Democracy   /   Spring 2000   /    Articles

Two Liberalisms of Fear

Relativism signals the dissolution of American global hegemony.

John Gray

Frontispiece from the 1642 edition of De Cive by Thomas Hobbes; Wikimedia Commons.

No universalist political project can do without enemies.

The root of liberal thinking is not in the love of freedom, nor in the hope of progress, but in fear—the fear of other human beings and of the injuries they do one another in wars and civil wars. A liberal project that seeks to diminish the fear that humans evoke in one another is open and provisional in its judgments as to the institutions that best moderate the irremovable risk of social and political violence. It does not imagine that any one regime is the only legitimate form of rule for all humankind, and it does not assess political regimes by the degree to which they conform to any doctrine of universal human rights or theory of justice. It rejects the view—which in the United States is treated as an axiom of political discourse—that democratic institutions are the only basis for legitimate government. It views democracy as only one among a range of legitimate regimes in the late modern world and does not subscribe to the Enlightenment hope—revived recently by Francis Fukuyama—that peoples everywhere will converge on democracy as a political ideal.


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