*Rationalism, Pluralism, & Freedom*

That is the new and notable book by Jacob T. Levy.  Here is one overview bit:

…the book is not a defense of pluralist liberalism, except as against the pretensions of some rationalist liberals that it should be ignored altogether.  It is rather, ultimately, an argument for that claim of irresolvability.  A full understanding of liberal freedom would draw on truths from both the rationalist and pluralist traditions; it would recognize that states and intermediate groups alike can oppress.  And yet we cannot compromise between or combine the two accounts in a wholly satisfactory manner.

In this “contrast between pluralism and rationalism, Montesquieu is the crucial figure,” to quote Jacob.

Overall I am myself inclined to side with rationalism over pluralism.  We can use rationalism to judge a rationalism-pluralism blend to be acceptable, but pluralism cannot play a comparable role.  Mostly we like pluralism because we have a good empirical sense of which plural entities will survive and flourish in a modern capitalist democracy; hardly anyone likes a pluralism where their favored groups would absolutely lose out in terms of influence and status.  In this sense the debate is rarely about pluralism per se.  Jacob is I think skeptical that we can have a good answer as to how much plural groups (e.g., churches, mosques, Boy Scouts) should be regulated by the state.  I nonetheless think that a) public choice theory suggests over-regulation is far more likely than under-regulation of such groups, and b) rationalism can broadly identify some political and economic conditions which will tend to lower the costs of exit from such groups, and perhaps that is enough to make a case for those conditions.  In these ways I end up as more of a classic Nozickian — on “utopia” — than Jacob does.

In any case, as might be expected, this book cements Jacob’s place as one of the leading thinkers in today’s liberal tradition.


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