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The Propriety of Liberty

The Propriety of Liberty: Persons, Passions, and Judgement in Modern Political Thought

Duncan Kelly
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 400
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  • Book Info
    The Propriety of Liberty
    Book Description:

    In this book, Duncan Kelly excavates, from the history of modern political thought, a largely forgotten claim about liberty as a form of propriety. By rethinking the intellectual and historical foundations of modern accounts of freedom, he brings into focus how this major vision of liberty developed between the seventeenth and the nineteenth centuries.

    In his framework, celebrated political writers, including John Locke, Montesquieu, Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill, and Thomas Hill Green pursue the claim that freedom is best understood as a form of responsible agency or propriety, and they do so by reconciling key moral and philosophical claims with classical and contemporary political theory. Their approach broadly assumes that only those persons who appropriately regulate their conduct can be thought of as free and responsible. At the same time, however, they recognize that such internal forms of self-propriety must be judged within the wider context of social and political life. Kelly shows how the intellectual and practical demands of such a synthesis require these great writers to consider freedom as part of a broader set of arguments about the nature of personhood, the potentially irrational impact of the passions, and the obstinate problems of individual and political judgement. By exploring these relationships,The Propriety of Libertynot only revises the intellectual history of modern political thought, but also sheds light on contemporary debates about freedom and agency.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3684-0
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. INTRODUCTION: The Propriety of Liberty
    (pp. 1-19)

    This is an intellectual history of some of the major ways in which the idea of liberty was understood by John Locke, Charles Louis Secondat, Baron de la Brède et de Montesquieu, Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill and Thomas Hill Green. It might well then be asked what could possibly be said that merits yet another book on these thinkers in general, and on the topic of liberty especially. For a great many people have written on any one or all of these men, and often with specific reference to the idea of liberty. My answer to this reasonable question...

  6. CHAPTER ONE ‘That glorious fabrick of liberty’: John Locke, the Propriety of Liberty and the Quality of Responsible Agency
    (pp. 20-58)

    My story begins with a problem, because I want to make two claims that might well be seen as contradictory. The first is that John Locke’s political theory of liberty is based on an idea of propriety, or appropriate agency, which is itself underpinned by his analysis of justice as an expression of natural law. On its own this is perhaps not too problematic an assertion, given Locke’s celebrated argument that one achieves freedom as a person upon reaching a ‘State of Maturity’. Only then can one properly appreciate the true extent of the law, and how far it appropriately...

  7. CHAPTER TWO Passionate Liberty and Commercial Selfhood: Montesquieu’s Political Theory of Moderation
    (pp. 59-116)

    Charles-Louis de Secondat, Baron de la Brède et de Montesquieu, is central to many histories of modern liberalism. His analysis of the causes, contexts and consequences of human action, however, takes him far beyond conventional liberal claims of freedom as the absence of interference or silence of the laws. Instead, rather like John Locke, Montesquieu considered the propriety or quality of action to be central to its derivation as free. Because of this, he discussed political liberty as a form of regulated conduct, and free agency more generally as appropriate and self-directed regulation of the passions. To act freely we...

  8. CHAPTER THREE ‘The True Propriety of Language’: Persuasive Mediocrity, Imaginative Delusion and Adam Smith’s Political Theory
    (pp. 117-172)

    The moral and political philosophy of Adam Smith famously states that natural ambition and self-interest, a ‘desire of bettering our condition’, lies at the heart of human motivation.¹ However, this desire masks a more fundamental ‘love of domination and authority’, made manifest in the pleasure we have in getting others to carry out our will. This can be even more strongly expressed as the natural ‘love of domination and tyrannizing’.² What seems to have interested Smith the most, however, was how this natural desire for superiority comes to be tempered by countervailing social tendencies, and in particular by the peculiar...

  9. CHAPTER FOUR Taking Things as They Are: John Stuart Mill on the Judgement of Character and the Cultivation of Civilization
    (pp. 173-222)

    Taking ‘things as they are’ was an ironic phrase of the philosophic radicals. Though alluding most probably to William Godwin’s novelCaleb Williams, it naturally also bears some resemblance to Rousseau’s vision of taking men as they are, and laws as they might be. Yet although Rousseau’s legacy was only minimally important to the development of John Stuart Mill’s political thinking, other French writers from Montesquieu to Guizot, Tocqueville and Comte played a more obvious role. Thus, many standard accounts of Mill’s political thought tell us how he tried to transform a strict utilitarianism in ethics (grounded in seeking pleasure...

  10. CHAPTER FIVE Idealism and the Historical Judgement of Freedom: T. H. Green and the Legacy of the English Revolution
    (pp. 223-258)

    In January 1867, T. H. Green, who for the past seven years had been a fellow and tutor in moral philosophy at Balliol College, Oxford, took the floor at the Edinburgh Philosophical Institution to deliver a series of ‘Four Lectures on the English Revolution’.¹ Green’s family history practically ensured an interest in the history of Puritanism generally and the figure of Oliver Cromwell in particular. Indeed, he was thoroughly immersed in many of the political and religious controversies of the later quarter of the nineteenth century, whose language and tone typically derived from comparison with this period of British history....

  11. CHAPTER SIX Coda: Liberty as Propriety
    (pp. 259-276)

    A history of the idea of liberty is a project of such enormity that it evaded even Lord Acton, and though this book has only attempted to tell one small part of that story, even then the narrative has threatened continually to burst the bounds of decorum. What I have tried to show is that a distinctive part of modern political theory is concerned with a conception of liberty that requires both individual and public governing of conduct, and that within this framework the relationship between personhood, the passions, and political judgement is central. I have also suggested that there...

  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 277-340)
  13. Index
    (pp. 341-350)