Civic Virtues: Rights, Citizenship, and Republican Liberalism

By Richard Johnson Dagger | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 11
Difference, Excellence, and Republican Liberalism

In Part I of this book I tried to show how a concern for individual rights and autonomy, properly understood, is not inimical to the bonds of community and concern for the common good. In Part II I tried to show how a theory that marries these concerns -- republican liberalism -- is possible in practical as well as in conceptual terms. Chapters 8, 9, and 10, in particular, comprise an attempt to indicate the directions in which republican liberalism would take a body politic. Now that there is some practical flesh on the theoretical bones, I shall turn in this chapter to two final challenges to republican liberalism.

Although these challenges come from rather different directions, both arise from unhappiness with the fact that republican liberalism upholds an ideal of the good life -- the life of autonomy and civic virtue, of republicanliberal citizenship -- that seems to be at odds with cultural pluralism. According to the first challenge, this ideal itself is objectionable. In the name of autonomy and civic virtue, republican liberalism threatens to ignore the deep differences among groups of people and to impose an artificial homogeneity on them. Republican liberalism is therefore hostile to cultural pluralism, and anyone who values cultural pluralism must be hostile to it in return.

The second challenge comes from liberals who believe that cultural pluralism is a fact of life in modern societies that liberals must accommodate, even if they choose not to advocate it. The virtue of liberalism, in this view, is that it is neutral with regard to conceptions of the good. Republican liberalism, however, plainly is not neutral in this sense; on the contrary, it is a perfectionist doctrine that prescribes a certain conception of the good for everyone. Hence republican liberalism cannot be a satisfactory form of liberalism. If liberalism mustbe neutral or agnostic with regard to competing conceptions of the good life, republican liberalism truly is an oxymoron, despite the arguments of Chapter 2.

In a sense, the preceding ten chapters constitute an indirect response to these challenges, for I have tried in various ways to display the coherence

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