Liberalism Undressed

ISBN : 9780199919840

Jethro K. Lieberman
384 Pages
166 x 236 mm
Pub date
Oct 2012
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One of mankind's most enduring questions is the legitimate scope of state power: how far and in what ways may the government meddle with people's lives? Where lies the line that government ought not cross? For more than three centuries, the western world has answered these questions with a set of institutions and practices that have come to be known as liberal democracy. Though deeply rooted, liberalism has stirred critical attacks from both the left and the right and it has never wholly taken over as the dominant political school of thought for any length of time. During the past 40 years, many of liberalism's most distinguished defenders have presented complex, controversial, abstruse, and even impenetrable theories to justify liberal institutions and practices, often relying on metaphysical constructs, imaginary beings, and fanciful events to describe abstract liberal principles that rarely reach real-world problems. In Liberalism Undressed, Jethro K. Lieberman returns to liberalism's roots to explain, in accessible and readable prose, why liberalism retains its power and appeal. He begins with the memorable thesis of John Stuart Mill that "the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilised community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others." Building on Mill's well-known but rarely analyzed Harm Principle, Liberalism Undressed undertakes to show that this widely-accepted precept-"it's a free country; I should be able to do what I want as long as I don't hurt anybody"-can justify a government robust enough to deal with pressing modern problems of human abuse and suffering while restrained enough to provide people freedom to live life on their own terms. A stirring defense of the harm principle as the bedrock of liberal governance, Liberalism Undressed rethinks the very purpose of government in the twenty-first century.


Chapter 1: The Liberal Premise
Commitments in Search of a Premise
The Harm Principle
The Ends, Means, Reach, and Shape of Government
Liberal Alternatives to the Harm Principle
The Modesty of the Harm Principle
The Self: Autonomous Solitary or Communal Solidary?
A Few Words about Reason
Chapter 2: Constructing Harm from Natural Rights: The Cases of Locke and Nozick
The Traditional Neglect of Harm
Locke and the Indeterminacy of Harm
Nozick and the Relativity of Harm
Ignorance and Harm
The Relativity of Property
Chapter 3: The Meaning of Harm Derived from Interests: Feinberg's Harm Principle
The Butterfly Effect
Wrongful Harmdoing: Harm as Wrongful Setback to Interest
The Interest Criterion
The Setback Criterion
The Criterion of Wrongfulness
Harmless Wrongdoing
Harm in Criminal and Civil Contexts
Aggregative Harms and the Problem of Risk
Accumulative Harms and the Problem of Causation
Chapter 4: Collective Harms and the Market: Problems of Causation
The Market as Natural Force
The Market as Human Agency
Addressing Market Harms
Competition Harms
Investment Harms and the Problem of Planning
Market Harms and Harms to Market
Production Harms and Restrictions on Property
Employment Harms and Working Conditions
A Note on Market Socialism
Welfare Harms
Chapter 5: Taxation, Welfare, and Benefits
The Problem of Charity
Positive and Negative Rights
Welfare Benefits
Preventing Incipient Harms
Duty to rescue
Education and Families
Chapter 6: The Duty to Act: Toward the Fiduciary Ethic
Proximity and the Duty to Act
Special Relationships and the Duty to Act
The Fiduciary Ethic
Chapter 7: The Forms of Intervention
Modes and Types of Intervention
Modes of Intervention
Types of Intervention
General Limiting Principles of Intervention
Proportionality Principle
Principle of Least Intrusion
Retroactivity Principle
Equality Principle
Principle of Procedural Fairness
Redressing Harm
Aggregative Harms
Accumulative Harms
Regulation vs. Litigation: The Case for Licensing
Chapter 8: What Who?
Why Who?
Democracy and the Harm Principle
Stakeholders: Ownership and Independence as the Basis of Political Power
Expertise as the Basis of Political Power
Citizenship as the Basis of Political Power
Restraints on Government Power
Restraints Preserved in a Constitution
Separation of Powers
Laws Applied Equally to All, Including Legislators
Non-Delegation of Legislative Power
Frequent Elections and Universal Suffrage
Freedom of Speech and Press
A Note on Rights
Other Constitutional Restraints
Against Constitutionalizing the Harm Principle
Chapter 9: Paternalism and the Time Line
Self-Regarding and Other-Regarding Behavior
Consent to Risks
Consent to Harms
Banning Permanent Deprivations of Liberty
Custom and Paternalism
Some Notes on Exploitation
Self Binding
The Time Line
Soft Paternalism as Liberty Limiting
Chapter 10: Harm to Norms
Expectations and the Externality Constraint
Disobeying Religious Commands: Provoking the Wrath of God
Prohibiting Immoral Conduct
Immorality as Harm to Community
Banning Actual Immorality
Actual Immorality and Community
Actual Immorality and Personal Distress
Harmless Immorality
The Communitarian Challenge to Liberalism
Community as Source of Value
Civic Republicanism
Multiculturalism and Group Rights
Harms by Community: Association and Equality
Chapter 11: Liberalism Redressed
Farewell to Zoon Politikon: Value Beyond the State
The Passive Nobility of Liberalism
Millian Moments: Is the Harm Principle at Work in the Real World?
Facing Up to Harm
Appendix: Four Liberal Premises and Their Problems
The Consent Premise
The Dialogue Premise
The Equality Premise
The Neutrality Premise

About the author: 

Jethro K. Lieberman is the author of The Litigious Society and many other books. He has had a varied career: as a practicing lawyer, both in private practice and as a Navy JAG officer; as a journalist and the first Legal Affairs Editor of Business Week; and as a Professor, of Law at New York Law School and for several years Adjunct Professor of Political Science at Columbia University.

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