Who We Are and What We Want

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About the motives for found­ing a Center for Liberal Moder­nity.

I. 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-program 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. Polar­iza­tion between the winners and losers of glob­al­iza­tion 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: glob­al­iza­tion, 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.

II. 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 neigh­bor­hood, 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 min­i­mize 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 mod­ern­iza­tion 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.

III. Über uns

LibMod ist eine unab­hängige Denkw­erk­statt, ein Debat­ten­fo­rum und ein Pro­jek­t­büro. Unser The­men­feld reicht von inter­na­tionalen Fragen bis zu gesellschaft­spoli­tis­chen Her­aus­forderun­gen. Wir wollen ein Sam­melpunkt für frei­heitliche Geister aus allen poli­tis­chen und gesellschaftlichen Bere­ichen sein. Wir mischen uns ein und wollen etwas bewegen. Dabei geht nicht nur um einen zukun­ft­sof­fe­nen Diskurs, sondern um konkrete Anstöße für poli­tis­ches und zivil-gesellschaftliches Handeln. Dafür suchen wir Mit­stre­iter,  Koop­er­a­tionspart­ner und Förderer.

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