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Issues in and around Liberal Theory: What is Liberalism?

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  1. The attempt to define liberalism in spite of its historical metamorphoses.
    1. The use of a word and the birth of a theory.
    2. Dworkin's quest of the American current liberalism.
    3. From Mill to Dworkin, where is liberalism to be found?
  2. Through a constitutive principle .
    1. The constitutive principle remaining within moving derivative positions.
    2. Mill's notion of freedom as a means to some end.
    3. Dworkin's constitutive conception of equality.
  3. The negative but distinctive liberal principle.
    1. A negative principle as an insufficient ground for coherency in policies.
    2. The liberal bad faith, or the denial of its moral dimension.
    3. A principle of political organization that is required by justice, not a way of life for individuals.
  4. Conclusion.

?In this essay I shall propose a theory about what liberalism is?. Dworkin's project is here clearly exposed. And, as most political thinkers when they try to define a coherent theory at the fundaments of actual political movements, ?I face an immediate problem. My project supposes that there is such a thing as liberalism?, liberalism as ?an authentic and a coherent political morality? (L, 113). And thus, he widely opens the dark and sticky abyss of skepticism, particularly threatening to the so-called political liberals, and in which all their opponents ? from socialists to conservatives ? seek to precipitate them armed with their absolute doctrines. Indeed, liberalism as a political banner has been applied and endorsed by an extraordinary diversity of thoughts, acts, men, ideas, parties through time and space: and if with Dworkin we go through some of the recent ones, we might then be lead to the thesis of liberalism as a variable package of causes assembled by interest ? so what if we go back to the 18th century?

[...] Here, more precisely, in the ?struggle between authority and liberty?, where a government is necessary, as well in a monarchy as in a democracy, only freedom that deserves the name is that of pursuing our own good in our own way, so long as we do not attempt to deprive others of their? (OL,15). This is the so-called harm principle. This liberty can be declined in basic rights: liberty of conscience opinion and sentiment and of expression, liberty of tastes and pursuits and freedom to unite. [...]


[...] This answer is what I would call the liberal tautology: is right because it is right?, to which liberal thinkers have come by their refusal to endorse and assume special theory of personality?. Reading Mill, I would say that such a statement is an expression of a certain bad faith. ?[liberalism] is self-contradictory, because liberalism must itself be a theory of the good?. In his defense of the constitutive principle, Mill first apparently appeals to utilitarianism more than to morality: ?Liberty has no application to any state of things anterior to the time when mankind have become capable of being improved by free and equal discussion?(OL,13), strongest of all the arguments against the interference of the public with purely personal conduct, is that when it does interfere, the odds are that it interferes wrongly, and in the wrong place?. [...]


[...] Even if liberal thinkers necessarily assume different conceptions of morality and of the person infusing their theories, even if the ?clusters of political positions? said liberal vary so significantly that they are ironically qualified of wish-washy, they all gather in the consciousness that ?there is no easy way to demonstrate the proper role of institutions that have a monopoly of power over the lives of others?, and they do not need to deny their ?special theory of personality? that can vary from one liberal to the other to keep safe that liberal conception of equality is a principle of political organization that is required by justice, not a way of life for individuals?(L,143). [...]

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