‘We Cannot Give One Millimetre'? Liberalism, Enlightenment and Diversity



This article challenges a prominent interpretation of the liberal tradition which seeks to divide that tradition, from its origins, into two competing strands, one committed to reason (however defined) as a normative ideal, and the other, involving no such ideal, centred on a commitment either to negative liberty or the political management of diversity. This dichotomous account seeks to enlist the inaugural figures of John Locke, Immanuel Kant and in one case John Stuart Mill as the origins of that part of the liberal tradition committed to reason. This article will show that such claims have no foundation in the most inaugural figure cited, and that, as a consequence, liberalism, from its origins, has had a far deeper commitment to negative liberty and diversity than to any necessary connection with reason.