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20210530 – Rationalism, Pluralism, and Freedom



The main idea of this book is that there are two approaches within liberalism to interaction between the state and various groups that occupy intermediate position between state and individuals: rationalism and pluralism, which could not be possibly completely reconciled.  It is also designed to demonstrate that pluralism is preferable approach and provide critic of multiple philosophers who either ignore such groups or trying to find some synthesis of these two approaches.


Here author first defines what he believes to be two different mindsets in relation to state power and authority om one side and power and authority of intermediate groups on another. He designates these mindsets as rationalism and pluralism and then presents this book to be “about these two mindsets, these ways of looking at the triadic relationship among individual persons, intermediate groups, and states.” Author sees these two mindsets situated within liberalism and differentiated by what they consider bigger threat to liberty: the state or organized groups between individual and state such as family and variety of association either voluntary or non-voluntary such as locality. Here is how author defines the issue and his own position:” I argue not only that the tension between rationalism and pluralism within liberal thought is longstanding, but also that it is to a large degree irresolvable. We can try to be open to reasons and arguments of both sorts; we can try to reach case-by-case judgments in particular times and places. But there is no systematic way to combine all of the virtues and none of the vices of the two mindsets, and no secure middle way that would allow us to know for sure which are virtues and which are vices. I generally favor pluralist liberalism;”

Author then discusses organization and scope of the book.

Part I

I. Freedom, Associations, and Uniformity
The Setting
It starts with recognition of state’s law as an important subject matter of liberal analysis of freedom, but then proceeds to discuss various infringements of individual freedom routinely applied by various groups. In process author defines what he means by rationalism and pluralism: “Rationalist liberalism is sometimes associated with a kind of demand that rational accounts be given to justify customs, norms, and beliefs, demands that can perhaps never be wholly satisfied. This is obviously connected to the more abstract sense of rational knowledge and belief; but it is a demand that is made in a particular institutional context, i. e. states demanding justification of the practices of non-state groups. Pluralism is meant to evoke associational, cultural, religious, and jurisdictional pluralism. In the first instance, pluralism should suggest allowing a plurality of associations, cultures, religions, and so on, to follow their own various norms. As a secondary matter, it is tied to a claim of descriptive sociology: that the sources of social organization are many, not one.”

Some Sources of Disagreement
Autonomy and Toleration
The discussion here moves to the intragroup dynamics when autonomy of individual is constantly violated by rules of the group. These rules may or may not accepted voluntarily, as in the case of children who are born into the group. Consequently, the issue emerges if tolerance from the state offered to the group should include tolerance of intolerance directed from the group to individual.

Whose Freedom?
Here author moves to discuss complexity of freedom, which could mean to restrain oneself from doing something and it also could mean freedom to restrain a group member by group leaders the same member choose to represent the group. The normal approach to this problem is to assure option to exit the group at will.

The Sources of Law and Social Order
Here author discusses the issue of who makes the rules and how these rules could be contradictory at different levels: religious group could not possibly be tolerant to different religions among its members, even if they are citizens of liberal state highly tolerant of any religious believes. Author also discusses how internal group norms could impact individuals situated outside the group such as when people living nearby of university town are impacted by rules established for students. The author moves to sources of rules: whether they come from coercion by whoever is in power or they are evolutionally developed via spontaneous order. Author refer to works of Hayek and Ostrom who articulated and empirically researched the rules emergence in various situations. The latter are pluralist claims and here how author dissect them:” There are thus at least three in-principle distinct pluralist claims here. First, social orders can emerge and survive pluralistically, making effective use of localized knowledge to evolve local norms that are locally functional. Second, law can emerge pluralistically, whether as the internal norms of such groups or as the norms that regulate relations among them. And third, such orders are normatively attractive: perhaps they are absolutely attractive, because they are the sites for our pursuits of ethical conceptions of the good and substantive life plans thicker than the formal rules of justice, perhaps they are attractive relative to the social or legal orders enacted by deliberate state planning. The normative claim and the legal claim in particular are logically independent:  whether a group’s internal rules count as law is fundamentally unrelated to whether they are unjust or oppressive. But there is a strong affinity among them all.”

Discrimination and Diversity
Here author looks at the problem of outsiders, usually liberal interfering into group’s business by demanding compliance with whatever rules they believe are fair: diversity, inclusion and so on”. Author provide a charming example of British authorities claiming right to define who is or is not Jewish and eligible to be admitted into Jewish school.

2. Two Approaches

Here author looks at the two approaches to argumentation for pluralism and/or rationalism.
The Pure Liberal Theory of Freedom of Association
Here is how author defines it: “The pure theory holds that, what individual persons are free to do singly, they ought to be free to do in association with one another; and rights that they are free to waive, they ought to be free to waive as against groups of which they are members.” He then discusses some limitations such as not allowing consent to slavery and some others.

