Political Thought and Political Thinkers and Redeeming American Political Thought. The second quote appeared in an essay by Stephen Lukes on philosopher Isaiah Berlin, who sought to illustrate a distinction between pluralism and relativism.

The article examines the character of anti-imperialism during the Enlightenment era. In the centuries immediately preceding and following the eighteenth century, there existed almost no truly anti-imperialist political philosophy. The works of philosophers Denis Diderot, Immanuel Kant and Johann Gottfried Herder developed an understanding of humans as fundamentally cultural agents, as well as a moral universalism that was effective in bringing non-European peoples into the moral fold. Philosophically, Enlightenment anti-imperialism offers a set of counterintuitive arguments about humanity, cultural pluralism and moral judgment.

The article discusses two defenses of cultural pluralism based on the writings of philosopher Isaiah Berlin. He occasionally derives the worth of freedom from its role in securing pluralism. Berlin's political thought is fundamentally aesthetic in its orientation. He does not usually establish the comparative worth of cultures by the quality of their art. Based on his essay "Historical Inevitability," Berlin is against all forms of determinism. In his radical aestheticism, Berlin is suggesting that it is legitimate for the philosophical observer to regard cultures aesthetically.

Human beings know only a disharmonious moral universe. This is now a widely accepted idea. What is widely disputed is the value of our trying to use the powers of reason and purposeful action to create a society that captures all that is morally good. Isaiah Berlin gave great intellectual prominence to this dispute, and not only because he criticized what he called the pursuit of the ideal—a pursuit premised on the idea that an ideal society can bring everything good in its wake, if only human beings are wise enough to discern it and good enough to create it. Berlin also eloquently argued that there is a morally defensible way of living with moral conflicts in our lives. In this essay, I examine what that morally defensible way might be, taking my cues from Berlin's writings when possible and branching beyond them when necessary to respond to some significant challenges not directly addressed by Berlin.

The article analyzes the tension between the notions of negative freedom and cultural belonging based on the political views of philosopher Isaiah Berlin. He was convinced that the normative ideal of negative liberty somewhat depends on a critique of rational monism as it was developed in that romantic movement of cultural pluralism and expressionism. Two concepts of freedom constitute political liberalism: the negative freedom everyone deserves under modern conditions, and the freedom a person experiences when belonging to a culture of his own. Berlin believes that only freedom understood as the absence of obstacles against free choice can be understood as an enabling condition for cultural pluralism.

The article discusses the contributions of philosopher Isaiah Berlin to modernity. Intellect and melancholy are constitutive elements in his most important contribution to understanding modern times. As a Jew and scholar, Berlin was positioned by fortune, effort, and mostly by remarkable skills of learning and talking to secure a particularly well-placed vantage on modernity. The emancipation of Jews in Europe played an important role in his career. Several combined fields of tension provide the layered architectural blueprints for Berlin's modernity, such as pluralism and relativism and positive and negative freedom.

In this paper, I try to use Judith Shklar's account of injustice "as an independent phenomenon in its own right" to construct an alternative understanding of liberal pluralism. The advantage of this alternative is that it lacks the unrealistic expectation of a broad consensus on liberal principles of justice that is required, I argue, by the more familiar and influential versions of liberal pluralism. Shklar's emphasis on injustice, I suggest, allows us to construct a more "pluralistic" pluralism, one that recognizes diversity with regard to opinions about justice as well as with regard to visions of the good. But in order to use her account of injustice in this way, we need to answer a question she leaves unanswered in The Faces of Injustice: how can injustice represent something more than the absence or violation of justice when they very term, in-justice, suggests the negation of something just? I canvass a number of possible answers to this question, focusing in the last section on the answer that, I believe, sustains Shklar's understanding of injustice and points to the alternative approach to liberal pluralism I lay out in the paper.

The article examines the issue of a person's freedom to choose. Liberals uphold the ability to make a choice. Law professor Joseph Raz believes that having a range of significant choices is one precondition of personal autonomy. According to liberal William James, everyone should be able to choose his or her own system of belief, be it some form of skepticism, or the unflinching faith of a Christian. Some liberals think that there are plenty of choices that the modern liberal state imposes on people. The freedom of those who choose to participate in a community united by faith must clash with the freedom of those who prefer to live in a situation of competitive pluralism.

The article discusses the notions of negativity and positivity in liberal theory based on the works of liberal philosophers Judith Shklar and Isaiah Berlin. Berlin is known for his defense of a negative conception of liberty and his denial of the possibility of achieving a unification of the variety of beliefs, goals and virtues to which human beings have been committed and by which they have been and continue to be attracted. The predominant concern of Shklar was with the evils that people must defend against rather than with the goods that they should pursue and the virtues they should cultivate in order to achieve those goods.

The article examines the challenge posed by religion to the notion of liberalism, particularly in the context of Christianity. To explore the relation between liberalism and religion, one must consider the historical contexts in which they are related. Christianity may have many forms, but they share some common practices. For all of them Christianity is a faith that is chosen; one only becomes a Christian by a conscious and individual act. In religion, we find a centrality accorded to choice based on individual conscience, and a distinction between secular and religious governance. In liberalism, we find a privilege accorded to liberty, and a distinction between public and private.

Michael Sandel has characterized liberal toleration as non-judgemental in the sense that it legally permits certain practices, such as abortion and homosexuality, while remaining neutral among the different moral views about those practices. This paper clarifies the nature of liberal toleration as expounded by Locke and Mill, and argues that the principle of religious toleration should be extended to cover the toleration of beliefs and conduct which feature in the lives of people in ways similar to the role of the traditional religions. It is maintained, as against Sandel, that liberal toleration is coherent and consistent.

Many contemporary thinkers have tried to harmonize liberalism and nationalism with a bow to isaiah Berlin as their muse. The problems with this project become evident when we look at Berlin's portraits of Benjamin Disraeli, Karl Marx, Chaim Weizmann, and L.B. Namier. Berlin uses these eminent Jewish figures partly to make a case for Jewish nationalism of the "benign," Herderian sort. However, irremediable tensions surface in his analysis between the liberal ideal of individuality, and the nationalist ideal of collective identity and solidarity. We can see these tensions in relief if we turn to Hannah Arendt's competing analysis of Disraeli, Marx, and Weizmann, which effectively contests the possibility of fusing individual freedom and ethnonational politics.

The article examines the views of philosopher Isaiah Berlin on the distinction between negative and positive liberty and the implications for morality and social policy. The two liberalisms also differ about which spheres of human action ought to be governed by which kind of liberty. Negative liberty can be understood in terms of rights, but only when those are construed in the classical liberal manner. Political liberty is proportionate to the number and extent of permissions. The provision of negative liberty alone will not enable a human being to realize his moral nature.


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