Freedom and Culture in Western Society argues that in present day liberal democracies there is great social
inequality in the ability to acquire and exercise freedom and that the
opportunities offered by these political systems for developing this value are
Freedom has become a dogma. This value forms the basis of our
civilization and of our political consciousness, but often we have forgotten
its meaning and justification. Critically examining the conceptions of freedom
of some of the leading contemporary philosophers from Isaiah Berlin to Charles
Taylor, Hans Blokland explores the value and significance that freedom has
acquired in our political consciousness.
On a theoretical level, Blokland shows that it is possible to have a
reasonable discussion on the meaning of contested concepts such as freedom and
autonomy. Crucially, he investigates how political communities could
enlarge the capacity of their citizens to master their own lives, without unacceptable
interference in their private realm. Because the ability to participate in
culture is regarded as one of the important conditions for individual freedom,
in this context particular attention is devoted to the legitimation, as well
as the opportunities and bounds, of a cultural policy.
The book breaks new ground because it does not only deal with the
question of what we can know about the meaning of concepts like freedom
or autonomy, but also of what we can do to foster their realisation. In
this manner it is attempted to bridge the gap between social and political
philosophy on the one hand, and empirical social and political science on the
other. Generally, both disciplinary streams do hardly ever meet. As a consequence,
the results are often either normative theories without practical meaning or
empirical theories without depth and direction.
First published in Dutch, this book was awarded the Pieter de la Court
prize by the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences and the
Political Science prize by the Netherlands Political Science Association.
It has been extensively updated to include material from the United States,
Great Britain, France and Sweden as well as from The Netherlands.
Hans Blokland works as Fellow of the Royal Netherlands Academy of
Arts and Sciences at Erasmus University Rotterdam.
Chapter One Introduction