What is Liberalism today?


Nils Erik Forsgård

Liberalism is founded on a particular view of human nature and society.

It is founded on the assumption that human beings are, first and foremost, individuals.

But what we seem to lack today, all over Europe and perhaps partly as a result of a growing mobility, are milieus that easily can be defined as liberal.

In other times, the teacher and the small schoolhouse in a remote village generally represented a distinct liberal milieu, often, but perhaps not always, defined by rationalism and a certain openness of mind.

Where are these kinds of milieus to be found today?

What do they look like?

Who promotes them?

The need for liberal milieus, and for liberal answers, grows rapidly in a time of nationalism that partly is fed by economic uncertainty.

Liberal milieus will, on the other hand, not grow out of nothing.

Liberal ideas and values need to be cultivated and promoted, and liberalism as a concept needs to be defined and (re)interpreted also outside of Academia.

The texts in this compilation are based on a seminar on liberalism organized by Magma that was held in Helsinki on November 21, 2012.


  • Risto E J Penttilä (CEO, Chamber of Commerce, Helsinki):
    Goodbye Liberalism, Hello Populism!
  • Frank van Mil (Executive Director, Mr. Hans van Mierlo Stichting, Haag): Liberalism and the Netherlands
  • Håkan Tribell (Tankesmedjan Timbro, Stockholm):
    Does the Future of History Mean the End of Liberalism?
  • John Vikström (archbishop emeritus, Turku):
    Liberalism – with a human face?

Goodbye Liberalism; Hello Populism!

Risto E. J. Penttilä

It has not been a good decade for liberalism. Civil liberties have been under pressure in many Western countries because of the War on Terror. Democracy has been in decline in Russia. Freedom of speech has been curtailed in China. Democratic decision-making has not been able to deal with the financial and debt crisis in Europe and the United States. The Arab Spring has not turned the region into a stronghold of democracy. The rule of law has been violated in many parts of Africa. To add insult to injury, even the Internet has been compromised. It has become an object of state censorship in many parts of the world.

In this essay I will argue, firstly, that an epoch of neo-liberalism has been replaced by an era of populism. Secondly, I will argue that populism is a much more coherent ideology than is generally accepted. Thirdly, I will argue that economic liberalism has undergone a massive transformation. The neo-liberalism of the 1990s has to a large extent been replaced by order-liberalism (from German Ordoliberalism) as the mainstream ideology in Europe. Although I will concentrate on economic liberalism, I will make some observations regarding political liberalism as well.

The Rise and Fall of (Neo-)Liberalism

The end of the Cold War inaugurated a period of political and economic liberalism in most parts of the world. This era started with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and came to an end with the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001. During this time boundaries of economic and political freedom were broadened in an unprecedented scale. Economic liberalism was part and parcel of European integration which took huge steps forward. The Soviet Union imploded. Economic liberalism changed China, India and other emerging economies. Nordic countries turned from mixed economies to free markets. State power shrunk while the influence of corporations and non-governmental organisations grew. Their leaders rubbed shoulders in Davos. Both were "committed to improving the state of the world" as the slogan of the World Economic Forum succinctly put it. The interesting thing was that both were listened to by politicians.

Nothing good lasts forever. The terrorist attacks on New York and Washington D.C. in September 2001 changed the Zeitgeist completely. Security concerns rose to the top of the global agenda. Terrorists, rogue states and weapons of mass destruction dominated global diplomacy. Banks had to make sure terrorist money did not pass through their accounts. The power of the state rose. The power of corporations and NGOs waned. Their leaders continued to go to Davos but they no longer had any impact on the global agenda.

People in the West turned to the state for physical security and for environmental stewardship. At the same time citizens of emerging economies turned to the state for economic security. They turned out to be quite willing to exchange some of their political rights for greater economic security. Together these developments led to a kind of soft authoritarianism described in John Kampfner's Freedom for Sale (Simon and Schuster, London, 2009). According to a Kampfner a new contract between the rulers and the ruled emerged: a pact under which, consciously or not, the population trades civic rights and freedoms against rising living standards and political stability. In his view, the new pact was based on Singapore's economic and political model. It took hold both in the West and in emerging countries albeit in very different forms.

The Financial Crisis strengthened the demand for a strong nation state further. More regulation was called for. Stimulus packages were enacted. In the West, the demand for a stronger state was accompanied by a rise of political populism. In Europe, populism was mostly associated with the right-wing (or even extreme right-wing) of the political spectrum. However, there was also populism on the left, the Occupy movement being the most conspicuous example of such left-leaning populism. In the USA, the most conspicuous populist movement was the Tea Party.

How long will Right-Wing Populism last?

Right-wing populism can be seen as an antithesis to the liberalism of the 1990s. But it is also a sign of wider changes in the political climate in Europe and the world. The 1990s were pro-market; the 2010s are skeptical of the market. The 1990s were pro-free trade; since the financial crisis, there has been no progress in multilateral trade talks. The 90s were associated with the four freedoms of the European Union (the freedom of movement of people, products, services and capital). Today's Europe is spouting out regulations. It is no longer an agent of economic liberalism. Still, Right Wing Populists are different from the market-skeptical mainstream. They are not satisfied with small changes. They want a big transformation.

Professor Paul Taggart has called European populists "de facto revolutionaries". The label fits the bill. European right-wing populists want to change the way Europe is governed. They want to change its ideological underpinnings. Some of them want to change the make-up of its population. In other words, they are a radical, anti-status quo movement.

This is not the first time Europe is faced with a fiercely anti-status quo movement. In the 1930s it was the Fascists. After the Second World War it was the Communists. In the 1960s, it was the students. Today's populists have sometimes been compared to the pre-war fascists. But is this the right point of comparison? I would argue that it is not. Despite marked differences in ideology, the Communists may be a better benchmark than the Fascists. Why? Because both groups were given legitimacy by the course of history. After the Second World War, European Communists could say: we told you Fascism was going to lead to war, why did you not listen to us? After several years of the on-going Euro crisis, populists can say: we told you the Euro would not work, why did you not listen to us? The Communists were a strong political force for about forty years; the populists may be as long-lived.

This does not mean that the populists will have a steady level of support. Quite the contrary. In 2012, Mr. Geert Wilders, the head of the Freedom Party in the Netherlands, misplayed his hand and lost one third of his party's seats in the parliament. Mr. Timo Soini, the leader of the True Finns party, also lost one third of his support in the local Finnish elections of 2012 compared to the parliamentary elections the previous year. Yet nobody would go as far as to declare them a spent force. Indeed, populist parties are characterised by extreme swings in their popularity. Austria is a good example. The support of the Austrian Freedom Party has vacillated between five and twenty-five per cent. The party has also been split and remade several times. But it has not disappeared. Instead, other populist parties have emerged to compete for the popular vote.

Populist parties tend to have a larger following among men than women. However, there have been quite a few women who have successfully led populist parties. Marie Le Pen has gained respectability in France. Pia Kjaersgaard retired recently after having turned the Danish People's Party into the third largest political movement in Denmark. Thus, it does not seem that Right-Wing Populist Parties are disappearing any time soon from the political map of Europe.

