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Liberal Virtues: Citizenship, Virtue, and Community in Liberal Constitutionalism.

Macedo, Stephen. Liberal Virtues: Citizenship, Virtue, and Community in Liberal Constitutionalism. New York: Clarendon Press, 1991. viii 306 pp. $15.95--This book is best understood if one places it into the specific context of present-day debates about the shortcomings of American liberalism. With Alasdair MacIntyre and other communitarians on the one hand, and the "new constitutionalist right" on the other hand, mainstream liberalism in the United States reaching from Dewey to Rawls appears to be under pressure. Macedo does his best to salvage it without relying on support from left-wing communitarians or moderate defenders of social democracy such as Charles Taylor or M. Walzer. The title "liberal virtues" is, after all, almost provocative; at least we begin to hear it that way, having become accustomed to separating virtue from liberalism and attributing an almost premodern meaning to the term virtue. Therefore Macedo puts much effort into a reconstruction of the historical ancestry of American liberalism and shows that liberalism was integral to the constitutional history of the United States. He takes his argument through a consideration of a number of relevant Supreme Court decisions, all the while clearly recognizing that republican and democratic virtues have sources other than those available through constitutional adjudication. What interests the author is the relation between the public virtues of reasonableness, tolerance, critical reflection (and others) as moral virtues and their legal counterparts. He thus makes a case for a liberal public morality or ethos, without which political liberalism or liberalism in constitutional law cannot overcome a "shortfall of legitimacy and moral justification" (p. 115).

In my view, chapter 6, "Freedom, Autonomy and Liberal Community," as well as chapter 7, "The Liberal Virtues," are the most important chapters of the book. In chapter 6 Macedo argues persuasively that for liberals there need not be a conflict between autonomy and allegiance to a community. It just happens to be the case that liberals value membership in "many overlapping communities, and a regulating membership in an overarching, abstract universalistic community" (p. 239), or a "vast, heterogeneous, liberal, |extended republic'" (p. 238). Thus autonomy or the capacity to reflect critically on inherited beliefs and commitments goes hand in hand with a commitment to the value of pluralism.

To speak of liberal virtues therefore means to describe a form of personhood compatible with and shaped by a public structure of values. This structure is defined by publicly justifiable rights and "government by law." Liberal virtues are virtues which permit constructive and well reasoned participation in institutions. Thus liberal virtues are virtues which enable citizens to value participation and discussion; these help them engage in open-ended public dialogue, an activity one might claim is virtuous in and by itself. For Macedo, there still exists a liberal ethos in modem societies. It is the ethos of public debate and communication, of critical reflection, and of respect for the reasonableness of another's opinions. The communitarian critique of liberalism has no promising alternative to offer other than various forms of moral perfectionism and of the primacy of the good life (as an ideal) over a structure of public life which both presupposes and values diversity. It remains to be seen whether liberal pluralism is plausible on these grounds or whether it has misconstrued communitarianism. Macedo may also have failed to take note of positions which spell out the dilemma of liberalism with some force while they also seek a solution in its general framework (Habermas, Rorty, and perhaps even Foucault).
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Author:Misgeld, Dieter
Publication:The Review of Metaphysics
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 1, 1993
Words:577
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