Liberal democracy and its adver­saries: Antilib­eral thought from Weimar to the present day

This aim of LibMod’s “Liberal Democracy and Its Adver­saries” project is to examine the “long lines” of antilib­eral thought and discuss its relevance for the debate of today. The project’s website,, hosts a collec­tion of essays and analyses on the intel­lec­tual forebears of the New Right. Carl Schmitt, Ernst Jünger, Oswald Spengler, Sophie Rogge-Börner and Martin Heidegger are some of those who had a formative influence on anti-liberal thinking.

Liberal democracy is under pressure all over the world. Those who wish to avert the “anti-liberal counter-revo­lu­tion” (Timothy Garton Ash), must examine its causes and ideo­log­ical models.

History does not repeat itself, yet today’s debate is remi­nis­cent of the intel­lec­tual and political struggles over the Weimar Republic. Hitler would not have been able to take power had it not been for the scep­ti­cism and, in some cases, hostility with which large segments of Germany’s society – and partic­u­larly its elites – viewed liberal democracy.

The views expressed in the 1920s by Carl Schmitt, a prominent consti­tu­tional and legal theorist, can serve as an example. Schmitt found fault with the essence of liberal democracy, which he char­ac­terised as nego­ti­a­tion. As Schmitt saw it, parlia­men­tar­i­anism, the sepa­ra­tion of powers, universal rights were inven­tions of liber­alism, whereas democracy, presup­poses national homo­geneity. He wrote that those who were “alien in kind/​breed” (Artfremde) had thought processes that were struc­turally different and that such persons should be excluded from the political decision-making process.

All around the world, we are seeing the age of “illiberal democracy” proclaimed once again, restric­tions on the freedom of the press and chal­lenges to the inde­pen­dence of the judiciary. Open society is under threat — from within, by nation­alist and xeno­phobic anti-liberal movements, and from without, by author­i­tarian regimes.

The project is funded under the federal programme “Live Democracy!” by the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth and by the Federal Agency for Civic Education (bpb).