Library Header Image
LSE Theses Online London School of Economics web site

A liberalism without liberals

Argenton, Carlo (2015) A liberalism without liberals. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

Text - Accepted Version
Download (1MB) | Preview


Over the course of (roughly) the past three decades, much of contemporary liberal political theory has followed John Rawls and taken a ‘political’ turn. Liberalism, it is now generally supposed, is a ‘political’ doctrine, not a philosophy of life. The most influential account of such a liberalism is public reason liberalism. According to public reason liberals, political rules and decisions have to be justified by appeal to ideas or arguments that those subject to them (at some level of idealisation) endorse or accept. Public reason is the standard by which moral or political rules can be assessed. In this thesis I do two things. First, I offer a critique of public reason liberalism. I argue that it fails to live up to the ideal of liberal reason, that it fails to take diversity seriously, and that it is based on a problematic account of political institutions. Second, I articulate a genuinely ‘political’ alternative, which I call a liberalism without liberals. I develop this alternative on the basis of a re-interpretation of David Hume’s critique of the social contract and of his account of pluralism, the moral order and social criticism. I argue that Hume understands political society as the product of shared interests and not (as social contract theorists suppose) as an embodiment of a common will. I also argue that Hume offers a compelling, nonsectarian account of the standards for moral and political evaluation and that he is capable of accommodating foundational pluralism. In sum, a Hume-inspired liberalism without liberals is a combination of (a) a specific idea concerning the nature of political society, (b) an attempt to take pluralism more seriously than has so far been countenanced by liberals, (c) a specific view concerning the distribution of authority in moral deliberation and the nature of social criticism, and (d) scepticism about political institutions.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2015 Carlo Argenton
Library of Congress subject classification: J Political Science > JC Political theory
Sets: Departments > Government
Supervisor: Kukathas, Chandran

Actions (login required)

Record administration - authorised staff only Record administration - authorised staff only


Downloads per month over past year

View more statistics