Liberalism Always Late to the Party

Reading John Rawls’ Political Liberalism. There are a lot of problems I’m finding with it, enough for a substantial blog entry, but I’m just going to tackle one.

Rawls repeatedly gives examples of how concepts of liberty and rights have changed historically: anti-slavery, womens’ suffrage, civil rights, etc. and how these are all nothing but greater realizations of political liberalsm (not to be confused with “Liberals,” as many do these days.)

Where I think he drops the ball, and where Marx remains more astute, is in suggesting that the principles of liberalism as he sees them: reasoned political thinking, the desire for mutual cooperation, are what drove such changes. I think history suggests quite otherwise. Most changes that lead to an expansion of rights and liberties came about through struggles both peaceful, through resistance and militant (or with the threat of militancy.) Liberalism merely arrives once the dust has settled to give an official seal of approval to changes gained through other means.

Notions of reason and justice that Rawls sees as so primary seem to me nothing more than concepts gained in hindsight.

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