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Winter 1999 cover

National Observer Home > No. 41 - Winter 1999 > Book Review

Virtue and the Making of Modern Liberalism

by Peter Berkowitz

Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1999, pp. 235.

This book contains a politico-philosophic analysis of liberalism in connection with virtue. Berkowitz defines liberalism as a political doctrine the primary good of which is "to secure the political conditions that support personal freedom". He contends that notwithstanding its focus on the political conditions that support personal freedom, the liberal tradition "has provided a fertile source of reflections on such non-governmental supports of the virtues that sustain liberty as civic association, family, and religion".

Probably this book does not make a sufficient contribution to understanding moral justifications of liberalism to be regarded as of general importance. However Berkowitz touches incidentally on some matters of interest.

For example, he regards feminism and "post-modernism" as "liberalism's children". He makes the interesting comment, in regard to feminism, that pre-occupation with equality can lead to intolerance of difference, because difference also implies difference in value, worth or goodness. He observes that more equality can engender envy, resentment and a hatred of excellence as one's fair share comes to be understood as no less (and no more) than anybody else's share.

He concludes, "Consequently, if feminism is to work well, the principle of equality must be instituted in such a way that its tendency to promote intolerance, resentment and dependence is curbed, and the toleration, moderation and self-reliance which sustain a regime that can protect the equality of all are promoted."

Berkowitz's concerns reflect an increasing perception that many of the proponents of feminism are immoderate and betray personal psychological problems that engender anger and a lack of appropriate balance.

In these regards and in relation to so-called "post-modernism" his analysis is of particular value.

R. M. Pearce


National Observer No. 41 - Winter 1999