Zamenhof and the liberal-communitarian debate

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This paper proposes to analyze the early thinking of Ludwig Lazarus Zamenhof (1859-1917) in light of the so-called liberal/communitarian debate. In the early 1980s, the debate was launched: On the liberal side were proponents of a liberal self bearing rights, irrespective of identity (John Rawls) and on the communitarian side, champions of communities with prerogatives and purposes (Michael Sandel). But this debate has become in recent years a dialogue, each side challenging the other to assimilate its claims, be they ontological, political, or ethical. This paper argues that, a century earlier, Zamenhof was involved in a similar dialogue between liberalism and communitarianism, inventing a movement that could potentially balance human rights with notions of the good espoused by different communities. The political potential of Esperanto, however, was undermined (though not collapsed) by the Declaration of Boulogne, which eschewed deliberative debate and abjected religious and ethical ideals.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)269-281
Number of pages13
JournalLanguage Problems and Language Planning
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Communication
  • Linguistics and Language


  • Charles Taylor
  • Esperanto
  • John Rawls
  • Liberal-communitarian
  • Zamenhof


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