Introducing the Ordered Liberty Symposium

This week, we will be hosting an online symposium on James Fleming & Linda McClain’s new book Ordered Liberty: Rights, Responsibilities, and Virtues (Harvard University Press 2013).  Fleming and McClain attack the citadel of the liberal rights-bearer approach of constitutional law and offer an alternative, from within liberalism.  They articulate a civic liberalism that takes responsibilities and virtues—as well as rights—seriously.  Fleming and McClain engage with the ideas of Ronald Dworkin, John Rawls, Robin West (who is joining us), Michael Sandel, among others and bring their competing conception of civic liberalism to contemporary debates about same-sex marriage, reproductive rights, education of children, the role of the state in families, and free speech/anti-discrimination law.  It is a fascinating and important contribution.

Joining us to talk about the book are:

Mark Graber

Catherine Ross

Chai Feldblum

Corey Brettschneider

James Fleming

Kent Greenfield

Linda McClain

Maxine Eichner

Michael Dorf

Rick Garnett

Robert Tsai

Robin West

Tamara Metz

Vivian Hamilton

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1 Response

  1. I anticipate with relish reading this book. For now I simply want to note that a civic liberalism that takes duties and virtues seriously (that is to say, both moral obligations and ethical life more broadly) has indeed been part and parcel of liberalism, going back to John Stuart Mill. With regard to Mill (who ‘wasn’t any kind of libertarian’) in particular, Kwame Anthony Appiah has discussed this aspect of his liberal political philosophy in his marvelous book, The Ethics of Identity (Princeton University Press, 2005): “’The first element of good government,’ Mill wrote in Considerations on Representative Government, ‘being the virtue and intelligence of the human beings composing the community, the most important point of excellence which any form of government can possess is to promote the intelligence and virtue of the people themselves.’” And of course such a conception of government and governance has roots in Western political philosophy going back to Plato (as the role of the polity in ‘soul making’) and Aristotle. Unlike many contemporary Liberals, Appiah notes, Mill was not a “neutralist,” although the Millian ideal of self-cultivation is found in some degree or in one way or another in the works of John Rawls, Amartya Sen, and the late Ronald Dworkin.

    Moreover, so-called “perfectionist” liberalism exemplified to a considerable extent by Raz, among others, likewise finds an autonomy-based conception of freedom that allows for considerable latitude for State interference or paternalistic intervention in the name of permitting proper exercise of autonomous (and virtuous) agency. A perfectionist approach to liberalism animates the argument of George Sher’s Beyond Neutrality: Perfectionism and Politics (Cambridge University Press, 1997). Finally, Peter Berkowitz has broached this topic in his 1999 volume, Virtue and the Making of Modern Liberalism (Princeton University Press). I hope some of the esteemed commenters will acknowledge the significance of these aspects of Liberalism and the contributions made by others prior to the book under discussion.

    For what it’s worth, I happen to believe that such a civil liberalism is properly grounded—ethically if not metaphysically—in the tradition of “ethical individualism” deftly treated by Appiah, and is the backbone of what he characterizes as “soft or liberal pluralism” in which “the individual remains both the terminus a quo and the terminus ad quem: its concern for identity groups is not only motivated by but ultimately subordinated to the well-being of the individual and the bundle of rights and protections that traditional liberalism would accord her.”