Elucidations: Prev Next

  • What does “liberalism” refer to?
    • Used in such a wide variety of senses that it means almost nothing at all now.
      • Not useful to use the term to think about society or use as a normative concept
    • A historical approach to the term is valuable
      • The result of a large tradition of different components fusing together
        • After many things have fused together (by convenience) it looks like they come together by necessity
        • This makes the whole framework seem self-evident, which is convenient
          for your political system to have
      • E.g. democracy and liberalism seem like they belong together
        • liberalism has toleration as a core principle
        • democracy has no such commitment - you could vote to ostracize someone people don’t like.
        • democracy doesn’t like elections.
      • Another strand: voluntaryness better than force
      • Another strand: fear of concentrated power
      • Another strand: individual > group
      • Another strand: laissez faire capitalism
  • Two components of liberalism Geuss is worried about
    • Neutrality
      • There is no notion of ‘neutrality’ that is both weak enough to be a sensible notion as well as strong enough to do the normative job liberals want it to do
      • Neutrality itself cannot be a generator of political value
    • Consensus
      • It’s not that lack of consensus is good and it’s good to push people around
      • Rather, consensus must be treated as an empirical concept
        • As opposed to a ‘necessary condition of society’ - that’s not true
          • Making it this weak would be vacuous; would allow one to say “members of concentration camps were in a consensus with their guards, as they formed a social system”
        • Moving to a more realistic/empirical notion, e.g. everyone checking off the same box in the voting booth, this doesn’t have any normative power
      • There’s a feeling that every disagreement can be resolved to consensus.
        • It isn’t proven that it’s always possible, nor if it is possible that it’s good.
        • Kant argues that we have a natural tendency to overgeneralize from experience
          • E.g. We see things in our life have causes, and then think everything has a cause, which leads to the concept of God
          • Likewise, the belief that everything can be resolved by consensus fits this pattern.
          • This is part of the plausibility of liberalism:
            • I like to be free, I don’t like to be pushed around, I like us to be in consensus (this is fine)
            • Now jump to saying this can be done for the whole world
              • This can’t be taken for granted.
  • Is the above an accusation that liberalism is hypocritical?
    • E.g. America was based on consensus while nonconsensually displacing Native Americans.
    • Geuss:
      1. ‘hypocrisy’ is too strong of a term, which implies a conscious duplicitousness
      2. Human beings are self-centered (we see ourselves as more central than we actually are, want to see ourselves as good) which is at odds with liberal ideal
  • Should we make incremental adjustments vs revolution to fix liberalism?
    • Geuss: keen on preserving our abilities to imagine utopias.
    • We can transform some of those aspirations into practical action.
    • There is a gap betweeen action and imagination.
      • Pragmatists eliminate that gap, ‘reduce’ imagination just to action.
    • Nothing wrong with aspirations that are not immediately realized - they can remain in the culture until they are realized.
    • So we can pursue both the immediate and more radical changes.
  • What role is there for art to play in developing our political imagination?
    • Escaping from politics is a kind of politics, after all
      • Escape because politics at the moment is intolerable/unworkable.
    • Two ways:
      1. Political novels like Flaubert’s Salembot
      • descriptions of radically different worlds
      • having an imaginative picture of a particular world makes us relate to our own reality differently
      1. Norm-breaking poetry, like Paul Celan:
      • Language rules are oppressive, conformist
      • Use words in different ways to break stifling forms of everyday speech