Liberal Neutrality or Liberal Tolerance?

TitleLiberal Neutrality or Liberal Tolerance?
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication1997
AuthorsC., M
JournalLaw and Philosophy

This paper explores tensions in Ronald Dworkin's liberal theory (and liberalism more generally) about the appropriate relationship of the state to the different conceptions of the good that may be adopted by its citizens. Liberal theory generally supposes that the state must exhibit a kind of impartiality to different conceptions of the good. This impartiality is often thought to be captured by an anti-perfectionist ideal of liberal neutrality. But neutrality is often criticized as an ideal that lacks adequate theoretical support and is difficult to reconcile with liberalism's commitment to government support of various elements of a community's culture. Nonetheless, Dworkin has tried to explain systematically how his egalitarian brand of liberalism can explain the appropriateness of a particular variety of neutrality. I argue, however, that Dworkin's account of the relationship between liberalism and the good is ambiguous. I suggest that an ideal of tolerance which embraces a mild form of perfectionism fits better with the egalitarian foundations of Dworkin's liberalism than neutrality. Moreover, tolerance is an ideal through which familiar tensions about the liberal state's relationship to the good may be resolved.