Liberalism and Value-pluralism

Mr Tomonobu Satoh (MPhil in International Relations, Darwin College)

Saturday, 19 May, 2001; 7:30-9:30pm

Bowett Room, Queens' College

QUESTIONS TO BE ASKED: (1) Liberal democracy is "the final form of human government"(Francis Fukuyama) after the end of the Cold War. True? (2) International conflicts come from "clashes of civilisations."(Samuel Huntington) Agree? (3) "If value-pluralism (of liberalism) is true there can be no such things as an ideal regime."(John Gray) If so, what is the residual value (if any) of liberalism?

ANSWERS: The world we are living in now is a world of difference. There are differences of culture, religion, political creed, morality and ways of life. It is also a world of conflicts. People fight because of the above. Liberal thinkers claim that liberal toleration is the most desirable solution for conflict. Francis Fukuyama claims that the end of the Cold War equals the end of the history and the outcome is the final victory of the Western idea of liberal democracy. Samuel Huntington, on the other hand, opposes the idea of the end of history, saying that it is not the end but the start of conflicts mainly stemming from the clash of civilisation. John Gray rejects both theories. He claims that it is a utopian illusion to believe that the world will converge to a single ideology. However, he does not also agree with Huntington that international conflicts are due to differences among civilizations. He concludes that neither Fukuyama nor Huntington supplies the proper solution to the situation of the contemporary world. What can be derived from this conclusion are two folds. One is his scepticism towards the liberal aspiration to pursue single ideal for the whole world. The other is his belief that there should still be something that liberal ideology can contribute to the contemporary world. This is what he calls Modus Vivendi (temporary settlement) of value-pluralism whose basis is the idea of liberal toleration. This is an attractive interpretation of liberalism, however, it can be criticised. The most important criticism is that it may be a philosophical mistake to emphasize only one face of liberal tradition; its value-pluralism side, while underestimating the real importance of the other side. Another fundamental criticism relates to the question of whether his idea of value-pluralism really supplies concrete solution to our multicultural chaos or whether it merely reaffirms the status quo. My provisional conclusion is that although there still remains a value in liberalism in the contemporary world it is doubtful why value-pluralism is derived only from liberalism, nor is it desirable to rely on a weak consensus as Modus Vivendi to face our multicultural and conflicting world.