IF THE PURPOSE of commentary is disagreement (that being one of the human values that we mean to defend), then I am bound to be a poor commentator. For I not only admire the historical and philosophical style of Charles Taylor's essay, I am entirely in agreement with the views that he presents. So I shall try simply to raise a question from within his own argument, standing as best I can where he is standing—in opposition to a certain sort of high-minded moral absolutism and also to a certain sort of low-minded (he calls it neoNietzschean) subjectivism.
My question is about the two kinds of liberalism that Taylor has described and that I shall redescribe, abbreviating his account. (1) The first kind of liberalism (“Liberalism 1”) is committed in the strongest possible way to individual rights and, almost as a deduction from this, to a rigorously neutral state, that is, a state without cultural or religious projects or, indeed, any sort of collective goals beyond the personal freedom and the physical security, welfare, and safety of its citizens. (2) The second kind of liberalism (“Liberalism 2”) allows for a state committed to the survival and flourishing of a particular nation, culture, or religion, or of a (limited) set of nations, cultures, and religions—so long as the basic rights of citizens who have different commitments or no such commitments at all are protected.
Taylor prefers the second of these liberalisms, though he does not defend this preference at length in his essay. It is important to notice that Liberalism 2 is permissive, not deter-