Norms of Liberty

A Perfectionist Basis for Non-Perfectionist Politics

Paper or softback
Douglas B. Rasmussen, Douglas J. Den Uyl
Published 01 Sep 2005
List Price £25.95



How can we establish a political/legal order that in principle does not require the human flourishing of any person or group to be given structured preference over that of any other? Addressing this question as the central problem of political philosophy, Norms of Liberty offers a new conceptual foundation for political liberalism that takes protecting liberty, understood in terms of individual negative rights, as the primary aim of the political/legal order.

Rasmussen and Den Uyl argue for construing individual rights as metanormative principles, directly tied to politics, that are used to establish the political/ legal conditions under which full moral conduct can take place. These they distinguish from normative principles, used to provide guidance for moral conduct within the ambit of normative ethics. This crucial distinction allows them to develop liberalism as a metanormative theory, not a guide for moral conduct. The moral universe need not be minimized or morality grounded in sentiment or contracts to support liberalism, they show. Rather, liberalism can be supported, and many of its internal tensions avoided, with an ethical framework of Aristotelian inspiration—one that understands human flourishing to be an objective, inclusive, individualized, agent-relative, social, and self-directed activity.

“It is a work of classic stature that everyone interested in political philosophy needs to study.”

—David Gordon, Mises Review

“The book gives a very interesting and well-articulated defense of liberalism.”

—Ronald Tinnevelt, Political Studies Review

“[A] work of political philosophy that no one who wishes to discuss liberalism can afford to bypass.”

—Tibor R. Machan, Philosophy of the Social Sciences



Part I: Liberalism and the Political Order

1. Liberalism in Crisis

2. Liberalism and Ethics

3. Liberalism’s Past and Precedents

4. Why Individual Rights? Rights as Metanormative Principles

5. The Natural Right to Private Property

Part II: A New Deep Structure for Liberalism

6. Individualistic Perfectionism

7. Defending Individualistic Perfectionism

8. Natural Law and the Common Good

9. Self-Ownership

Part III: Defending Liberalism

10. Communitarian and Conservative Critics

11. The Structure of the Argument for Individual Rights

12. Defending Individualistic Non-Perfectionist Politics