Norms of Liberty

Norms of Liberty: A Perfectionist Basis for Non-Perfectionist Politics

DOUGLAS B. RASMUSSEN
DOUGLAS J. DEN UYL
Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 464
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5325/j.ctt7v20n
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  • Book Info
    Norms of Liberty
    Book Description:

    How can we establish a political/legal order that in principle does not require the human flourishing of any person or group to be given structured preference over that of any other? Addressing this question as the central problem of political philosophy, Norms of Liberty offers a new conceptual foundation for political liberalism that takes protecting liberty, understood in terms of individual negative rights, as the primary aim of the political/legal order. Rasmussen and Den Uyl argue for construing individual rights as metanormative principles, directly tied to politics, that are used to establish the political/ legal conditions under which full moral conduct can take place. These they distinguish from normative principles, used to provide guidance for moral conduct within the ambit of normative ethics. This crucial distinction allows them to develop liberalism as a metanormative theory, not a guide for moral conduct. The moral universe need not be minimized or morality grounded in sentiment or contracts to support liberalism, they show. Rather, liberalism can be supported, and many of its internal tensions avoided, with an ethical framework of Aristotelian inspiration—one that understands human flourishing to be an objective, inclusive, individualized, agent-relative, social, and self-directed activity.

    eISBN: 978-0-271-05457-5
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-xii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xiii-xviii)
  4. PART ONE: LIBERALISM AND THE POLITICAL ORDER
    • [Part One Introduction]
      (pp. 1-4)

      Not only are most critics mistaken when it comes to understanding what liberalism is, but so indeed are most proponents, and this failure lies at the heart of liberalism’s difficulties. We describe this error, as well as its source, in detail in Chapter 1, where we begin with a discussion of liberalism’s crisis. In Chapter 2 we discuss the problems that result from this error. In both of these chapters we suggest what we take to be the solution to the question of what liberalism is and note that this solution requires rethinking the supposed foundations of liberalism. We call...

    • Chapter One LIBERALISM IN CRISIS
      (pp. 5-17)

      We made the observation in this epigraph over a decade ago,¹ and if we are any judge of what has occurred in the intellectual world since, the nature and defense of liberalism is an even more pressing issue. Indeed, in a recent work,Liberalism Defended: The Challenge of Post-Modernity, we began by asking:

      Why bother about liberalism? In recent times it has been pejoratively called the “L” word. And even though the 60’s generation now taking the reins of power may still see something idealistic in liberalism, the rest of us know that more government is not the answer to...

    • Chapter Two LIBERALISM AND ETHICS
      (pp. 18-41)

      There is an ambivalence in liberalism with respect to ethics. On the one hand, the traditional role of ethics as exhortation to appropriate conduct seems anathema to liberalism. Leo Strauss has noticed, for example, that “the soul of modern development, one may say, is a peculiar realism, consisting in the notion that moral principles and the appeal to moral principles—preaching, sermonizing—are ineffectual. And therefore that one has to seek a substitute for moral principles which would be more efficacious than ineffectual preaching.”¹ The point Strauss makes here is a feature of the broader effort by early modern political...

    • Chapter Three LIBERALISM’S PAST AND PRECEDENTS
      (pp. 42-75)

      This statement by Spinoza is one of the pithiest statements of the essence of political liberalism. Unpacked, it foreshadows values shared by virtually all liberal theorists. Liberty, property, peace, and the welcoming of improvements in man’s estate are the sorts of values that contribute to the ends described by Spinoza, which we find nearly all liberals defending. This common set of values has suggested to many a common set of foundations for them. Liberalism is referred to these days as if it is a term that has univocal meaning and a common set of assumptions to support its political principles....

    • Chapter Four WHY INDIVIDUAL RIGHTS? RIGHTS AS METANORMATIVE PRINCIPLES
      (pp. 76-96)

      The language of rights is the language of liberalism, and liberals, as we shall see, should not abandon that language. Moreover, as we have claimed and will develop here and in later chapters, the tradition and language of individual natural rights is our own context as well. Individual natural rights, then, are a historical legacy we do not wish to abandon. Consequently, the primary task of this chapter is to present the general features of our argument for such rights.

      First, we will explain what is involved in the assertion that individuals have a basic, negative, moral right to liberty....

    • Chapter Five THE NATURAL RIGHT TO PRIVATE PROPERTY
      (pp. 97-108)

      Arguably the most controversial component in the Lockean tradition of liberalism is the natural right to private property. Our purpose here is not to start applying our theory to particular rights that have been traditionally associated with the Lockean tradition or to particular forms of property rights as they have been defined in the past. Rather, we seek to outline some implications of our theory of individual rights in this most central and controversial area of traditional liberal theorizing. In doing so we wish to express our view that property is indeed central to liberalism and how it might be...

  5. PART TWO: A NEW DEEP STRUCTURE FOR LIBERALISM
    • [Part Two Introduction]
      (pp. 109-110)

      The upshot of the first three chapters of Part I was the insight—once common, but now seemingly forgotten—that liberalism is not an ethical doctrine or a polestar for measuring community or individual well-being. Rather, liberalism is a political doctrine that grows out of specific social and philosophical needs and has a limited and determinate purpose—namely, securing a peaceful and orderly social order. Yet the deep structure with which liberalism has chosen to ground this insight has failed to provide support. Indeed, it has undermined it. Thus, what political liberalism needs is a new deep structure.

