Sunday, December 9, 2012

Schlueter On Sustainable Liberalism

One of the things I find extremely helpful in this article by Nathan Schlueter in The Public Discourse is its discussion on the various forms of "liberalism." When we speak of "liberalism" it helps to know what exactly it is we are discussing.

A taste:
Social contract liberalism grows out of the Anglo-Enlightenment tradition, and is associated with Hobbes, Locke, and more recently Robert Nozick. It attempts to deduce justified political authority from a set of universal, abstract premises: All men are by nature free and equal and possess inalienable rights, and the consent of the governed therefore is required for political authority to be just. 
[...] 
Classical liberalism grows out of the Scottish Enlightenment tradition, and includes thinkers such as Montesquieu, Adam Smith, David Hume, Francis Hutcheson, and, more recently, F. A. Hayek. Classical liberalism is more sensitive than contract liberalism to the fact that human beings are by nature social, historical, and dependent animals, and it illuminates the ways in which emergent, spontaneous orders are forms of knowledge that cannot be achieved by centralized direction. Classical liberals therefore show how liberty, community, and tradition can be complementary, and how political authority can be justified as a necessary means of solving coordination problems in a given society. 
[...] 
... Although the roots of modern liberalism can be found in the writings of Kant, Hegel, and J. S. Mill, its most influential American expositor is John Rawls. Rawls ingeniously (and, it must be said, not always coherently) combines both contractarian and classical liberalism into a comprehensive philosophical system that is indebted to both forms of liberalism, even as it departs markedly from them. 
There is no need to reiterate the problems with modern liberalism. The point here is to set in relief what is distinctive about natural law liberalism. According to Thomas Jefferson, the Declaration of Independence is not simply a translation of Lockean social contract theory. “All of its authority,” he wrote in a letter to Henry Lee, “rests on the harmonizing sentiments of the day, whether expressed in conversation, in letters, printed essays, or in the elementary books of public right, as Aristotle, Cicero, Locke, Sidney, &c." Locke is there, but so is Aristotle. 
We have here a clue to what is great about American liberalism: It does not rest upon the writings of a single theorist, but draws from the best thought of the western tradition of right, classical, medieval, and modern, in a way that is still genuinely liberal. Elements of both social contract theory and classical liberalism are there, but their foundations rest upon the metaphysical realism and ethical framework of the pre-modern tradition (Aristotle and Cicero).

15 comments:

Angie Van De Merwe said...

"Biblical Christianity" doesn't exist, as there are numerous ways that Christians call themselves "biblical"...

Metaphysical ruminations are fallacious because they are not based on things provable, but on speculative imaginations. Social contract is not based on imaginations but a real live "body politik"....how one treats another citizen is important in social contract theory, isn't it? Consent is the basis of contractual arrangements, that impinge on how our society understands government, business, employment, and marriage...as well as "community"/public interests..

I just think that justice has to be about individual right before the law, otherwise, consent cannot happen, unless it is used fallaciously by those in power....

I am not a lawyer, but choice is a value in our society, because America affirms different values, without imposing government standards...

Angie Van De Merwe said...

But, then, government standards are the regulations that government agencies do just that....some are justified, others are questionable, IMO...

Angie Van De Merwe said...

What do you mean by "sustainable" liberalism?

I think that our country's boundaries/borders must mean something, otherwise, there is no purpose/meaning for being a citizen. Today's progressive "take" on rights, seems to want to dissolve all boundaries/borders, which undermines our nation state.

Civil Rights should be for our civil society and protected by government for citizens under the social contract. It seems that citizens battle for their rights of representative government, while immigrants can come and be given amnesty without any sense of sustainability..

Tom Van Dyke said...

Schlueter: "To see that alternative, however, we must break free of the tendency to treat liberalism as a monolithic concept resting upon a moral framework of radical autonomy and a legal framework of moral neutrality with respect to competing notions of the good. This form of liberalism (which can be called modern liberalism) is a latecomer to the liberal tradition, and finds little support in the prior tradition of liberalism, and no support in the principles of the American founding."

Amen. And in doing an end run around the Christian tradition, esp Aquinas, Jefferson is still admitting into the discussion the two other great thinkers in natural law, Aristotle and Cicero.

Modern liberalism is not the "liberalism" of the Founders, and has no claim to our Founding principles.

[We will allow that the Founding principles don't necessarily forbid this overweaning liberal state of John Rawls*, except in its philosophy of limited government, that Washington DC is not empowered to take over every facet of civic life to make it "fair."

__________

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/rawls/#JusFaiJusWitLibSoc

*4. Justice as Fairness: Justice within a Liberal Society

Justice as fairness is Rawls's theory of justice for a liberal society. As a member of the family of liberal political conceptions of justice it provides a framework for the legitimate use of political power. Yet legitimacy is only the minimal standard of political acceptability; a political order can be legitimate without being just. Justice is the maximal moral standard: the full description of how a society's main institutions should be ordered.

