The book is built around an enduring tension between two ways of thinking about freedom and intermediate groups – associations, churches, cultural groups, local levels of government, universities, guilds, and more. One, pluralist, strand of liberalism sees them as the sites in which diverse lives are freely led, as the manifestations of liberal freedoms in the social world, and as bulwarks of freedom against the power of the state. The other, rationalist, strand sees them as local tyrannies, to be remade as far as possible as internally liberal or else abolished altogether so that persons may be free of local, conformist, conservative power.
The tension is not an intellectual failure; worrying about threats to freedom from diverse and complex social actors is just what liberals should be doing. Yet the tension does create genuine, ongoing, difficulties for liberal theory, and for liberal practice.
Jacob T. Levy is Tomlinson Professor of Political Theory in the Department of Political Science, an associate member of the Department of Philosophy, and founder and coordinator of the Research Group on Constitutional Studies at McGill University. He was formerly Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago. He holds a AB with Honors in Political Science from Brown University, an MA and a PhD in Politics from Princeton University, and an LLM from the University of Chicago Law School. He is the author of The Multiculturalism of Fear (Oxford University Press 2000) and the co-editor with Iris Marion Young of Colonialism and Its Legacies, and of many articles and chapters on the history of political thought, multiculturalism, federalism, and constitutionalism. He is a member of the academic review committee of the Institute for Humane Studies, an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute, and a blogger at bleedingheartlibertarians.com.