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Liberalismo pragmatico

Pragmatic Liberalism

Anno XXIII, n. 102, luglio-settembre 1988
Centro Einaudi


Abstract disponibile solo in lingua inglese

The author’s aim is to review the American current of pragmatic liberalism. He starts with a critique of the theory of classic liberalism, detecting excessive formal and procedural abstractions therein.
The real problem facing anyone having to make decisions of public importance is the relationship between theory and practice: he has to analyse, evaluate and, if necessary, correct organized patterns of human action and practices in the light of liberal values. This is the target of pragmatic liberalism: it suggests that liberal principles be applied to the various forms of organized social action, and the collective ways of "doing things" which emerge and assert themselves within liberal society. This implies that the state must have a more active rôle differentiated from the one imagined by liberals of the classic school. What is more, the fundamental liberal principle of the rule of law must be applied not only to the state but also to private organizations.
For pragmatic liberalism, the legitimacy of the pluralist régime depends on an evolving interpretation of liberal political theory itself. The thin theory of classic liberalism tells us only of the rights of individuals against the state and of the formation of spontaneous order through contract and the market. It does not tell us, then, enough about the political and economic nature of disciplined collective action, of the rights of individuals against abuses of private power, of the rôle of the state in securing the autonomy of the pluralist association, and in guaranteeing that the vital public functions of these associations are efficiently, conscientiously and reflectively performed.
This, of course, does not mean that pragmatic liberals like the idea of an active, intrusive state more than other types of liberals. They merely maintain that liberal policy is an ongoing process of inquiry into the essential features of the specific technologies, activities and processes which assert themselves within the framework of liberal norms. The scope of public policies in thus extended. By abandoning the abstract claim whereby every form of activity is limited by the same "market laws" and acknowledging the different historical and institutional origins of the various economic activities and different organizations and associations, public policies themselves may also be differentiated.