The Challenge of Philosophical Liberalism: Contextualizing the Contemporary American Variant

Michael Freeden

in Ideologies and Political Theory

Published in print April 1998 | ISBN: 9780198294146
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780191599323 | DOI:
 The Challenge of Philosophical Liberalism: Contextualizing the Contemporary American Variant

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Philosophical liberalism poses a challenge for the ideological analyst since it illustrates the divide between ideology and political philosophy discussed in Part I of the book, even though at least one of its most representative formulators (R. Dworkin) refers to its distinct ideological features. It is almost entirely ahistorical despite superficial allusions to the historical liberal tradition, and adopts the conceptual purism of some philosophers in its attempts to isolate the synchronic constitutive principles of liberalism ‘as such’; it is formalistic and rule bound. It is currently the most carefully argued and academically the most widely discussed liberal theory, and moreover, follows the academic trend of resurrecting major ideologies—Marxism is the best‐known example—within the confines of philosophical discourse and, like twentieth‐century Marxism, it exhibits the scholastic tendency of relatively circumscribed circles to focus detailed and often repetitive debate on a small number of texts, so that liberal principles are stated in such a way as to blur the distinctions between the theory and the ideology. Significantly, American philosophical liberalism is both similar to and different from other American liberal counterparts and a comparison between the two is therefore of some interest. Philosophical liberalism, it is contended, has borrowed a false horizon for American liberalism, stretching back to Kant but unrelated to the thought‐behaviour of American liberals; the hitherto existing horizons of those liberals, whether accumulative or diminishing, and whether compatible or incongruous, hark back instead to Locke, to progressivism and the New Deal, and to the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

Keywords: American liberalism; American philosophical liberalism; civil rights; ideological analysis; ideology; Kant; liberal theory; liberalism; Locke; Marxism; New Deal; philosophical liberalism; political philosophy; progressivism

Chapter.  20893 words. 

Subjects: Political Theory

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