Cover image for Against liberalism
Against liberalism
Kekes, John.
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Publication Information:
Ithaca : Cornell University Press, 1997.
Physical Description:
xi, 244 pages ; 24 cm



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JC574 .K44 1997 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Liberalism is doomed to failure, John Kekes argues in this penetrating criticism of its basic assumptions. Liberals favor individual autonomy, a wide plurality of choices, and equal rights and resources, seeing them as essential for good lives. They oppose such evils as selfishness, intolerance, cruelty, and greed. Yet the more autonomy, equality, and pluralism there is, Kekes contends, the greater is the scope for evil. According to Kekes, liberalism is inconsistent because the conditions liberals regard as essential for good lives actually foster the very evils liberals want to avoid, and avoiding those evils depends on conditions contrary to the ones liberals favor. Kekes argues further that the liberal conceptions of equality, justice, and pluralism require treating good and evil people with equal respect, distributing resources without regard to what recipients deserve, and restricting choices to those that conform to liberal preconceptions. All these policies are detrimental to good lives. Kekes concludes that liberalism cannot cope with the prevalence of evil, that it is vitiated by inconsistent commitments, and that - contrary to its aim - liberalism is an obstacle to good lives.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

Kekes argues that contemporary liberal political theory is "riddled with inconsistencies." Though he targets Rawls and other Kantians, he includes libertarians and pragmatists as well. The central liberal commitment of individual autonomy, he charges, means that evil people will be freer to produce repression, poverty, and intolerance. Moreover, liberals only hold individuals responsible who have achieved an unrealistically high degree of autonomy, and so blame society for most of the evil in the world. The tensions in these positions are mitigated only by faith in the human goodness revealed once autonomy is achieved. In addition, Kekes finds liberal conceptions of justice, equality, and pluralism indefensible because liberal justice distributes without regard to desert; liberal equality treats good and evil people with equal respect; and liberal pluralism is "restricted to options that conform to liberal preconceptions." Kekes's position is conservative and pluralist, his style analytical. Although his criticisms are not new, his argument is comprehensive and exceptionally clear. Recommended for introducing undergraduates to contemporary debates about liberalism and as a challenge for liberal political theorists. S. D. Jacobitti; Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville