The Promise of Virtue, Old and New
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liberal virtues
natural law
American founding
civic education
classical political philosophy

How to Cite

The Promise of Virtue, Old and New: On Building Bridges in Contemporary Politics. (2023). The Political Science Reviewer, 47(2).


In response to communitarian critiques, liberal theorists have argued that liberal thought and politics is not neutral, but rather depends on certain liberal virtues. Can such theories of liberal virtue respond to today's post-liberal and progressive critics of liberalism? This paper argues that as long as theories of liberal virtues hold autonomy as their animating principle--while remaining agnostic on questions of the human good--they are ill-equipped to respond to today’s critics of liberalism. In contrast, earlier instances of liberal thought, such as those we find in many American founders’ thinking, build on the fundamentals of classical virtues, a position that coheres well with much of postliberal thinking. These liberal-classical accounts of virtue, I argue, offer a more thorough justification for liberalism to those who find themselves outside the liberal tent. The paper concludes by addressing various objections to these kinds of virtues, including the position that advancing any virtues is coterminous with authoritarian perfectionism and paternalism. In sum, liberals today would do well to look beyond a neutral or subjective autonomy, unsatisfying to several powerful movements within our society, and advance a broader conversation about human virtue. 

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