The Five Tenets of Right Wing Populism

Contrary to common belief Right-Wing Populists Parties are not a motley crew of ragtag ideas. Indeed, one reason for the longevity of the populist parties may be the clarity of their ideology. While conservatives and socialists include both federalists and anti-federalists and include very different views on for example same sex marriage, you will find no such divergence among populists. All populists subscribe to five principles.

  • First, they are against the European Union. They do not like Brussels, and they hate the Euro.
  • Second, they are against multiculturalism. They are either xenophobic or fearful of a breakdown of traditional societies.
  • Third, they are nationalists and welfare chauvinist. They believe the most important goal of the nation state is to take care of its citizens. They do not want to pay for the welfare of foreigners or immigrants.
  • Fourth, they are socially conservative. Gay marriages, soft drugs and short prison sentences are not on their agenda. They are not forward-looking visionaries. Their Shangri-La is a homogenous society of the 1950s. In other words, nostalgia is an attitude found in all populists parties.
  • Fifth, they are proud to be called populists. In their view, pro-European elites have ruled Europe for too long. It is time to give Europe back to its people.

These beliefs are shared by right-wing populist parties in Europe but they are also found, mutatis mutandis, in the United States. The Tea Party movement is anti-Washington, it is no fan on multiculturalism, it does not want hand-outs to be paid to immigrants or developing countries, it has a very strong socially conservative wing (admittedly it also has an influential libertarian wing); and it, too, is proudly populist.

The big question for mainstream parties is whether to isolate or integrate populists? Both approaches have been tried. When Austria invited Jörg Haider's Freedom Party to join the Government in 1999, other members of the European Union were not amused. To show their disapproval they decided not to shake hands with the new ministers. The Swedes took cocktail party sanctions even further: in 2010 they refused to invite the leader of the Sweden Democrats to the Nobel Gala dinner. Isolation did not work. Now there are not one but three populist parties in Austria, and the Swedish Democrats have clocked their best ever opinion poll results at close to ten percent.

The Danes and the Dutch tried integration. In both countries governments entered into a working arrangement with the populists. In Denmark, populists managed to influence government policies a great deal. They softened their approach slightly but they did not lose their support as radically as some pundits had predicted. In the Netherlands, the populists reneged on a promise to support spending cuts and forced the country into an early election. The voters punished them with a greatly reduced support. The result showed that voters were not ready to accept populists whose only aim is to cause havoc. The same pattern seems to apply elsewhere: if populists are a thorn in the side of the elite, they will be supported by voters who want to give the ruling parties a good kicking. If they go beyond the pale and start causing havoc for the entire country, they will be deserted. Or will they? The soundness of that principle depends on whether one believes that Hungary's ruling Fidesz Party is a right-wing populist party. If it is (and it certainly subscribes to the five populist principles outlined above) it shows that populist can be more than a thorn in the side of the elite. They can actually govern a country and even change its constitution.

The United Kingdom Independence Party differs from most European right-wing populist parties for two reasons. It has a more libertarian streak than French, Spanish, continental and northern European populist parties. And it is a one issue party: it wants Britain out of the EU. However, its manifesto also includes a call for a strict control of immigration. As such, it fulfils three out of the five populists principles outlined above.

The Rise of Order-Liberalism

Liberalism as a general ideology that promotes liberty and freedom seems to be in retreat in many parts of the world. But what is happening to economic liberalism? Are we moving back to the mixed economies of the Cold War Era with more state intervention, all encompassing regulation and higher taxes?
It is clear that there will be more regulation, higher taxes and more state interventionism. However, it does not mean that economic liberalism has been entirely forsaken. In the US, an extreme version of economic liberalism, libertarianism, has gained a lot of support over the past years. In Europe, economic liberalism is making a strong come-back especially in its biggest economic power, Germany.

The new reincarnation of economic liberalism is called Ordoliberalism in German. It can be conveniently translated into Order-Liberalism, or regulation-based liberalism, in English. Its central points are explained in Sebastian Dullen's and Ulrike Guerot's paper The Long Shadow of Ordoliberalism: Germany's approach to the Euro crisis.

The key idea of order-liberalism is that of a free market economy under strong regulatory control of the state. According to Dullen and Guerot, "governments should regulate markets in such a way that market outcome approximates the theoretical outcome in a perfectly competitive market".

Order-liberalism differs from French-style dirigisme because it does not promote state intervention into the normal workings of the economy. The state sets the rules and is the final arbitrator of what a good market system should look like. But it does not intervene in its functioning once the rules have been established. It also differs from Anglo-Saxon neo-liberalism in that it is more anxious to prevent cartels and monopolies of any sort. It differs from Keynesianism in that "it rejects the use of expansionary fiscal and monetary policies to stabilize the business cycle in a recession".

The roots of order-liberalism go back to the 1930s. Its founders were associated with the so-called Heisbourg School. They included several influential economists, for example, Walter Eucken, Franz Böhm, Leonhard Miksh and Hans Grossmann-Doerth. Order-liberals emphasize five things. Firstly, they take fiscal responsibility very seriously and are therefore very skeptical of stimulus spending. Secondly, they take the independence of central banks very seriously and are therefore against any unorthodox measures by the European Central Bank, especially if these measures can be seen as meeting a political demand. Thirdly, they take price stability very seriously and do not look favourably upon quantitative easing or similar measures. Fourthly, they have a very strong anti-trust and anti-monopoly attitude and are therefore in favour of a strong competition authorities.

According to Dullen and Guerot, order-liberalism is in German political consciousness "closely linked to the first phase of the social market economy from 1948 to 1966." Since the concept of social market economy is supported by all German political parties, it is no wonder that the basic tenets of order-liberalism are also accepted by a majority of German politicians. An outsider may also surmise that most German political parties find the idea of order appealing. "Ordnung muss sein" – there has to be order to everything, including the workings of the free market.

Order-liberalism is not only a German phenomenon. The European Union has sought to bring discipline to the finances of its member states. The best examples are the "six-pack" and the Fiscal Compact (or "Treaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance"). The six-pack refers to five regulations and one directive that entered into force on 13 December 2011. Their purpose is to strengthen budged discipline by introducing tougher guidelines and sanctions that will be applied to countries that do not meet the timetable in reducing their budget deficits. The Fiscal Compact involves budget rules which must be implemented in national law through provisions of "binding force and permanent character, preferably constitutional". The treaty also includes new guidelines for economic governance in the euro area.

Measures that restrict the freedom of action of economic decision makers on the state and local level can be found in several member states of the European Union. Sweden is a good example. Neither state nor local governments are allowed to run deficits.

The big question is, of course, when does order-liberalism seize to be liberal? Is there a danger that the stronger regulatory role of the state will begin to diminish economic freedom significantly? This is undoubtedly an issue that European businesses, interest groups, voters and politicians have to grapple with in the coming years.

Liberalism and the Netherlands

Frank van Mil

The Netherlands have historically been a country with a liberal tradition. However, the guises under which this liberalism appeared on the surface evolved with every era. In this article, I will briefly describe some basic developments in the specific Dutch context of the last decades. From that follows an account of some endeavors by the Van Mierlo Foundation to contribute to a growing liberal awareness.

Dutch context – liberalism and populism in the last few decades

The 1990s saw somewhat of a political revolution in The Netherlands. In 1994, for the first time since the First World War, a government was formed without the Christian-democrats. The conservative liberal VVD, the progressive liberal D66 and social-democratic PvdA joined in the historical ‘Purple Coalition' (purple being the mix of liberal blue and social-democrat red). This coalition set out on a liberal program of modernizing Dutch society, by legalizing abortion and euthanasia, by introducing gay marriage and by strengthening the liberal drugs policy. The 1990s in The Netherlands can also be characterized as a time of privatization and liberalization, reforming telecommunications, the railways and many social security arrangements. At the same time, the political debate in The Netherlands of those days was considered to be highly pragmatic. It was the age of Fukuyama's ‘end of history'. It seemed, at the backdrop of sustaining economical growth and the dotcom industry, like all issues of policy or governance had been reduced to a mere technocratic exercise.

Under the surface however, malcontent was growing in Dutch society, as it seemed to have been all over Europe. Internationally, the attacks on New York's twin towers are generally viewed to be a turning point; for The Netherlands it was the sudden rise of the populist politician Pim Fortuyn, in the fall of 2001. Fortuyn, a flamboyant publicist, combined malcontent about public services with growing tension in Dutch society as a result of a large influx of immigrants. His criticism of Islam was unheard of at the time. He was shot by a left-wing extremist, just a week before the general elections of May 2002. Polls indicated that his party might well grow to be the biggest in the country. The assassination of Fortuyn did not mean the end of turmoil in Dutch society. On the contrary, politics in the first decade of the twenty-first century never seemed to calm down. Governments were unstable and elections followed in rapid succession. In November 2004 the renowned film-maker Theo van Gogh was brutally murdered in the streets of Amsterdam by a fanatic Moroccan-Dutch Muslim and after 2005 right-wing politician Geert Wilders was increasingly successful in adopting the ‘Fortuyn revolt', as it was often called, using rhetoric that was fiercely more extreme than Fortuyn had ever uttered.

The rise of Pim Fortuyn and the subsequent developments caught many political leaders ideologically off guard. It seemed as if the decade of technocratic, pragmatic, growth oriented political discourse had brought many main stream politicians out of touch with their own core convictions. The response to Fortuyns most virulent phrases were painfully weak, from an intellectual/ political theoretical point of view. All too easily, many public figures immediately dragged Anne Frank and the experiences of World War II and the Holocaust in to the debate. A thorough understanding and awareness of the rationale behind Liberal principles like individual freedom, equality for the law or the fundamental right for an individual to determine his own view on the good life were completely absent from the public debate. Perhaps, it is like the American linguist George Lakoff put in his ground breaking ‘Don't think of an elephant'1. If one's frame of reference is dominant in politics and society for a prolonged period of time, people have no need of occasionally returning to their philosophical roots. And eventually, quite often people seem to forget why they have the convictions they hold.

This made it possible for the evidently unliberal populist party of Geert Wilders to call itself the Partij voor de Vrijheid (Party for the Freedom/liberty) and get away with it. (The same holds for populist political movement elsewhere in Europe, ie. Austria or Italy). The paradox of the victory of liberalism as it was professed by Fukuyama, seems to be that liberals loose touch with what it means to be a liberal.

The last few years, Wilders' PVV lost elections and both VVD and D66 won. After a short lived right-wing coalition, which was endorsed by the PVV, The Netherlands now have a purple coalition again - this time without D66. This doesn't mean that liberalism as an ideology is back on its feet, though. Not only is there an enduring need to reassess the fundaments of liberalism and what it means for 21st Century European society; it also needs to be dispersed. This is one of the main motivations for the Van Mierlo Foundation, the think tank of the Dutch progressive liberal party D66.

Liberal principles compared

In September 2011, the Van Mierlo Foundation and the European Liberal Forum organized an international seminar in Doorn, The Netherlands, called ‘liberal principles compared'. Participants came from numerous liberal think tanks, spread all over Europe.2 The objective of the seminar was to see whether clear common denominators can be found between liberals, ranging from Slovenia to Portugal, from Romania to the Netherlands. Six angles were discussed, ie. ‘How does liberalism relate to: socialism, communitarianism, individualism, solidarity, laissez-faire and security?' The respective contributions differed immensely, aptly illustrating that, in present-day Europe, that are many different strains of liberalism. After these two days in Doorn however, it was clear that there was consensus on one very important part of these principles: the individual should always be the starting point from which liberals can develop a view on all issues. This seems a predictable outcome of a liberal discussion, but during the discussion it proved to be very fruitful to introduce the individual to a lot of dichotomies which seemed to limit our argument.

Although liberals always try to keep in mind that individual freedom is of utmost importance, they often fail to take the individual into account when discussing certain issues. As in public life, often the discussion is narrowed down to a choice between two options. A choice between more of this or more of that. And even though it is not the intention of those using the concepts, it suggests that reality can be reduced to (a choice between) two options: for example between church or state (secularism); between market or state (laissez-faire); between freedom and security.

Often the individual is not one of those options. But in the process of choosing between two concepts, the individual is often lost in the discussion. Introducing the individual into that discussion opens up a whole new dimension. At first the discussion is basically an axis between two concepts.

The graphic representation of an axis illustrates how easily the two can be perceived as each others exact opposite. After the introduction of ‘the individual', the scale is transformed into a triangle, thus stressing that the discussion isn't about dichotomies, nor about exact and inescapable opposites. Rather it shows that we're discussing elements that relate to each other.

Consider secularism, for example. The discussion about it often based on the dichotomy of (the collective of ) the state and (the collective of ) religion. However, liberals should be concerned with individual rights and freedom. The question should not be whether any religious activity should be supported by the state or not. The question should be, how can the state facilitate individuals in executing their rights of religious freedom? And, how can individuals be safeguarded against a state that enforces one true religion? This means that the individual is added to the two concepts of state and religion. The discussion thereby is no longer on the relation between two institutions and on the balance of power between them. The discussion is about how the freedom of individuals can be protected against either state or religious intrusion by these very institutions.

A complaint often heard about individualism, and thereby about liberalism, is that it coincides with egotism. This can be refuted by the comment that liberalism doesn't deny the need to live together. An insightful point to make in this light refers to the different terms of egotism and egoism that the English language distinguishes in this: egotism means placing oneself at the center of one's world with no concern for others, including those loved or considered as ‘close,' in any other terms except those set by the ‘egotist.' Egoism on the other hand, envelopes a much wider array of views, all somehow comprising the idea that it is only logical that individuals principally have themselves to refer to. Egoism doesn't necessarily have a connotation of anti-social behavior. Even more so, liberalism promotes living together and liberalism only works if there is solidarity. A key element in this is reciprocity. One can only be free, if one gives the same freedom to the people around oneself. If only one individual gets more freedom while another individual's freedom is limited, the first cannot be free in the end.

