Against Liberalism

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Cornell University Press, Jan 1, 1997 - Philosophy - 244 pages
The liberal faith is that people are naturally good and if they are not subject to unjust social arrangements, then they will live good rather than evil lives. This is an indefensible, sentimental, and destructive falsification of reality. It makes wishful thinking into a political program. It ignores the historical record that testifies to the contrary. It arrogates to itself the moral high ground by pretending to champion the welfare of the poor, the needy and the unfortunate, while pursuing policies that refuse to face the causes of their misery and make it impossible to improve their lot....

Liberals believe that if people do not have to contend with poverty, discrimination, crime, and other social ills, if they are not ignorant, indoctrinated, or enraged by injustice, if they have the time and opportunity to think about their lives and actions, then they will not do what is evil. This is the liberal faith, and it is indefensible. -- from Against Liberalism

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 ofequality, 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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The Prevalence of Evil
Individual Responsibility
Collective Responsibility

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About the author (1997)

John Kekes is Professor of Philosophy and Public Policy at the State University of New York, Albany. His most recent books are Moral Tradition and Individuality (1989) and Facing Evil (1990).

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