In the literature on European history, World War I and the interwar years are often portrayed as the end of the age of liberalism. The crisis of liberalism dates back to the nineteenth century, but a er the Great War, criticism of liberalism intensified. But the interwar period also saw a number of attempts to redefine the concept. This article focuses on the Danish case of this European phenomenon. It shows how a profound crisis of bourgeois liberalism in the late nineteenth century le the concept of liberalism almost deserted in the first decades of the twentieth century, and how strong state regulation of the Danish economy during World War I was crucial for an ideologization of the rural population and their subsequent orientation toward the concept of liberalism.
A Comparative Conceptual Exploration
José María Rosales
Rooted in late seventeenth-century theories of rights, liberal ideas have brought forth since the nineteenth century a full-edged complex of traditions in moral, political, economic, social, and legal thought. Yet in historiographical debates such complexity is often blurred by presenting it under the uniform terms of a canon. Along with other methods, conceptual history is contributing to the rediscovery of liberalism's diversity. This group of articles compiles three conceptual studies on scarcely explored aspects of the history of liberalism in Denmark, Finland, and Hungary—countries whose political past has only occasionally figured in mainstream accounts of European liberalism. This introductory article is a methodological discussion of the rationale and forms in which liberalism's historical diversity is rendered through comparative conceptual research. After reflecting on the limits of the Anglophone history of political thought to grasp the plurality of liberal traditions, the article examines how transnational conceptual histories recast the understanding of liberalism as a concept, theory, ideology, and political movement.
Between the ‘Good Person’ and the ‘Bad Citizen’
In the 1950s, hundreds of thousands of immigrants from Muslim countries arrived in Israel. These Mizrahi immigrants were resented by the Ashkenazi ‘veteran public’, whose desire for normalcy outweighed the state’s call for sacrifice. A geographical separation between Ashkenazim and Mizrahim was created, and more recent processes of integration between the two have only partially succeeded, as is attested by much socio-economic data. The failure to integrate the Mizrahim has had an effect on the basis of support for liberalism in Israel. Israeli liberalism is backed mainly by the veteran public, while lower-class Mizrahim appear to offer little support for it.
The Case of Hobbes
Because Hobbes is understood to be a proto-liberal thinker, a great deal hinges on how we understand his writings. Does he contribute to the development of a purely secular political self-understanding, as many liberals today claim? And, by extension, does that mean that liberal thought today best stands on a purely secular foundation? What, then, should we make of the extensive theological speculation throughout his Leviathan ? Here, I argue that to reconcile the seemingly purely secular claims in Leviathan with the obviously religious claims found there we must move beyond reading him in terms of what I here call 'the fable of liberalism', and comprehend Leviathan as a whole in terms of Reformation era debates between Protestants and Roman Catholics about the limits and purview of reason. Understood in that way we see his claims about 'reason' in a new and important light. Rather than being an inevitable development that comes to supercede honour and glory, as the fable of liberalism suggests, 'reason' is seen to have an historically contingent character, whose parameters are established by wagers about the meaning of religious experience.
Liberalism in South Africa has attracted criticism from many quarters. A persistent objection focuses on the association between liberalism and capitalism, with liberals often cast as defenders of privilege and inequity and thereby as aligned with domination rather than liberation. This characterisation relies on a great deal of oversimplification. The length of the South African liberal tradition, and its diverse influences, means that South African liberalism resists easy definition. It is better seen as a family of resemblances than in terms of a lineage. The historical development of South African liberalism has therefore to be understood, above all, in terms of local conditions and contexts. By looking at its long history in this manner, it is possible to identify persistent strands of thought that are often disposed to support redistributive mechanisms. These may not be fully egalitarian and they may be pursued for pragmatic and prudential ends rather than as a matter of principle. Nevertheless, they include principled opposition to apartheid policies. Free-market ideologues have been exceptional within the long liberal tradition. An historical appreciation of the redistributive components of South African liberalism may help those who wish to revive modern liberalism as a social democratic movement.
What Are Its Possible Futures in South Africa?
David Bilchitz and Daryl Glaser
Liberalism is associated by many with the protection of private property and the insulation of economic markets from state intervention. Yet the liberal tradition is very diverse, and some have taken its concern with equality and liberty in radically egalitarian directions that belie the reduction of liberalism to market-fundamentalist ‘neoliberalism’.
Dominant but dead
Some years ago Jürgen Habermas (1991) diagnosed modernism as dominant but dead. Neo- liberalism may still be in its youth, having come to fruition only after the 1970s, but it seems reasonable to conclude that neo-liberalism too is “dominant but dead.” The ferment of new ideas, however much they were simultaneously recycled axia from the earlier liberal tradition, reached its peak in the 1980s.
The Case of the USA
Adam B. Seligman
The separation of church and state in the USA and the critical role of disestablishment in the political doctrines of that country is no indication of a secular polity. In fact, the separation of church and state as developed in 18th century American political thought was itself a religious doctrine and rested on the unique religious beliefs of certain Protestant Churches there. One consequence of this particular mode of accommodating religion has meant that the challenge of pluralism and difference in the United States of America is met, most often, by liberal indifference. Differences are trivialized, aethetisized and, more critically, privatized. They are shielded from public scrutiny and conceptualized as irrelevant to public concern. This is an increasingly inadequate response to the challenge of difference and the plurality of the human experience. Challenges to contemporary modes of accommodating religious and ethnic pluralism are necessitating the formulation of new sets of answers which are not based on such Protestant or post-Protestant assumptions.
Recently several political theorists have argued that mainstream political theory, exemplified by John Rawls’ political liberalism, is based on such idealist and moralist presuppositions, that it cannot be relevant for real politics. This article aims to show that the criticism of these ‘realists’, as these critics are referred to, is based on an incorrect reading of Rawls’ work. The article explains that there are three ways in which his political liberalism can be said to offer a realist understanding of politics: (a) political liberalism interprets the morality inherent in engaging in politics; (b) it acknowledges reasonable disagreement about justice; and (c) it develops standards of public reason, with which to assess the legitimacy of political compromises. The article recovers the realism of political liberalism and indicates new sites of discussion between political liberals and political realists.
Richard Turner and South African Liberalism
Richard Turner’s contribution to thinking on race in South Africa is often undervalued. As influential as his thinking on economic and social alternatives was, a close reading of his work in context suggests that his core concern was a critique of white liberalism, and that this was itself a means to a wider analysis of whiteness in a racially stratified society. An analysis of contemporary South Africa suggests that his critique remains an important resource in our attempt to discuss current realities. Acknowledging the centrality of racial domination in Turner’s thought highlights the continued salience of his understanding of South African social reality.