The central role of the individual in liberalism also clarifies much that has been said about liberalism and market capitalism. Of course, they both stem from the same intellectual tradition. Yet, that are not fully congruent. Liberalism is more than just ‘laissez- faire', as the above mentioned clearly illustrates. In this respect it can also be helpful to remind oneself that originally, liberalism is not an anti-state ideology. In fact, liberalism in a way ‘invoked' the modern state during the age of revolutions in order to protect individual freedom against large, hereditary, uncontrollable power, thus separating the private from the public sphere. Nonetheless, quite often, and ever more so after the Fall of the Berlin Wall, liberalism has been mistaken too often and easily with free market capitalism. (Incidentally, a mistake in which unregulated markets are often misleadingly called ‘free' – a conception of freedom as being completely without bounds.)

Governing governance

Making the point that liberalism transcends mere ‘laissez-faire', the Van Mierlo Foundation translated these kinds of impressions into a conceptual framework for liberals, when considering the relation between people, states and markets. This lead to the English publication of ‘Governing Goverance'3, which appeared under the flag of, again, the European Liberal Forum. Ultimately, governance issues are at the heart of politics. What authority or mechanism organizes what in society and in which manner? Every society, however large or small, is regulated, governed by a set of, ideally, legitimate institutions, rules, norms and values, which operate at different levels of society, from households and organizations to industries and society at large.

Governing Governance is meant to facilitate systematic thinking about governance issues from a liberal perspective. More than trying to find a definitive answer, the analysis is intended to help politicians and policymakers to ask the right questions, to identify the critical tradeoffs, and to structure the debate.

We distinguish between three principally equal and ideal typical governance principles, that is defined as the way of organizing society. These are: governance by Relationships, Bureaucracies and Markets. Governance by Relationships means that interaction between people is regulated by trust, reputation, reciprocity and non-enforceable but deeply felt rights and responsibilities. By governance by Bureaucracies we refer to the coordination of transactions based on enforceable rights and enforced responsibilities. Governance by Markets implies regulation of transactions between parties that demand and supply products or services based on price incentives.

In our view, the current political debate about how to govern (parts of) of society makes three fundamental 'mistakes'. First of all, the discussion on governance is usually reduced to (like already mentioned before) a dichotomy4, 'Markets' versus ‘States, neglecting a third governance principle: in our terminology – Relationships. This way of governing is however crucial to any society where people meet and regulate their interactions 'spontaneously'. Secondly, in current political debate there is a tendency to haphazardly mix and match governance principles (the way of governing inter- and transactions) and governing actors (what or who does the governing). For instance, does a preference for 'Markets' mean that we should organize a part of society via market principles, or that we should leave an issue to 'market parties'? In our view, one first need to decide what principle should dominate the governance of a particular issue, before turning to the question who should be the most important actor. Thirdly, in the current political debate political parties often automatically favour one principle over the other because of ideological preferences. In our view, the three principles are not hierarchically prioritized governance principles, but rather different principles that each have unique limitations and strengths. The choice for a specific governance arrangement depends on how well it facilitates the overarching aim. In other words, in ‘Governing Governance' we advance a more pragmatic approach towards governance issues.

Given this approach, it becomes crucial to define our overarching aim from a liberal perspective, which we formulate as: to ensure a long-term quality of life for as many individuals as possible, and to do so in a sustainable way, providing maximum positive freedom as a default. In order to achieve this aim, we have three 'buttons' which we can rotate: efficiency, fairness and cohesion. Any governance structure has to perform on all of these criteria in order to be sustainable and foster (positive) individual freedom. Quite often, these criteria are linked to their ‘natural' governance principles, Markets, Bureaucracies and Relationships respectively.

After a careful analysis of the to-be-governed case at hand, the desirable governance principle or mix of principles should be designed. Sometimes, efficiency takes centre stage, implying the need for a governance regime dominated by contestable Markets (e.g., food retailing). In another cases, fairness is key, suggesting that governance must be organized primarily through democratically challenged Bureaucracies (e.g., social security). Often, though, different purposes have to be served simultaneously, requiring a subtle balance of efficiency and fairness (e.g., health care), and hence an intricate mixture of Markets and Bureaucracies without either dominating the other. And always, care should be taken that Relationships are not destroyed in the process, which would produce collateral damage by undermining cohesion and trust. The bottom line is that a careful case-by-case analysis is needed, leading to tailor-made governance arrangements.

Governing Governance concludes by stating that not all politics is governance, but all governance should be politics. It is issues like the governance of health and elderly care, of the banking system and of many welfare state arrangements that will continue to constitute the core of the political debates that liberals should engage in. The 20th century saw major catastrophes emerging from ideologically infused utopian attempts at overhauling governance. Socialist experiments with bureaucracies and neo-liberal experiments with unfettered markets have failed; not because these governance principles cannot function properly, but because their weaknesses were ignored and they were applied dogmatically without regard for sustainably balancing social goals. A piecemeal approach to a more rationally designed, democratically legitimized governance structure will bring a more sustainable, efficient, fair and socially cohesive Europe in the 21st century. Liberals owe it to their political ancestry to champion such an approach, and we hope that the analytical framework developed in the essay will help them do so.

Guiding principles

Endeavours like mentioned above are critically important in maintaining grip with ones own convictions. However, to strengthen liberal movements an have a response to populism, we need more than just academic, theoretical exercises. Our liberal ideas need to be dispersed and adopted by the general public. In order to do so, D66 and the Van Mierlo Foundation developed five ‘guiding principles for progressive, social-liberal politics'. These guiding principles mean to translate the world of academics and political theory into practical tools for everyday use. They are:

  • Have faith in people's own capacities
  • Think and act internationally
  • Reward accomplishment and share the wealth
  • Strife for a sustainable and harmonious society
  • Cherish the fundamental rights and shared values

The guiding principles are currently being used by many active politicians of D66, be it on a local, regional, national or European level. They are actively being taught and promoted throughout the party and help people with their political decisions and with explaining these decisions. It is also our experience though, that the guiding principles do not lend themselves very well to campaigning. They do not make excellent texts for flyers or posters, nor is it wise to make them the centre of a political strategy. If there is one thing that I hope that this article brings across though, it is that it is very much worthwhile to consider basic fundamentals of ones own convictions nonetheless. Maybe not for a direct hit in tomorrows newspapers, or for readymade arguments in a debate. But knowledge of your own ideological roots is essential in order to know the why behind the what.

1 G. Lakoff, Don't think of an elephant: Know your values and frame the debate (Chelsea Publishing, 2004).
2 This seminar lead to the publication with the same title: http://www.liberalforum.eu/tl_files/publications/LiberalPrinciplesCompared.pdf
3 A. van Witteloostuijn, et. Al, Governing Governance (European Liberal Forum, 2012). http://www.liberalforum.eu/tl_files/publications/GoverningGovernance.pdf. The original Dutch version, ‘Ordening op orde' was published in 2011.
4 Note though, that this time the element of ‘the individual' is not included in this triad. The perspective of individual freedom is the deeper lying goal of liberalism, as discussed above.

