Read Rationalism, Pluralism, and Freedom by Jacob T. Levy Online


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 inteIntermediate 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....

Title : Rationalism, Pluralism, and Freedom
Author :
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ISBN : 9780198717140
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 320 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

Rationalism, Pluralism, and Freedom Reviews

  • David Montgomery
    2018-11-13 21:26

    An imperfect but very interesting book. Its point is to explore a tension within the ideals that underpin most modern democracies. If one believes that a key value of democratic government is to protect the freedom of its individual citizens (by no means a universally held belief) then that raises a further question: who should that freedom be protected from? More specifically, the central government can pose a threat to citizens' liberty. But so can subnational groups within society: a local government, or a religious group, or a business, or the family. Some theorists see the primary threat to liberty as being the state, and see these "intermediary groups" as bulwarks against tyranny. But others see the biggest threat as being those very intermediary groups and seek to use the power of the state to prevent those groups from oppressing their members.An example: in a liberal democracy, citizens have freedom of expression. But a homeowners association — entered into willingly by its members — might impose limits on that freedom of expression, such as forbidding its members to display political signs. Can free democratic citizens willingly surrender some of their political rights by joining an association? If the government passes a law banning homeowners associations from forbidding political signs, does that law make the country more or less free? It's a theoretical but very relevant question that gets to the root of many questions in modern politics and society. Levy comes at it from philosophical and historical angles, and the book is genuinely enlightening.But it's also an odd duck. It's caught in the middle between being a work for lay readers and being one for a technical audience, with large sections discussing questions in a general, accessible manner and others dropping half-explained jargon all over the place. I'm not sure if I could recommend it to someone who doesn't already have a background in political theory, which is a shame, because the question is one worth considering more broadly.It also is caught in between an exploration of the topic and an advocacy for one side of the debate. The author ultimately believes that neither side is all correct, but spends much of the book defending one perspective because he's responding to literature in the field that, he says, predominantly backs the other side. That's all well and good if you're familiar with the latest developments in liberal political theory, but less so for someone coming at the topic fresh.

  • Adam Gurri
    2018-10-28 18:14

    This is a masterpiece. Levy recovers a liberalism long forgotten, and makes it relevant again. No one who takes liberalism seriously should miss this book, and anyone who lives in a modern liberal-democracy ought to take it seriously.

  • Russell Fox
    2018-11-05 17:09

    It's about time I put up a review of this wonderful, and wonderfully rich and challenging, work of political theory by Jacob Levy. I'll be writing more about it later for a symposium on Bleeding Heart Libertarians, but for the moment it suffices to say that it is 1) a genuinely fascinating articulation and exploration of little-noticed themes in the liberal political philosophy, and 2) a delightfully eye-opening examination of the history of those themes. The themes in question are what Levy calls "rationalism"--meaning the belief that freedom is best assured by the creation of state powerful enough to enforce consist and publicly knowable laws which treat all citizens equally, frequently against the cramped prejudices of local communities--and "pluralism"--meaning the belief that freedom is best assured by the proliferation and maintenance of often idiosyncratic, generally exclusive, frequently inegalitarian, local and purposive associations and civic bodies (cities and towns, churches, clubs, unions, etc.) that can act to challenge the intrusions of the rational, "enlightened" liberal state. Levy makes no bones about the fact that he prefers the pluralist side of this long-standing tension in liberal theory (a side he shows as well represented by Montesquieu, Tocqueville, and the mostly ignored tradition of "ancient constitutionalism") over the rationalist side (with includes such liberal luminaries as Locke, John Stuart Mill, and Thomas Paine), but his primary point is, very simply, the fact of the tension itself. In his view, liberal freedom can never find a form of social expression that completely transcends or somehow avoids the legitimate demands of both perspectives. And that view is highly persuasive! I learned a huge amount from this book: about the history of western Europe, legal theory, and much more. Most of that learning took place in the long, middle of the book, when Levy lays out his genealogy of liberal rationalism and liberal pluralism; the introductory chapters sometimes seemed a little perfunctory, and the concluding ones tended to have the feeling of errata that couldn't be fit in anywhere else. But those are small criticisms of what is, overall, a truly admirable work of political thinking.

  • The American Conservative
    2018-10-19 19:32

    "All things considered, however, as long as we have states we should err on the side of decentralization, for that will minimize exit costs and potentially stimulate liberty-maximizing competition among power centers. This won’t protect liberty perfectly, but perfection is not on the menu. Protection from nonviolently oppressive associations is best left to peaceful private efforts, as individualist anarchists have long advised."Sheldon Richman's review: