February 08, 2006

Liberalism and human reason

Gregory Fried
Classical liberalism therefore has its deepest roots in ancient philosophy, and it encompasses questions ranging from the freedom of the human mind to understand its world to the freedom of the human being to determine ethical and political principles without being bound by tradition. The modern liberal project, which had its most optimistic expression during the Enlightenment, has urged that human reason alone, without reference to either custom or revelation, might unearth the secrets of the cosmos and the foundations of a just moral order.
My published work has focused largely on critiques of this liberal project, both from the Right and the Left. In my book, Heidegger’s Polemos: From Being to Politics, I treat Martin Heidegger as a serious critic of the liberal project, one who argues that liberal universalism undermines all that is singular and precious about belonging to a particular community, in a particular place, at a particular time. For Heidegger, liberalism represented the most profound threat to human being, in all respects, from the looming dangers of technology to the ravages of homogenized culture and politics. I also explore the ways in which postmodernists such as Jacques Derrida stand in agreement with Heidegger’s critique. In my view, the distinction between “Right” and “Left” has become increasingly meaningless as a way to understand the problems facing us.
More recently, I have turned from a critique of liberalism to a defense. I call this defense “Reconstructive Liberalism” — in part as a response to the deconstruction unleashed by Heidegger and postmodernists, but also in recognition of the justice of many of the critiques of the liberal project. Whereas Heidegger held that the entire history of Western philosophy must be deconstructed in order to counter its inherent nihilism, I hold that this same history must be reconstructed to uncover and defend its salutary potential. For a prospectus of this project, please click this link.

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