Liberals And Liberalism

Francis Fukuyama is the author of The End of History, The Great Disruption, Our Posthuman Future, State Building,After the Neocons, The Origins of Political Order and Political Order and Political Decay. All have been hugely influential international bestsellers, translated and published in many languages. He is Olivier Nomellini Senior Fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, Stanford. For liberty is like health—you value it most when you have lost it. The better way forward, however, for free societies as for individuals, is to stay healthy.

Doubling the group size should eliminate the “winner’s curse” effect (Button et al., 2013). It is more important that an explicit and summative principle secures fairness — the minimal but first kind that is the treating of like cases alike. Such a principle is needed for any morality worth the name, and in particular any political morality. We are all more than capable of self-deception, which is to say taking care to keep a question open by avoiding evidence and the like. The result of self-interest and self-deception is that we escape our reasonable natures — our human existence as a reason-giving species — if we do not try to restrain ourselves by the consistency of a principle that is not factitious but has a foundation in our nature. Against this understanding of Mill, for a start, there is the fact that he never so much as mentions the given idea.

It will remain individualist, dedicated to achieving the greatest liberty of the individual compatible with the liberty of others, but this will be a realistic, contextual individualism. At its best, liberalism has always understood that human beings never are what Jeremy Waldron has called the “self-made atoms of liberal fantasy,” but rather live embedded in multiple kinds of community that speak to deep psychological needs for belonging and recognition. This new liberalism will remain egalitarian, seeking equal life chances, but understanding that the cultural and socio-psychological aspects of inequality are as important as the economic ones. Last but not least, it will remain meliorist, but with a sceptical, historically informed meliorism, recognising that history has cycles as well as lines, reverses as well as advances, and that human progress is, in the very best case, only a gradually upward corkscrew trajectory, with downward turns along the way. You may say it is the endeavour of arguing what laws the state or government is right to enact in order to force people to act and live in certain ways, and what moral or social as against legal pressures the society in question is right to bring to bear on them for the same purpose. Mill is is looking into the questions of to what extent a state and society can restrict the liberty or freedom of its members.

But in the end, far from revealing any fundamental truth about, it can only really tell us what the Economist — and its line of powerful editors — happened to believe at key moments in history. What Zevin’s research often reveals is the transience of seemingly historic moments and, ultimately, the insignificance of what the Economist had to say about them. The Centre for Idealism and the New Liberalism was founded in 2007 by James Connelly and Colin Tyler, to provide a much-needed global focal point for the burgeoning research into the philosophy and practice of British idealism and New Liberalism. It also sought to address a series of questions relating to the theoretical and practical commitments and influences of these movements, as well as to their contemporary relevance. Relationship between amplitude of ERN component and subjective or validated political orientation. The vertical co-ordinate corresponds to the ERN component amplitude.

But a major handicap for liberalism today is that for centuries it came to most of the world in the form of imperialism. Recall that John Stuart Mill’s day job was in the East India Company and he thought that colonised peoples in their “nonage” were not ready for his refined liberties. Western universalism was, in practice, anything but universal. Some of the worst horrors that human beings have inflicted on other human beings—violent conquest, torture, genocide, slavery—were justified by reference to the highest ideals of liberty, civilisation and enlightenment. Countries like Britain—and the English in particular—have done a remarkable job of forgetting this; the rest of the world has not. The liberalism of our leaders, then, causes America — and the wider West — to take a wrong and dangerous view of its role in the world.

What is meant here, when someone asserts a right of someone to something, is that they ought to have the thing — and that this judgement has the support of a moral principle or the like. This principle may be a known thing, despite not being written into or a reality in any society’s customary or established morality. Or it may be a principle without wider support but advocated with confidence by whoever is asserting the right of someone to something. Let us go back to Mill’s passages having to do with interests, rights and obligations — 10, 8, 9, and 13. It was remarked by me that what it is for someone to have an interest in or a right to something, and for somebody else to have a distinct and assignable obligation with respect to the thing, is for the first person to have a claim that has some kind of support. Two kinds of support were mentioned — the law of the land and customary or established morality in a society.

Mill entirely understates the need for consistency, the consistency that can only be provided by an explicit and summative principle and then elaboration of it that is both guided by it and gives further content to it. It is not only that judgements and activities, from some one point of view, say Mill’s, will sometimes be right and sometimes be wrong if there is no principle and if there is inconsistency in its place. So there is the fact that Mill’s essay leaves itself open to the six different interpretations at which we have glanced — if several are hopeless after a little reflection, what he actually says in his essay has allowed them all to come into existence. And there is the fact that the sixth and best interpretation is itself a congeries of stuff.