It seems to me that the most important characteristic of “liberalism” is its attack on quiddity, that is, its attack on the notion of what-ness, of the singular essence of a thing itself. All other characteristics of liberalism are secondary.
This came to mind when reading John C. Calhoun’s great Disquisition on Government. Along with his Discourse on the Constitution and Government of the United States, the Disquisition stands as the culmination of Calhoun’s great career. Both were published posthumously, and one gets the feeling while reading them that for all his patriotism and desire to preserve the Union, Calhoun is very much a man with nothing left to lose. The Discourse serves as a justification of Calhoun’s political career, including his extreme states’ rights policy, while the Disquisition runs closer to pure political philosophy, and is just as insightful as it would have been in 1850.
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