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  Liberal Group: Ann Speaking

Speaker I don't want to give the wrong impression about the nature of 20th-century liberalism. All of the important political 'isms' come in many different varieties. That is true of conservatism, socialism, feminism, liberalism, communism -- all of them. There is not necessarily any core of concepts or principles that all of the varieties share.

Just for the sake of full disclosure, I'm echoing Ludwig Wittgenstein here. Wittgenstein pointed out that there is nothing in common to all of the activities that we call 'games.' Instead, there are lots of overlapping features and similarities. He called them "family resemblances." The old idea of a definition -- something we are taught in grade school -- that specifies the common and exclusive elements of things that share a name is a myth. There is no set of common and exclusive elements shared by all games or houses or palaces or whatever. The same thing is true of the different varieties of liberalism. Liberalism is a family resemblance concept.

In my description of liberalism I have tried to identify features that many of the varieties share, but that's all I can do. I can't give you the concepts and principles that all varieties of liberalism have in common.

If we were to look back at the history of modern welfare state liberalism we could identify a series of influential thinkers -- T.H. Green, L.T. Hobhouse, and John Maynard Keynes in Great Britain; Herbert Croly, John Dewey, and John Rawls in the United States -- we would find all sorts of similarities and overlapping ideas. But that's it.

I hate to say it, but the world of political ideas is complicated.





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