Newer than what? Older than what?

Social Philosophy and Policy 24 (1):1-15 (2007)
The essay approaches the question: Older Than What; Newer Than What? as naively as possible; it begins by asking whether there can be, and perhaps was, liberalism before the word was coined, and argues that there could have been but as a matter of fact was not. It then changes tack to ask whether liberalism is in essence a modern phenomenon, and answers that it is. This, however, raises the further question of what, if anything, lends coherence to modern forms of liberalism. The paper then argues that, contrary to Rawls, it is a comprehensive, or more narrowly ‘autonomist,’ conception of liberalism that provides the only reliable basis in ethics, metaphysics, and in a view of human nature for more limited forms of liberalism. It is argued throughout that liberalism so construed is a contentious creed, and that liberals should not be daunted by that fact.
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