THE GOOD WANT POWER: An Essay in the Psychological Possibilities of Liberalism by Kathleen Nott

THE GOOD WANT POWER: An Essay in the Psychological Possibilities of Liberalism

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Liberalism has long been one of the slipperiest labels in political philosophy. Most often, it is defined as a perspective based upon a set of concepts comprising, among others, individualism, freedom, equality, justice, and contract. Nott, a British litterateur, takes on each of these concepts as they appear in a wide range of works in philosophy and psychology, arguing that they all lead to illiberal--even authoritarian--results. The root problem, Nott believes, is that these concepts are based on faulty abstractions, such as the notion that all people are inherently good or bad, or rational individuals. Liberals seek power in order to remake the world accordingly, only to see their abstractions crash into the concrete reality of specific, and different, people. Nott's object is to save liberalism by basing it on those specific and singular individuals who come to a true understanding of self, and then communicate their experiences to others at the same level of self-awareness, each recognizing the inviolability of the other's individuality. Eventually, enough people might reach this state to allow for the foundation of a truly liberal polity, but until then, the liberal must be satisfied with self-knowledge and restricted community. Nott therefore drives a wedge between (political) power and (social) understanding. Nott's critique is often penetrating, but her ultimate attack on liberalism is based on her own elitist, idiosyncratic version of it--one without the fundamental attribute of social action.

Pub Date: Jan. 6th, 1978
Publisher: Basic Books