Eric MacGilvray, "Liberal Freedom: Pluralism, Polarization, and Politics" (Cambridge UP, 2022)


The liberalism that is defended here is therefore itself an object of political contestation, and not just the background against which such contestation takes place. If we can look to the past achievements of liberal polities – the widespread (but still imperfect) acceptance of religious toleration and free inquiry, the relative (but still woefully incomplete) deconstruction of class, gender, and racial hierarchies, the (possibly temporary) defeat of totalitarianisms, left and right – to remind ourselves of the promise of a liberal politics, we can look to our many remaining failings, and to the fact that even our achievements are preserved only through our own vigilance, to remind ourselves how fallible our ideals, and the institutions that we have built upon them, actually are. Liberal freedom is, in short, both a richer and a more fragile ideal than many of its supporters – and critics – realize.

– Eric MacGilvray, Liberal Freedom (2022)

Professor MacGilvray has been studying the concept of freedom for over 15 years culminating in his latest Cambridge University Press publication: Liberal Freedom: Pluralism, Polarization, and Politics. For anyone interested in the importance of freedom and liberalism and the key concepts and thinkers written as intellectual history from the discerning eye of a political theorist and analytic philosopher you will find this book most engaging. His explanation of its relevant issues are well worth your time in this interview. Here is the publisher’s description which provides a nice synopsis of the book’s main focus:

"We seem to be losing the ability to talk to each other about – and despite – our political differences. The liberal tradition, with its emphasis on open-mindedness, toleration, and inclusion, is ideally suited to respond to this challenge. Yet liberalism is often seen today as a barrier to constructive dialogue: narrowly focused on individual rights, indifferent to the communal sources of human well-being, and deeply implicated in structures of economic and social domination. This book provides a novel defense of liberalism that weaves together a commitment to republican self-government, an emphasis on the value of unregulated choice, and an appreciation of how hard it is to strike a balance between them. By treating freedom rather than justice as the central liberal value this important book, critical to the times, provides an indispensable resource for constructive dialogue in a time of political polarization."

Eric’s thoughtful book recommendation pairings from this interview for interested listeners:

  • Political philosophy – 1) Philip Pettit’s Just Freedom; 2) Elizabeth Anderson’s Private Government
  • Political thought – 1) Mill’s Considerations of Representative Government; 2) L.T. Hobhouse’s Liberalism
  • Popular political – 1) Gopnik’s A Thousand Small Sanities; 2) Rosenblatt’s The Lost History of Liberalism
  • Also, as discussed, The Atlantic article based on Packer’s book: Last Best Hope - America in Crisis and Renewal

Eric MacGilvray is a political theorist at Ohio State University whose research and teaching interests focus on liberal, republican, and democratic theory as well as the pragmatic philosophical tradition. He is a pragmatist whose scholarly journal articles have appeared in the American Journal of Political Science, the Journal of Political Philosophy, Political Theory, and Social Philosophy and Policy, among others. Liberal Freedom is his third book and builds on his second, The Invention of Market Freedom.

Keith Krueger lectures part-time in the Sydney Business School at Shanghai University.

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