Virtue and the Making of Modern Liberalism

Princeton University Press
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Virtue has been rediscovered in the United States as a subject of public debate and of philosophical inquiry. Politicians from both parties, leading intellectuals, and concerned citizens from diverse backgrounds are addressing questions about the content of our character. William Bennett's moral guide for children, A Book of Virtues, was a national bestseller. Yet many continue to associate virtue with a prudish, Victorian morality or with crude attempts by government to legislate morals. Peter Berkowitz clarifies the fundamental issues, arguing that a certain ambivalence toward virtue reflects the liberal spirit at its best. Drawing on recent scholarship as well as classical political philosophy, he makes his case with penetrating analyses of four central figures in the making of modern liberalism: Hobbes, Locke, Kant, and Mill.

These thinkers are usually understood to have neglected or disparaged virtue. Yet Berkowitz shows that they all believed that government resting on the fundamental premise of liberalism--the natural freedom and equality of all human beings--could not work unless citizens and officeholders possess particular qualities of mind and character. These virtues, which include reflective judgment, sympathetic imagination, self-restraint, the ability to cooperate, and toleration do not arise spontaneously but must be cultivated. Berkowitz explores the various strategies the thinkers employ as they seek to give virtue its due while respecting individual liberty. Liberals, he argues, must combine energy and forbearance, finding public and private ways to support such nongovernmental institutions as the family and voluntary associations. For these institutions, the liberal tradition powerfully suggests, play an indispensable role not only in forming the virtues on which liberal democracy depends but in overcoming the vices that it tends to engender.

Clearly written and vigorously argued, this is a provocative work of political theory that speaks directly to complex issues at the heart of contemporary philosophy and public discussion.

New Forum Books makes available to general readers outstanding, original, interdisciplinary scholarship with a special focus on the juncture of culture, law, and politics. New Forum Books is guided by the conviction that law and politics not only reflect culture, but help to shape it. Authors include leading political scientists, sociologists, legal scholars, philosophers, theologians, historians, and economists writing for nonspecialist readers and scholars across a range of fields. Looking at questions such as political equality, the concept of rights, the problem of virtue in liberal politics, crime and punishment, population, poverty, economic development, and the international legal and political order, New Forum Books seeks to explain--not explain away--the difficult issues we face today.

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About the author

Peter Berkowitz is Associate Professor of Government at Harvard University. He is the author of Nietzsche: The Ethics of an Immoralist and is a regular contributor to The New Republic.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Princeton University Press
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Published on
Nov 13, 2000
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Pages
256
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ISBN
9781400822904
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Language
English
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Genres
Philosophy / Ethics & Moral Philosophy
Philosophy / Political
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Read Aloud
Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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Covenantal Rights is a groundbreaking work of political theory: a comprehensive, philosophically sophisticated attempt to bring insights from the Jewish political tradition into current political and legal debates about rights and to bring rights discourse more fully into Jewish thought. David Novak pursues these aims by presenting a theory of rights founded on the covenant between God and the Jewish people as that covenant is constituted by Scripture and the rabbinic tradition. In doing so, he presents a powerful challenge to prevailing liberal and conservative positions on rights and duties and opens a new chapter in contemporary Jewish political thinking.

For Novak, "covenantal rights" are rooted in God's primary rights as creator of the universe and as the elector of a particular community whose members relate to this God as their sovereign. The subsequent rights of individuals and communities flow from God's covenantal promises, which function as irrevocable entitlements. This presents a sharp contrast to the liberal tradition, in which rights flow above all from individuals. It also challenges the conservative idea that duties can take precedence over rights, since Novak argues that there are no covenantal duties that are not backed by correlative rights. Novak explains carefully and clearly how this theory of covenantal rights fits into Jewish tradition and applies to the relationships among God, the covenanted community, and individuals. This work is a profound and provocative contribution to contemporary religious and political theory.

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