Alberto Mingardi  

Fawcett's Liberalism

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On the Library of Law and Liberty website, I have a long review of Edmund Fawcett's book "Liberalism: The Life of an Idea". Fawcett writes well and his book is a pleasant read. But he considers "liberalism" such a vague and loose ideology that it is very difficult to find any consistency in it. Sure, Friedrich Hayek and Jean Paul Sartre may have had something in common. They both wore glasses, for example. But if we need to discuss what a political doctrine is about, we need to draw a line, at some point.


Furthermore, I found his dismissal of Ludwig von Mises rather disappointing. Sure enough, one can be a classical liberal and find Mises' framework unattractive. However, I always find questioning an author's motives, instead of engaging with his thinking, a rather dubious endeavor. A book published a few years ago basically claimed that Thomas Babbington Macaulay was basically a great hypocrite, and so what he wrote shouldn't be taken particularly seriously. I would contend that, if you want to wrestle with a thinker, you should engage with what he wrote. Biographies are important to place the work in context, but any information on the purported lack of attention from somebody's mother during the subject's childhood, her networks of friends or sources of research grants she received, is a poor substitute for reading and commenting on her words.

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COMMENTS (3 to date)
Larry writes:

Liberals are almost always more concerned about motives than about results. It doesn't matter whether a for-profit institution works better then a not for profit institution. The latter is always preferable, because the for-profit is run by greedy people.

ThomasH writes:

Funny, in my disagreements with Conservatives (and sometimes with Libertarians), I have almost always found myself struggling to get them to tell me the specific result of the specific policy they object to rather than accusing Liberals of wanting to make the country poorer/grab power/promote socialism/turn the country over to foreigners, etc. That is, the argument has always about motives and principles, not costs and benefits of measures.

But this difference between Larry's and my perception may be because we both see in those who disagree with us the faults we do not see in ourselves and our own "tribe."

Andrew_FL writes:

Or maybe, Thomas, those of us on the right stopped explaining to our followers and potential followers alike why we have a problem with socialism because we assumed people knew.

I say this because I think it should be acknowledged that even though politics offers both "sides" incentives to argue in this way, it also doesn't seem to work for the right as well as it does for the left.

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