The Normative Vision of Classical Liberalism
Chapter 12: The Emergence of a Classical Liberal: A Confessional Exercise
INTRODUCTION I have subtitled this book The Normative Vision of Classical Liberalism. In this concluding chapter, I propose to defend and, in the process, to explain my own efforts both in this book and in other outlets. What have I tried to do here and elsewhere, and why? In other words, what is the nature of my whole enterprise? The short answer is provided in the subtitle itself. I have used the term ‘classical liberalism’ to describe the social order that I can see – as an imagined vision that might exist without violation of the constraints imposed by nature, including those that limit human behavior. In other words, classical liberalism sketches out the world as I should like to bring into being were I granted omnipotence. In this sense, classical liberalism, in its full flowering, becomes my own personalized utopia – a perfected ideal that is not totally impossible of attainment even while it remains well beyond the range even of probabilistic expectations. Classical liberalism in this sense becomes a ‘realistic utopia,’ a term invoked as an important element by John Rawls in his short monograph The Law of Peoples (1999). The modifying adjective here, realistic, implies at a minimum a two-set classification among possible utopias. In his early discussion, Rawls refers to Rousseau’s opening of The Social Contract (1762, ), which promises ‘taking men as they are and laws as they might be.’ Although we can perhaps understand what Rousseau, and Rawls, had in mind here, the implicit presumption...
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