Does the Future of History Mean the End of Liberalism

Speech at Magma's seminar What is liberalism today, Helsinki, 21 november 2012

Håkan Tribell

When I was asked to put a heading on this lecture I suggested "Does the Future of History Mean the End of Liberalism."

People in all times have believed themselves to be living in a transitional period of upheaval. Surprisingly often those who profess such an opinion seem to think that on the other side of that transition lies paradise – or doom.

How do you evaluate a historical event while it is still unfolding? Do you even know that it is under way?

"In watching the flow of events over the past decade or so, it is hard to avoid the feeling that something very fundamental has happened in world history."

That was the first sentence in the famous article The End of History, by Francis Fukuyama. He wrote it in 1989, and we can now agree that he was right on that point.

Because of Karl Popper's important showdown with historicism, many perceived Fukuyama's article as ridiculously speculative. History, of course, does not end. Humanity's existence is dynamic and in constant change, not static, and never in equilibrium.

But if there was one particular year that liberals wished that history would end, it was of course 1989. The world saw the final collapse of Communism. Also, the era of ever-expanding Government, of confiscatory taxes followed by stagnation, the era of "let's save our old industries", was over.

Sure it would have been great if the liberal land of bliss had been waiting around the corner, with democracy and capitalism, with peace, freedom, and prosperity, all of it in undisturbed equilibrium!

But just a few years into the new Millennium history continued with new red-letter days: September 11, 2001, September 15, 2008.
And, not surprisingly, in the beginning of 2012 Fukuyama wrote a new article, this time with the title The Future of History. Does the future of history mean that liberalism failed?

I will use this opportunity to argue for two theses.

First, while the challenges of the 20th century came from the outside, from Nazism, Fascism and Socialism, today's challenges come from the inside, from within ourselves.

Second, the liberal, democratic, capitalist society is experiencing a temporary decline, but long-term, the trend is still positive.
To give some structure to the analysis, I will use Fukuyama's articles as a starting point, beginning with the first from the summer of 1989. Since it has been so misunderstood over the years, let me first begin with the basics: What did he in fact write?

Fukuyama and the End of History

Fukuyama concluded that liberalism as an ideology had faced two tough challengers during the 20th century - Fascism and Communism. After The Second World War, Fascism's importance in both practical and ideological terms, was over. And by the end of the 1980s it was clear to Fukuyama that the still existing Communist countries, the Soviet Union and China, were communist by name only. They didn't believe in their own system. Therefore, in the long run Communism could not be said to provide an alternative to liberal, capitalist democracy.

Did Fukuyama write that the historical evolution would be linear, and only proceed in one direction? Of course not:

"That is not to say that there will no longer be events to fill the pages of Foreign Affair's yearly summaries of international relations, for the victory of liberalism has occurred primarily in the realm of ideas or consciousness and is as yet incomplete in the real or material world. But there are powerful reasons for believing that it is the ideal that will govern the material world in the long run." (my emphasis)

So he was upfront with the idea that the future can produce many setbacks. In no particular case can the historical evolution be said to be predetermined. He had another, much more important, point:

There are no longer any fundamental contradictions in Human existence that cannot be resolved within the democratic, economic and political system, that would find a better solution within the framework of an alternative system. If Liberal democracy was abolished somewhere, it would still be resurrected further down the road. Not because democracy is capable of creating utopia, but because it saves Humanity from dystopia. The same goes for the market economy.

Is it time to question this conclusion? Let's instead look at how the material history has progressed since the fall of Communism. What events and challenges does liberal society face?

External threats?

Liberalism in every age faces two major challenges: First, it is competing in the marketplace of ideas - Fascism, Communism, and Socialism are in decline, not extinct. Add to that the world's theocracies. Some opponents are also threatening to use force, and violence, to attack the open society.

Second, there are in every society and in every era, different forms of collective problems of collaboration, where liberalism needs to provide solutions that are compatible with individual liberty.

Let me start with a brief note on the external threat.

The event that has formed our times the most is probably when the Twin Towers in New York collapsed before our eyes on live TV. The decade that followed provided many tests for the idea of individual liberty.

And yet it is wrong to label this era as the age of terrorism. To begin with, the number of terrorist attacks has not increased (compared to the 1970s). More important still is the fact that the attacks haven't shaken the foundations of our societies. Our economic and political institutions have at least thus far been shown to be sufficiently robust to handle the contradictions that followed in the footsteps of terrorism. Please note that I am not talking about perfect solutions, but about identifying patterns of action that are good enough, or at least not outright bad.

Some point to another external threat, namely China. China today comes across as an economically potent nation with ambitions, and military ones as well. There are reasons to study this example closely as well, but I will leave that for now.

I will instead turn my focus to the other dimension.

The really serious threat to liberal, capitalist democracy today comes from within. The problems in the United States and in Europe are created at home. Unfortunately often, though not always, there have been liberal motives behind the decisions that led to the problematic situation we face today.

The internal threat/The EU example

Let me start with the European Union, perhaps the most illuminating example of how the threat to freedom, democracy and markets can come from within – despite the best of intentions. The EU has just been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, while at the same time the German Chancellor is likened to Hitler when she visits Greece. In the UK, there is a debate whether the country should leave the European Union. And today no one can say for sure which countries tomorrow still use the euro, or even if the euro survives.

So there are two stories being told in parallel – one about the comprehensive peace project, the other about a Union disintegrating. I find it very interesting that they both seem to be true, at least in the short run.

Ever since the beginning, the European Union has been an idealistic project. The end goal – peace among peoples – was liberal. The same goes for the means toward this end: free mobility for people, goods, services and capital.

It does, however, also exhibit inherent weaknesses. With its first sentence, the Treaty of Rome created an internal monster in the corridors of the European Union. It reads:

"DETERMINED to lay the foundations of an ever-closer union among the peoples of Europe (...)". (my emphasis)

An ever-closer union. This political vision is frequent in the European Union's celebratory speeches. It is also an accurate description of the EU's evolution, from The European Coal and Steel Community, with six founding countries, to today's 27, soon to be 28, member states. The power of the institutions of the European Union has been progressively strengthened, at the expense of the nation states.

Is the future direction predetermined? Is it always desirable? In the wording about an ever-closer union, historicism lurks. We have heard it before. There is only one road ahead – and beyond the horizon we will find Paradise: perpetual peace, open borders and a perfect balance between economic growth and social safety nets. Or to use the wordings of José-Manuel Barrosso:

"A deep and genuine economic and monetary union, a political union, with a coherent foreign and defense policy, means ultimately that the present European Union must evolve. Let's not be afraid of the words: we will need to move towards a federation of nation states. This is what we need. This is our political horizon."

Thus reads the European version of the politics of the one and only true path.

Considering the historic experience of two brutal World Wars, it is easy to intellectually understand and explain the wording in the Treaty of Rome. Barrosso's line of reasoning can also be logically understood, he is after all a product of the EU machinery. But he is not only giving the wrong answer, he is addressing the wrong problem.

