Mistaken Identities and Other Anomalies: The Liberal Pretenders

Michael Freeden

in Ideologies and Political Theory

Published in print April 1998 | ISBN: 9780198294146
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780191599323 | DOI:
 Mistaken Identities and Other Anomalies: The Liberal Pretenders

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The last three chapters have examined a number of examples of liberal ideology, including an American version, which contains considerable departures from what has normally been identified as liberalism; there is now sufficient evidence to confirm the hypothesis advanced in Ch. 4 that J. S. Mill's morphology is central to the liberal family. However, there is a further category—libertarianism—which is addressed in this chapter and claims to be part of the liberal family, but which on closer observation appears to be seriously attenuated, lacking many of the attributes that bestow on the liberal profile its distinctive contours. It is etymologically related to liberalism through the concept of liberty, but eschews the unique configuration of concepts that typifies liberalism, preferring instead to overemphasize heavily one concept (liberty) at the expense of the others. In some of its variants, libertarianism can lean towards anarchism, when the core concept of power as dispersed (or, if centralized, accountable) is replaced by the absence of any centralized power; in others, organized political power is retained, but as the guarantor of individual liberty alone, and the question of accountability diminishes in importance. Libertarianism may also differ from liberalism in surrounding liberty with adjacent concepts drawn from a political culture that displays conservative characteristics, without itself being wholly conservative.

Keywords: accountability; anarchism; conservatism; ideology; liberalism; libertarianism; liberty; power

Chapter.  16050 words. 

Subjects: Political Theory

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