Against Liberalism

Overview

Liberalism is doomed to failure, John Kekes argues in this penetrating criticism of its basic assumptions. Liberals favor individual autonomy, a wide plurality of choices, and equal rights and resources, seeing them as essential for good lives. They oppose such evils as selfishness, intolerance, cruelty, and greed. Yet the more autonomy, equality, and pluralism there is, Kekes contends, the greater is the scope for evil. According to Kekes, liberalism is inconsistent because the conditions liberals regard as ...
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Overview

Liberalism is doomed to failure, John Kekes argues in this penetrating criticism of its basic assumptions. Liberals favor individual autonomy, a wide plurality of choices, and equal rights and resources, seeing them as essential for good lives. They oppose such evils as selfishness, intolerance, cruelty, and greed. Yet the more autonomy, equality, and pluralism there is, Kekes contends, the greater is the scope for evil. According to Kekes, liberalism is inconsistent because the conditions liberals regard as essential for good lives actually foster the very evils liberals want to avoid, and avoiding those evils depends on conditions contrary to the ones liberals favor. Kekes argues further that the liberal conceptions of equality, justice, and pluralism require treating good and evil people with equal respect, distributing resources without regard to what recipients deserve, and restricting choices to those that conform to liberal preconceptions. All these policies are detrimental to good lives. Kekes concludes that liberalism cannot cope with the prevalence of evil, that it is vitiated by inconsistent commitments, and that - contrary to its aim - liberalism is an obstacle to good lives.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"One of the many merits of John Kekes's Against Liberalism is its careful argument that the priority attached to individual autonomy in recent liberal philosophies is unreasonable. In any sensibly pluralistic view, autonomy is only one among the necessary conditions . . . of human well-being. Others—such as peace, social cohesion and a healthy environment—are just as important. Further, . . . these other components of the human good cannot always be made compatible with autonomy. . . . Kekes's central, unanswerable argument is that in unreasonably emphasizing the good of autonomy, recent liberalism evades the reality of such conflicts of values. . . . Kekes's imaginative and provocative book is only one of many unmistakable evidences of the passing of the Rawlsian regime in political philosophy. The ongoing dissolution of that liberal hegemony is a sign that pluralism is at last reaching into intellectual life. As a result, political philosophy may be able to reconnect with the world that it was once supposed to be about."—John Gray, Times Literary Supplement

"Kekes performs a useful task in identifying the contradictions in liberal political theory."—Kenneth R. Craycraft, Jr., The University Bookman

"Incorporating his previous reflection about the relationship of character and morality, this work stands out in what is otherwise a well-populated chorus of questioners of liberalism."—John J. Barrett, Theological Studies

"Against Liberalism relentlessly questions and rejects . . . common assumptions of contemporary political philosophy. . . . Unlike many of liberalism's opponents, Kekes makes a serious effort to understand liberalism's basic claims. . . . A provocative and challenging book for students of political philosophy."—Samuel R. Freeman, Ethics

"Kekes's book is very good; it is filled with arguments that are deep, complex and lively."—Shadia Drury, Toronto Globe and Mail

"Against Liberalism is a provocative and engaging book. . . . What Kekes offers us is in fact amounts to a vivid external critique, on the basis of a less optimistic view of human nature. At its best, it is a powerful reminder that liberals had better take evil seriously too."—Norbert Awander, Zurich University. Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 3:2000.

"John Kekes's Against Liberalism offers compelling argumentation for the position that liberalism denies the very conditions it requires for its sustenance. As a consequence, liberal policies are inconsistent and self defeating. Rarely has such a forthright and well-constructed argument been made against liberalism's misguided flirtation with utopianism."—Herbert London

"This book deserves a place on the same shelf with Burke, Tocqueville, and Hayek. From now on no one counts as a serious conservative—even less, as a serious liberal—who has not paid it close attention."—Wallace Matson, University of California, Berkeley

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780801484001
  • Publisher: Cornell University Press
  • Publication date: 1/28/1999
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Table of Contents

Preface
1 What Is Liberalism? 1
2 The Prevalence of Evil 23
3 Individual Responsibility 46
4 Collective Responsibility 69
5 The Errors of Egalitarianism 88
6 Justice and Desert 120
7 Justice without the Liberal Faith 137
8 Pluralism versus Liberalism 159
9 The Sentimentalism of Benevolence 180
10 What Is Wrong with Liberalism? 200
Afterword 212
Notes 215
Works Cited 233
Index 241
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