The Attack on Liberalism

In Michael Freeman & Ross Harrison (eds.), Law and Philosophy. Oxford University Press (2007)
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Liberalism is today under attack. This attack is being fought along two fronts, and so appears to be coming from different directions, but it is actually coming exclusively from the right. One source is Islamic fundamentalism, and the other is American neo-conservatism, which in turn unites elements of Christian fundamentalism with elements of neo-Platonic political philosophy and neo-Aristotelian moral theory. Both Islamic fundamentalism and American neo-conservatism are perfectionist views, and while perfectionist attacks on liberalism are nothing new, there is a special danger in the position that liberalism currently finds itself. Although bitterly opposed to each other and divided by utterly incompatible substantive views, these two sources of attack share many similarities at a more fundamental level of political theory. The purpose of this paper is accordingly to focus our attention on the similarities between these seemingly opposing perfectionist views, and to defend liberalism against one of the most serious accusations that perfectionists from both camps make against it—the claim that liberalism leads to nihilism.
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