« Better 'Has Been' than 'Never Was' | Main | Politics as Polemics: The Converse Clausewitz Principle »

Sunday, June 09, 2019


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

There is another alternative that you didn’t mention: That some version of liberalism’s priority of the right over the good is true, and that even if we possessed certain, demonstrable knowledge of the final ends of human life, it would still be unjust to enforce the attainment of those ends with the coercive means of law.

What about others' consciences? Quakers object to tax money that goes for the military. Secularists might also object to religious organizations getting any tax money (or vice versa) etc. It seems like when you open that door, there are many problems. Or is this a privilege that only Catholics should receive?

Were Founders "classically liberal"? Weren't they hugely informed by Roman republicanism, which is far from any liberalism.
Liberalism in rather a 19C doctrine and is uncomfortably close to the ideas of the French Revolution. I submit the present discourse of American liberalism has moved from the ideas of the American revolution to the French one.

From the Quran we have the injunction that "there is no compulsion in religion." Since the Islamists aren't using it, perhaps we may borrow it. As the state is by nature compulsive, Catholicism has its answer on the issue of integralism in the elucidating example of the Mohammedans.

It seems to me that there is no escape from the state imposing a substantive view of the good and suppressing rival views to one degree or another. Classical liberalism aims to prescind from such questions, but enshrining freedom to pursue one’s own vision of the good is itself a substantive view of the good, and it won’t be able to tolerate dissenters if such dissenters threaten to overturn this freedom: thus, it requires everyone to consent to classical liberalism. The freedom advocated by classical liberals presupposes some vision of the good that determines what counts as freedom, but this view of the substantive good will itself be controvertible: there is no ‘view from nowhere’ by which a perfectly neutral ‘freedom’ could be determined. Freedom has no meaning unless it refers to something more basic than itself.

Michael raises some interesting examples that illustrate the point: determining whose consciences should be respected and whose can be violated will depend on some prior view of the good.

Good comment, Ian.

The state must impose some view of what will be tolerated and what will not be tolerated. For example, the state might tolerate atheists if they don't try to suppress theists, and Christians but not if they are theocratic, and even Muslims if they renounce sharia and agree to assimilate (fat chance!)

But opposition to this broad but limited tolerationism cannot be tolerated and must be suppressed.

So I grant you that a classical liberalism must impose a minimal view of the good. What make it classically liberal is that what it imposes is the minimum necessary for social harmony.

But of course this leaves plenty to argue about. Pacifists don't want any of their tax dollars going to the DOD. I don't want tax dollars going to support the killing of the pre-natal. I will try to persuade you that the case for pacifism is very weak and that the case against abortion is very strong.

Some of these issues can be resolved by a return to federalism. But I am not sanguine. The great American experiment will fall apart in a few years. I hope to be dead before then.

Clarification is needed of 'substantive view of the good' As opposed to what? A procedural view of the good?

One could take the first phrase as presupposing that there is a highest ultimate good for humans, that it is the same for all humans, and that it is knowable by all potentially if not actually, and is justifiably imposed on all by the state apparatus. I take it that a classical liberal must deny that there is a substantive view of the good in this sense. His concern is rather with the proximate good of man qua citizen, and he leaves it open what the ultimate good of man is.

Hi BV,

I suppose what I mean by a 'substantive view of the good' is not necessarily the idea that there is a highest ultimate good for humans, but that in order to have a concept of freedom, one must first have an idea of what is good for man to which to refer that freedom and make sense of it. However, there is at least a tension between this and the goal of freedom to pursue one's own vision of the good, since said freedom already presupposes some vision of what is good, even if it is, as you say, a minimal view.

I think in the long run, freedom comes to be seen as the authoritative political principle, and the formerly mostly implicit minimal view of the good comes to be seen as arbitrary and freedom begins to undermine this minimal view of the good. In part, this is because the minimalist view of the good upon which the classical liberal conception of freedom is based tends to remain implicit while the goal of freedom is explicit and in part it is because the minimalist view of the good is itself based upon a controversial anthropology that can be challenged. The unchosen constraints that classical liberalism leaves in place or itself imposes start to be seen as inconsistent with the goals of freedom and equality.

As for a procedural view of the good, I would say such a thing is something of an illusion: procedures are themselves based on some more substantive view of what is good.


This is not clear to me:

>>but that in order to have a concept of freedom, one must first have an idea of what is good for man to which to refer that freedom and make sense of it.<<

Why? Sartre would certainly disagree. He was radically committed to freedom, but denied that there is such a thing as human nature. That's the gist of the slogan "Existence precedes essence." "Man is nothing else but that which he makes of himself. That is the first principle of existentialism." His position implies that there is no such thing as the good for man. See "Existentialism is a Humanism."

It doesn't seem like classical liberalism must deny there's any universal good, but rather that imposing this by force is problematic at best (i.e. as people don't agree it will cause conflict, often violent). On the other hand, as has been said here this will naturally itself impose a certain view to some degree. There is no escaping that I think. It seems akin to a "paradox of tolerance"-it cannot tolerate intolerance, without self-destruction.


That's an interesting counter-example. (I actually just read "Existentialism is a Humanism" last summer.) I regard Sartre's existentialism as something of a logical endpoint of liberalism.

If man is nothing but what he makes himself, then freedom is whatever each man makes it. But as man is a social animal, goals will inevitably conflict. Any state will have to favor some goals over others. By what standard will it decide? Either it will have to refer to some (perhaps implicit) theory of the good, or it will be completely arbitrary. Is a completely arbitrary standard workable? I doubt it: a state needs some principle to legitimize it. A state that admitted that its legitimizing principle was completely arbitrary undermines itself because it gives its members no reason to believe in it.

I can grant that a man can believe in freedom while denying that there is such a thing as the good for man (though I would question whether it is truly possible to do this in a thorough-going manner). But I would doubt a state could function with such a radical conception of freedom: for the state to work at all, it will have to smuggle in some conception of what is good.

If we believe with Sartre that there is no thing as the good for man, then tyranny is as good as freedom. Why be committed to freedom? which I suppose comports with his Marxist sympathies.

But was Sartre talking about freedom in the political sense at all?

Hi Bill,

I am no philosopher and I have great difficulty in reading philosophy. But ever since my return to the Catholic faith, philosophy has become much easier to read and understand.

With that said, I just stumbled across your lovely philosophy blog & I am curious to know if you are a Catholic? If so, practicing or not practicing.

Just curious. From the very little that I have read, you 'seem' to be thinking like a regular Aquinas!

In Jesus, Mary, & Joseph,

Tito Edwards

The comments to this entry are closed.

My Photo
Blog powered by Typepad
Member since 10/2008



February 2024

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
        1 2 3
4 5 6 7 8 9 10
11 12 13 14 15 16 17
18 19 20 21 22 23 24
25 26 27 28 29    
Blog powered by Typepad