Can Modus Vivendi Save Liberalism from Moralism? A Critical Assessment of John Gray’s Political Realism

In John Horton, Manon Westphal & Ulrich Willems (eds.), The Political Theory of Modus Vivendi. Dordrecht: Springer Verlag. pp. 95-109 (2018)
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This chapter assesses John Gray’s modus vivendi-based justification for liberalism. I argue that his approach is preferable to the more orthodox deontological or teleological justificatory strategies, at least because of the way it can deal with the problem of diversity. But then I show how that is not good news for liberalism, for grounding liberal political authority in a modus vivendi undermines liberalism’s aspiration to occupy a privileged normative position vis-à-vis other kinds of regimes. So modus vivendi can save liberalism from moralism, but at cost many liberals will not be prepared to pay.

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Enzo Rossi
University of Amsterdam


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