Albert Hirschman Centre on Democracy
06 May 2021

Do we need to reinvent liberalism for the 21st century?

Timothy Garton Ash is our guest in this week’s episode of Democracy in Question?

The second season of the Albert Hirschman Centre on Democracy’s flagship podcast Democracy in Question? in now well underway. In this new episode, Professor Timothy Garton Ash is AHCD Director Shalini Randeria’s distinguished guest in an episode dedicated to the future of liberalism. With populism on the rise due to the economic and social consequences of decades of austerity politics, many analysts have written about and even predicted the death of liberalism. So, Professor Randeria asks: should we bury it as an idea, or can liberalism learn from its mistakes and emerge stronger?

For Professor Garton Ash, predictions of the death of liberalism are not to be taken too seriously: indeed, “liberalism has an extraordinary history of trial and error, of constant self- criticism and renewal. So, of course, liberalism needs renewal. But that's also what liberalism is good at.” The issue, he suggests, is that liberalism in the last 30 years has been essentially economic. This has led to “soaring levels of inequality, far too little solidarity in our societies and neglecting the profound needs for community and identity.” Renewing liberalism, Professor Garton Ash argues, would “start with recognizing that liberalism has to be three dimensional, if not four dimensional, it has to be economic, political, social, and [even] cultural.”

Professor Randeria notes that, worryingly, liberalism has not yet been able to rethink whom the political community of the nation state should include or exclude: “liberalism seems to have a problem about how to include the rights of minorities”, she notes, “including solidarity and practices of solidarity with migrants and refugees.” Professor Garton Ash offers a different interpretation: “I don't think liberalism has a big problem with that, we just haven't been practicing it. Actually, the French republican model, but also the slightly more muddled and pragmatic British model of civic integration, has scored huge successes [in this respect]”.

Download the podcast's transcript HERE


Timothy Garton Ash is Professor of European Studies in the University of Oxford, Isaiah Berlin Professorial Fellow at St Antony’s College, Oxford, and a Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University.

Shalini Randeria is the Director of the Albert Hirschman Centre on Democracy at the Graduate Institute in Geneva, Rector of the Institute of Human Sciences (IWM) in Vienna and Excellence Chair, University of Bremen (Research Group: Soft Authoritarianism).