We can agree with the Norwegian Nobel committee that the European Union is the most successful peace project of our age. One fantastic result, of course, is making continued wars between Germany and France unthinkable. Another, equally important, result has to do with the ability to inspire and speed up the democratic process in the countries that in 1989 were freed from the communist yoke of the Soviet Union.

In the first process, the method was to wed together the French and German coal and steel industries. In the second process, the EU tempted prospective member states with access to a large market, economic growth, and – at least to some extent – security policy. In this way it promoted democratic reforms, economic liberalization, fight against corruption and the establishment of rule of law.

All of this was, in practice, completed on May 1st 2004, with the EU-enlargement. Conflicts in Europe are now resolved with the help of the usual democratic power play, not with the rattling of swords.

The challenge for Europe is therefore fundamentally different now than when the Treaty of Rome was drafted. The continent therefore does not need more streamlining, but more tolerance for diversity.

Looking back in light of this, the euro seems like a fundamental error. Not because the idea in itself is bad or even impossible to achieve. I myself was pro-euro during the Swedish referendum in 2003, and I still think the theoretical arguments hold water. But it is obvious that I, and many others, were utterly naïve and overlooked obvious political realities. The euro is based on the notion that people, and in this case their respective governments, are generally nice and do good, without facing the risk of penalizing sanctions when they break the rules. It's like leaving all stores unlocked while at the same time abolishing the police.

The euro was supposed to promote the common good, but instead it fosters discord among us. The euro as a project could possibly be saved, and it is possible that right now it is the least-worst alternative. But it shouldn't be saved at the expense of what has to be the future idea of the European Union, an idea that has to be something different from the Barrosso vision of a "United States of Europe". Why? For it is commerce, a common market, that binds us together, not a common currency, common culture or common tradition.

This does not mean we should say ‘no' to the EU as a project. On the contrary. That would be a huge mistake. Let's not pretend that the benefits of the Common Market had come about, or would be maintained, without EU institutions. Bureaucracy in Brussels is the price we pay for not having bombs dropped on Berlin. The price appears extremely low - but still, it is a price we pay, and therefore it needs to be kept as low as possible. The best way to be a friend to the European Union today, therefore, is to be a constructive critic.

It is not the political superstructure that needs reinforcement, but the idea of the Common Market. The benefits of commerce is that people tend to trade with strangers as well, sometimes even with enemies, as long as both parties in the transaction benefit. Since markets are dynamic and ever-changing, the political task is tearing down barriers, tariffs, covert trade restrictions, et cetera. The European Union works best when markets are freed and liberalized, not restricted nor buried in regulatory red tape.

The optimist puts his trust in that the political system in time will find the narrow but workable path.

Crony Capitalism and Romantic Politics

The pessimist turns his eyes to the other side of the Atlantic and comes to the conclusion that the inability to reform has characterized the US as well, not only Europe. What did the US election campaign show is?

  1. Politicians promise more than they can keep, and
  2. voters want more than they are willing to pay for.

In this regard, Americans don't differ from citizens in other democratic countries, may that be Greece or Sweden or Finland. Actually, this seems to be the inherent mark of the democratic welfare state.

But this is not the story we are reading in everyday newspapers. This is not perceived to be the main problem of our age. We are instead being told that the financial crisis made capitalism show its true face, where greed among big corporations governs and where the rich get richer at the expense of the poor.

This view does contain some truth. It is true that in the rich world not everybody has achieved a higher standard of living. It is also accurate that the political system of today has been beneficial to strong lobby groups, not least in the US. That the financial sector today gets to keep its profits when times are good, but get the taxpayers to foot the bill in bad times is repulsive.

But – this can hardly be described as a free market. A free market rewards risk, but punishes failure. They are both each other's prerequisite, since it is risk-taking that justifies the reward when the bet succeeds.

Nothing makes the capitalist happier than a state-guaranteed monopoly, or some other form of governmental guarantee. It is this insight that makes liberals praise free markets, and possibly entrepreneurs, but rarely corporations or "business", especially not "big business". Liberals dislike subsidies, whether they are aimed at the auto industry or the farm sector. Unfortunately, these kind of subsidies are now common in both the US and Europe.
Another myth is that the wave of liberalizations during the 1980s and -90s, after Thatcher and Reagan, meant that the welfare state was pushed back. It is simply not true. It is possibly true for Sweden, where total government spending as a share of GDP has dropped from 65 percent in 1995 to 55 percent in 2009. In Finland as well, from 61 percent to 54 percent. But the rest of the rich world is moving in the opposite direction, and seems to converge at approximately below the 50%-mark. One example: Most people live under the illusion that the United States doesn't have a welfare state to speak of. Public spending there was up to more than 42 percent of GDP in 2009. That is before the next big welfare program, ObamaCare, even went into effect.

You could call this many things. But is does seem like an uncharacteristically obvious misuse of a concept, almost up there with Orwellian newspeak, to call it "untamed market", "the true face of capitalism", or even "neoliberalism".

Government, the political sector, has therefore not been rolled back. What we see is instead that politicians' promises are more and more financed by borrowed money. It is an illustrative comment to the laconic words of the 19th century economist Frédéric Bastiat: "Government is the great fiction through which everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else."

The crisis of Politics

Therefore: Rather than witnessing the crisis of capitalism, we are witnessing the crisis of politics. It is a crisis for the democratic system's ability to act forcefully, and its capacity for rational and correct action. It is about a crisis for the inherent promise of the welfare state - that people's common wellbeing is best handled through the state's coercive powers, and the idea that majority rule is effective as a decision making process. A prerequisite for this promise is a strong belief in the nurturing power of politics, and a starting point for mistrusting the market.

The logic goes something like this: Since the market is an ineffective, irrational, and unjust mechanism, it should be replaced by a rational and democratic polity. Away with tyrants, greedy men and elites – when we get to decide for ourselves, everything will turn out for the best!

This romanticized notion of politics has been an undercurrent during the past century, the democratic century. It is also the prevailing idea to this day, among economists as well as among other social scientists. If only decisions were a little clearer, if only the bureaucracy was a little more efficient, if only citizens were a little wiser, our problems would be solved.

In fact, we know that this is not the case. We rightfully criticize economic models that assume that people are "perfectly rational". But the same criticism can – and should – be directed at the political sphere. Voters, bureaucrats, members of parliament and ministers are people with the same flaws and shortcomings as consumers, producers and business leaders.

The romantic view of politics is dangerous, for two reasons. In the short run it risks leading to a lot of wrongheaded political decisions of precisely the sort we've seen since the world was engulfed in financial crisis and Europe in a debt crisis. In the middle-long run, broken promises may lead to cynicism and counter-reactions of exactly the sort we see today in southern Europe - only on a bigger scale.

In the worst case, this could threaten the very political institutions we have depended on during the fortunate and peaceful period of human history since the Second World War.

The Return of Liberalism

How can we avoid this worst case scenario?

Let's return to Fukuyama. The sub-headline of the 2012 article read: Can Liberal Democracy Survive the Decline of the Middle Class?

One of Fukuyamas important observations was that technological progress, in combination with the spread of meritocracy, has meant that the fruits of development to an ever larger extent stay with the talents that develop them. At a first glance this seems great. Did we not fight the absolute power of monarchs and the aristocracy with meritocracy as a weapon? Did we not fight for free enterprise to free Humanity from the shackles of feudalism?

