The politics of locality : re-locating the liberal-communitarian debate
This thesis assesses whether communitarian critique can still inform contemporary liberal political theory. The suggestion is that although liberalism has correctly rejected calls for a politics of 'community', it has ignored one important aspect of that critique, namely emphasis on the social embeddedness of the individual. Investigation of this hypothesis proceeds in two stages. The first involves reconsideration of the liberal-communitarian debate in the light of Charles Taylor's distinction between ontological and normative issues. This reveals how the arguments for social embeddedness (or ontological holism) fit in with more traditional appeals to community. Further analysis of the idea of ontological holism emphasises the potentially philosophical or empirical character of holist claims. The second stage of the argument ascertains whether liberal theory should heed communitarianism's recommendation of a more holist approach. Analysis of liberal texts reveals that liberal theorists already do adopt such an approach, however they do so in a piecemeal fashion, and generally without reference to supporting empirical evidence. Given the assumption that liberal theory is not expressly Utopian, some attention to limiting empirical factors would seem to be required. To back up this claim a case-study of liberal tolerance is undertaken, comparing the theoretical and social psychological accounts of inter-group toleration and its development. This comparison reveals that liberal tolerance is too narrow in scope, failing to absorb some of the most virulent forms of inter-group antagonism (such as gender- or race-based antipathy). Further, social psychological study shows that socially intolerant attitudes may be at least as harmful as, political ones, as they undermine the development of self-respect. Overall, important conclusions are reached as to the theoretical changes required of liberalism if it is to adopt a more thoroughly holist approach. Attention to the operation of factors at the localised rather than national level is vital, as is attention to empirical detail. Thus the 'politics of locality' complements traditional focus on the nation-state.