The Making of Modern Liberalism

The Making of Modern Liberalism

Alan Ryan
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 736
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  • Book Info
    The Making of Modern Liberalism
    Book Description:

    The Making of Modern Liberalismis a deep and wide-ranging exploration of the origins and nature of liberalism from the Enlightenment through its triumphs and setbacks in the twentieth century and beyond. The book is the fruit of the more than four decades during which Alan Ryan, one of the world's leading political thinkers, has reflected on the past of the liberal tradition--and worried about its future.

    Tracing the emergence of liberalism as articulated by some of its greatest proponents, including Locke, Tocqueville, Mill, Dewey, Russell, Popper, Berlin, and Rawls, the book explores key themes such as the meaning and nature of freedom, individual rights, and tolerance. It also examines how property rights fit within liberal thinking, how work and freedom are connected, and how far liberal freedoms are compatible with a socialized economy.

    This is essential reading for anyone interested in political theory or the history of liberalism.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4195-0
    Subjects: Philosophy, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Introduction PREAMBLE
    (pp. 1-18)

    The oldest of these essays was published forty-seven years ago, the most recent a year or two ago; they are a small but representative sample of my work over the intervening forty-five years. They possess a consistency beyond that of their authorship, but I would not wish to be tried for my life on behalf of every last sentence in every last one of them. Indeed, I would not have done when they first appeared; the object of intellectual exchange is to have good ideas reinforced and less good ideas corrected. I have also resisted the urge to rewrite them...

  5. PART 1: Conceptual and Practical
    • 1 Liberalism
      (pp. 21-44)

      Anyone trying to give a brief account of liberalism is immediately faced with an embarrassing question: are we dealing with liberalism or with liberalisms? It is easy to list famous liberals; it is harder to say what they have in common. John Locke, Adam Smith, Montesquieu, Thomas Jefferson, John Stuart Mill, Lord Acton, T.H. Green, John Dewey, and contemporaries such as Isaiah Berlin and John Rawls are certainly liberals—but they do not agree about the boundaries of toleration, the legitimacy of the welfare state, and the virtues of democracy, to take three rather central political issues. They do not...

    • 2 Freedom
      (pp. 45-62)

      In this essay I intend to do two things.¹ The first is to discuss a method of doing philosophy, the method of “ordinary language” philosophy, as it is commonly and misleadingly called. (Its other common title, “Oxford Philosophy,” is even more misleading, since the roots of the method lie in Cambridge and many of the most flourishing branches are in the United States rather than England.) If it needs a name, perhaps the best is—adapting Popper to our purpose—“piecemeal philosophical engineering.” Such a title would emphasize the attention to detail and the caution about conclusions that characterize the...

    • 3 Culture and Anxiety
      (pp. 63-90)

      A society that embodies liberal values—that encourages economic ambition and emphasizes individual choice, that espouses the meritocratic route to social mobility and takes for granted the variability of our tastes and allegiances—may be inimical to the values embodied in traditional liberal education. There is a tension between the self-assertion that a modern liberal society fosters and the humility required of someone who tries to immerse herself in the thoughts and sentiments of another writer or another culture; there is perhaps a greater tension still between the thought thatsomeachievements in philosophy, art, or literature will stand for...

    • 4 The Liberal Community
      (pp. 91-106)

      What follows is not meant to be the last word on the “liberal-communitarian debate.”¹ It is, however, an attempt to change the terms of that debate.² My strategy is simple. Part I argues that the conflict between liberalism and communitarianism that the “debate” supposes is a figment of the imagination; many paradigmatic liberals have been communitarians, and many paradigmatic communitarians have been liberals.³ A sample is offered, biased to my purposes. Though the sample is biased, I emphasize some illiberal-sounding remarks of T.H. Green and L.T. Hobhouse in order not to cheat. Part II argues that epistemological, methodological, psychological, and...

    • 5 Liberal Imperialism
      (pp. 107-122)

      In this essay, I argue that liberalism is intrinsically imperialist and that we should understand the attractions of liberal imperialism and not flinch. But I argue against succumbing to that attraction. This is for low reasons of practicality rather than on high moral principle, though “practicality” has considerable moral force when people’s lives are at stake. The essay sustains an argument for a nonmilitary but morally uninhibited global liberalism,if it were pursued intelligently and consistently,and for that I offer no apology. I regret the topicality of the subject—I have been bothered by it in the terms set...

    • 6 State and Private, Red and White
      (pp. 123-138)

      This essay asks some quintessentially philosophical questions about violence and terrorism: Is violence “special,” demanding a particular kind of moral treatment? Can a state properly be called “terrorist”? Is there anything worthwhile in the old radical distinction between “red” and “white” terror? It begins with a prior question, whether philosophy has anything to contribute to the discussion of violence in the first place. The philosophical treatment of violence, and particularly of terrorist violence, suffers more than most political philosophy from a disproportion between the inevitable and proper impracticality of philosophical inquiry and the all too urgent practicality of the problems...

    • 7 The Right to Kill in Cold Blood: DOES THE DEATH PENALTY VIOLATE HUMAN RIGHTS?
      (pp. 139-156)

      This essay began life as a public lecture, and I have not tried to remove the informality of style appropriate to such an occasion. The essence of the argument is this: all punishment must be inflicted in cold blood; whatever damage we do to others not in cold blood is not punishment but self-defense or revenge; what we have a right to inflict in cold blood is a question of the rules of just social cooperation and especially the justice of the sanctions required to sustain those rules; it is here argued that the fundamental principle is that we may...

  6. PART 2: Liberty and Security
    • 8 Hobbes’s Political Philosophy
      (pp. 159-185)

      This essay discusses some large questions in Hobbes’s political philosophy. My aim is to identify what, if anything, Hobbes thought to bethecentral problem, or problems, of politics and to link the answer to an account of why the state of nature is so intolerable, of how we may leave it, and whether the manner of our leaving is well explained by Hobbes. I then turn to the implications for Hobbes’s account of the rights and duties of the sovereign, and then to the contentious issue of the subject’s right, in extremis, to reject his sovereign and rebel. In...

    • 9 Hobbes and Individualism
      (pp. 186-203)

      That hobbes was one of the begetters of modern individualism is widely asserted. Quite what it was that he thus begat is equally widely disputed. Here I try to show that Hobbes espoused a consistent (though not in all respects persuasive) form of individualism in intellectual, moral, and political matters. I draw on two earlier essays of mine, though I do so in order to advance beyond them, not to rest on them.¹ One problem is gestured at by my title: What kind of an individualist was Hobbes? Was he the “economic” individualist and booster for capitalism that C.B. Macpherson...

    • 10 Hobbes, Toleration, and the Inner Life
      (pp. 204-219)

      It always surprised me that John Plamenatz wrote so perceptively, so incisively, and so well about Thomas Hobbes.¹ On the face of it, he ought to have found Hobbes as little to his liking as he found Bentham and James Mill.² Hobbes’s famous injunction to consider men in the state of nature as if they were sprung out of the ground like mushrooms, without engagements to one another, seems to be what Plamenatz deplored as the root of bad practice in social thought. Theidée maîtresse of Man and Societyis just that: social and political arrangements are not matters...

    • 11 The Nature of Human Nature in Hobbes and Rousseau
      (pp. 220-232)

      Our images of human nature are centrally important ideological phenomena, for the evident reason that what distinguishes an ideology from a merely random string of moral and political imperatives is the way it incorporates the validating assumptions of those imperatives. The assumption that these imperatives—whether taken for granted, defended desperately, or pressed for the first time—have their roots in “human nature” is one main condition of their very intelligibility. Philosophical theories of ethics that have analyzed their subject matter in formal, nonnaturalistic terms—Kant’sGround workor Hare’sThe Language of Morals,for instance—are unsatisfactory just because...

