Liberal Philosophy and ModernityJune 29, 2021
Liberalism in its classical form, XVII. It took place in 19th century England in close connection with forces hostile to the “absolutist” and Stuarts’ pro-Catholic tendencies.
This means that liberalism is polemic at its origin, a minority movement in classical Europe marked by both the development of absolutism and the efforts of different Churches to dominate society. Yet it can be observed that liberal thought articulates and sharpens the tendencies—and the resulting political experience—that are central to modern thought from the very beginning.
Between the Reform movement and the Age of Enlightenment in Western Europe, a new form of political existence and a new way of thinking emerged at the same time. In this period, the monarchical nation-state form embodied in an exemplary manner in the French “absolute monarchy” became the political form that established itself; but this format is also in England, VIII. It also inspired the “national” liberation of the Anglican church, accomplished by Henri. In its main lines, it can be said that the success of this form of politics stems from the fact that it resolves the friction between “pope” and “emperor” (as expressed in the Middle Ages by the opposition between corporeal and spiritual power).
Even when asserting its Catholicism, as in France, the monarchical power potently presupposes the supremacy of political authority over the papacy, but unlike the Empire, it does not claim universal sovereignty; The strength of the modern absolutist league lies in the a priori limitation of its arguments. This, in turn, “puts a limit on the friction with which the Church enters to seize its universality” (E Manent), but it also allows it to assert with new force the autonomy of corporeal affairs. Thus the “Modern State” is in present conditions “Christian” (because it has to assume spiritual functions) but also potentially “secular” (because it presupposes the superiority of political power over spiritual power). problem”) has produced nothing but a new solution:
It is also defined by a general transformation of philosophy and thought. The collapse of Aristotelianism, which began with late medieval nominalism and brought with it the collapse of ancient cosmology and the development of modern science, presents the best-known manifestation of this change, but it also carries political implications, and the most important of these is perhaps the emergence of a new kind of skepticism, especially towards the ends that man can attribute to his actions is out. This transformation appears precisely in Hobbes: the supremacy of civic power is constituted by ambivalence about the hierarchy of the aims of action (“autoritas non veritas facit legem”), but this hierarchy itself is the “natural” supremacy of individuals’ “rights” over their “obligations.” (the situation that is intended to be overcome by the creation of the political institution).
Thus modern politics arises from the gradual liberation of society from religious authority; this occurs simultaneously with the strengthening of the State and the awareness of what will soon be called “human rights”.
Liberal thought draws its strength from the conscious articulation of the new tendencies accompanying these political transformations, by incorporating into the old “oppressive” organization everything that could constitute an obstacle to human freedom in the modern State. On the religious level, this is expressed in the emphasis on the rights of “conscience”: the State does not have to free itself from the patronage of the Church alone; he must make his salvation the means of a general guarantee for each individual, the right to obtain salvation as he perceives it (this is what the right to ‘seek happiness’ enshrined in the American Declaration of Independence means).
For the purposes of politics, liberalism draws substantive conclusions from the artificial or contractual thinking of the State: since people have established the State with their own hands to secure their safety or rights, the State should not have the authority to threaten them or endanger their freedom, and so “sovereignty” is not human rights or human rights. should also be limited to the ‘rights’ of the citizen. This theory in itself has important implications for the organization of institutions: they must set the “Example” and enable the rule of law (hence the revaluation of assemblies and legislature), and these must be arranged in such a way that none of them can equip itself with absolute authority (hence the idea of checks and balances, brakes, and counter-forces). Let us first compare Locke’s political philosophy with that of his compatriot Hobbes, the greatest theorist of absolutism. In consequences, these two doctrines are diametrically opposed to each other: the Hobbesian contract endows the “Léviathan” with absolute power; there is no legal resistance to this power (other than escape or exile), although Loc