Ismism, Or Has Liberalism Ruined Everything?

11 Pages Posted: 15 Apr 2019 Last revised: 11 Jul 2019

See all articles by Cass R. Sunstein

Cass R. Sunstein

Harvard Law School; Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS)

Date Written: April 15, 2019

Abstract

There has been considerable recent discussion of the social effects of “liberalism,” which are said to include (among other things) a growth in out-of-wedlock childbirth, repudiation of traditions (religious and otherwise), a rise in populism, increased reliance on technocracy, inequality, environmental degradation, sexual promiscuity, deterioration of civic associations, a diminution of civic virtue, political correctness on university campuses, and a general sense of alienation. There is good reason for skepticism about these claims. Liberalism is not a person, and it is not an agent in history. Claims about the supposedly adverse social effects of liberalism are best taken not as causal claims at all, but as normative objections that should be defended on their merits. These propositions are elaborated with reference to three subordinate propositions: (1) liberalism, as such, does not lack the resources to defend traditions; (2) liberalism, as such, hardly rejects the idea of “constraint,” though the domains in which liberals accept constraints differ from those of antiliberals, and vary over time; (3) liberalism, as such, does not dishonor the idea of “honor.” There is a general point here about the difficulty of demonstrating, and the potential recklessness of claiming, that one or another “ism” is causally associated with concrete social developments.

Suggested Citation

Sunstein, Cass R., Ismism, Or Has Liberalism Ruined Everything? (April 15, 2019). Harvard Public Law Working Paper No. 19-19. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3372364 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3372364

Cass R. Sunstein (Contact Author)

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Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) ( email )

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