    • 12 Locke on Freedom: SOME SECOND THOUGHTS
      (pp. 233-254)

      Although the theme of Knud Haakonssen’s collection of essays is “traditions of liberalism,” it is a moot point whether Locke is best understood as “a founding father of liberalism.”¹ I do not mean by this that judged by some timeless test of liberal virtue, Locke is disqualified from joining the liberal club. Rather, I mean that Locke was notoriously secretive in life and remains elusive in death. Exactly what his own intentions were, it is hard to say; exactly what lessons secular, pluralist, twentieth-century liberals might draw from the devoutly Christian Locke, it is even harder to say. Certainly, one...

  7. PART 3: Liberty and Progress, Mill to Popper
    • 13 Mill’s Essay On Liberty
      (pp. 257-278)

      John stuart mill is—surprisingly—a difficult writer. He writes clearly, nontechnically, and in a very plain prose that Bertrand Russell once described as a model for philosophers. It is never hard to see what the general drift of an argument is, and never hard to see which side he is on. He is, nonetheless, a difficult writer because his clarity hides complicated arguments and assumptions that often take a good deal of unpicking. And when we have done that unpicking, the task of analyzing the merits and deficiencies of the arguments is still only half completed. This is true...

    • 14 Sense and Sensibility in Mill’s Political Thought
      (pp. 279-291)

      The essay that follows is the antithesis of what Jack Robson, the great editor of John Stuart Mill’sCollected Worksand author ofThe Improvement of Mankind,does so well. Loosely tethered to the solid ground of the text and weakly controlled by the details of Mill’s biography, it ventilates some thoughts on the relationship between the biography and an intellectual assessment of Mill’s work that I have long repressed. It is a kite flown in celebration of Robson’s life and career.

      This essay asks in a general way what we can learn about Mill’s intellectual project from attention to...

    • 15 Mill in a Liberal Landscape
      (pp. 292-325)

      Mill’s essayOn Libertyhad both the good and the ill fortune to become a “classic” on first publication. The immediate success of the book, dedicated as it was to preserving the memory of Harriet Taylor, could only gratify its author. Yet its friends and foes alike fell upon it with such enthusiasm that the essay itself has ever since been hard to see for the smoke of battle.¹Thatit is a liberal manifesto is clear beyond doubt;whatthe liberalism is that it defends andhowit defends it remain matters of controversy. Given the lucidity of Mill’s...

    • 16 Utilitarianism and Bureaucracy: THE VIEWS OF J. S. MILL
      (pp. 326-345)

      I begin, reluctantly, by begging some interesting—and for my purposes, rather important—questions that have recently agitated both historians of ideas and historians of administrative reform. I say “reluctantly” because these are questions on which I have formed some opinions and would by no means hesitate to expound on them in the right circumstances. But in the light of this essay’s immediate purpose, I shall dogmatize briefly and hope to carry only enough conviction to get on with the exploration of those dilemmas about administration that we can see in the writings of J. S. Mill. The first large...

    • 17 Mill and Rousseau: Utility and Rights
      (pp. 346-363)

      In this essay I attempt two rather different things. The first is to elucidate some differences between rights-based and utilitarian defenses of democracy; the second is to illustrate my account of these differences by reference to Mill and Rousseau. The account I give of Mill and Rousseau, however, is to some extent subversive of the account I give of the differences between rights-based and utilitarian justifications of democracy, and the resolution of this apparent contradiction forms the conclusion of this essay. I begin with a few remarks about recent treatments of Mill and Rousseau, to set the scene for what...

    • 18 Bureaucracy, Democracy, Liberty: SOME UNANSWERED QUESTIONS IN MILL’S POLITICS
      (pp. 364-380)

      Mill’sAutobiographywas intended to provide the reader with the authorized version of Mill’s life. It was the life of the John Stuart Mill who had been born the son of James Mill, the author ofThe History of British India,and nobody whose interest lay in anything other than the education he had received first from his father and then from Mrs. Taylor was encouraged to read it. At the outset, Mill says:“The reader whom these things do not interest, has only himself to blame if he reads farther, and I do not desire any other indulgence from him...

