In my very first post I criticised the way that Brandis described the individual:
To the liberal, the most fundamental characteristic of any society is that it is a coming together of a number of individual persons, each of whom has a unique identity, unique needs and aspirations...
This might seem harmless, but there is a great danger in the belief that we have only unique identities and aspirations. As I wrote in the first post,
if you take the liberal view that there are only uniquely individual identities and aspirations, then you end up with the liberal idea of society as being a whole lot of atomised individuals each pursuing ends that can only possibly be known to them.
Brandis himself spells this out in the next part of his essay, when he discusses justice and freedom:
the highest value in a just society is the equal right of every individual to select and pursue his own ends, and to shape his life according to his own conception of what is the best life for him.
If a liberal society is based upon the self-determining individual, it is axiomatic that individuals must have the freedom both to determine their own ends and to pursue them...
It is crucial to appreciate that the liberal believes in freedom because he believes in individual rights, not vice versa. Freedom is one value among several which flow from the liberal's basic commitment to the equal right of all individuals to determine and pursue their ends in accordance with their own conception of the good. Freedom itself is not an absolute value, and the liberal is prepared to qualify it not only to the extent that this is necessary to ensure an equal measure of freedom for others, but also in cases where the limitation of freedom serves liberal values other than freedom, such as equality of opportunity.
You can see the way that assumptions flow into each other here. First, there is the claim that there are only uniquely individual identities and aspirations. If that is true, then there is nothing connecting individuals except a shared commitment to allow each other to pursue their own uniquely individual ends and to pursue their own concept of the good. This aim then comes to define what is meant by freedom, rights, equality and justice.
You end up with an ideal of an autonomous individual with various rights to self-determination, a commitment to the equal freedom of others, and to an equality of opportunity.
Note the relativism at the heart of the moral life here. For Brandis there is only a self-defined good, a subjective concept of the good that applies to me and my life alone.
Brandis gets things wrong at the very start of his argument. Our identities and aspirations cannot simply be described as unique. Nor are they based simply on subjective preference. For instance, our communal identity is often shared and is based on a real, inherited ethnic tradition. If we are bound together within this tradition, then we have a shared identity and common aims. Our freedom is not then just a freedom to self-define, but to express an identity that we have inherited and that we hold in common with others. What we require is not just an individual right, but a right to exist within a particular community.
The liberal philosophy, as set out by Brandis, is a notably pessimistic and demoralising one. It suggests that there are no goods that can be recognised as valuable within a community and which become a standard within the life of that community. There cannot be ideals of masculinity or femininity, or shared moral standards, or an ideal of family life, or notions of the good that are likely to be acknowledged by most individuals within a community, such as a connectedness to nature or to a family lineage, or to one's own heritage.
And there is no possibility of thinking, within the liberal philosophy, that there is an objective value to any of this, i.e. that the ideals that exist within a community have an inherent quality of goodness that our moral sense is able to discern. Instead, there is just a relative concept of the good, i.e. that I self-determine what is good for me, it is a good because I define it to be so, but it is a good for me alone. The concept of the good is radically squeezed down in the liberal philosophy as set out by Brandis.