Communitarianism, liberalism, and superliberalism

Critical Review 8 (2):263-284 (1994)
Although Roberto Unger is sometimes described as a communitarian critic of liberalism, his recent three?volume work on Politics disavows the major tenets of contemporary communitarianism?for example, the ?embedded self,? the critique of rights, the rejection of universalizing theory. Instead, Unger's aim is to criticize liberalism from the perspective of a ?superliberalism"?a perspective which takes the original liberal desire to emancipate individuals from the chains of social custom and hierarchy and rids it of the stultifying economic and political institutions within which liberals have sought to contain it. Three main components of Unger's theory are analyzed: the idea of ?negative capability,? or the power of individuals to revise and transcend their social contexts; the idea of an ?empowered democracy,? which seeks to open up all aspects of society to the collective exercise of negative capability; and the idea of ?immunity rights,? which seek to protect individuals from the potential risks of radical democracy. I argue that all three underestimate the risks to individual liberty of the over?politicization of social life.
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