Handbook of Political Theory Classical Liberalism and Libertarianism: the Liberty Tradition

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Handbook of Political Theory
Classical Liberalism and Libertarianism: The Liberty Tradition

Contributors: Gerald F. Gaus & Chandran Kukathas Print Pub. Date: 2004 Online Pub. Date: June 22, 2009 Print ISBN: 9780761967880 Online ISBN: 9781848608139 DOI: 10.4135/9781848608139 Print pages: 115-131 This PDF has been generated from SAGE Knowledge. Please note that the pagination of the online version will vary from the pagination of the print book.

Aalborg Universitet Copyright ©2012

SAGE Publications, Inc.

10.4135/9781848608139 [p. 115 ↓ ]

Chapter 9: Classical Liberalism and Libertarianism: The Liberty Tradition Eric Mack and Gerald F. Gaus

The Liberty Tradition
Alasdair MacIntyre provides a helpful characterization of what constitutes a ‘tradition’ within moral or political thought. He says that such a tradition is: an argument extended through time in which certain fundamental agreements are defined and redefined in terms of two kinds of conflict: those with critics and enemies external to the tradition who reject all or at least key parts of those fundamental agreements, and those internal, interpretative debates through which the meaning and rationale of the fundamental agreements come to be expressed and by whose progress a tradition is constituted. (1988:12) In MacIntyre's sense, libertarianism and classical liberalism constitute a tradition of political thought. Within a tradition the internal debates may be so important to its members that the criteria for genuine membership are tied to one's position on these issues, and so the criteria of membership in the tradition are themselves contested. Some in the tradition will seek to withhold the status of member to others who claim it. For example, some members of the socialist tradition (say Marxists) might not grant that label to other members of that tradition or might themselves insist upon some differentiation between themselves and others (e.g. ‘utopian socialists’) within the same basic tradition. In the case of the libertarian/classical liberal tradition, the most radically anti-statist members of this tradition may claim the label ‘libertarian’ and deny that Page 2 of 32 Handbook of Political Theory: Classical Liberalism and Libertarianism: The Liberty Tradition SAGE knowledge

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label to their less anti-statist fellow travellers, while the least anti-statist members of the tradition may claim the label ‘classical liberal’, which they deny to their most hardcore anti-statist comrades. Hence, the hyphenated designation of the tradition that concerns us here. However, despite this hyphenated designation, it is enlightening to understand classical liberalism and libertarianism as comprising a single tradition of political thought. All the positions that we shall place in that tradition share a significant family resemblance, which is acknowledged by most members of this tradition by their willingness to accept for themselves and for most other members both the designations ‘libertarian’ and ‘classical liberal’. Rather than the awkward phrase ‘libertarian/classical liberal tradition’ we shall refer to the more melodious ‘liberty tradition’. The family resemblance among members of the liberty tradition obtains at two related levels. Underlying the tradition is, first, a doctrinal resemblance, constituted by a substantial sharing of normative principles and more or less empirical generalizations about how the world works (or fails to work) – principles and generalizations that together yield conclusions about the normative constraints on legitimate states. Second, there is a consequent political resemblance, a substantial similarity of conclusions about the way these shared normative constraints are to be applied, and thus what sort of state, if any, is justified. As with all traditions in political thought, this commonality of outlook is conjoined with vigorous disagreements. Some...
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