A Pragmatist Critique of Liberalism

Dr Ana-Maria Pascal


This is a true story – the story of a young intellectual who travels from Eastern Europe to the UK, eager to see how liberal principles are put into practice in this promised land of democratic institutions and human rights movement, only to find that the latter are not necessarily an embodiment of the former. First, she gathers empirical data, studying the contexts in which liberal values don’t seem to be as pivotal as one would expect. Then she turns to liberal thinkers to see what, if anything in their writings might help explain why such contexts seem to elude or defy liberalism, and indeed if something truly important is missing (or terribly misunderstood) in their conception of social justice. At this point, she embarks on a pragmatist critique of what tends to be an ethereal and even utopian theory.

In the end, she proposes a more dynamic interpretation of liberalism – one centred around people, rather than institutions; emphasising individual, rather than collective identities; seeing justice as a continuous and contextual process, not as a result; insisting that historical consciousness be part of that process; and therefore, teaching responsibility, alongside rights

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