      Chapters 4...

    • Chapter Six INDIVIDUALISTIC PERFECTIONISM
      (pp. 111-152)

      What is perfectionism? If we understand normative ethics to ask two questions—(1) what is inherently good or valuable? and (2) how ought persons to conduct themselves?—then we may determine what perfectionism is by its respective answers to these two questions. Perfectionism holds thateudaimoniais the ultimate good or value and that virtue ought to characterize how human beings conduct their lives. But more must be said in order to appreciate these answers.

      Eudaimoniais a Greek term, and “happiness” as a translation for it does not always convey what is meant. “Happiness” to modern ears often means...

    • Chapter Seven DEFENDING INDIVIDUALISTIC PERFECTIONISM
      (pp. 153-183)

      There are many objections and difficulties that confront Aristotelian perfectionism, but most of these pertain to an impersonal or agent-neutral conception of human flourishing.¹ We do not seek to defend such a conception, regardless of how traditional or familiar it may seem to some. Our concern is instead with a personal or agent-relative view of human flourishing. This view is able, as we will see when we consider John Gray’s dismissal of perfectionism in the final section of this chapter, to avoid many of the important criticisms leveled at the agent-neutral view. For now, however, we need to consider the...

    • Chapter Eight NATURAL LAW AND THE COMMON GOOD
      (pp. 184-205)

      Our theory of individualistic perfectionism is a natural law theory, if one understands by that term an ethical theory for which the nature of human beings is crucial to an account of both human goodness and moral obligation. Moreover, our theory is a natural end ethics, because we regard the perfection or actualization of human nature as the telos for human conduct. As we have noted in Chapter 6, we endorse a natural teleology when it comes to understanding the nature of living things; however, we do not believe it is necessary to extend teleology either to every being or...

    • Chapter Nine SELF-OWNERSHIP
      (pp. 206-222)

      The transition from natural law to natural right in the modern era may have taken its final turn through the medium of the idea of “property in oneself” or “self-ownership”—what we will call the self-ownership thesis.¹ So many of the sensibilities of modern natural rights are conveyed by the idea of self-ownership—individualism, equality, inherent worth, and spheres of personal sovereignty, to name a few. The idea of a sphere of autonomous individual sovereignty so especially characteristic of modern natural rights is at the core of the meaning of a concept like “self-ownership”—a concept that actually predates “autonomy”...

  6. PART THREE: DEFENDING LIBERALISM
    • [Part Three Introduction]
      (pp. 223-224)

      We argued in Part I that liberalism is not an ethical doctrine for guiding human conduct in achieving good or performing right activity, but is instead a political philosophy of metanorms. Further, we argued that liberalism needs a new deep structure and that this new deep structure is an ethics of Aristotelian inspiration.

      In Part II we developed an account of this new deep structure, which we called “individualistic perfectionism.” We then defended this account against criticisms and used it to critique both traditional and new natural law views of perfectionism and the political common good. Finally, we used this...

    • Chapter Ten COMMUNITARIAN AND CONSERVATIVE CRITICS
      (pp. 225-264)

      Regardless of whether one seeks “to make men moral” or to create conditions for “social justice,” Hayek states succinctly in this epigraph both what is wrong with all attempts to turn politics simply into ethics practiced on the grand scale and what is crucial to liberal political philosophy. The aim of politics should be peace and liberty,notattaining the morally worthwhile life in either its personal or social dimension. As we stated in Chapter 1, that liberty should be the central and primary value of the political/legal order—the value to be achieved and maintained before any other—is...

    • Chapter Eleven THE STRUCTURE OF THE ARGUMENT FOR INDIVIDUAL RIGHTS
      (pp. 265-283)

      The temptation in political philosophy to turn expressions of ethical perfectionism into some form of political perfectionism is very great. Indeed, most accounts of human flourishing actually require a political perfectionist program. Admittedly, such programs generally do not involve the political/legal order in every aspect of morality, but whatever the limits placed on the range and depth of that involvement, they are only practically based. Ethical perfectionism is usually not considered fertile ground for developing principled limits on the activities of political/legal orders. We have, however, provided an account of human flourishing that not only rejects political perfectionism, but also...

    • Chapter Twelve DEFENDING INDIVIDUALISTIC NON-PERFECTIONIST POLITICS
      (pp. 284-339)

      We heartily accept the spirit of Friedman’s description of liberalism here, but we differ with him when it comes to his grasp of its exact nature. The context in which freedom is given priority over all other values does indeed pertain to relations among people, but this is not sufficient to set the context in which freedom is given first priority. Robinson-Crusoe-without-Friday reasoning is not adequate to capture the nature of individual ethics. Individual human flourishing is in its very nature social, not something isolated. Further, friendship, and various forms of other-concern are necessary features of self-perfection. In addition, there...

  7. Epilogue: FROM METANORMS TO METAPHYSICS
    (pp. 340-346)

    We thought of using these lines from Lao-tzu as the epigraph for this book. But we eventually realized that doing so might undermine the seriousness with which we could hold to our political non-perfectionism.¹ After all, it would seem that by endorsing these lines we would also be endorsing the view that political orders should bring about certain desirable social ends, that is to say, a kind of perfectionism. This criticism seems plausible to us. But are we not already too late? If we were tempted by these lines from Laotzu in the first place, are we not being disingenuous...

  8. Index
    (pp. 347-358)
  9. Back Matter
    (pp. 359-359)