Virtue and the Making of Modern Liberalism

Virtue and the Making of Modern Liberalism

Peter Berkowitz
Series: New Forum Books
Copyright Date: 1999
Pages: 256
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    Virtue and the Making of Modern Liberalism
    Book Description:

    Virtue has been rediscovered in the United States as a subject of public debate and of philosophical inquiry. Politicians from both parties, leading intellectuals, and concerned citizens from diverse backgrounds are addressing questions about the content of our character. William Bennett's moral guide for children,A Book of Virtues,was a national bestseller. Yet many continue to associate virtue with a prudish, Victorian morality or with crude attempts by government to legislate morals. Peter Berkowitz clarifies the fundamental issues, arguing that a certain ambivalence toward virtue reflects the liberal spirit at its best. Drawing on recent scholarship as well as classical political philosophy, he makes his case with penetrating analyses of four central figures in the making of modern liberalism: Hobbes, Locke, Kant, and Mill.

    These thinkers are usually understood to have neglected or disparaged virtue. Yet Berkowitz shows that they all believed that government resting on the fundamental premise of liberalism--the natural freedom and equality of all human beings--could not work unless citizens and officeholders possess particular qualities of mind and character. These virtues, which include reflective judgment, sympathetic imagination, self-restraint, the ability to cooperate, and toleration do not arise spontaneously but must be cultivated. Berkowitz explores the various strategies the thinkers employ as they seek to give virtue its due while respecting individual liberty. Liberals, he argues, must combine energy and forbearance, finding public and private ways to support such nongovernmental institutions as the family and voluntary associations. For these institutions, the liberal tradition powerfully suggests, play an indispensable role not only in forming the virtues on which liberal democracy depends but in overcoming the vices that it tends to engender.

    Clearly written and vigorously argued, this is a provocative work of political theory that speaks directly to complex issues at the heart of contemporary philosophy and public discussion.

    New Forum Books makes available to general readers outstanding, original, interdisciplinary scholarship with a special focus on the juncture of culture, law, and politics. New Forum Books is guided by the conviction that law and politics not only reflect culture, but help to shape it. Authors include leading political scientists, sociologists, legal scholars, philosophers, theologians, historians, and economists writing for nonspecialist readers and scholars across a range of fields. Looking at questions such as political equality, the concept of rights, the problem of virtue in liberal politics, crime and punishment, population, poverty, economic development, and the international legal and political order, New Forum Books seeks to explain--not explain away--the difficult issues we face today.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2290-4
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xvi)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xvii-2)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 3-34)

    Since opinions about character bear upon the one who opines, under the best of circumstances it may be embarrassing to speak about virtue. From the precarious position where one’s judgments have consequences for how one ought to be judged, and suggest the standards according to which one judges others, those who wish to understand virtue are persistently tempted by two opposing tendencies. Some yield to lofty sentiments, prattling on sanctimoniously about how human beings ought to be; others, presuming to see things as they really are, resolutely search out or grimly describe the self-interested impulses that supposedly define the actual...

  6. CHAPTER 1 Hobbes: Politics and the Virtues of a Lesser Order
    (pp. 35-73)

    In many cases, academic liberals and their leading critics treat the political theory of Thomas Hobbes as if it were the secret power behind the throne in the other’s camp. Each side is only too happy to convict the other of Hobbism and at pains to deny traces of Hobbes’s thought within its own ranks. Hobbism remains, as it was in Hobbes’s own time, a grave accusation.¹

    Critics of liberalism tend to be the more aggressive, eager to portray Hobbes as a paradigmatic liberal theorist whose geometric method, materialist metaphysics, mechanistic psychology, and atomistic vision of society exemplify the poverty...

  7. CHAPTER 2 Locke: Private Virtue and the Public Good
    (pp. 74-105)

    Hobbes is one of the founders of liberalism because he gave early, systematic, and influential expression to constitutive elements of the liberal tradition. Not all founders, however, are founding fathers. Founding fathers are those who not only originate, or play a fundamental role in the establishment of, a tradition, but ones who also get recognized and revered as founders by those in the tradition who come later. Because he is routinely disowned or disparaged by liberals, Hobbes cannot be regarded as more than one of liberalism’s founders. In contrast, John Locke—who perhaps is a founder of the practice within...

  8. CHAPTER 3 Kant: Virtue within the Limits of Reason Alone
    (pp. 106-133)

    Two great strands of thought have dominated contemporary liberalism. One strand locates the ground of freedom and the source of human equality in the humble side of human nature. It is typified by the utilitarianism of Jeremy Bentham, but it has deep roots in the political theory of the protoliberal Thomas Hobbes. Hobbes grounded freedom in the natural right of each individual to secure his self-preservation and found the source of human equality in common weakness and vulnerability to sudden and violent death. The other great strand of liberal political theory locates the ground of freedom and the source of...

  9. CHAPTER 4 Mill: Liberty, Virtue, and the Discipline of Individuality
    (pp. 134-169)

    Through the eloquence, erudition, moral authority, and political engagement of his prolific writings, John Stuart Mill helped to establish the character of English liberalism and in so doing established himself as England’s greatest liberal. Until recently Mill was routinely honored as a father of modern liberalism, and his writings were habitually consulted as the indispensable point of departure for the understanding of moral and political issues surrounding the defense of individual liberty. But with the rise in the 1970s of the Kantian-inspired deontological liberalism of John Rawls, attention to Mill has declined as many liberals and a good number of...

  10. Conclusion
    (pp. 170-192)

    For quite a while leading academic liberals and their best-known critics formed an unwitting alliance, promulgating the view that liberal political theory, on the one hand, and theories of politics that dealt with virtue, the common good, and the ends of political life, on the other hand, represented rival and incompatible frameworks. Despite the staying power of this view in many precincts of the academy, over the last decade innovative writings by a new generation of liberal thinkers have made clear that without violating, indeed in accordance with the dictates of, its own principles, liberalism may affirm that good government...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 193-228)
  12. Index
    (pp. 229-236)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 237-237)