The Logic of Liberty

The Logic of Liberty

The Logic of Liberty

The Logic of Liberty

Synopsis

Political liberalism has increasingly come under fire from both the right and the left, in politics as well as in philosophy. In this new study, G. B. Madison offers a systematic rebuttal to these contemporary critics, attempting to demonstrate that the basic principles of classical liberal philosophy are not only internally valid and coherent but also directly relevant to the problems faced by society in the post-industrial age. Building on the theory of Frank H. Knight and other liberal tinkers, Madison outlines the postmodern theory of reason that is presupposed within classical liberal theory and makes the case that as a political philosophy liberalism can be justified entirely within its own terms, without reference to arbitrary or absolute values.

Excerpt

In Part One of this book we saw how the democratic or egalitarian ideal tends, in the process of working itself out, to create serious problems for a liberal society and how it thereby represents a potential and very serious threat to freedom. The intention of this investigation was not to call into question the principle of equality itself, for, like Tocqueville, I believe that democracy is an irresistible, revolutionary force in history against which "it would be neither desirable nor prudent to contend." The conclusion that we drew was rather that what is of supreme importance--assuming that we value freedom and abhor despotism--is to reconcile egalitarian demands with the principle of liberty. This means: We must have recourse to the ideal of freedom in order to regulate and set limits to the practical implementation of the ideal of equality.

This in turn means that we must have a clear idea of what freedom itself is, since it is most certainly not the same thing as equality. The purpose of this chapter and the ones to follow is to clarify the notion of freedom and to set out the basic principles of what could be called a philosophy of freedom.

Such a clarification is sorely called for since people rarely have the same thing in mind when they speak of freedom. Like the word "democracy," the word "freedom" is used to refer to things which often have nothing to do with one another and which in practice are sometimes even diametrically opposed to one another. Discussions about freedom tend thus to degenerate into mutual misunderstanding, rational argument into ideological invective, and this serves not to enlighten but merely to reinforce uncritically one's native presuppositions. More particularly, the critique of egalitarianism must remain without force so long as it is not clear what an acceptable alternative to a purely democratic society is, that is, so long as the notion of liberal democracy is not spelled out . . .

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