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The Myth of Liberalism

The Myth of Liberalism


Individual freedom looms large in political and ethical thought. Nevertheless, the theoretical foundations underlying modern liberalism continue to be contested by proponents and opponents alike. The Myth of Liberalism offers a unique contribution to this debate by following through on the often-underdeveloped suggestion that liberal principles are untenable because they are self-contradictory. By analyzing and ultimately refuting each of the proposed underpinnings of liberalism―liberty, equality, rights, privacy, autonomy, or dignity―Safranek concludes that contemporary liberalism is a myth: it is not a coherent political philosophy as much as a collection of causes masked by emotively potent political rhetoric.

Safranek marshals thorough evidence to make the case that each of the allegedly fundamental liberal principles amount to the right to do as one desires. As a result, liberalism’s proponents must offer some method or principle to mediate the inevitable conflict of desires. In fact, all liberal scholars invoke some form of John Stuart Mill’s harm principle to proscribe unacceptable desires. But this leads to self-contradiction: because all acknowledge that harm can be psychological as well as physical, anyone suffers harm when his act is legally prohibited, as this denies him the object of his desires (liberty) for the sake of another’s desires. Therefore any right advanced in the name of liberty contradicts that very principle.

While finding inherent flaws in liberal justifications for personal liberty, including rights to same-sex marriage, abortion, and assisted- suicide, Safranek reveals the consequences of the contemporary liberal disdain for morality as a basis for law and constitutional rights. To correct for these shortcomings of the modern liberal notions of freedom, which are grounded in the passions, The Myth of Liberalismproposes an alternative way of safeguarding the human desire for liberty: a cogent retrieval of a pre-modern intellectual tradition that esteems reason and virtue.

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