Mission Statement — LibMod

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What’s the Center for Liberal Modernity is about.

Point of Departure
Crisis of liberal modernity /​ Crisis of the West

The years ahead are crucial for our societies. Things that previ­ously seemed a given are now in doubt: European unity, the transat­lantic alliance and liberal, open societies. This is the time to become actively engaged.

Liberal democracy is under pressure. It is chal­lenged from both, within and from outside. In the United States, Donald Trump rode to victory on a wave of rage against the political estab­lish­ment. There is reason to fear that America is changing from being a long­standing, central a pillar of  liberal inter­na­tional order towards becoming its gravedigger: trade wars instead of open markets, narrow-minded nation­alism instead of multi­lat­eral insti­tu­tions, curtail­ment of demo­c­ratic freedoms in lieu of  the defense of liberal values. Europe has been caught up in this rollback for some time. Anti-liberal parties and populist leaders are on the rise from Scan­di­navia to southern Europe. The United Kingdom is breaking away from the European Union. And in Germany, the Alter­na­tive for Germany (AfD) is on the verge of succeeding as a force chal­lenging the system from the right.

Diverse as they are, these phenomena have some striking common­al­i­ties: They contrast a retreat into the national community to open societies; they contrast the protec­tion of local economy to glob­al­iza­tion; and they contrast the fiction of ethnic and cultural homo­geneity with the diversity of modern societies. They prey upon fears of downward social mobility, and thrive on feelings of inability to cope with the pace of economic and social change, latent among certain segments of society. At the same time, brash and self-assured author­i­tarian regimes confront Western Democ­ra­cies with new rival systems, rejecting the path of liberal democracy and universal human rights. Islamic funda­men­talism is only one of the radical counter movements to Western modernity. The concept of “illiberal democracy” is finding adherents more broadly elsewhere in the European Union.

The Kremlin has become the head­quar­ters of an inter­na­tional anti-liber­alism, with networks throughout Europe. Sowing division between the US and Europe is a long-term project of the Russian policy of hegemony, paral­leled by a measure of anti-American sentiment in European societies. Moreover, Moscow calls into question the foun­da­tions of the peaceful post WW2 order in Europe. Whether we like it or not, today Ukraine has turned into a touch­stone for Europe’s future.

At stake is nothing less than the project of liberal modernity: the very combi­na­tion of the rule of law, indi­vidual freedom, political pluralism and cultural diversity that has taken shape since the Enlight­en­ment. Human rights and human dignity are both, its point of departure and its goal. They are the essence of what has been learned from the horrors of the last century, and the counter-programme to total­i­tar­i­anism and barbarity. Modernity, with its prin­ci­ples of sepa­ra­tion of powers, civil rights and a critical public, can be seen as the unfolding of these values. It has gone hand-in-hand with the tremen­dous devel­op­ment of produc­tive forces through the conjunc­tion of science and entre­pre­neur­ship, through the social advance­ment of broad sections of the popu­la­tion, and through the incre­mental expansion of demo­c­ratic self-deter­mi­na­tion to include ever more segments of society.

As it stands, this triad of economic growth, social progress and democracy has broken apart. Confi­dence in a better future seems to be waning. Polar­i­sa­tion between the winners and losers of glob­al­i­sa­tion and fear of social decline are facil­i­tating the rise of anti-demo­c­ratic forces.  In the face of the simul­taneity of funda­mental changes, feelings of uncer­tainty are taking hold: global compe­ti­tion and the digital revo­lu­tion, the immi­gra­tion of millions of people from other conti­nents, the ongoing European debt crisis and the armed conflicts on the European periphery are gener­ating a sense of loss of control and anxiety about the future.

Defending liberal modernity is more than a concep­tual challenge. It demands political answers to the great chal­lenges of our time: glob­al­i­sa­tion, migration, climate change, social partic­i­pa­tion and the tech­no­log­ical revo­lu­tion. We need a new concept of progress as a counter-project to the politics of fear.

What is to be done?

