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Questions of authority

Paul Seabright has written a stimulating book about the origins of liberalism. But it will not help us rethink our relations with non-liberals at home or abroad, and he does not grasp the nature of authority

By Matt Cavanagh   September 2004

At a time when we are worrying about liberalism’s ability to cope with the cultural diversity brought by non-western immigration, and conversely, about the wisdom of trying to export liberalism to an unwilling non-western world, Paul Seabright’s new book is a reassurance. In The Company of Strangers, Seabright writes that: “liberalism is not about how to live as a western capitalist protestant.” Instead, he says, liberalism is about how to live with strangers. Liberal attitudes and conventions allow strangers to trust each other, to co-operate rather than fight, to make deals and stick to them – all of which are…

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