I have been reading some literature on liberalism. Recently, I read a remarkable paper by Pratap Bhanu Mehta titled Pluralism after Liberalism? The paper is essentially a response to the sceptical turn of John Gray’s political philosophy. Essentially, I think, John Gray is troubled by the moral relativism which exists in the world, and the domineering tendency of liberalism to override this moral diversity. It reminds one of the Tacitus-ian turn in 16th century English political philosophy, when natural law came under heavy fire from considerations of moral relativism. Hobbes comes to mind immediately.
Now, as is evident from the title, John Gray argues for broad vision of pluralism, as opposed to the homogenising tendencies of liberalism. But Pratap Bhanu Mehta, powerfully and energetically, by engaging with a substantial body of John Gray’s work critiques this argument. One cannot have a desirable sort of pluralism without liberal undertones. By expanding the concept of liberalism; by behooving Gray to accept a much more wide definition of liberalism, Mehta responds by arguing that moral relativism can only be expressed institutionally with the flexibility that liberalism provides. Indeed, liberalism precedes meta-ethics in that: discussions about the nature of moral statements can be undertaken only with a strong undertone of liberal tolerance.
Much is to be admired in this article: but the most striking thing for me personally, other than the argument about flexibility, was how Mehta conceptualised liberalism. He considers how liberalism can mix with different contexts, acquiring a flavour of its own; its own unique texture in a variety of contexts. Liberalism doesn’t have to proceed with the baggage that western political thought has bestowed on it. Groups and not just individuals, can indeed be the bearers of rights. This was striking.