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Critical Theory, Postmodernism,
and Liberalism: A Conservative View



California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Latest update: October 11, 1999
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A Conservative Critique

by Jeanne Curran and Susan Takata
Part of the Theory to Policy to Practice Series
Copyright October 1999. "Fair use" encouraged.

This essay was prompted by John Kekes' Against Liberalism, Cornell University Press, 1997. This introductory section is designed to give you a sense of the balance between liberal and conservative viewpoints. We focus on the liberal in the classroom, for there is less access to that viewpoint in the general media. But an academic approach to the subject is important. These ideas do not take place in a vacuum. And generally, a populace is more conservative than its critical scholars.

Kekes claims on pp. 174-5, not that some liberal values are not good values, but that liberals fail to recognize that choices that must be made in the interest of a "good life" for citizens. And that those choices must be made at a level that will fail to take heed of some who "fall through the cracks." Not to choose a given value is not to dishonor or disclaim that value, but to prefer others over it. To render it peripheral, instead of choosing it at the core of the set of values.

On p. 175, he says: "What is important, according to this liberal response, is not so much that the state should be neutral, but that it should foster a political system in which as many moral traditions and conceptions of a good life as possible could compete with one another for resources and for the allegiance of people. The chief function of the state is thus seen to be to maintain what is referred to as the dialogue or conversation among these contending visions of how life ought to be lived. . . . This is the liberalism of Bruce Ackerman, Charles Larmore, and Richard Rorty, all of whom have been influenced by Jurgen Habermas."

However, recall that McCarthy insists that Habermas' claim does not extend to issues of how life should be lived, only to claims of distributive justice.

More to come . . .