Detail of a painting showing the head and shoulders of a female figure against a bright cloudy sky, holding a French flag in her upraised right arm. Next to her a pistol and a musket rise into the sky.

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 developed approaches for such an analytics from a constellation of three historiographical fragments derived from three past periods of crisis in European history. First, it started 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 mapped out the theoretical and conceptual history of the concepts of “crisis,” “critique” und “governance” during the 1930s. Thirdly, it returned to the late 19th century to comprehend how and why the diagnosis of a “crisis of liberalism” emerged in that period.


Fig. above: Eugène Delacroix: La Liberté guidant le peuple 1830 (detail).

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


Georg Simmerl

  • Selbstgewisse Kritik [Review of: Carolin Amlinger/Oliver Nachtwey: Gekränkte Freiheit. Aspekte des libertären Autoritarismus. Berlin 2022], in: Soziopolis (14 Dec 2022)
  • Das andere Ende der Geschichte [Review of: Francis Fukuyama: Der Liberalismus und seine Feinde. Hamburg 2022], in: Süddeutsche Zeitung 247 (26 Oct 2022), 13


Awarding of the Carlo Barck Prize to Georg Simmerl
25 Jan 2023 · 6.30 pm

Georg Simmerl: Die Bundesrepublik im Kaiserreich erkennbar machen – Über den Versuch, eine neue Geschichte der Gründerkrise zu schreiben

Leibniz-Zentrum für Literatur- und Kulturforschung, Schützenstr. 18, 10117 Berlin, Aufgang B, 3. Et., Trajekteraum

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