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Skepticism, Individuality, and Freedom: The Reluctant Liberalism of Richard Flathman

Ronald Beiner
Jane Bennett
William E. Connolly
Peter Digeser
Richard Friedman
Nancy J. Hirschmann
George Kateb
Patrick Neal
Anne Norton
Richard Tuck
Jeremy J. Waldron
Linda Zerilli
Bonnie Honig
David R. Mapel
Copyright Date: 2002
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 296
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5749/j.ctttv4kz
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  • Book Info
    Skepticism, Individuality, and Freedom
    Book Description:

    Major thinkers grapple with the challenge of this renowned liberal thinker. Contributors: Ronald Beiner, Jane Bennett, William E. Connolly, Peter Digeser, Richard Friedman, Nancy J. Hirschmann, George Kateb, Patrick Neal, Anne Norton, Richard Tuck, Jeremy J. Waldron, Linda Zerilli.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-9378-8
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. ix-xvi)
    Bonnie Honig and David R. Mapel

    Liberalism may have been born partly of a fear of zealotry, but this has not stopped many of today’s liberals from embracing liberal principles with a passion approaching that which Thomas Hobbes thought dangerous to civil peace. Contemporary liberal theorists are often happy to argue among themselves about such issues as whether and under what circumstances groups are good or bad for liberal politics. But those same liberal theorists avoid challenges from outside their camp to think about the ways in which they have become implicated in a politics of governance that has drifted substantially from liberalism’s central commitments to...

  5. CHAPTER ONE The Voice of Richard Flathman in the Conversation of Liberalism
    (pp. 1-32)
    Patrick Neal

    In the introduction toWillful Liberalism, Richard Flathman notes that he has “embraced positions more definite and substantial than those” (1) he had defended in earlier work (especiallyToward a Liberalism). Coupled with the fact that throughoutWillful Liberalism, Flathman is sharply critical of both communitarian and rationalist liberal theorists, this statement suggests that willful liberalism is intended to take a place as a competitor in the contemporary debate over how best to formulate, articulate, and defend the liberal idea. In a certain sense this is true, for in some ways willful liberalism stands as a sort of third alternative...

  6. CHAPTER TWO The Skepticism of Willful Liberalism
    (pp. 33-55)
    Linda Zerilli

    Reading a recent essay by Richard Flathman, “Liberality, Idiosyncracies, Idiolects,” I came across the following parenthetical remark: “Most of the liberal theorists mentioned above [e.g., John Rawls, David Truman, Amy Gutmann, T. H. Green, Ronald Dworkin] write as if skeptics from Sextus to Cicero to Montaigne to Pascal to Hume and up to the emotivists and deconstructionists never put pen to paper.”¹ Notwithstanding its syntactic placement as an observational aside, the remark is telling because it marks the difference between Flathman and the liberal tradition that he writes both with and against. Flathman’s debt to skepticism marks the difference between...

  7. CHAPTER THREE Breaking into the Prison of Practice: Flathman and Oakeshott on Theorizing and Doing
    (pp. 56-85)
    Peter Digeser

    Sometime around the writing ofWillful Liberalism(1992), Richard Flathman became a “lumper”—an idiosyncratic lumper, but a lumper nonetheless. Prior to that point, Flathman was a “splitter.” In his earlier investigations of political concepts and ideas, Flathman painstakingly parsed distinctions and categories, analyzed all arguments great and small, and by gaining one yard at a time, showed (among other things) the significance of language to the study of politics, the meaning and value of authority, and the conceptual incoherence of positive freedom. In his later investigations, as Flathman has disclosed his own vision of liberalism and individuality, we get...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR Individuality and Egotism
    (pp. 86-110)
    George Kateb

    This essay is written not only for Richard Flathman but to him. His theory of “willful liberalism,” which is a theory of willful individualism, enriches thought about the aspiration to be or become an individual. As one who has been trying to work out a view of democratic individuality, I am naturally appreciative of Flathman’s work. One particular question that interests me is the extent to which Flathman’s theory is similar to the theory of democratic individuality. I believe that he would agree that there is considerable similarity. Especially in sections 3, 4, and 5 of part 2 ofWillful...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE The Fetish of Individuality: Richard Flathman’s Willfully Liberal Politics
    (pp. 111-126)
    Ronald Beiner

    The intention that animates Richard Flathman’s liberalism lacks nothing for clarity: It is to push the idea of liberalism as far as it will go in the direction of a minimalist conception of political community, short of ceasing to be liberalism and turning into an anarchist or libertarian politics.¹ The motivation behind this theoretical project is equally clear: His political philosophy is motivated by an intense and sometimes hysterical fear of the agencies of state power, as well as a fear that a strongly politicized conception of human purposes will constrain and diminish the otherwise much more expansive range of...

