Jeremy Waldron on liberalism

According to Waldron, liberalism rests on "a requirement that all aspects of the social should either be made acceptable or be capable of being made acceptable to every last individual" (quoted in Liberalism, Fawcett, p. 399).

Waldron gives us two conditions joined by an "or." The first one sounds impossible to me, while the second seems vacuous: anyone can assert that everyone ought to agree with their politics, even though they do not, if only other people were reasonable.

10 comments:

  1. What does "capable of being made acceptable" mean? Does it mean that there is some argument that you can make to people that would make it acceptable to them? If so, that doesn't seem vacuous at all. Clearly there's no argument that you could make that would convince everyone to agree with a law that forbade all religions other than Christianity, to take an extreme example.

    Or does it mean that it should be capable of being modified in future in such a way that it becomes acceptable to the people it's currently not acceptable to?

    ReplyDelete
  2. I have not read Waldron (I have been in seminars with him), but the way these sorts of arguments usually run is that the person to whom the policy must be made acceptable has to be willing to listen to reason. But what happens is this:
    A: Certainly, everyone should accept a robust welfare state.
    B: But I don't accept it!
    A: Well, then, you are unreasonable.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Gene: I laughed when I read this. This is exactly what happens in Progressive-dominated academia.

      Of course, it isn't that I don't think that some folks are unreasonable. But it seems as though a lot of Progressives take their views to be "obvious" in the same way that, say, the Law of the Excluded Middle, or the Law of Non-Contradiction are.

      Being a former libertarian myself, I can recall feeling this way: but even then I knew that there was something wrong about the way I was viewing the world. It wasn't until I had some things made painfully aware to me that I started to see things more clearly.

      Delete
  3. anyone can assert that everyone ought to agree with their politics, even though they do not, if only other people were reasonable.

    Therein lies the secret of liberalism's success.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Just to make sure, this is "liberalism" as in the general movement of which both conservatives and progressives are members of, correct?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, it would run from libertarianism through left liberalism in US terms. Most American conservatives would be called "liberals" by political theorists. Non-liberal conservatives do exist: monarchists, for instance.

      Delete
  5. Does the first one sound necessarily impossible or only in all likelihood?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Samson, there are different meanings of "impossible": if I told you that your favorite football team lost yesterday 1500-0, and you responded "impossible," I don't think you would be wrong. You would simply mean that such a thing would never happen in reality, not that it is logically impossible. Of course I mean "impossible" in the sense of: "not in the real world this won't happen," not in the sense of logically impossible.

      Delete
    2. Just wanted to verify in what sense you meant it because I was unsure if you were talking about something along the lines of value-neutral politics which would be a logical impossibility.

      Delete