Bernard Williams and the philosophical defense of Liberal Politics
Visser, T. de
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This thesis is intended to analyze the role philosophy can play in the defense of liberal practices. Liberalism and its proposed political practices are inherently progressive and situational. They are committed to ending abuse of power in its myriad forms, wherever they can. Under modern circumstances, the most reliable means to do so have proven to be laws and institutions that demand public accountability: universal suffrage, freedom of speech, independent branches of government. There are ever more subtle means to curb the abuse of power, however, that should also be classified as liberal. Authority must justify its use of coercion to its subjects in ways that are acceptable to them, given the facts as they know them. Pluralism, Individualism, Centralized Bureaucratic Power, and Science have made ideological justifications controversial and obsolete, while liberalism's more procedural practices can still reliably distinguish authority from abuse. Because of this, liberal practices can always be substantively argued for in actual discussions with non-liberal dissenters. These pragmatic arguments are preferable to meta-ethical defenses of liberalism, which are based on assumptions about personhood rooted in the Enlightenment, and may not be shared. Deciding how to deal with continued resistance against liberal political practices is not a theoretical problem, but a practical, particular, and possibly personal judgment based on the evidence available. Argumentation, Rhetoric, Toleration, Civil Disobedience, Violent Intervention and Dirty Hands are neither morally compulsory nor forbidden: they are always options. The risks and benefits for everyone involved, over the short and long term, cannot be known with certainty. We are forced to make judgment calls that, in spite of our best efforts, may exacerbate the abuse of power rather than alleviate it. Practical Knowledge, Luck, Good Judgment and the Confidence to decide are much more important in the defense of Liberal Political Practices than insight into Philosophical Theory.