Liberalism
in Judith Shklar and the liberalism of fear
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Judith Shklar’s liberalism of fear is a sceptical approach to political thought that also ranks the vices in a particular way, giving priority to the avoidance of cruelty. For that reason, her work is an important influence for non-moralists (political realists and non-ideal theorists) who say that liberalism is, primarily, about protecting the vulnerable from the power of those who are dominant. These theorists also want to take a novel approach to questions of justification in political thought itself. They are self-avowed in their scepticism: they call for a non-ideal, or non-utopian, form of political thought.

At the same time, we should pause to consider a very important question. Can political non-moralists also be liberals, and indeed can they be liberals of a particular stripe? Can they give priority to one value and principle and institutional arrangement over others? As we shall see, in her mature work Shklar says both that the fear of cruelty is the summum malum and that hers is a sceptical argument, one that does not appeal to anything other than actuality. However, we must ask, is there more going on here in putting forward that argument, something that indicates a perhaps surprising degree of convergence with the political moralism of, say, Rawls – a convergence that has so far remained unnoticed?

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