    • 19 Bertrand Russell’s Politics: 1688 OR 1968?
      (pp. 381-394)

      If bertrand russell is remembered in the United States by anyone other than formal logicians and analytical philosophers, it is almost certainly as a ferocious critic of America’s role in the Vietnam War, and on account of the energetically anti-American stand he took at the time of the Cuban missile crisis. The violence of his rhetoric during those years opened wounds that have not since healed. When my account of Russell’s politics was published, Hilton Kramer deplored the whole book in hisWall Street Journalreview because I was not as wildly hostile to Russell’s stand on Vietnam as he...

      (pp. 395-412)

      The vividness of the life and personality of the author whose more narrowly intellectual contributions are under discussion would not usually present a problem for the commentator (Ignatieff 1998). The case of Isaiah Berlin is rather different. Bertrand Russell led a vivid life and had a striking personality, but the academic treatment of his work prescinds from these, concentrating on the austerities of his contributions to formal logic and on his less formal analyses of problems in metaphysics and epistemology. The relationship between Berlin’s personal history and his intellectual contributions is more intimate than that, however. Because Berlin practiced the...

    • 21 Popper and Liberalism
      (pp. 413-426)

      It is clear to all readers of Popper’s work that there is some sort of natural affinity between the account he gives of the rationality of science and his commitment to political liberalism. The object of this essay is to explore the nature of that affinity. The claims I make about it are initially very uncontentious and hardly go beyond Popper’s own words; I end, however, by making the more contentious claim that Popper’s account of scientific rationality is itself in a broad sense political and that what sustains his commitment to some awkward epistemological views is his liberalism. That...

  8. PART 4: Liberalism in America
    • 22 Alexis de Tocqueville
      (pp. 429-455)

      Alexis de tocqueville (his family name was Alexis-Charles-Henri Clérel) was born on 29 July 1805 in Paris, and died on 16 April 1859 in Cannes. In a short and not wholly happy life, he wrote two of the most important works to grace the discipline that has since come to be labeled political sociology. When he wrote them, Auguste Comte had barely coined the barbarous but indispensable word “sociology”; nonetheless, Tocqueville was aware that he was engaged in something novel and was not embarrassed to claim that the novelty of American political experience demanded a new political science. What Tocqueville...

    • 23 staunchly Modern, Nonbourgeols Liberalism
      (pp. 456-472)

      The title of this essay is, of course, a gentle tease at the expense of Richard Rorty’s well-known essay “Postmodernist Bourgeois Liberalism,” an essay that is itself something of a tease at the expense of the harder Left’s attack on middle-of-the-road social democrats and their concern for human rights and nonviolent change.¹ I have a nonteasing purpose, however, and that is to emphasize (as, of course, Rorty himself does) that Dewey’s own conception of his social and political theory was that it expressed the selfunderstanding of modern society—“modern” being no more precise in its denotation than “postmodernist,” but certainly...

    • 24 Pragmatism, Social Identity, Patriotism, and Self-Criticism
      (pp. 473-488)

      In this essay, I discuss the connection between Dewey’s educational ideals, his philosophy more broadly, and his account of American identity. I contrast Dewey’s ideas with those of some other pluralist writers of the period of World War I, not to say a great deal about these other writers, but to render Dewey’s ideas more distinctive in their American political context. I should draw attention to a contrast implicit in what follows, but one I cannot here spell out in the detail it deserves. The contrast is between Dewey’s conception of identity and that of German philosophy of the 1920s...

    • 25 Deweyan Pragmatism and American Education
      (pp. 489-504)

      This essay has three purposes: to show the connection between John Dewey’s pragmatism and his ideas about education; to link his conception of philosophy with his views about the character of modern society in general, and modern American society in particular; and to draw some lessons from these two discussions. I do not do this under these headings. I begin with the difficulty that many readers have in knowing quite what Dewey wanted to say about philosophy, education, and many other subjects, and then turn to an account of his educational ideas. I mostly concern myself with his early writings—...

    • 26 John Rawls
      (pp. 505-520)

      Academically respectable philosophers are generally obscure figures. They have specialisms just as natural scientists have; they are known to their colleagues in those specialisms and to few besides—just as natural scientists are; they beaver away like their colleagues in chemistry and physics; and like everybody else, they are variably nice to their families and friends. They are almost never known outside their own subject; and they almost never go in for public pronouncements on the great issues of the day. Bertrand Russell used to do it, and was held to have ruined his reputation as a result, even though...

