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Liberalism and the Art of Separation
The author puts forward an interpretation of liberalism which focuses on the concepts of pluralism and institutional integrity. According to Walzer, the principal characteristic of liberalism is the art of separation and definition of the limits of the various institutional aspects of society (political, economic, academic, religious etc.) with the aim of making these different spheres of activity mutually autonomous. This autonomy creates various spaces of individual liberty and favours the development of specific forms of social equality. In the past, by breaking the old social and institutional hierarchies, liberalism opened the way to individual emancipation, putting individuals for the first time, at least formally, on an equal footing and creating new institutional forms capable of maintaining and perpetuating that liberty. However, Walzer maintains that liberalism should be reconsidered in at least two respects. First, he criticizes individualistic philosophical assumptions, underlining the need to take into greater consideration the moral and material links which bind individuals and institutions, thus reinterpreting the idea of political liberty in terms of institutional integrity or in terms of the autonomy and intangibility of social activity without which the single individual could not ‘exist’. Secondly, Walzer claims that, by putting too much emphasis on market freedom, liberalism has failed to take into account the fact that great concentrations of wealth can upset the equilibrium of liberty between the various institutional spheres and therefore act exactly as political power used to before it was limited by the liberal art of separation. Walzer therefore proposes a revision of liberalism which takes account of the need to impose limits on this particular form of power, defining the range of action of the market by means of ‘socialization’ of the sphere of economic activity.