Levy on Pluralist and Rationalist Liberalism

Everyone interested in liberty should read Jacob Levy's excellent introduction to the pluralist/rationalist debate within liberalism (pdf). I am aware that it has been discussed before in comments on this blog—that's how I found out about it—but I thought it was good enough to bring to the main page. [His academic page is here, and his blog is here.]

A commonly discussed divide in liberalism is between classic and welfare liberalism (or however else you want to characterize those two positions). This is not the most philosophically or even historically significant divide. A more important divide is between pluralist and rationalist liberalism. Briefly, pluralism values toleration; rationalism values autonomy. Think of your position on other societal institutions than governments, such as churches, traditions, or clubs. Are they good for liberty or bad? Should a state try to soften their effects, or is it the other way around? I (like Levy) believe that no liberal will be entirely in one corner or the other.

There are no easy answers for this, and the paper doesn't attempt to provide any. It just characterizes the positions and traces their origins and, to some extent, their effects. You may not come up with The Answer either, but it is a critical issue. I cannot recommend this paper enough.

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