The Pluralist State, 1st Edition by David Nicholls (auth.)

By David Nicholls (auth.)

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The totalitarian and the tyrant always aim at breaking down these groups and reducing their subjects to a mass of unassociated atoms; Aristotle knew this. Burke thought that the French had first destroyed all the balances and counterpoises which serve to fix the state, and to give it a steady direction ... and then they melted down the whole into one incongruous, ill-connected mass. 54 Traditional groups should be maintained, and constitutional checks upon the central power should be in operation.

This argument against liberty being the only political value seems to be fairly conclusive, but most of the pluralist writers we are here considering did not claim that it was the only value. A solid liberalism must rely upon some conception of human nature. Acton's insistence upon the inviolability of conscience is well known. It was, in his view, the development of an idea of conscience which marks the greatest step forward in the history of liberty. 'The Christian notion of conscience', he taught, imperatively demands a corresponding measure of personal liberty.

We cannot condemn him for not acting in accordance with a rule that he does not recognise, for not following a law of right conduct which he does not accept. Nevertheless there is surely a distinction between recognising a rule of right conduct as binding upon me, and my promising to follow such a rule. I may believe that wanton cruelty is wrong without having consented or promised not to behave cruelly. Certainly promises create a prima facie obligation; but they are not a source of absolute obligation, nor are they the only source of obligations.

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