Why the Pure Theory is Not Satisfactory
Here author makes argument that:” Insofar as the pure theory stands apart from impure predictions and probabilities, it must be able to survive the analysis of mere possibilities. And that means that the pure theory, by itself, has the potential to be self-undermining.” He then discusses equality of opportunity vs. results, split inheritance problems, idea of consent derived indirectly from failure to exit, and limitations imposed on internal rules of the group by external legal requirements.

This section:” will describe an idea that might be taken as the pure theory’s counterpart, an attempt to build up thoroughly rationalistic, individualistic, group-skeptical conclusions from simple premises: congruence.”  The congruence here is between a group and the “just liberal state” restricted by moral and ethical constrains.

Why Congruence is Not Satisfactory
As with Pure theory author finds it unsatisfactory. This time it is because:” The doctrine of congruence, treated seriously, prohibits persons acting together from making any choices that would constrain their own future choices—which means that they may not make any choices of promise or commitment at all, and indeed few non-trivial choices of any sort.”

3. Reunderstanding Intermediate Groups
Treating Groups as Groups
The point author makes is that:” the pure theory treats groups as if they were individual persons, while congruence treats groups as if they were states.” Author’s approach is that since groups are neither, they have to be treated differently, more like intermediaries between individual and state providing some more or less strong shelter protecting some specificities common for the members of the group against state intrusion.

Tendencies toward State Excess
Property and Wealth; Secrecy and Privacy; Transnationality; The Centralizing; Temperament and the Man of System; Congruence Again
Here author reviews a variety of areas where state intrusion into group’s affairs typically occurs, from deprivation of resources, to violation of privacy and imposition of state control. Author also discusses problems of international group when various states attempt imposition of control from different cultural, technological, linguistic, and other perspectives.

Tendencies toward Group Excess
Authority Generates Power

Author expresses his approach to this area in such way:” Associations and groups that are substantial enough to fulfill needs for belonging and meaning, powerful enough to check the power of the state or to organize democratic life, or institutionally complete enough to offer authoritative norm-generation for their members, are also substantial, powerful, and authoritative enough to potentially threaten the freedom of their members. From this point of view the group could provide isolation of individual from the state strong enough to establish complete control over behavior and activities of individuals. In order to demonstrate this author refers to various religious movements in USA.

Pluralism Generates Power;

Here author makes case that pluralistic society could limit the group’s power by providing easy opportunities for schism, or even simple exit. He the proceeds discussing in details how exactly it could happen.

Interested and Invasive Power

Finally, here author looks at mechanics of group power that similarly to the state include law giving and enforcing as usually in interests of individuals being forced to do something good for themselves that they for some reason unwilling to do voluntary. Actually, this kind of tyranny could be the most oppressive because tyrants are way closer to individual and more interested in controlling than the state could ever be.

Overall author concludes:” Our freedom can be threatened by states and by groups—and by each directly in response to the other. Understanding which threats are more important where and when is not a formal or philosophical exercise. And a vision of the social world that emphasizes the threat from states isn’t contradicted by one that emphasizes the threat from groups, even when the legal and political actions the two recommend do contradict one another. “

Part II
4. Antecedents and Foundations
The Birth of Intermediacy; The Roman Law; Facts and Norms

Here author looks at antecedents of liberal ideas crystalized sometime after 1700. He includes into these antecedent formation of habeas corpus, formation of legal system, self-governing organizations such as church, and variety of others: universities, guilds, and so on. Author then discusses formation of such self-governing organizations that he places in period of 150-200 years after 1050 CE and traces this process in some detail. After that author looks at Roman Law as foundation of legal system and how it reconciled canon and civil systems in process moving somewhat away from foundation. Finally, author discusses struggle between state and variety of such organizations – most important Church and concludes that:” Medieval corporate pluralism was both a fact and a norm. The norm that these institutions ought to be understood as intermediate, of course, only took shape much later. It took a long time for uneasy de facto balances of power to be rationalized as desirable orders in their own right.”

5. The Ancient Constitution, the Social Contract, and the Modern State
The Emergence of the State; Peers, Provinces, and Parlements; The Ancient Constitution; Corporatism and Parliaments; The Theorists of the Ancient Constitution; Ancient Constitutionalism and its Neighbors
In this chapter author reviews history of a state in Europe, tracing it from XVI century to present: how it was formed in France, England, and other European countries, how their Parlements functioned, and how a number of myths about ancient freedoms and other such staff actually developed. Author pays special attention for forms of rule, and various documents defining European attitudes such as Magna Carta and various constitutions.

6. Montesquieu and Voltaire, Philosophes and Parlements
The Early Eighteenth Century; Montesquieu; Voltaire

In this chapter author reviews work of pre-revolutionary authors that during early XVIII century developed foundation of enlightenment and future revolutions.
7. The Age of Revolutions
Smith, Burke, and Paine; Tracy and Constant; The United States; The Society of the Cincinnati
This chapter is pretty much logical continuation of the previous, moving into period of American revolution and describing works of authors of this period, practical implementation of these ideas in USA, and finally, failed attempt to establish some form of aristocracy by Cincinnati society that included officers – veterans of revolutionary war.

