Liberal Neutrality and Oppression

Liberal Neutrality and Oppression

Elizabeth Edenberg (Kennedy Institute of Ethics, Georgetown University)
& Emily McGill-Rutherford (Keene State College)

Liberal political philosophers place great value on securing the liberty and equality of all citizens. Traditionally, valuing liberty requires a commitment to individual autonomy, understood broadly as the ability to direct one’s personal life according to one’s choices. Yet individual liberty is often in tension with securing the equality of citizens in the political sphere. Adjudicating this tension is value-laden. When liberty and equality conflict, what role should the state play in ensuring that all citizens are free and equal?

In addition to valuing liberty and equality, political liberalism is also devoted to the ideal of state neutrality, according to which the state should not exhibit bias toward one set of value commitments over others. Given that adjudicating between liberty and equality is value-laden, is the liberal state bound to violate the norms of neutrality? In other words, are liberal values bound to be comprehensive, or is political liberalism a viable position?

These questions are especially relevant to debates surrounding liberalism’s emancipatory potential. Working to eliminate the oppression of marginalized groups seems to require at least a thin commitment to autonomy or a substantive conception of equality on the part of the state; but insofar as the state promotes either, it may fail to be politically
liberal. We invite submissions on any of the following related topics:

  • Exploring and/or questioning the emancipatory potential of liberalism
  • Exploring whether and, if so, how public reason constrains the political projects of feminism, racism, ableism, etc.
  • Competing conceptions of liberal neutrality
  • Objections to neutrality as a commitment of liberalism
  • The relationship between personal and political autonomy
  • The connection between liberal neutrality and justification
  • How to balance individual liberty with a commitment to equality

Please submit abstracts of approximately 500 words, prepared for blind review, to by Friday, May 12th.