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The effects of the tenets of liberalism on the political environment

Liberalism is founded on a particular view of human nature and society. It is founded on the assumption that human beings are, first and foremost, individuals. But what we seem to lack today, all over Europe and perhaps partly as a result of a growing mobility, are milieus that easily can be defined as liberal. In other times, the teacher and the small schoolhouse in a remote village generally represented a distinct liberal milieu, often, but perhaps not always, defined by rationalism and a certain openness of mind.

Where are these kinds of milieus to be found today?

  • In the West, the demand for a stronger state was accompanied by a rise of political populism;
  • Companies that are successful for centuries exhibit great flexibility, including completely switching business models.

What do they look like? The need for liberal milieus, and for liberal answers, grows rapidly in a time of nationalism that partly is fed by economic uncertainty. Liberal milieus will, on the other hand, not grow out of nothing. Liberal ideas and values need to be cultivated and promoted, and liberalism as a concept needs to be defined and re interpreted also outside of Academia.

The texts in this compilation are based on a seminar on liberalism organized by Magma that was held in Helsinki on November 21, 2012.

Goodbye Liberalism, Hello Populism! Frank van Mil Executive Director, Mr. Hans van Mierlo Stichting, Haag: Liberalism — with a human face?

Goodbye Liberalism; Hello Populism! Civil liberties have been under pressure in many Western countries because of the War on Terror. Democracy has been in decline in Russia. Freedom of speech has been curtailed in China. Democratic decision-making has not been able to deal with the financial and debt crisis in Europe and the United States. The Arab Spring has not turned the region into a stronghold of democracy.

The rule of law has been violated in many parts of Africa. To add insult to injury, even the Internet has been compromised. It has become an object of state censorship in many parts of the world. In this essay I will argue, firstly, that an epoch of neo-liberalism has been replaced by an era of populism. Secondly, I will argue that populism is a much more coherent ideology than is generally accepted.

Thirdly, I will argue that economic liberalism has undergone a massive transformation. The neo-liberalism of the 1990s has to a large extent been replaced by order-liberalism from German Ordoliberalism as the mainstream ideology in Europe.

Although I will concentrate on economic liberalism, I will make some observations regarding political liberalism as well. The Rise and Fall of Neo- Liberalism The end of the Cold War inaugurated a period of political and economic liberalism in most parts of the world. During this time boundaries of economic and political freedom were broadened in an unprecedented scale.

Economic liberalism was part and parcel of European integration which took huge steps forward. The Soviet Union imploded. Economic liberalism changed China, India and other emerging economies.

Liberalism in Education

Nordic countries turned from mixed economies to free markets. State power shrunk while the influence of corporations and non-governmental organisations grew. Their leaders rubbed shoulders in Davos.

Both were "committed to improving the state of the world" as the slogan of the World Economic Forum succinctly put it. The interesting thing was that both were listened to by politicians. Nothing good lasts forever. The terrorist attacks on New York and Washington D. Security concerns rose to the top of the global agenda. Terrorists, rogue states and weapons of mass destruction dominated global diplomacy. Banks had to make sure terrorist money did not pass through their accounts.

The power of the state rose. The power of corporations and NGOs waned. Their leaders continued to go to Davos but they no longer had any impact on the global agenda. People in the West turned to the state for physical security and for environmental stewardship. At the same time citizens of emerging economies turned to the state for economic security.

They turned out to be quite willing to exchange some of their political rights for greater economic security. Together these developments led to a kind of soft authoritarianism described in John Kampfner's Freedom for Sale Simon and Schuster, London, 2009.

According to a Kampfner a new contract between the rulers and the ruled emerged: In his view, the new pact was based on Singapore's economic and political model. It took hold both in the West and in emerging countries albeit in very different forms.

The Financial Crisis strengthened the demand for a strong nation state further. More regulation was called for. Stimulus packages were enacted. In the West, the demand for a stronger state was accompanied by a rise of political populism. In Europe, populism was mostly associated with the right-wing or even extreme right-wing of the political spectrum.

However, there was also populism on the left, the Occupy movement being the most conspicuous example of such left-leaning populism. How long will Right-Wing Populism last?

Right-wing populism can be seen as an antithesis to the liberalism of the 1990s. But it is also a sign of wider changes in the political climate in Europe and the world. The 1990s were pro-market; the 2010s are skeptical of the market. The 1990s were pro-free trade; since the financial crisis, there has been no progress in multilateral trade talks. The 90s were associated with the four freedoms of the European Union the freedom of movement of people, products, services and capital.

Today's Europe is spouting out regulations. It is no longer an agent of economic liberalism.

  1. One of Fukuyamas important observations was that technological progress, in combination with the spread of meritocracy, has meant that the fruits of development to an ever larger extent stay with the talents that develop them. Another myth is that the wave of liberalizations during the 1980s and -90s, after Thatcher and Reagan, meant that the welfare state was pushed back.
  2. Both are explored below, alongside a brief discussion of one emerging yet rather contentious area of activity regarding liberty and education.
  3. It is this insight that makes liberals praise free markets, and possibly entrepreneurs, but rarely corporations or "business", especially not "big business". The question feels rhetorical.

Still, Right Wing Populists are different from the market-skeptical mainstream. They are not satisfied with small changes. They want a big transformation.

Professor Paul Taggart has called European populists "de facto revolutionaries". The label fits the bill. European right-wing populists want to change the way Europe is governed. They want to change its ideological underpinnings. Some of them want to change the make-up of its population. In other words, they are a radical, anti-status quo movement. This is not the first time Europe is faced with a fiercely anti-status quo movement.

In the 1930s it was the Fascists.

What is Liberalism today?

After the Second World War it was the Communists. In the 1960s, it was the students. Today's populists have sometimes been compared to the pre-war fascists.

But is this the right point of comparison? I would argue that it is not. Despite marked differences in ideology, the Communists may be a better benchmark than the Fascists. Because both groups were given legitimacy by the course of history.

After several years of the on-going Euro crisis, populists can say: The Communists were a strong political force for about forty years; the populists may be as long-lived.

This does not mean that the populists will have a steady level of support. Geert Wilders, the head of the Freedom Party in the Netherlands, misplayed his hand and lost one third of his party's seats in the parliament. Timo Soini, the leader of the True Finns party, also lost one third of his support in the local Finnish elections of 2012 compared to the parliamentary elections the previous year.

Yet nobody would go as far as to declare them a spent force. Indeed, populist parties are characterised by extreme swings in their popularity.

Nils Erik Forsgård

Austria is a good example. The support of the Austrian Freedom Party has vacillated between five and twenty-five per cent. The party has also been split and remade several times. But it has not disappeared. Instead, other populist parties have emerged to compete for the popular vote. Populist parties tend to have a larger following among men than women. However, there have been quite a few women who have successfully led populist parties.