Cesare Beccaria and the cruelty of liberalism: An essay on liberalism of fear and its limits

Philosophy and Social Criticism 30 (3):303-313 (2004)
Abstract
In this paper I outline and criticize Judith Shklar’s and Richard Rorty’s ‘liberalism of fear’. Both political thinkers believe liberalism to be characterized by a fundamental opposition to cruelty , which they regard as the least liberal of the features that may distinguish any given human community. In order to demonstrate the limits of the Shklar–Rorty thesis, I make use, in the first place, of John Kekes’s critique of liberalism as to show that liberalism allows for cruelty in so far as it grants wider margins of agency to the members of the community. In the second place, I make use of Cesare Beccaria’s reflections on the cruelty implied by liberalism assuch, in so far as this political doctrine endorses the institutions of penal justice and private property. Key Words: Cesare Beccaria • cruelty • ethics • fear • justice • John Kekes • liberalism • politics • property • punishment • Richard Rorty • Judith Shklar.
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