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, www.gegneranalyse.de, 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).