The book was written as a defence of classical liberalism, particularly that early version of liberalism set out by John Locke (late 1600s). What are we to make of this defence? I'd list the following main points:
a) Classical liberalism is openly hostile to a traditionalist conservatism.
b) Classical liberalism begins with too negative an assessment of human nature and an artificial account of the basis of human society. It radically limits the sights that we may set ourselves as individuals and as communities.
c) Classical liberalism discourages people from acting publicly in the defence of a community.
I'll illustrate these points with some excerpts from the book, beginning with this:
Since human beings are by nature solitary and selfish, querulous and untrustworthy competitors for scarce and often fragile private goods, prudent individuals will learn to attend to the mostly private acquisition of the tools necessary to provide for their mostly private welfare - above all, liberty and property ...
... even a well-ordered civil society can ... not abolish, the harsh natural conditions and the querulous traits of our human natures that make it necessary to treat our fellows with abiding suspicion ...
So it is the principal business of political community to arrange "conditions" so that the acquisition and maintenance of liberty and property is protected, as against the "Fancy or Covetousness" of incipient aggressors.(p.30)
Is this really a balanced reading of human nature? Are humans by nature solitary and selfish? Must we limit our aims to our private welfare, in particular to the accumulation of private property?
the way of life of the businessman is only the most prominent among many other private ways of life, available in a liberal community, that enable human beings substantially to retain their natural freedom to "order their Actions, and dispose of their Possessions, and Persons as they think fit" ...(p.31)
The most prominent way of life is that of the businessman? As we'll see, there is a great emphasis on acquisitiveness in classical liberalism.
According to classical liberals, the political community is surely not natural: man is not by nature a political animal. Still, there can be no doubt that membership in a peaceful and stable political community accords with the interests of almost all individual human beings.
Thus, the liberal political community, which seeks above all to secure this peace and stability, is an artificial rational construction, established by a "social contract" among free individuals; it is not a natural organism, a whole to which the individual is related as the hand is related to the body ... The liberal believes that "each of us" is somehow independent of, or prior to, the political community. Or again: we constitute our (political) communities; they do not "constitute" us. (p.32)
This is not a persuasive account of how human communities are, in practice, formed. We are supposed to believe that naturally solitary and selfish individuals decided to make a contract with each other, in order to safeguard their property and personal security. Therefore, human community is to be understood in terms of an unnatural, but rational, political arrangement.
It's more plausible to regard humans as social creatures, who are born into social communities, in which they live and work together with others they are related to, and with whom they share a common identity. Such communities arose naturally rather than being created through a process of contract; nor are the aims of these communities limited to the protection of life and property.
There are some particular problems with the classical liberal view as set out by Kautz. First, Kautz believes that the contracted form of community is rational because it accords with individual self-interest. So Kautz connects reason here with self-interest. It would seem that if you want individuals to act rationally, as liberals do, you will then expect them to act in a self-interested way. Egoism becomes a matter of principle.
Second, the larger, natural form of community is hidden within the liberal framework. In the classical liberal view, there are "free" individuals who contract to form a political community. Where in this is the natural social community? How can we have a proper regard for this natural social community if it is made obscure?
Third, the classical liberal theory sets up a framework in which the aims of a community are severely limited: community was established for the purpose of defending property rights and a right to personal security. The higher aim of a society is too one-sided and materialistic: it is to create the conditions in which property can be safely accumulated.
It's a recipe for a materially wealthy and technologically advanced society, but one which is likely to suffer a "hollowing" process, in which the culture and institutions which once sustained it and inspired loyalty in those who belonged to it are gradually lost.
There's more to add but I'll leave it to the next post.