Crisis, Critique, Governance: The History of the Theory of Liberalism and its Concepts

Can today’s history of the theory of Liberalism and its concepts go beyond a mere historicization? Can it bring forth an analytics of the present? First and foremost, such an analytics would have to be able to clarify why, in liberal societies, the present is always negotiated in crisis debates—and how these work. The debates on the Covid, climate, and, most recently, the energy crisis may formally be described as a strategic interplay between critique and governance. Additionally, the fact that liberal ideals such as individual liberties are employed on all sides, but for opposing purposes can be viewed as a peculiar indication for their persistent universality, even after the “End of History” came to an end. It is thus even more important to ask whether those who advocate for the universality of liberal ideas should be able to analytically locate the conditions of possibility for a resurgence of the “illiberal,” meaning authoritarianisms and populisms, in Liberalism itself?

The project attempts to develop approaches for such an analytics from a constellation of three historiographical fragments derived from three past periods of crisis in European history. First, it starts from the intersecting lines of thought that led both Reinhart Koselleck and Michel Foucault towards an engagement with Liberalism during the 1970s. Secondly, by following these two intersecting yet independent lines of thought, the project maps out the theoretical and conceptual history of the concepts of “crisis,” “critique” und “governance” during the 1930s. Thirdly, it returns to the late 19th century to comprehend how and why the diagnosis of a “crisis of liberalism” emerged in that period.

 

Fig. above: Ivan Radic: Protest sign reading: Wahrheit, Freiheit, Keine Diktatur [Truth, Freedom, No Dictatorship], source: Flickr, license: CC BY 2.0.

Carlo Barck Prize Scholarship 2022–2023
Head researcher(s): Georg Simmerl

Publications

Georg Simmerl

  • Das andere Ende der Geschichte [Review of: Francis Fukuyama: Der Liberalismus und seine Feinde. Hamburg 2022], in: Süddeutsche Zeitung 247 (26 Oct 2022), 13