Putting Liberalism in Its Place

Study Notes: Part I

Part I. Cultural Study and Liberalism (p29)

Liberalism refers to: a family of political theories from libertarianism to social welfare theory; a partisan political practice, opposed to conservatism; a political culture with neither the sophistication of a theory nor the partisanship of party (p29).

Chapter 1: on liberal architecture; Three dichotomies: reason/unreason autonomy/heteronomy public/private; liberalism separates self from context in ordering these whereas opponents privilege context.

Chapter 2: on American Liberalism and its Christian past.

Chapter 3: The disequilibrium between architecture and genealogy and our practices and beliefs.

Chapter 1. The Architecture of The Liberal World (p33)

"Our ability to engage in moral deliberation suffers from the success of liberalism" (p33) because the liberal discourse exists to eliminate differences. In Rawls Veil of Ignorance, differences cannot even be seen (Rawls: TJ pp137-139). "reasonableness ... is a transcendental condition of the individual who is a citizen of the liberal state" (p34). toleration does not result from discussion but precedes it (p34). Charles Taylor, Kymlicka, Tully (p35). Liberal incapacity to deal with difference (p37). Ethical enquiry is not science; difference not grounded in mistake or ignorance; normative differences can remain even when two parties fully understand each other; we must deepen self understanding (p37).

Liberals and Communitarians: An Endless Debate (p38)

Communitarians consider people in context, not abstract (p38); "... sceptical of the ambition to deploy reason to manage matters of belief, faith or value" (p39). "Liberals worry that communitarians lack the ability to talk in a normatively compelling manner about their communities and the values those communities support" (p41). "Neither context nor abstraction - personal attachment or reason's detachment - makes a stronger claim" (p41). Ultimately, either a community is viewed from liberalism or liberalism from a particular community (p43).

The Unhappy Synthesis (p43)

Marrying liberalism and Western values, from abstraction to history: later Rawls, Habermas, Ackerman, Dworkin (p43). For liberals the idea of a liberal community is problematic because it privileges some (p44). Liberals tend to be global:  markets, law and human rights. for communitarians the problem may not be liberalism but liberals (p47). the internet as exemplar of conflict (pp47-48).

The Antinomies of Discourse (49)

Abstraction and contextualisation (pp49-50); Propositions: The I and The Me (p50); Language as opposed to code (p50). Self as actuality not possibility (p53).

Narrative and Interpretation (p54)

Communitarians and narrative (p54); constitutional rulings and texts (p55). Narrative and truth (p56). Liberalism's faith in the unity of the subject as author (p58). Communitarians and the historical account, the liberal and the novel (p58). Postmodernism (p60().

Conclusion: Political Theory or The Experience of The Political? (p61)

Liberalism is the normative practice of modernity (p61). There is no liberal cure for the problems of liberalism (p62). Liberalism does not map our normative experience very well (p62). Society as love not contract (p64).

Chapter 2: A Brief Genealogy of American Liberalism (p66)

"Liberalism feels the contradictory pull of a need to accept diversity and a need to affirm universal values" (p66).

Liberalism: Practical or Moral? (p67)

The Liberalism of Faith and The Liberalism of Speech (p68)

Is freedom of religion or freedom of speech foundational? (p69). Religion diverse, speech common (p70). Culture replacing God (p71). Liberalism's suspicion of religion and culture (p72). 'down grading' religion to one aspect of freedom of speech (p72).

The Demise of Free-Exercise Jurisprudence (p72)

US Constitutional cases (pp72-78).

Christianity, Martyrdom, and The State (p78)

The perception that intolerance would be self-defeating (p78). Martyrs, thinking the world was about to end, had no interest in the state (p78). Christ demonstrates the emptiness of political power (p79). "The expectation of the Christian about his or her relationship to the state cannot be more than the message of Christ on the cross, which is a message of sacrifice, martyrdom, and redemption" (p80). This idea of resistance and sacrifice survives into the modern era (p80). We are political realists and moral absolutists; neither one can usurp the other (p81). Church and state try to co-opt each other (p81). "... we see in this history the origin of the Western idea that ultimate meanings are to be found in the turning away from the public order and towards a private struggle with one's own soul" (p82).

