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Rationalism, Pluralism, and Freedom
     

Rationalism, Pluralism, and Freedom

by Jacob T. Levy
 

Intermediate groups— voluntary associations, churches, ethnocultural groups, universities, and more—can both protect threaten individual liberty. The same is true for centralized state action against such groups. This wide-ranging book argues that, both normatively and historically, liberal political thought rests on a deep tension between a rationalist

Overview

Intermediate groups— voluntary associations, churches, ethnocultural groups, universities, and more—can both protect threaten individual liberty. The same is true for centralized state action against such groups. This wide-ranging book argues that, both normatively and historically, liberal political thought rests on a deep tension between a rationalist suspicion of intermediate and local group power, and a pluralism favorable toward intermediate group life, and preserving the bulk of its suspicion for the centralizing state.

The book studies this tension using tools from the history of political thought, normative political philosophy, law, and social theory. In the process, it retells the history of liberal thought and practice in a way that moves from the birth of intermediacy in the High Middle Ages to the British Pluralists of the twentieth century. In particular it restores centrality to the tradition of ancient constitutionalism and to Montesquieu, arguing that social contract theory's contributions to the development of liberal thought have been mistaken for the whole tradition.

It discusses the real threats to freedom posed both by local group life and by state centralization, the ways in which those threats aggravate each other. Though the state and intermediate groups can check and balance each other in ways that protect freedom, they may also aggravate each other's worst tendencies. Likewise, the elements of liberal thought concerned with the threats from each cannot necessarily be combined into a single satisfactory theory of freedom. While the book frequently reconstructs and defends pluralism, it ultimately argues that the tension is irreconcilable and not susceptible of harmonization or synthesis; it must be lived with, not overcome.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"The breathtakingly expansive scope of the work aims to teach us that the tension between rationalism and pluralism is ineliminable, and that adopting one perspective may blind us to domination. On the theoretical front, it is wildly successful. It presents a rereading of the liberal tradition that is at points truly revelatory." — Melissa Schwartzberg, The New Rambler

"A great overview of a longstanding issue in libertarian thought (and liberal thought more generally): the appropriate role of 'intermediate groups' such as religious organizations, voluntary associations, and organized ethnic groups. Levy effectively traces this longstanding debate back to the origins of liberal thought in the early through the Enlightenment, the American and French Revolutions, nineteenth century thinkers like de Tocqueville and Mill, and on to the present day. This book is a must-read for both libertarians and others interested in debates over freedom of association."
— Illya Somin, Washington Post

"For those who have been following Jacob's work for the past decade or so, this is the book you've been waiting for." — Will Baude, Washington Post: The Volokh Conspiracy

"Levy observes that underlying the two liberal perspectives are social theories about how power in society is distributed and used...In this context of widely distributed power, I find the pluralist perspective more persuasive. Levy has written a valuable book that highlights this liberal tradition."
—Andrew Norton, Policy Magazine

"Levy's book is a fascinating account of associational freedom."
—Review of Politics, Carla Yumatle, Brown University,

"The book provides a useful intellectual map for newcomers to political theory and prompts seasoned political theorists to look anew at familiar names and topics. Rationalism, Pluralism & Freedom brackets certain questions about the economy and non-Western political thought that highlight future research areas for liberal political theorists. And Levy shows that pluralist liberalism has a respectable pedigree and ought to have a larger presence in contemporary debates about the use and abuse of state power for individual flourishing."
—Theory & Event

"Levy has rehabilitated a neglected tradition in liberal political thought, demonstrated its salience for politics today and shown the defensibility of some of its key theoretical claims. And he is admirably honest, advocating an eyes-wide-open view of states, intermediate groups, and their interactions, for political good or ill. Most importantly of all, Levy's book is generative: its sensitive discussion of theoretical issues both historical and contemporary will inspire much further discussion, inquiry and scholarship."
—Contemporary Political Theory, Benjamin Hertzberg, Brigham Young University

"This is a first-class work of political, social, and intellectual history-a tour de force indeed."
—The American Conservative

"Levy should be applauded for advancing a vital discussion within liberal theory, and doing so in a way that is informed by philosophical, historical and social-scientific perspectives. Political theorists should definitely read it, but so too should lawyers, policymakers, journalists and others interested in reconciling these dilemmas from a more practical perspective."
—Inroads Journal

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780198717140
Publisher:
Oxford University Press
Publication date:
02/11/2015
Pages:
320
Product dimensions:
6.20(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.10(d)

Meet the Author

Jacob T. Levy, Tomlinson Professor of Political Theory, McGill University

Jacob T. Levy is Tomlinson Professor of Political Theory and coordinator of the Research Group on Constitutional Studies at McGill University, and a member of the Montreal Groupe de Recherche Interuniversitaire en Philosophie Politique.

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