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  • Print publication year: 1980
  • Online publication date: August 2009

8 - Democracy unretrieved, or the political theory of Professor Macpherson


Professor Macpherson began his well known study, The Political Theory of Possessive Individualism, by pointing to the persisting difficulty of finding a firm theoretical basis for the legitimacy of the liberal democratic state. This difficulty has not lessened appreciably since 1962 and may indeed be thought to have shifted in some measure from the theoretical to the practical. In addition, Macpherson's diagnosis of the radical flaw in liberal democracy, its commitment to ‘possessive individualism’, has become in some ways more in harmony with prevalent cultural enthusiasms than it was in the complacent days of 1962. Pleasure continues to enjoy a proper utilitarian respect in western democracies but possessions, the object of ‘amor sceleratus habendi’ certainly seem to be regarded with a more jaundiced eye today than they were in 1962. Macpherson always hoped, for the most respectable of reasons, to assist in changing the world. He must have felt that the world of 1973 to which he addressed Democratic Theory: Essays in Retrieval was one better attuned to his persuasions than he had seen for decades. Taken together his three volumes on liberalism and its inadequacies represented the most extensive and coherent critique of the continuing dependence of liberal democracy upon a capitalist economic base to be attempted by any political theorist since the Second World War. It was a critique which had the major virtue of taking the strengths of liberalism at least as seriously as its defects.

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Political Obligation in its Historical Context
  • Online ISBN: 9780511521362
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