Two liberalisms and the 'politics of difference'



Baumeister A (1998) Two liberalisms and the 'politics of difference'. Journal of Political Ideologies, 3 (3), pp. 307-324.

For many of the recent advocates of cultural pluralism and the 'politics of difference' the vision of human excellence at the heart of liberal ideology is deeply flawed, since it fails to acknowledge the significance and pervasiveness of particularity and diversity. However, while this criticism may well be applicable to the strand of liberal thought rooted in the Enlightenment commitment to 'universal reason', the idea of 'diversity' has played an important role in liberal thought since the Reformation. This regard for 'diversity' has given rise to a distinct strand of liberal thought, which rejects the Enlightenment vision of a gradual convergence upon universally shared values in favour of a commitment to 'diversity' as both inevitable and intrinsically valuable. Drawing upon the work of liberal writers such as Isaiah Berlin and Stuart Hampshire, this article argues that such a principled commitment to value pluralism gives rise to an open‐ended conception of the political community in which the shared political culture and values that help contain conflict are regarded as the product of a practical political agreement and as such are seen as open to challenge and revision. Such a fluid conception of the political community will ensure that a liberalism grounded in value pluralism will be sensitive to the concerns of the advocates of cultural pluralism and the 'politics of difference'. However, the emphasis value pluralism places on peace and stability highlights that ultimately liberalism's ability to successfully respond to these challenges will depend upon its capacity to build a stable political community. This outcome liberals cannot take for granted.

Journal of Political Ideologies: Volume 3, Issue 3

Publication date31/12/1998
PublisherTaylor and Francis

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Dr Andrea Baumeister

Dr Andrea Baumeister

Senior Lecturer, Politics