8. Centralization in a Democratic Age: Tocqueville and Mill
Tocqueville on Associations and Corps; Mill on Centralization and Local Despotism

Here author continue his review of development of European thinking on the state, society, and proper ways of organizing all this into XIX century. Author is looking specifically at relationships between the state and variety of intermediate groups from organized church to variety of associations. As elsewhere in the book, author’s main concern is interplay between centralization around more or less tolerant state and local despotism.  
9. From Liberal Constitutionalism to Pluralism
The British Pluralists; Lord Acton; Acton and the Pluralists; The Pluralist Theory of Group Life
The final chapter of this part completes author’s review with thinkers of XX century that formed pluralist tradition. In this light author brings in Lord Acton and his support of state rights as bulwark against absolutism of federal powers. Finally, in his discussion of Pluralist theory author brings in its most persuasive account by Maitland: “If the law allows men to form permanently organized groups, those groups will be for common opinion right-and-duty-bearing units; and if the law-giver will not openly treat them as such he will misrepresent, or, as the French say, he will ‘denature ‘the facts: in other word he will make a mess and call it law. Group personality is no purely legal phenomenon. The law-giver may say that it does not exist, where, as a matter of moral sentiment, it does exist. When that happens, he incurs the penalty ordained for those who ignorantly or willfully say the thing that is not. If he wishes to smash a group, let him smash it, send the policeman, raid the rooms, impound the minute-book, fine, and imprison; but if he is going to tolerate the group, he must recognize its personality, for otherwise he will be dealing wild blows which may fall on those who stand outside the group as well as those who stand within it. For the morality of common sense, the group is person, is right and-duty-bearing unit. Let the moral philosopher explain this, let him explain it as illusion, let him explain it away; but he ought not to leave it unexplained, nor, I think, will he be able to say that it is an illusion which is losing power, for, on the contrary, it seems to me to be persistently and progressively triumphing over certain philosophical and theological prejudices.

Part III
10. The Constitution of Group Life
In this chapter author moves to discuss specifics of groups’ organization, management, their impact on society, and how liberal theory of freedom should take into account both rationalism and pluralism.

Intermediacy Affects Politics; Faction; The Illiberal Majority; Minority Group Capture; The Majoritarian State; Territory and Government; Politics and Balance
Here author looks at various aspects of groups internal politics and relations with the state. It is important because:” Intermediate groups are rarely only inward facing associations, and the state never only acts under neutral bureaucratic imperatives or as the neutral agent of liberal justice.  One idea we saw many times among the pluralists”. He makes the point that groups had to be at least somewhat oppositional, generate some external power via participation in voting and other political activities and so on. He then reviews problems of faction when either minority or majority group capture the sate machinery and often suppress or at least limit other groups.  

11. Associations are Not States
Complex Associations; Universities and Liberal Justice; State Action
The final chapter is about limitations on group imposed by the fact that they normally could not use tools of the the state and had to be more pluralistic and tolerant to both internal subgroups and other external groups. Another important limitation is permanent need to avoid conflict between group’s rules and objectives with the state and population outside the group. As example author discusses Universities and their rules and policies that often generate all kinds of controversies. Finally. author discusses action that state can and does use to resolve such controversies.

Conclusion: Against Synthesis
In conclusion author says:” I have argued that a liberal understanding of freedom is constitutively torn between a rationalist distrust of the local, the particular, and power embedded within group life, and a pluralist emphasis on the freedom found within and protected by group life against the power of the state. I have criticized various attempts to settle definitively for one or the other, or to redefine the distinction away.”

Then he proceeds to review some of such attempts:

Taylor and the “Long March”; Rawls and the Morality of Association; Hegel, Ethical Life, and Corporate Forms


I find all this quite interesting and mostly agree with author that pluralist approach is the best. I would leave the state one and only role in relation to intermediate groups: assure that individual rights and protections accepted by society’s laws and rules of behavior, are not violated in any way, shape, and form. However, I think that groups not only should not be put under pressure unless they violate laws, but also that they should not be supported by government in any way, shape, or form. For example, Universities should be free to promote whatever ideology they wish short of direct subversion and calls for violence, but they should have no material support from the state. Actually, the only material support to any group whatsoever should be provided only in case of national security necessity, while everything else should be supported voluntary. Otherwise, the pretty bad outcome for diverse society is pretty much guaranteed: continuing fight between groups for state’s support and resources that could lead to such high level of infighting that could undermine the very existence of the state. I guess that current support by “liberals” organized in Universities, Non-government organizations (NGO) heavily supported by government, Unions of government employees, and other similar groups to various forms of anti-White racism, anti-Asian quotes, and massive redistribution of wealth from middle class to plutocracy and bureaucracy will provide for an interesting spectacle over the next few 10-20 years.     

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