Putting Liberalism in Its Place

Putting Liberalism in Its Place

Paul W. Kahn
Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 336
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7s8qs
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    Putting Liberalism in Its Place
    Book Description:

    In this wide-ranging interdisciplinary work, Paul W. Kahn argues that political order is founded not on contract but on sacrifice. Because liberalism is blind to sacrifice, it is unable to explain how the modern state has brought us to both the rule of law and the edge of nuclear annihilation. We can understand this modern condition only by recognizing that any political community, even a liberal one, is bound together by faith, love, and identity.

    Putting Liberalism in Its Placedraws on philosophy, cultural theory, American constitutional law, religious and literary studies, and political psychology to advance political theory. It makes original contributions in all these fields. Not since Charles Taylor'sThe Sources of the Selfhas there been such an ambitious and sweeping examination of the deep structure of the modern conception of the self.

    Kahn shows that only when we move beyond liberalism's categories of reason and interest to a Judeo-Christian concept of love can we comprehend the modern self. Love is the foundation of a world of objective meaning, one form of which is the political community. Arguing from these insights, Kahn offers a new reading of the liberalism/communitarian debate, a genealogy of American liberalism, an exploration of the romantic and the pornographic, a new theory of the will, and a refoundation of political theory on the possibility of sacrifice.

    Approaching politics from the perspective of sacrifice allows us to understand the character of twentieth-century politics, which combined progress in the rule of law with massive slaughter for the state. Equally important, this work speaks to the most important political conflicts in the world today. It explains why American response to September 11 has taken the form of war, and why, for the most part, Europeans have been reluctant to follow the Americans in their pursuit of a violent, sacrificial politics. Kahn shows us that the United States has maintained a vibrant politics of modernity, while Europe is moving into a postmodern form of the political that has turned away from the idea of sacrifice. Together with its companion volume,Out of Eden, Putting Liberalism in Its Placefinally answers Clifford Geertz's call for a political theology of modernity.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2631-5
    Subjects: Political Science, Law

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. INTRODUCTION: PUTTING LIBERALISM IN ITS PLACE
    (pp. 1-28)

    Every age has its own point of access to ethical and political deliberation. For us, that point is the problem of cultural pluralism. Lacking a conviction in the absolute truth of our own beliefs and practices, we are uncertain how to respond to those who live by different norms. We are all too aware that such differences exist, as we interact with cultures that put different values on life and death, family and society, religion and the state, men and women. We constantly confront the question of whether some of the practices supported by these values are beyond the limits...

  5. PART I: CULTURAL STUDY AND LIBERALISM
    • [PART I Introduction]
      (pp. 29-32)

      Liberalism has at least three different senses. First, it refers to a family of political theories. These extend across a wide range bounded by libertarianism, on one side, and social-welfare theories on the other. Second, liberalism refers to a partisan political practice. In this sense, we contrast liberals with conservatives. Opponents at this level may find their disagreements actually stem from their support of different liberal philosophies. Even conservative politicians may support a liberal political theory. Third, liberalism refers to a political culture that has neither the sophistication of a theory nor the partisanship of a political party. This is...

    • CHAPTER 1 THE ARCHITECTURE OF THE LIBERAL WORLD
      (pp. 33-65)

      Our ability to engage in moral deliberation suffers from the success of liberalism. That success has left us with a moral language too impoverished to recognize what is at stake when we confront extreme differences in cultural norms. This should not be surprising, since the end of liberalism is to create a form of public discourse in which these differences would have no significance. This is the ambition behind the effort to theorize from the perspective of Rawls’s original position. From the point of view of this imagined discourse, differences are literally of no interest; they cannot even be seen....

    • CHAPTER 2 A BRIEF GENEALOGY OF AMERICAN LIBERALISM
      (pp. 66-112)

      Liberalism feels the contradictory pull of a need to accept diversity and a need to affirm universal values. In the last chapter, I argued that this tension cannot be resolved because it is built into the very nature of discourse. Not surprisingly, therefore, the same arguments that motivated the debate between liberals and communitarians are again appearing in the contemporary arguments between the supporters of universal human rights and the defenders of cultural diversity. If there is no measure of truth by which to choose one side over the other, we can address this tension only from within what, at...

    • CHAPTER 3 THE INSTABILITIES OF LIBERALISM
      (pp. 113-142)

      Liberal political theorists might describe their enterprise as reason’s response to its own limits.¹ Because men are moved by forces that are not subject to proof or disproof by reason, a political system has the task of establishing a rational order in the face of the continuing threat of irrationality. Early liberal theory spoke of the state of nature as the site of this chaos of conflicting interests. Today, we are more likely to project that chaos into the individual. The soul is a tangle of conflicting interests, desires, and passions. Still, liberalism turns to reason for a discipline of...

  6. PART II: LOVE AND POLITICS
    • [PART II Introduction]
      (pp. 143-144)

      Liberalism is a doctrine of freedom but it often seems unwilling, if not unable, to take up the question, freedom for whom? This is why Berlin staunchly defends negative liberty over positive liberty, why Rawls projects his liberal inquiry behind the veil of ignorance and why Ackerman imagines a discourse in outer space. In the last chapter, I traced the way in which the rational, discursive subject of the liberal imagination easily transforms itself into the mute body. Actual subjects, however, exist at the intersection of mind and body. We see this clearly when we turn to the family, but...

    • CHAPTER 4 THE FACULTIES OF THE SOUL: BEYOND REASON AND INTEREST
      (pp. 145-182)

      In the West, we live with a complex conceptual inheritance that draws equally on the thought of classical Greece, Christianity, and the Enlightenment. Oversimplifying greatly, we can say that the Greeks formulated the ambition to subject the soul and the state to the order of reason; the Christians turned from reason to a will informed by grace; and the Enlightenment turned both reason and will toward a new appreciation of the ordinary as the object of desire and the limit of experience.² All of these elements continue to inform our experience of the political.

      The classical Greeks first conceived of...

    • CHAPTER 5 THE EROTIC BODY
      (pp. 183-227)

      The most immediate description of the subject that we expect of others and offer of ourselves refers to age, gender, and family. Before any other set of meanings appears, one finds oneself already within a world of family, attached through the body itself. Family is the site of birth and death, of childhood and reproduction. Moreover, through family the connection to the polity is ordinarily established. In the family, we learn language and group identity.

      When family works well, it is a center of love and support. When it works poorly, it is the center of pain and tragedy. Either...

    • CHAPTER 6 THE AUTONOMY OF THE POLITICAL IN THE MODERN NATION-STATE
      (pp. 228-290)

      There is a sense in which the inquiry into love can expand to include every dimension of meaning. This is the foundation of Plato’sSymposium, in which the discourse on love spills across pedagogy, ethics, and metaphysics. If love is the experience of the generation of meaning, then there is no domain of life that cannot be perceived as an aspect of love. The attachment to the political order is a form of love. It involves loyalty, courage, self-identification, and participation in the intergenerational project of family and community. These were all touched on, to varying degrees, in the last...

  7. CONCLUSION: THE FUTURE OF THE NATION-STATE
    (pp. 291-314)

    In the last chapter, I described the autonomy of the political in the American nation-state as a structure of meaning that bridges the sacrificial and the representational. The sacrificial character of politics is carried forward in our idea of the popular sovereign as a single actor, of which every citizen is a part: the lingering mystical corpus of the state. The representational character of our politics is located in the Constitution as the rule of law. Aristotle’s scheme of four causes provided a means of analyzing the character of a politics of ultimate value that is simultaneously the rule of...

  8. INDEX
    (pp. 315-328)