Or, as Anders Chydenius put it: "[Freedom] guarantees a Swede the enjoyment of his most precious and greatest natural right, granted to him as a human being by the Almighty, namely, to earn his living by the sweat of his brow in the best way he can."

A problem is of course that in a more meritocratic world, people to a greater extent get what they deserve, as a result of their own effort. That creates new prerequisites for the moral debate about redistribution within the framework of the welfare state. That your own effort is not enough, but that luck and cooperation of others is required, does not diminish the fact that the point of meritocracy is that your own qualifications should matter.

But the problem is even more complicated. Back in the day, a mathematical genius became an engineer and built bridges or cars for the good of Humanity. Today he creates an algorithm and ends up on Wall Street. Should he have miscalculated, lobbyists have made sure that his employer is considered "too big to fail" and receives a bailout. Heads – I win. Tails – you lose.

Fukuyama raises questions regarding these contradictions between meritocracy, technological progress, globalization and the prospect for increases in the standard of living for the broad middle class. Are these contradictions resolvable within the confines of liberal democracy?

China is not an alternative. In part, he considers it culture-specific (as is the Nordic model). In part, the contradictions within China are also apparent. Instead, Fukuyama says, what is needed is a new ideology to save us from the deadlock that was created by crony capitalism in combination with a paralyzed political system:

"Economically, the ideology could not begin with a denunciation of capitalism as such, as if old-fashioned socialism were still a viable alternative. It is more the variety of capitalism that is at stake and the degree to which governments should help societies adjust to change."

I share that analysis, if not the conclusion that a new ideology is needed. In fact, classical liberalism works just fine as guiding light. The insight into the benefits of the free market is there, but also the risks of rent-seeking and moral hazard. Also, liberals are democrats. But we should look at democracy with the skepticism of a realist rather than as something utopian. To speak with Churchill: "Democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried." By the way, we could say the same thing about the market economy.

The danger of the expansion of the public sector we witness in the world, is that to a larger extent it is special interest groups on the inside that continue to reap benefits, at the expense of everyone on the outside. I am talking about everything from financial market lobbyists to established trade union groups. (Teacher unions stronghold on American education politics might be just as strong a threat to future prosperity as Wall Street's lobbyists.)

A more skeptical approach to democracy is not the same as a disappearance of the welfare state. In part, it would hardly be desirable, and partly, it is unlikely to occur. What is needed, is for the political domain to allow for diversity, freedom of choice and own initiatives to a much larger extent than today.

Democracy's chief benefit in comparison with possible alternatives is not that the outcome is always correct, but that the outcome is seldom totally wrong.

In the short run, there is an obvious risk for setbacks. Strong forces are promoting more protectionism, more isolationism, more intolerance, more regulations, "strong leaders", an overconfidence in politics and skepticism towards markets, globalization and economic liberty.

And yet, it is difficult to see something that would fundamentally disprove Fukuyama's 1989 conclusion. One example, that he himself raises, is how Japanese society in a very short time has been transformed. Not even two decades of economic standstill has even suggested a return to the militaristic empire the country once was. Would Europe, even if two lost decades awaited us, deteriorate to the extent that Germany and France would start rattling their weapons? The question feels rhetorical.

So, if I'm right, we will view this time in history as a temporary bump in the road on the successful path of liberalism, rather than a period of ideological transition and upheaval.

To sum up:

  • Liberalism as an ideology has probably never been stronger and more relevant.
  • Liberal ideas are not utopian, but have to be applied to a world in constant change. One effect of the advances of liberalism is that today's challenges are different from yesterday's. Companies that are successful for centuries exhibit great flexibility, including completely switching business models. Politics, too, needs more of this creative destruction.
  • If the 1900s were marked by an ongoing idea-based fight for democracy, then the struggle of our times is about securing support for the market economy. The primary threats come from within, in the form of a romantic view of politics and in the form of "crony capitalism".

How do we avoid the pitfalls? With transparency, competition and intellectual defense of Man's right to freedom.

Fortunately, this idea about human liberty has grown strong roots in our societies. The liberal challenge remains, now as ever, in guarding liberty in all parts. We are taught in school that every generation has to be won for democracy. That is true. Every generation also has to be won for the market economy. And this, for very obvious reasons: History never ends.

Liberalism with a human face

John Vikström

Tack ska jag ha, jag tror det var av mitt som jag åt, sade husbonden då han steg upp från bordet. Själv hade han producerat det som hade dukats fram. Han kände sig oberoende, ingen något skyldig. Här fanns ingen annan att tacka.

Husbonden visste sitt värde. Vad han kanske inte visste var att han med adressen på sitt tack hade berört några centrala frågor gällande vårt människovarande på denna planet - frågorna gällande individ och samhälle, frihet och beroende.

Ofta måste man blicka bakåt för att kunna förstå sin samtid och blicka framåt. Detta gäller också för den som försöker förstå läget och problemen inom dagens liberalism och inom samhällsskeendet överlag. Redan en hastig blick i backspegeln visar att liberalismen inte är någon enhetlig företeelse. I sin bok Klassinen liberalismi (1997) identifierar Risto Harisalo och Ensio Miettinen t.o.m. fem olika riktningar. För förståelsen av den nu aktuella problematiken torde det ändå räcka med att beakta den tidiga tudelning inom den liberala samhällssynen som Sirkku Hellsten förtjänstfullt redogör för i sin artikel Kohtuutta oikeuteen: hyvinvointivaltion tulevaisuus ja moraalinen individualismi (Tiedepolitiikka 1/97).

Den ena huvudlinjen utgjordes av den angloamerikanska empiristiska och naturalistiska traditionen med namn som Thomas Hobbes och John Locke, David Hume och Adam Smith samt utilitarismens stora företrädare Jeremy Bentham och John Stuart Mill. På den europeiska kontinenten kom liberalismen att få delvis andra betoningar, särskilt under inflytande av den filosofiska idealismen. De stora namnen här var Immanuel Kant och J.G.Fichte. Den angloamerikanska naturalistiska och den kontinentala idealistiska liberalismens olika utgångspunkter kom att leda till anmärkningsvärda skillnader såväl i människo- och historiesynen som i flera andra frågor gällande samhällslivet.

Angloamerikanerna kom att omfatta en rent empiristisk människosyn genom att iaktta hur människan faktiskt fungerar i den sociala verkligheten. På basen av dessa iakttagelser ansåg de att den naturliga människan primärt är inriktad på att klara sig och överleva och att härvid maximera sina fördelar. Redan Thomas Hobbes hade påstått att självbevarelsedriften är människans grunddrift. Eftersom denna drift hör till människans natur är hon helt enkelt dömd att vara en rationell egoist. Denna syn har på senare tid fått ny aktualitet bl.a. genom den militanta evolutionsbiologen och religionskritikern Rickard Dawkins bok och tankar om "den själviska genen" och överhuvudtaget genom biologins allt starkare hegemoni på vetenskapernas område.

