The Unorthodox Liberalism of Joseph Raz

Revised and expanded in Christopher Wolfe (ed.), Liberalism at the Crossroads, 2nd Edition (Rowman and Littlefield, 2003). Original version published in The Review of Politics 53:4 (Fall 1991). Reprinted in Christopher Wolfe and John Hittinger (eds.), Liberalism at the Crossroads (Rowman & Littlefield, 1994).

Abstract (from The Review of Politics): In The Morality of Freedom, Joseph Raz has challenged the anti-perfectionism of orthodox liberal political theory and proposed an alternative form of liberalism based on perfectionist moral premises. Raz maintain that his theory of political morality qualifies as a “liberal” theory in view of the pride of place it gives “autonomy” considered as an intrinsic human good. Nevertheless, autonomy, according to Raz, is valuable only when exercised in the pursuit of morally upright ends. The principal point of contact between Raz’s theory and leading antiperfectionist versions of liberalism is his endorsement of a qualified version of J. S. Mill’s “harm principle.” Raz argues that, though the law can and should discourage “victimless immortalities” by noncoercive means, it should not criminalize victimless wrongdoing. The article argues that Raz’s claims are strongest where his substantive position is weakest. Perfectionist conservatives and antiperfectionist liberals are correct to maintain that Razian perfectionism cannot supply a ground for rejecting coercive legislation to uphold public morality as a matter of principle.

The Review of Politics
Rowman and Littlefield
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