Liberalism and its critique: Is the therapy worse than the disease?

Philosophy and Social Criticism 26 (3):1-37 (2000)
Starting with the assumption that liberalism is under attack both from political and from philosophical alternatives, this paper is limited to a discussion of one family of critical arguments toward liberalism, namely the arguments that stress the importance of process as contrasted with substance. According to these arguments philosophical and political liberalism is based on substantive principles of justice, whereas a proper democratic theory should be founded on more procedural theories of justice. Such criticism ranges from democratic deliberative approaches to republican theories of politics. I examine some of these critiques of liberalism - from Habermas to Cohen, Gutmann and Thompson, from Pettit to Sunstein and Michelman - and conclude that all of them arrive at a final impasse: either they smuggle into their critiques substantive parts of liberalism or their theories do not match our philosophical and political needs. That is why I maintain that sometimes the therapy (namely democratic deliberation and republicanism) can be worse than the disease (namely liberalism). Key Words: deliberative democracy • justification • legitimation • liberalism • political philosophy • republicanism.
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DOI 10.1177/019145370002600301
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