Den frihet som tillhör och anstår människan är alltså enligt den angloamerikanska grenen en frihet att leva ut och förverkliga nämnda grunddrift, varvid förnuftet hjälper henne att välja och följa en klok strategi på livets vida marknadsfält. Förnuftets roll och betydelse gäller alltså mera medlen än målet, vilket är dikterat av den egoistiska grunddriften.

Åt denna empiristiska och naturalistiska liberalism erbjöd den kontinentala liberalismen ett tydligt alternativ både vad metod och innehåll beträffar. I överensstämmelse med den filosofiska idealismens långa tradition ansågs här det rena transcendenta förnuftet utgöra det konstitutiva och dominerande elementet hos människan. Detta förnuft ansågs förse människan med förmågan att välja mellan rätt och orätt, gott och ont. Förnuftet, inte drifterna, förutsattes diktera människans värden och mål och sålunda bestämma individens utveckling och historiens gång. Det är alltså fråga om en värderationalitet (Wertrationalität) i motsats till den angloamerikanska grenens instrumentella rationalitet (Zweckrationalität) för att tala med Max Weber och för att anknyta till den centrala problematiken i Georg Henrik von Wrights samhällskritik i slutet av 1900-talet.

Ett viktigt element i den kontinentala liberalismen var dess idé om idealmänniskan, som varje individ borde eftersträva och förverkliga. Den från antikens Grekland härstammande tanken på människans självförverkligande hör alltså intimt ihop med den idealistiska liberalismen. Det är fråga om en liberalism som söker det som är gott för människan. Därför kan denna liberalism betecknas som en humanistisk liberalism till åtskillnad från den naturalistiska – en liberalism med ett mänskligt ansikte.

Skillnaden mellan den angloamerikanska empiristiska och naturalistiska liberalismen och den rationalistiska och humanistiska liberalismen på den europeiska kontinenten kommer till uttryck i ett flertal frågor gällande människan och samhället.

Först och främst föreligger olika betoningar i synen på frihet. Den angloamerikanska liberalismen har hållit sig med ett övervägande negativt frihetsbegrepp: frihet från sådant som hindrar en individ eller en grupp att arbeta för och uppnå de fördelar som man eftersträvar. Inom liberalismens andra gren har man däremot betonat frihet till något, inte endast frihet från. Religionsfrihet t.ex. är inte endast frihet från religiöst tvång utan framför allt rätten att fritt utöva sin religion. Motsvarande distinktion kommer till synes i synen på medborgarnas rättigheter, där den humanistiska liberalismen betonar individernas positiva rättigheter såsom rätten till delaktighet, trygghet, arbete o.s.v. I synen på begreppet ansvar ligger betoningarna också olika. Inom den angloamerikanska grenen betonas individens, gruppens eller företagets ansvar inför sig själv, medan man inom den andra grenen håller sig med ett vidare ansvarsbegrepp och betonar det gemensamma ansvaret för gemensamma angelägenheter och mål. De olika synsätten beträffande frihet och rättigheter leder till olika syn på staten, dess uppgifter och befogenheter. På det ena hållet begränsas statens uppgift huvudsakligen till att garantera de olika intressenas fria spel och samtidigt hindra att denna tävlan urartar i ett allas krig mot alla. På det andra hållet betonas statens uppgifter i anslutning till förverkligandet av medborgarnas positiva friheter och positiva rättigheter, vilket leder till en betoning av statens ansvar för fostran, utbildning, hälso- och sjukvård, socialskydd o.s.v., alltså sådant som förverkligats i välfärdssamhället. Synen på staten har sin motsvarighet i synen på politiken, den medvetna styrningen av samhällets liv mot uppställda mål. Den angloamerikanska liberalismen har sålunda en mera återhållsam attityd och en mera spänningsfylld relation till det politiska systemet än den kontinentala.

När man försöker förstå problematiken i dagens politiska situation, samhällsklimat och samhällsdebatt bör man alltså enligt min mening beakta de divergenser mellan den klassiska liberalismens två huvudgrenar som jag i det föregående har försökt antyda. Spänningsförhållandet mellan de nyliberalistiska idéerna och välfärdssamhällets bärande idéer är en tydlig återspegling av denna idéhistoriska tudelning. Inom nyliberalismen föreligger inget större behov att diskutera målen för samhällets utveckling. Här ligger individernas och gruppernas målsättningar i blickpunkten, inte det kollektiva samhällets målsättningar. Det politiskt skapade och politiskt styrda välfärdssamhället däremot är ett målinriktat projekt, inriktat på det som är gott för människan – ett humanistiskt och därmed ett etiskt projekt, skapat av tre idéströmningar med etiska mål och visioner: humanistisk socialliberalism, kristen humanism och revisionistisk socialism.

En av de allvarligaste utmaningarna till alla slag av liberalism är frågan vilka etiska konsekvenser man drar av det empiriska faktum att vi människor, både som individ och som grupp, har varandras liv i vår händer, om vi vill det eller inte. Detta ömsesidiga beroende, förhållandet mellan individ och samhälle, frihet och ansvar, frihet och plikt, behandlas på ett lysande sätt i Göran Rosenbergs bok Plikten, profiten och konsten att vara människa (2004). Profiten och plikten ser Rosenberg som två skilda drivkrafter i den mänskliga tillvaron. Den förstnämnda handlar om vad vi vill i vår strävan att berika våra liv, den andra om vad vi måste i relation till medmänniskor och samhälle på grund av våra inbördes beroenden. Härmed anknyter Rosenberg till den klassiska liberalismens vardera huvudfåra. Med sin betoning av profiten som drivkraft kommer han i närheten av den angloamerikanska fåran, med sin betoning av plikten i närheten av den kontinentala. Det råder ingen tvekan om vilken av de två fårorna som enligt hans mening måste vidgas i ett läge där "pliktens domäner" har invaderats av "profitens kalkyler". Han hänvisar till Kants allmängiltiga moralprincip, "det kategoriska imperativet", som ålägger människan att handla enbart enligt sådana moraliska principer som kan upphöjas till allmän lag. Helt riktigt ser Rosenberg här ett uttryck för världsreligionernas gemensamma s.k. gyllene regel: Allt vad ni vill att människorna skall göra för er, det skall ni också göra för dem.

I Rosenbergs bok kan vi också finna en tydlig hälsning till vår husbonde, som det var tal om i början, och till alla som likt honom inte inser, inte erkänner och därför inte heller drar konsekvenserna av vårt ovedersägliga inbördes beroende på denna vår jord: "Beroendet av andra människor, inte friheten från dem är vad som gör oss till människor ... När människan tar sin existens för given, när hon tror att hon är produkten av sitt eget verk, när hon får för sig att hon inte är beroende av någon annan för att kunna vara sig själv, och därför inte heller har någon anledning att tacka någon för det, har hon förlorat kontakten med de grundläggande villkoren för sin mänsklighet."

Här har vi, så vitt jag kan se, en av grundpelarna för en liberalism med ett mänskligt ansikte – ett ansikte som bär inte endast individens utan också medmänniskans drag.