Christianity, Sovereignty, and The State (p84)

Early hopes of Christianity frustrated, must come to terms with the state (p84). "The Church's authority is coextensive with belief in the meaning it offers" (p85). Christ as convergence of divine and human; the sovereign is miraculous (p86). Sovereignty secures for the state, as for the church, the power of faith (p86). The intersection of the finite with full sovereign meaning in Christ and revolution (p87). "The sovereign God of the Biblical tradition creates order ex nihilo ... Christ ... is the material form of the logos ... the political sovereign comes to be understood as the font of political order" (p89). The sacrifice of self for state (p90). "Modern politics became a distinctive form of religious experience in the West when popular sovereignty was experienced as a claim of ultimate meaning for the individual citizen" (p91). What does the popular sovereign say? (p91). Christianity suggests the need for a limited state but also one that makes ultimate demands on the individual (p93). Liberalism cannot decide whether the state is end or means (p94). Politics as ultimate meaning (p95).

The Early American Experience (p95)

The founding colonial narrative of religious exile (p96); the transfer of exile from British authority to colonial authority very Protestant (p97). Protestantism denies judgment between interpretations (p98). Evangelicals and exile (p99). Private life defined as church and property (p99). The market as a domain of personal virtue (p100). Self government resists claims of authority (p100). Self government as political resistance (p102). Because the origins of self government are religious, tension with the Enlightenment (p102). Sovereign people opposed to government and private faction (p103).

"There are ... three lines of early American experience ... religious exile ... the ambiguity of the concept of the private spanning both faith and wealth ... self government" (p104).

The frontier of exile and opportunity (p105). Consequences for government: theocracy and sectarianism (p106); challenging authority and resisting taxation (p106); men of property as public leaders (p107); self government as the source of ultimate meaning (p109). Law as the product of self government (p110).

Chapter 3: The Instabilities of Liberalism (p113)

"Liberal political theorists might describe their enterprise as reason's response to its own limits" (p113).

Liberalism, Reason, and The Body (p115)

We must distinguish norms from meaning (p115); one wants not merely to be just but to be someone (p115); Isaiah Berlin on positive and negative liberty (p118). "Positive liberty becomes illiberal when this aspiration to achieve a truth for the self moves from the domain of an individual morality to that of politics" (p119). Rawls and public reason (p120). Liberalism depends on the vitality of the private sphere (p121). Public/private distinction not spatial or material but between reasonable and unreasonable (p122). Between totalitarian and libertarian (p126). "Just as the body absorbs the private, liberalism absorbs the public" (p128).

Category Confusion among The Public and The Private (p130)

Religion, market and family (p130); switching from means to end, from private to public (p130). The proliferation of claims of human rights (p136), frustrates debate (p137). "Modern scepticism about government is matched by a virtually unchallenged faith in the family" (p137). Liberalism would locate the family in the private but the social welfare state locates it in the public (p138).

Conclusion (p139)

Liberalism cannot live with the distinction of private and public (p139). "Reason exhausts itself early in the constitution of the self" (p141). "The liberal vision of love is that of an individual affair. ... It thereby confuses love and desire.  ... Love has an irrepressible public dimension" (p141). "Meaning exists in between mind and body, reason and desire. The structure of meaning is captured in the great Western metaphor of 'the idea become flesh'. The source of the idea become flesh is love: "... This is a world beyond the conceptual capacities of liberalism. ... The feverish turning from private to public, and public to private ... expresses just this disjunction between the experience of meaning and the categories of liberal thought. Because meaning is neither public nor private, neither mind nor body, liberalism ends in a hopeless confusion of categories as it tries to account for the experience of the political" (p142).