Rawls constructs justice as fairness around specific interpretations of the defining liberal ideas that citizens are free and equal and that society should be fair. He holds that justice as fairness is the most egalitarian, and also the most plausible, interpretation of liberalism's fundamental concepts.

Rawls sees justice as fairness as answering to the demands of both freedom and equality, a challenge posed by the socialist critique of liberal democracy and by the conservative critique of the modern welfare state. Justice as fairness sets out a version of social contract theory that Rawls believes provides a superior understanding of justice to that of the dominant tradition in political philosophy: utilitarianism.

Phil Johnson said...

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The thoughts ariving from some specific thinker of the past that define liberalism are what qualify as conservative thinking.
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American style democracy is set upon the contract of our U. S. Constitution; but, expediency enters the scene and "the best laid plans of mice and men often go astray."
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Liberalism defines itself in the moment.
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Tom Van Dyke said...

Schlueter argues to the contrary:

"This last point is particularly important. Between its metaphysical and moral bookends the Declaration acknowledges the authority of prudence, the only moral virtue explicitly mentioned in the document. This is fitting, for prudence is the intellectual virtue that makes possible the realization of moral principles in concrete and contingent circumstances. And as Aristotle makes clear, this is not ordinarily, or even principally, a deductive process from self-evident first principles, but involves experience, deliberation, and good judgment.

To see the importance of this virtue, consider the limited provisions for slavery that made the original Constitution, and indeed the eventual abolition of slavery, possible. The wisdom and justice of those provisions is evident to those who possess the virtue of prudence. The fact that most Americans see in those provisions only weakness and moral hypocrisy shows how far they have abandoned Aristotle and Aquinas for Kant. And a similar point might be made on a host of other moral questions facing us today."

Phil Johnson said...

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I think it is quite instructive that so many of us refer back to experts like Aristotle all the way up to John Stewart Mills and beyond for their thinking about our current political situation.
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I don't mean to put any cold water on whatever anyone might think about anything--that's his or her complete and unalienable right.
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But, I do mean to say that in our democracy it is entirely up to the majority to define whatever We the People decide upong. The problem is that We the People have become adumbrated and have lost our ability to interact with each other in a politically responsible way.
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Those who want to hold our feet to the fire of something Hobbes wrote or some dissertation that has been developed out of what Aristotle pur forth are trying to conserve some thought out of the past. That's why I say they are conservtive even if their thinking is somewhat "liberal" according to popular thought.
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I don't know; but, I think this entire kettle needs to be looked into deeply.
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Maybe I'm just a weirdo on the sidelines?
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Maybe...

Tom Van Dyke said...

But, I do mean to say that in our democracy it is entirely up to the majority to define whatever We the People decide upon.

This is somewhat true. But good luck defending Scalia on that. The liberals at the Huffington Post will rip your face off.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/10/antonin-scalia-book-tour-legal-writings-

"It isn't a living document," Scalia said. "It's dead, dead, dead, dead."

He said that people who see the Constitution as changing often argue they are taking the more flexible approach. But their true goal is to set policy permanently, he said.

"My Constitution is a very flexible one," he said. "There's nothing in there about abortion. It's up to the citizens. ... The same with the death penalty."

Phil Johnson said...

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I understand where you're coming from, Tom; but, Scalia is merely an other person--a political appointee who has axes to grind.
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I'm talking about democracy in America--the Sleeping Giant. I think he is starting to wake up.
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Time will tell.

~~~~~

Tom Van Dyke said...

Look at how the mob behaves in the comments section there at HuffPo, the way Scalia is shouted down and vilified, his point completely missed---it's the democracy-as-mob mentality that the Founders rightly feared.

Sleeping Monster, more like.

Phil Johnson said...

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A Sleeping Monster?

O.K.

I'll buy that.

So, now what?

I think people with ideological axes to grind should be exposed for who and what they are.

Democracy might be a monster; but, what is the alternative?
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..

Tom Van Dyke said...

Constitutional republicanism.

Phil Johnson said...

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But, Tom, you should consider accepting Constitutional Amendments as part of the Supreme Law of The Land.

That is what I meant by conservative. The word is more like retroactive intransigence to progress.

We must live with our democracy that has been created by extrapolation from our Supreme Law.

The Constitution has made our democracy possible.
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Tom Van Dyke said...

But, Tom, you should consider accepting Constitutional Amendments as part of the Supreme Law of The Land.

That is what I meant by conservative.


I have no idea what this means. I'm not crazy about the Seventeenth Amendment but the rest are fine with me.

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