The first challenge: The rise of anti-liberal forces in Europe and the electoral victory of Donald Trump call into question the future of the West. They signal that the transat­lantic community of shared values has eroded inter­nally. European unifi­ca­tion took place under the protec­tion of the United States. Now it is up to Europe to take on more respon­si­bility for its own security and to defend its shared values. We need to form a transat­lantic alliance of democrats against the interplay of anti-liberal forces on both sides of the Atlantic. At the same time, we must do every­thing possible to strengthen European cohesion. We do not want a European central state, but we want common policy in the areas where it matters most: security, the European neigh­bour­hood, economy and finances, and coor­di­nated refugee and immi­gra­tion policy.

The Federal Republic of Germany’s close ties with the West must remain a pillar of European security and democracy. Those who wish to replace them with a Berlin-Moscow axis are aban­doning the normative foun­da­tion of German foreign policy. The re-estab­lish­ment of coop­er­a­tive relations with Russia is in Germany’s and Europe’s interest, but it cannot take place at the expense of the sover­eignty of the countries of East Central Europe. We cate­gor­i­cally reject a New Yalta, a fresh parti­tioning of Europe along the lines of power politics. Coop­er­a­tion with Russia must build on the prin­ci­ples of the European peaceful order that was agreed in the Helsinki Protocol and the Charter of Paris.

The second Challenge: Conveying a sense of security in a changing world is key to the defense of an open society. Freedom and security must not be played off against each other; rather, they are inter­de­pen­dent. This includes a minimum level of social security (protec­tion from poverty), but it also and espe­cially includes empow­ering people to cope with change confi­dently. Citizens must become active players in change, rather than feeling merely at its mercy. The educa­tional system plays a key role in this. Investing in education and profes­sional qual­i­fi­ca­tions, from nursery to univer­sity, is an invest­ment not only in the future of the economy, but also in democracy. Analyt­ical capa­bil­i­ties and orien­ta­tion must be imparted to counter the flood of conspiracy theories, half-truths and full-blown lies that circulate through social networks daily. At a broader level, education and science are becoming the most important produc­tive force of the digital age.

The third challenge: Social issues are a linchpin in the struggle for an open society. In large parts of the world, social inequality has been on the rise since the 1990s. Most of the gains in wealth have been concen­trated at the top of the social ladder. Companies operating globally minimise their tax payments while the fiscal burden on SMEs grows. Pressure on the middle classes is growing, and at the same time the number of the working poor has increased. Fear of social decline provides grist to the mills of populists. The social market economy, with its promise of pros­perity for all, was one of the great achieve­ments after the World War II cata­strophe. It made upward mobility possible for broad sections of the popu­la­tion, and it provided for political stability. Today we urgently need a renewal of this model, a third way between laissez-faire capi­talism and a state-run economy. This includes strong public insti­tu­tions and a sustain­able regu­la­tory framework for markets, a fair distri­b­u­tion of the costs of funding public services, and a deeper under­standing of companies’ social and envi­ron­mental responsibilities.

The fourth challenge: The ecolog­ical moderni­sa­tion of indus­trial society is a key to reclaiming economic dynamism and confi­dence within our society. It connects the protec­tion of the planetary ecosystem with a new phase of scien­tific and tech­no­log­ical inno­va­tion. We must address climate change, the over­ex­ploita­tion of natural resources, endan­gering our oceans and fertile farmland. However, “zero growth” is neither desirable nor realistic in light of the needs of billions of people. The answer to the envi­ron­mental challenge is to decouple value creation from consump­tion of natural resources. This demands nothing less than a new indus­trial revo­lu­tion, leading to a long wave of inno­va­tions, invest­ments and work.

We are in the midst of a serious struggle over the future of liberal modernity. The new central axis of political conflict runs not between left and right, but between anti-liberal forces and the defenders of an open society, between with­drawal into the enclosed nation and global inter­con­nec­tion, between cultural diversity and author­i­tarian prescrip­tions for how we are to live and what we are to believe. It is time to take on this broader challenge and to fight for the renewal of democracy and the market economy.


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