  10. CHAPTER SIX Freedom, Flathman, and Feminism
    (pp. 127-154)
    Nancy J. Hirschmann

    Although Richard Flathman would never call himself a feminist in the intellectual or theoretical sense nor would most of his colleagues—in a personal sense, he has been consistently supportive of colleagues and students interested in feminist concerns; he has supervised several feminist dissertations, and quite a few feminists—Nancy Hartsock, Susan Hekman, Bonnie Honig, and I—have considered him an extremely helpful and inspiring mentor.¹

    Of course, this is much more likely to be testimony to his liberalism—though I disagree with what you say, I will defend to the death your right to say it (and maybe even...

  11. CHAPTER SEVEN Liberty Conceived as the Opposite of Slavery
    (pp. 155-179)
    Richard Friedman

    InThe Philosophy and Politics of Freedom, Richard Flathman identified a wide range of issues implicated in the debate over the two concepts of liberty, raising the suspicion that perhaps that debate does not stage the problem in a satisfactory manner by allowing for only two alternatives: either “negative liberty,” as the absence of external coercion, or else “positive liberty” as self-government. The following discussion of the liberty/slavery polarity is an attempt to carry forward what Flathman’s book suggests. More specifically, the particular issue to be considered is whether the “liberty” that is “incompatible with slavery” (Flathman 1987, 18) is...

  12. CHAPTER EIGHT Hobbes and the Principle of Publicity
    (pp. 180-211)
    Jeremy J. Waldron

    Richard Flathman’s bookThomas Hobbeshas many virtues, not least that it presents a Hobbes concerned above all with the rational integrity of the case that is made for absolute or near-absolute sovereign authority.¹ “It is,” says Hobbes in a passage that Flathman highlights as a celebration of individuality, “unreasonable . . . to require of a man endued with Reason of his own, to follow the Reason of any other man.”² Now, in context, this is an observation about the responsibilities of priests and teachers:

    [F]or there is none should know better than they, that power is preserved by...

  13. CHAPTER NINE Flathman’s Hobbes
    (pp. 212-230)
    Richard Tuck

    My students at Harvard treasure a story that Richard Flathman told about himself when he came to give a paper to a political theory seminar. He said that many times in departmental meetings he has been outvoted on some issue, and like a good colleague, he has agreed to go along with the result. Other members of the department have often tried to persuade him after the meeting that he had been wrong in his original position. “I tell them, you have my consent; do you want my soul as well?” This story is treasured because it captures so well...

  14. CHAPTER TEN Liberalism’s Leap of Faith
    (pp. 231-243)
    Anne Norton

    Before my most recent reading of Flathman, I had been inclined to (Flathman might say “tempted by”) the view that a respectable institutional liberalism (a liberalism one could live with, if not within) could be understood through Martin Heidegger’s image of the bridge.¹ One might take this bridge, as I do, as an architectural icon for that liberalism that lets things be. The bridge is the answer Heidegger finds to the question “What is a built thing?” Building gathers together; building marks out boundaries. “The construction, the building, is a force for unity and the composition of differences in an...

  15. CHAPTER ELEVEN Mouths, Bodies, and the State
    (pp. 244-264)
    Jane Bennett and William E. Connolly

    Richard Flathman is a skeptic and a would-be anarchist. His skepticism is lodged, first and foremost, in the indeterminate character of language. He doubts that definitive meaning inheres in utterances and that rules have sufficient power to secure the regularities they seek. Flathman’s anarchism is a political affirmation of this linguistic condition. The attraction of anarchy—like the value of linguistic indeterminacy—is that it provides space for individuals as individuals and for new idiolects to form. Anarchy finds its limit in the need to maintain some social regularities, to apply some disciplines to selves, and to enforce laws against...

  16. Annotated Bibliography of Works by Richard Flathman
    (pp. 265-270)
  17. Contributors
    (pp. 271-274)
  18. Index
    (pp. 275-277)