Social and Political Philosophy: A Contemporary Introduction

By John Christman | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 5

Conservatism, communitarianism, and the social conception of the self
• Conservatism
• Communitarianism
• Liberalism, freedom, and culture
• Chapter summary
• Case to consider
• Notes on further reading

Liberalism is the approach to political philosophy that places individual autonomy at center stage, so that under the rubric of liberalism, justice is defined as that set of principles that would be accepted as legitimate by autonomous citizens. And such principles of justice must be enforced prior to the promotion of controversial conceptions of value, lest the autonomy of those citizens in determining what is valuable be ignored. In this way, equality of moral status - the equal value of autonomous persons - is fundamental to liberalism as we have developed it here. The priority of justice and equal respect for autonomy will be the linchpins of the liberal paradigm we will be critically discussing in this and the following chapters.

Our concern in this chapter will be whether the liberal approach to political philosophy rests on a problematic conception of the person (as autonomous and independent), one which illegitimately ignores the importance of communal values and community stability as well as the deeply social nature of the self and its principles. In a related manner, we will look at claims that liberalism unfairly tilts away from a more traditional, conservative approach to social values and political principles. In both cases, the underlying accusation against liberalism is that its presuppositions do not live up to the neutral universality it claims for itself; rather than expressing an overall approach to justice that people of different ideological persuasions, value commitments, and moral orientations can all work within, liberalism will be accused of being just one more parochial value system among others, and one which many in modern society reject.

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