In the preface, Sandel defines the liberal conception of the person this way:
According to this conception, my dignity consists not in any social roles I inhabit but instead in my capacity to choose my roles and identities for myself. (xiv)
That is, of course, the autonomy theory I frequently criticise at this site. If you read this definition carefully, you can understand why Western modernity has turned out the way it has.
What does it mean for me to choose my roles and identities for myself? It means that roles or identities that are unchosen in any way are thought of negatively as impediments that the individual must be liberated from.
And which roles and identities are unchosen? All those which are inherited, either as part of a tradition or through our biological nature. That includes our biological sex, any family roles deriving from our biological sex, our sexuality, the traditional family, our ethnicity and our nationality.
The liberal assumption becomes that all of these identities and the roles connected to them are merely passing social constructs. Perhaps they never really existed at all except imaginatively in a traditionalist utopia. Or, if they are recognised to have a real existence, they must then be transcended as immoral and outmoded. Either way they must be made not to matter when it comes to what people choose to do.
That's why there's such consternation in Australia right now that there are more men than women in company boardrooms. This is an instance of our sex still having an influence, still mattering, when it comes to the roles people play in society. And that is something that liberalism cannot easily tolerate.
It explains too even more radical expressions of liberal modernity, such as the opinions put forth recently by Hank Pellissier. Pellissier likes the fact that Japanese scientists managed to create a mouse (named Kaguya) by a process of ova-fusion in which no sperm was required. Why is he so keen on the idea of reproduction without men?
Well, he doesn't like the fact of gender distinctions:
Personally, I’m tired of today’s gender polarity, the boy-girl chasm, with segregated shopping and play, the dominance-submissive flirting games, the mating and marriage manuals, the seduction rituals, the opening lines, the Mars and Venus dichotomy. Yeah, I’m sick of it. I’m ready to try something else.
He wants the world to go unisex instead. He also wants to determine intellectually for himself, whom he will be attracted to and when:
Wouldn’t a unisexual culture of Kaguyas be preferable? They’d be conveniently sterile, unless aided by biotech. Another feature I’d like Kaguyas to have would be an ON/OFF switch for libido so they could carnally, ecstatically bond with anyone at an opportune time. Far better than being enslaved to awkward, inappropriate arousal, like I was, at puberty...
...Can’t we transform ourselves — via gene therapy — to fall head-over-heels in love with mere intelligence, wit, and integrity?
Pellissier is himself married with children. And yet he sees the transgendered as the symbolic leaders of society:
A unisexual world…
Transgenders already are heading towards this abolition of sexual differentiation. Last spring, in Australia, 48-year-old Norrie May-Welby became the first person to be granted citizenship with non-specified gender status. A commenter from the UK’s Gender Trust claimed, “many people like the idea of being genderless.” Some observers believe that, after gay and lesbian equality is secured globally, the next struggle will be for “gender neutral” rights.
And who does he think stands in the way of progress toward this genderless, unisex utopia of his? Well, us, the people he calls "male-identified males", anti-feminists, conservatives and traditionalists:
Male-identified males, like the “anti-feminists” who furiously write to me, will battle, as they always have, unwilling to surrender any turf in the civilization that they can arguably claim they created. Conservatives, traditionalists, and religionists will mightily resist, appalled that anyone would want to improve the “Adam & Eve” polarity that has plagued us.
The term "male-identified male" is significant here. Remember, the liberal conception of the person is that my human dignity consists in my capacity to choose my own identity and roles. I don't choose the fact that I am male. Therefore, it is consistent with the liberal view to believe that I should not be a "male-identified male" - that there is something backward or regressive in being a man with such an identity.
That's where liberal modernity takes you, at least if you're ideological enough to take the liberal conception of the person to that level. Hank Pellissier remains an outlier for now, but the principle he follows is a dominant one in the West, and we traditionalists would do well to live up to Pellissier's characterisation of us as being "unwilling to surrender any turf in the civilization that they can arguably claim they created."