  9. PART 5: Work, Ownership, Freedom, and Self-Realization
    • 27 Locke and the Dictatorship of the Bourgeoisie
      (pp. 523-537)

      It is a commonplace, but true, that the two terms on which Locke rests the greatest weight of doctrine in theSecond Treatiseare “consent” and “property.” It is with the second of these terms that we are here concerned, and in particular with the use which Locke makes of his doctrine that “the great andchief endtherefore, of Mens uniting into Commonwealths, and putting themselves under Government,is the Preservation of their Property.”² There has been a good deal of criticism leveled at Locke’s account of property from one direction or another. Complaints of wild and absurd individualism³...

    • 28 Hegel on Work, Ownership, and Citizenship
      (pp. 538-555)

      Hegel is so much a writer whom every commentator turns to his own purposes that some initial account of my purposes is, I fear, not to be avoided. What follows is in part a matter of explication de texte, though my aim is not primarily exegetical. What I hope to do is to show Hegel combatting both a utilitarian and a strictly Kantian account of the connections between work, ownership, and citizenship, with the ultimate aim of showing how various tensions that commonly beset theories of property bedevil Hegel’s account also. This is partly a contribution to understanding Hegel, but...

    • 29 Utility and Ownership
      (pp. 556-572)

      Any theory of rights ought to have something serious to say about rights of ownership. Property rights may not be the most important rights we have—supposing that we can draw a clear line between property rights and other rights. Nonetheless, one can hardly imagine a sociology that did not concern itself with the causes and consequences of the distribution of titles of ownership; and one can hardly imagine a normative jurisprudence that was unconcerned to lay down the proper duties and powers of owners. There are three ways of taking property rights seriously that I shall here have in...

    • 30 Maximizing, Moralizing, and Dramatizing
      (pp. 573-585)

      Toward the end ofThe Presentation of Self in Everyday Life,Erving Goffman writes, “The claim that all the world’s a stage is sufficiently commonplace for readers to be familiar with its limitations and tolerant of its presentation, knowing that at any time they will be able to demonstrate to themselves that it is not to be taken too seriously.”¹ The object of this essay is to ask, how seriously is too seriously? Since one perfectly plausible answer to that question is offered both inThe Presentation of Self in Everyday Life and in Frame Analysis—an answer that reminds...

    • 31 The Romantic Theory of Ownership
      (pp. 586-599)

      This essay has a purpose and a theme, but I am rather conscious that it has no very straightforward conclusion. The purpose is to draw attention to the characteristic concerns and claims of those I pick out as “Romantic” theorists of work and ownership; the theme is that what they have in common is best highlighted by a contrast with instrumental and utilitarian accounts of these matters. The absence of a straightforward conclusion reflects the fact that there is no one thing that Romantic writers either saw or failed to see that writers in another tradition would either have failed...

    • 32 Justice, Exploitation, and the End of Morality
      (pp. 600-616)

      This essay is a small contribution to two large subjects. The first large subject is that of exploitation—what it is for somebody to be exploited, in what ways people can be and are exploited, whether exploitation necessarily involves coercion, what Marx’s understanding of exploitation was and whether it was adequate: all these are issues on which I merely touch, at best. My particular concern here is to answer two other questions: whether Marx thought capitalist exploitation unjust and how the answer to that question illuminates Marx’s conception of morality in general. The second large subject is that of the...

    • 33 Liberty and Socialism
      (pp. 617-630)

      This essay will at best contribute only a little to one small corner of its subject. Nonetheless, it seems to me that since the late 1970s, political theorists have sufficiently changed their minds about the nature of freedom and its institutional implementation to justify another look at what might otherwise seem a pretty tired subject. I shall concentrate on two issues, one to do with property and the other with education. The first is whether the abolition of private property rights in the means of production would in itself be an assault on freedom: it is sometimes claimed that it...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 631-664)
  11. Index
    (pp. 665-670)