Persons of good will: Community, civility, and pluralism in the contemporary discourse on values
The political philosophy of liberalism has come under attack from a group variously referred to as communitarians or civic republicans. Their main charge is that liberalism does not provide for or recognize the need for community and common values among the members of society. Chapter One introduces the topic and lays out the major positions. Chapter Two will explicate the communitarian criticisms of William Sullivan and Michael Sandel. I will also discuss their positive proposals to the extent these can be ascertained. I will attempt to show the limitations of their offerings as valid criticisms of liberalism. Chapter Three is devoted to the response of two contemporary liberals. John Rawls argues that a liberalism which is neutral with respect to comprehensive views about the human good allows a tremendous deal of community at the nonpolitical level. William Galston argues that such a neutralist liberalism cannot be maintained and that liberalism should instead be viewed as a conception of community in and of itself. Chapter Four is an attempt to find a hint of a third way in the work of John Stuart Mill. Mill combines a commitment to liberal political philosophy with a concern for the “improvement” of humanity through active interaction and cooperation. As a part of this discussion, it is necessary to defend Mill against those who argue that these two strands in Mill's thought represent an inconsistency. In Chapter Five I present my own view as to how society under liberal government reached the current pass and what can reasonably and legitimately be done in the direction of making things better. I present a conception of tolerance that I term “active tolerance” which I believe provides an avenue for the widest possible commonality in society, given the pluralistic situation as it exists. Finally, I shall show how the liberal political structure supports this activity, an activity which principally takes place in extra-governmental society.