Putting Liberalism in Its Place

Study Notes: Introduction

Introduction (p1)

Liberalism and the challenge of pluralism: "We worry about moral cowardice when we fail to respond critically, and about cultural imperialism when we do respond" (p1). "... we wonder how much normative difference can be absorbed by a single political culture ..." (p2). "Western states ... have traditionally been quite willing to force people to comply with moral truth ... (but)  across a broad domain we have tolerated difference" (p2). The compromise between the individual and the particular (p2). "The most difficult internal clashes that we confront tend to emerge from minority religious groups outside of this broad value consensus. ... we feel a double pull: ... charitable toleration and ... a universalization of norms" (p4). Theoretical approaches suffer from the same aporia (p5). Westerners proselytize: democracy, free markets and the rule of law (p6). Other cultures do not pursue a universal mission of love or reason; difference may be a border; the age of globalization and ethnic nationalism; but our community is defined by those who accept our truths: "Normative systems are plural because there is no agreement about the substantive or procedural bases upon which they are constructed: (p7).

Cultural Study and Liberalism (p9)

"liberalism ... fails to see ... the erotic foundations of modern political life. We cannot understand the character of the relationship between self and policy without first understanding love.  ... the will beyond the imagination of liberal thought" (p9). The problem with the liberal position is that it assumed liberalism itself to be a universal norm (p10). Charles Taylor: advocacy versus ontology, critique  (pp10-11); the rule of law and political sovereignty proposed (p11). Human rights divorces law from sovereignty; the liberal problem with sacrifice; the problem of liberalism's privileging of reason which can grasp contract but cannot grasp the erotic character of political meaning, a matter not of contract but of love (p11).

Law and sovereignty: God speaks the world into being but there is a difference between his speaking and what he says; the American speech of the popular sovereignty, a much wider and deeper idea than majority rule (p13).

The Limits of Liberal Self (p13)

The centrality of Rawls; plus Habermas and Ackerman (p15); supported by modelling an ideal discourse. Liberalism lacks an adequate conception of the will (p15). The liberal will is without content, it attaches to reason and interest but has nothing of its own (p16). The opposition of reason and interest; will is not abstract but personal: "The will is the faculty by which, or through which, we understand ourselves as participants in a meaningful world ... (where) ideas are attached to particular subjects. (Its) domain ... is history, which refers equally to a meaningful past and a significant future; it is neither the timelessness of reason, nor the present of interest" (p16). In Christianity the will is the faculty which makes possible the experience of grace (p17). Popular sovereignty means understanding the self through will; The will is the idea become flesh; Love locates the infinite in the particular; liberalism sees this realm of faith as a threat to reason; religion, politics and love demand an understanding of the will unavailable in the liberal tradition (p17); whereas liberalism wants reason and reciprocity, the state's claim on us is erotic, of ultimate meaning (p18).

to understand multiculturalism, we must confront some very unliberal experiences of the self and the polity. Bringing liberalism back into touch with our forgotten ultimates: "A liberal conception of interest must be set within a richer understanding of love" (p18). The usefulness of the illiberal Carl Schmitt (20).

What Is to Come? (p21)

Part I applies the methodological techniques of cultural study to liberalism; Part II offers a positive account of self and politics, within which liberalism must find its place.