Discipline: Political Science
Specialisation: Political theory; political philosophy; Isaiah Berlin; liberalism; value pluralism
George Crowder is Professor in the College of Business, Government and Law, Flinders University. He is a political theorist specialising in the work of the prominent political philosopher and historian of ideas Isaiah Berlin and in the idea of value pluralism associated with Berlin and others.
Professor Crowder’s early research was in the field of the history of political thought. His first book, Classical Anarchism, came out of his doctoral work at Oxford and was published by Oxford University Press in 1991. In that book he analysed the thought of the nineteenth-century anarchists in terms of the distinction between negative and positive liberty made familiar by Berlin. The political thought of Berlin himself became an abiding interest for Professor Crowder from that point on.
In particular, Professor Crowder has been drawn to Berlin’s concept of value pluralism, the idea that fundamental human values, such as justice, liberty and equality, are irreducibly multiple, potentially conflicting, and often incommensurable with one another. For Berlin, value pluralism was an antidote to the ethical monism he saw as one of the sources of twentieth-century totalitarianism.
However, if value pluralism is true, then it raises questions not only for authoritarian politics but also for the liberalism Berlin wished to defend. If fundamental values are deeply plural and incommensurable, then we will frequently be faced with hard choices, both in our personal lives and in public policy, when such values come into conflict. When these conflicts occur, why should we privilege the values of liberal democracy rather than those of socialism or conservatism, for example? Even if a liberal framework is accepted, what kind of liberalism will this be, and what are the implications of pluralism for more specific questions of public policy?
This ‘problem of value pluralism’ goes to the heart of contemporary politics and public policy, and it is the central focus of Professor Crowder’s work. He develops a ‘liberal pluralist’ response to it, emphasising values of individual liberty, personal autonomy and redistributive justice, in books such as Liberalism and Value Pluralism (2002), Isaiah Berlin: Liberty and Pluralism (2004), and The One and the Many: Reading Isaiah Berlin (co-edited with Henry Hardy, 2007).
There and elsewhere Professor Crowder argues that the liberal-pluralist approach not only helps to justify a broadly liberal-democratic politics against the objections of its critics, but also that it is applicable to a range of practical issues, including those concerning constitutional design, administrative practice, distributive justice, democracy, the role of religion, and the public recognition of minority cultures. The last of these topics is investigated by Professor Crowder from a pluralist point of view in Theories of Multiculturalism (2013).
Professor Crowder is currently working on a book, The Problem of Value Pluralism: Berlin and Beyond (planned for publication by Routledge in 2019), in which he will develop these ideas further.
Professor, Flinders University, 2008
Associate Professor, Flinders University, 2005
Senior Lecturer, Flinders University, 2000
Lecturer, Flinders University, 1995
Visiting Fellow, St Catherine’s College, Oxford, UK, 2014
- Crowder, George, The Problem of Value Pluralism: Isaiah Berlin and Beyond (New York: Routledge, scheduled for 2019)
- Crowder, George, ‘Pluralism, Relativism and Liberalism’, in Joshua Cherniss and Steven Smith, eds, Cambridge Companion to Isaiah Berlin (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018).
- Crowder, George, ‘Value Pluralism, Diversity and Liberalism’, Ethical Theory and Moral Practice, vol. 18, no. 3 (2015), 549-564.
- Crowder, George, Theories of Multiculturalism (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2013).
- Crowder, George, ‘Value Pluralism, Constitutionalism and Democracy: Waldron and Berlin in Debate’, Review of Politics, vol. 81, no. 1 (Winter 2019), forthcoming.
Email: george.crowder [at] flinders.edu.au