The debate at Public Discourse over whether and how we can sustain the American liberal tradition continues with a contribution from Nathan Schlueter (a Hillsdale College professor whose classes I enjoyed). Criticizing Vincent Phillip Muñoz for over-emphasizing the Lockean aspects of liberalism and Patrick Deneen for claiming that voluntarist moral philosophy is inextricable from liberalism, Schlueter writes :
We must break free of the tendency to treat liberalism as a monolithic concept resting upon a moral framework of radical autonomy and a legal framework of moral neutrality with respect to competing notions of the good. This form of liberalism (which can be called modern liberalism) is a latecomer to the liberal tradition, and finds little support in the prior tradition of liberalism, and no support in the principles of the American founding.
Instead of rejecting liberalism per se, he continues, we ought to recover what might be called “natural law liberalism” of the Founding Fathers, who drew from both social contract liberalism and classical liberalism while correcting their deficiencies. The principles of that tradition include the following:
Reason, properly understood, is a necessary and sufficient condition for political life. Reason can discover and has discovered within tradition permanent truths, including human equality and natural rights. But equality and rights cannot be properly understood apart from the positive basic goods that they serve and that constitute real human flourishing, goods like knowledge, friendship, and beauty. The achievement of these goods depends upon a plurality of associations (families, churches, educational, commercial, and cultural institutions). It also depends upon an overall political association and political authority that protects, supports, and coordinates the activities of individuals and associations for the sake of each and all (the common good). Finally, the entire social and political order and the goods it serves require a degree of solidarity, citizenship, and virtue in its members.
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