Before - And Beyond - The Liberalism of Fear
Forthcoming, Between Utopianism and Realism: The Political Thought of Judith Shklar (S. Ashendem and A. Hess, eds., 2019)
28 Pages Posted: 22 Aug 2018
Date Written: August 1, 2018
Judith Shklar (1928-1992) is known as a Cold War liberal. Like others of this school, she came to place fear of the collapse of freedom into tyranny at the center of her thought, in view of the cruel violations such a calamity involved. And like the other Cold War liberals, she hewed to a pessimistic Enlightenment after the desolation of total war, the tragedy of the Holocaust, and the scandal of totalitarianism, orienting herself to the standing threat of the violent end of pluralism. Unillusioned about the permanence of evil and shaken by the memory of horror, her “liberalism of fear” dropped any radical expectations of improvement in order to theorize in the presence of the summum malum in politics. Everyone acquainted with Shklar’s thinking can recognize her in this routine presentation, and rightly so. Yet it misses something important and perhaps essential. Her first book, After Utopia: The Decline of Political Faith (1957), sought an alternative to Cold War liberalism. If it is true that Shklar’s first book offered an implacable critique and diagnosis of Cold War liberalism, then it follows that her own maturation cut off certain trajectories in her thought as much as it realized others. Shklar’s main pertinence now is not the beautifully honed but ultimately complacent version of Cold War liberalism she later achieved, but her original impulse to seek a route beyond it.
Keywords: Judith Shklar, Liberalism
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