Since I have a short attention span, I tend to read several books at the same time. I just finished William A. Galston’s Liberal Pluralism
. The liberalism he defends is the classical liberalism that lies behind both the “conservative” and “liberal” political movements in the contemporary US. The key features of Galston’s liberal state are:
1. A recognition of a plurality of goods, many incommensurable with each other. In plain English, that means that Joe and Mary think each other nuts for counting as good what they count as good.
2. A move beyond modern reductive individualism. Thus the plurality of goods are not merely pursued by individuals, but by families and groups.
3. A development of Isaiah Berlin’s concept of negative liberty (freedom from restraint) combined with what Galston calls “expressive liberty,” the freedom to do what is most fulfilling (as defined by the individual or the group. The liberal state seeks to maximize its accommodation of the number of goods sought by its citizens, requiring a fairly minimal account of the common good.
4. One of the liberal state’s main jobs is to provide the space for individuals and groups to pursue their vision of the good. Necessarily there will be some restraint put on those pursuits, particularly keeping open what Galston calls the “possibility of exit.” While the state will allow groups (including families), to order their own lives, even in controversial and apparently unfree ways, there will be occasions when a person will want to leave that way of life. The group may not provide a way out, but the liberal state will.
As to providing space, Galston notes that the current situation of the US is for the sate to grow in so many areas that an increasing number of associations find themselves entangled in its operations, and hence less free.
That’s the gist of the first book in today’s post. Read the whole thing.
The second book is Philip Bobbitt’s Shield of Achilles
. It’s a long, difficult book, so I’m just going to mention one point. Bobbitt traces the transitions in the nature of the State (in the West) since the 15th century. Since 1990, we’re seeing the transition from the Nation State (defined by its pursuit of the welfare of its citizens, thus also known as the Welfare State) to the Market State (defined by a goal of maximizing opportunities for its citizens).
If we bring Galston and Bobbitt together, we see that the Nation State (tended) to proclaim a set of goods – a maximal conception of the common good, while the Market State (which we do not yet fully have) recognizes a plurality of goods. Galston’s political vision, therefore, is a vision for the Market State, not the Nation State.
If were to ask which president best characterized the Market State ethos who comes to mind? Perhaps George W. Bush with his “ownership society?” Certainly. But it is also enlightening to consider that Galston worked on domestic policy for the Clinton administration – the very administration that pursued NAFTA and many societal reforms sometimes associated with Republicans. The evidence (admittedly my presentation is pretty scanty) indicates that Bobbitt’s “Market State” or the “Liberal State” as envisioned by Galston – is something beyond the mere Democrat – Republican divide.