Hauerwas, Liberalism, and Public Reason: Terms of Engagement?

By Macedo, Stephen | Law and Contemporary Problems, Fall 2012 | Go to article overview

Hauerwas, Liberalism, and Public Reason: Terms of Engagement?


Macedo, Stephen, Law and Contemporary Problems


I INTRODUCTION

As a theologian, Stanley Hauerwas offers a powerful Christian social critique of our politics, law, and public culture, emphasizing the perceived philosophical shortcomings of liberalism. Although I am neither a Christian theologian nor a student of Christian theology, I recognize that Hauerwas is an important, often penetrating, social critic. Nevertheless, his philosophical account of the alleged shortcomings of liberalism frequently misfires.

Many of Hauerwas's substantive moral concerns seem to me quite salutary: he opposes our increasingly warlike foreign policy; he calls attention to the plight of African Americans, the poor, the disabled, and the marginalized and excluded generally, seeking to mobilize people to work on their behalf. He expresses concern with sexual permissiveness, abortion, and the decline of lifelong marital commitment. He seems to me obviously correct in his effort to remind Christians that the example of Jesus and his cross should challenge us to question the rampant materialism, consumerism, and self-concern that characterize our popular culture. While I disagree with some of his specifics--his strict pacifism for example--these substantive criticisms all seem to me constructive contributions to public moral discussion.

However, Hauerwas's concerns with the reigning public moral culture are frequently aligned under a general philosophical characterization of liberalism--and liberal law and politics--that seems to me caricatured and unhelpful. The very fact that he uses the shorthand of "liberalism" to describe the dominant culture is decidedly misleading for a number of reasons. To begin with, many historical and cultural forces besides liberalism have influenced American politics and culture. (1) Moreover, the term "liberalism" can be used to cover a range of different and even opposed political positions. Our politics is increasingly libertarian and conservative--or, "classical liberal" if you will--and it drifts ever further from the concern with social justice that has been the hallmark of egalitarian liberalism for decades. Hauerwas ascribes to liberalism a variety of abstract philosophical commitments that have little, or nothing to do with the theory and practice of liberal constitutionalism and politics. (2)

With respect to his substantive moral concerns, Hauerwas writes mainly as an anti-accommodationist Christian--that is, in opposition to Christians accommodating themselves to the dominant culture. He complains that people have misunderstood him as a "theological and political reactionary." (3) While he obviously is not that, the confusion is understandable, and his jaundiced view of liberalism may well aid the forces of political reaction, as Jeffrey Stout has also suggested. (4) To adequately assess liberalism, and to constructively address the social and political problems that trouble Hauerwas, we need a livelier appreciation than Hauerwas offers of the practical contributions of liberal justice, rights, and constitutional institutions.

As I have said, I am neither a theologian nor a Hauerwas scholar. He writes primarily as a theologian speaking to his fellow Christians about Christianity. I am a political theorist who sympathizes strongly with the liberal political tradition, properly understood. We are both concerned with our shared political project and its justifiability, so that will be my focus here.

II THE LIBERAL CORE AND IDEAL

"Liberalism" is a capacious term: the liberal tradition is complex and multi-stranded, or as Hauerwas himself has described it, "a many-faced and historically ambiguous phenomenon." (5) There are various reasonable ways of characterizing it. I understand liberalism's moral core to be the emphasis on the political importance of equal basic individual rights. Persons are understood, in their political capacity, as free and equal, and an urgent political imperative is to secure citizens in their basic interests understood in the language of rights and justice. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Hauerwas, Liberalism, and Public Reason: Terms of Engagement?
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.