First published Thu Nov 28, 1996; substantive revision Mon Sep 10, 2007 As soon as one examines it, ‘liberalism’ fractures into a variety of types and competing visions. In this entry we focus on debates within the liberal tradition. We begin by (1) examining different interpretations of liberalism's core commitment — liberty. We then consider (2) the longstanding debate between the ‘old’ and the ‘new’ liberalism. In section (3) we turn to the more recent controversy about whether liberalism is a ‘comprehensive’ or a ‘political’ doctrine. We close in (4) by considering disagreements as to ‘the reach’ of liberalism — does it apply to all humankind, and must all political communities be liberal? • 1. The Debate About Liberty
o 1.1 The Presumption in Favor of Liberty
o 1.2 Negative Liberty
o 1.3 Positive Liberty
o 1.4 Republican Liberty
• 2. The Debate Between the ‘Old’ and the ‘New’ o 2.1 Classical Liberalism
o 2.2 The ‘New Liberalism’
o 2.3 Liberal Theories of Social Justice
• 3. The Debate About the Comprehensiveness of Liberalism o 3.1 Political Liberalism
o 3.2 Liberal Ethics
o 3.3 Liberal Theories of Value
o 3.4 The Metaphysics of Liberalism
• 4. The Debate About The Reach of Liberalism
o 4.1 Is Liberalism Justified in All Political Communities? o 4.2 Is Liberalism a Cosmopolitan or a State-centered Theory? o 4.3 Liberal Interaction with Non-Liberal Groups: International o 4.4 Liberal Interaction with Non-Liberal Groups: Domestic • 5. Conclusion
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1. The Debate About Liberty
1.1 The Presumption in Favor of Liberty
‘By definition’, Maurice Cranston rightly points out, ‘a liberal is a man who believes in liberty’ (1967: 459). In two different ways, liberals accord liberty primacy as a political value. (i) Liberals have typically maintained that humans are naturally in ‘a State of perfect Freedom to order their Actions…as they think fit…without asking leave, or depending on the Will of any other Man’ (Locke, 1960 : 287). Mill too argued that ‘the burden of proof is supposed to be with those who are against liberty; who contend for any restriction or prohibition…. The a priori assumption is in favour of freedom…’ (1963, vol. 21: 262). Recent liberal thinkers such as as Joel Feinberg (1984: 9), Stanley Benn (1988: 87) and John Rawls (2001: 44, 112) agree. This might be called the Fundamental Liberal Principle (Gaus, 1996: 162-166): freedom is normatively basic, and so the onus of justification is on those who would limit freedom, especially through coercive means. It follows from this that political authority and law must be justified, as they limit the liberty of citizens. Consequently, a central question of liberal political theory is whether political authority can be justified, and if so, how. It is for this reason that social contract theory, as developed by Thomas Hobbes (1948 ), John Locke (1960 ), Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1973 ) and Immanuel Kant (1965 ), is usually viewed as liberal even though the actual political prescriptions of, say, Hobbes and Rousseau, have distinctly illiberal features. Insofar as they take as their starting point a state of nature in which humans are free and equal, and so argue that any limitation of this freedom and equality stands in need of justification (i.e., by the social contract), the contractual tradition expresses the Fundamental Liberal Principle. (ii) The Fundamental Liberal Principle holds that restrictions on liberty must be justified, and because he accepts this, we can understand Hobbes as espousing a liberal political theory. But Hobbes is at best a qualified liberal, for he also argues that drastic limitations on liberty can be justified. Paradigmatic liberals such as Locke not only...
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