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Journal Article

What does it mean to be ‘illiberal’?


de Vries,  Bouke
Ethics, Law and Politics, MPI for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity, Max Planck Society;

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de Vries, B. (2020). What does it mean to be ‘illiberal’? Netherlands Journal of Legal Philosophy, Pre-publications. doi:10.5553/NJLP/.000102.

Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0006-F1E6-6
‘Illiberal’ is an adjective that is commonly used within contemporary legal, political, and philosophical scholarship. For example, authors might speak of ‘illiberal cultures’,1 ‘illiberal groups’,2 ‘illiberal states’,3 ‘illiberal democracies’,4 ‘illiberal beliefs’,5 and ‘illiberal practices’.6 Yet despite its widespread usage, no in-depth discussions exist of exactly what it means for someone or something to be illiberal, or might mean. This article fills this lacuna by providing a conceptual analysis of the term ‘illiberal practices’, which I argue is basic in that other bearers of the property of being illiberal can be understood by reference to it. Specifically, I identify five ways in which a practice can be illiberal based on the different ways in which this term is employed within both scholarly and political discourses. The main value of this disaggregation lies in the fact that it helps to prevent confusions that arise when people use the adjective ‘illiberal’ in different ways, as is not uncommon.