Politisk teori a la Popper, Berlin och Aron

I mina anteckningar om realismen glömde jag att ta upp Jan-Werner Müllers artikel ”Fear and Freedom: On ‘Cold War Liberalism'” (2008). Märkligt att jag inte kom att tänka på denna förrän efteråt. Artikeln handlar om likheterna i tänkandet hos Isaiah Berlin, Karl Popper och Raymond Aron. När jag läste den för ungefär ett och ett halvt år sedan gjorde den ett starkt intryck på mig. Den lyckades dra ihop många separata trådar i min egen analys och visade att dessa faktiskt kunde utgöra ett någotsånär samlat teoretiskt angreppssätt. Den gav mig faktiskt en känsla av att intellektuellt sett ha hittat hem.

Cold war liberalism was what Judith Shklar once called ‘barebones liberalism’: it put fear first, and conceived of liberalism primarily as a disposition, a certain psychological state, or even a ‘large tendency’ (Trilling), rather than as a theory of laws and institutions. Liberalism, as Aron put it, was ultimately existential; and even Berlin once claimed: ‘In a sense I am an existentialist’. What could (and should) be hoped for was more a commitment to the right ‘constellations of certain values’ (Berlin), and a gradual liberalization of attitudes, as opposed to drawing up plans for ideal institutional set-ups. [. . .]

Here they differed markedly from the social scientists of their time, but also from a thinker like Hayek who kept up a quest for new institutional designs to maintain ‘the constitution of liberty’. The ‘liberals of fear’ were political epistemologists and moral psychologists first; they were ‘great Versteher’, as Avishai Margalit once described Berlin; and their politics was to be grounded primarily in the limits of political knowledge, and the frailties of the human psyche.

None of the thinkers in question here left a systematic work of political theory. Their thought was, as Aron put it, ‘impure’ – meaning: historical, shaped by circumstances and by particular challenges. They tended to respond most strongly to the political passions of others, rebutting, reworking or reorienting the positions of anti-liberals, rather than remaining faithful to an already established legacy of liberal thought. Their thinking, in any case, was more occupied with liberalization than with liberalism. And their call for moderation resonated in a world dominated by political passions; they did not speak against the background of a fully worked-out philosophy of moderation. Pas trop de zèle was a question of attitude, rather than any kind of analytical philosophical ‘demonstration’ – which no doubt explained why some of those who grew up in the middle of the spring and summer of Rawlsian liberalism found it not obviously worthwhile to engage with Rawls and his disciples and critics.

Jan-Werner Müller (2008), ”Fear and Freedom: On ‘Cold War Liberalism’”, European Journal of Political Theory, Vol. 7, No. 1, 2008, s. 45-64.


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