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Gerald F. Gaus on Liberalism - Dictionary of Arguments

Gaus I 100
Liberalism/Gaus: The distinction between ‘comprehensive’ and ‘political’ liberalisms (...) has become central to contemporary political theory. >Liberalism/Waldron.
Comprehensive liberalism: versions:

- liberalism as a secular philosophy;
- liberalism as a philosophy of the good life;
- liberalism as a political theory derived from a specific moral theory;
- liberalism as itself a distinctive theory of the right or justice.

Liberalism as a secular philosophy is a distinctly radical conception, which in some ways is the paradigmatic ‘fully comprehensive’ liberalism. On the other hand, liberalism as a theory of right is much more cautious about the extent that human reason converges; its more modest versions shade off into Rawlsian political liberalism.
GausVsRawls: Thus I shall argue that the ‘comprehensive’ liberalism of A Theory of Justice (1971)(1) was a distinctly ‘partial’ comprehensive view, which was not as comprehensive as many other varieties of liberalism.
Gaus I 101
Throughout the last century, liberalism has been beset by controversies between, on the one hand, those broadly identified as ‘individualists’ and, on the other, ‘collectivists’, ‘communitarians’ or ‘organicists’ (for scepticism about this, though, see Bird, 1999(5)).
Gaus I 102
(...) the last 20 years have witnessed a renewed interest in collectivist analyses of liberal society - though the term ‘collectivist’ is abjured in favour of ‘communitarian’.
Gutmann: Writing in 1985, Amy Gutmann observed that ‘[w]e are witnessing a revival of communitarian criticisms of liberal political theory. Like the critics of the 1960s, those of the 1980s fault liberalism for being mistakenly and irreparably individualistic’ (1985(3): 308). Starting with Michael Sandel’s famous (1982)(4) criticism of Rawls, a number of critics charged that liberalism was necessarily premised on an abstract conception of individual selves as pure choosers, whose commitments, values and concerns are possessions of the self, but never constitute the self. >Rawls/Sandel.
What is important for our purposes is that these debates focus on whether liberalism entails an individualist theory of humans in society, or whether its political and moral commitments can be conjoined with various conceptions of the self and the social order; it is thus a debate about just how ‘comprehensive’ liberalism really is.
Gaus I 103
Liberalism becomes identified with the promotion of a certain sort of self-realizing individual, one who develops her nature, is rational and suspicious of custom, experiments with different ways of living and is not prone to conformism. Cf. >Mill/Gaus, >Individual/Mill, >Individualism/Rawls, >Perfectionism/Rawls.
Gaus I 104
It is a mistake to try to define liberalism; liberal theories are complex clusters of conceptual and value commitments. But surely a crucial criterion for describing a view as ‘liberal’ is whether freedom is the core conceptual commitment (Freeden, 1996(6); Gaus, 2000a(7)). >Freedom/Liberalism.
Gaus I 105
Moral theory: (...) a liberal theory of the good life and morality must be distinguished from a commitment to liberalism built on a moral theory; these two distinct conceptions of liberalism are often lumped together as ‘comprehensive’ liberalism. Liberal political principles can be derived from moral theories that themselves are not intrinsically liberal. [There are] three such theories: utilitarianism, Hobbesian contractualism and value scepticism. >Utilitarian Liberalism/Gaus.

1. Rawls, John (1971) A Theory of Justice. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
2. Bird, Colin (1999) The Myth of Liberal Individualism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
3. Gutmann, Amy (1985) ‘Communitarian critics of liberalism’. Philosophy & Public Affairs, 14: 308–22.
4. Sandel, Michael (1982) Liberalism and the Limits of Justice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
5. Freeden, Michael (1996) Ideologies and Political Theory. Oxford: Clarendon.
6. Gaus, Gerald F. (2000a) Political Theories and Political Concepts. Boulder, CO: Westview.

Gaus, Gerald F. 2004. „The Diversity of Comprehensive Liberalisms.“ In: Gaus, Gerald F. & Kukathas, Chandran 2004. Handbook of Political Theory. SAGE Publications.

Explanation of symbols: Roman numerals indicate the source, arabic numerals indicate the page number. The corresponding books are indicated on the right hand side. ((s)…): Comment by the sender of the contribution. Translations: Dictionary of Arguments
The note [Author1]Vs[Author2] or [Author]Vs[term] is an addition from the Dictionary of Arguments. If a German edition is specified, the page numbers refer to this edition.

Gaus I
Gerald F. Gaus
Chandran Kukathas
Handbook of Political Theory London 2004

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