Symposium on Rationalism Pluralism and Freedom

Reply 1.5: on intermediacy and pluralism

I think that this thought wasn’t adequately expressed in my book, and I think it will be relevant for a few of my replies, so I’m going to give it its own post to which I can link whenever I need to underline this point.

When I say that I favor pluralist liberalism, I am (broadly speaking) favoring the claims of intermediate groups. But I do so against the background that they are intermediate. Because I am a political theory realist, I take the state for granted as a fact about the world; indeed, my understanding of liberalism is that it is a party idea within , contesting about, how politics should be conducted in the modern state.

In that setting, associations of various kinds will always be pluralistic, not only in the sense of there being may of them horizontally, but in the sense that members will never belong only to the association; they will also generally be members of a state. And so the idea that I talk about throughout the book as “counterbalancing” is a pluralist idea, favoring intermediate bodies, precisely because the state is a dominant social fact. Unlike a theorist of what I call “the pure theory of freedom of association,” I’m not committed to favoring associational life past the point at which it ceases to be intermediate in this sense.

This is similar to the thought I mentioned earlier today about the coexistence of cities and provinces. Provinces matter because federalism matters; federalism matters, not as an expression of associational freedom or local self-government, but as a guarantor of the system of intermediacy, as a counterbalancing force against the modern state. And cities matter in part because they offer a social world that is meaningfully different from the (in both senses) provincial life that surrounds them.

In a world, or a region or an era of history, without states, the social arrangements of power are very different, and the balance of relative dangers posed by power is quite different. And so I am a pluralist and not just a maximalist on behalf of the various non-state bodies that today stand as “intermediate.”

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Author: Jacob T. Levy


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