by Kramer, Matthew H.
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During the past several decades, political philosophers have frequently clashed with one another over the question whether governments are morally required to remain neutral among reasonable conceptions of excellence and human flourishing. Whereas the numerous followers of John Rawls (and kindred philosophers such as Ronald Dworkin) have maintained that a requirement of neutrality is indeed incumbent on every system of governance, other philosophers — often designated as ‘perfectionists’ — have argued against the existence of such a requirement. Liberalism with Excellence enters these debates not by plighting itself unequivocally to one side or the other, but instead by reconceiving each of the sides and thus by redirecting the debates that have occurred between them.
On the one hand, the book rejects the requirement of neutrality by contending that certain subsidies for the promotion of excellence in sundry areas of human endeavour can be proper and vital uses of resources by governments. Advocating such departures from the constraint of neutrality, the book presents a version of liberalism that can rightly be classified as ‘perfectionist’. On the other hand, the species of perfectionism espoused in Liberalism with Excellence diverges markedly from the theories that have usually been so classified. Indeed, much of the book assails various aspects of those theories. What is more, the aspirational perfectionism elaborated in the closing chapters of the volume is reconcilable in most key respects with a suitably amplified version of Rawlsianism. Hence, by reconceiving both the perfectionist side and the neutralist side of the prevailing disputation, Liberalism with Excellence combines and transforms their respective insights