Friday, December 23, 2016

Liberalism, populism and the challenges of post-transformation in eastern Europe and beyond

The migration crisis has triggered a shift in politics away from an ethics of ultimate ends to an ethic of responsibility, the question of the "we" to whom we owe solidarity reappearing in pre-political concepts like ethnicity and national culture. David Abraham, Claus Offe and Slawomir Sierakowski discuss the rise of rightwing populism in Europe and the US.

David Abraham: During the months since Angela Merkel became Time magazine's person of the year in 2015, we saw a shift on her part and among the German political class to the ethic of responsibility, which acknowledges some international legal responsibility to support refugees but considers first the impact on the society receiving a million strangers, the impact on the sending societies and on the transit countries, and the incentive effects for future refugees and migrants. These sorts of calculations are without doubt going to narrow the circle of the "we", and move us away from the concerns of global justice that were at the centre of liberal thinking for the previous generation, back to a more historic conception of the "we", "historic" being one of the nicer ways of putting it....
The notion of the nation-state as a vehicle of social justice had receded. Now it is coming back with a vengeance....

The immigration crisis has highlighted the difficult topic of historical communities. When we try to take apart what this term means, we come across conceptions that make us less comfortable as liberals. Namely, pre-political things like ethnicity, like Leitkultur, like the intense shared experiences that have slowly disappeared from society along with the mass industrial workplace, which was itself a kind of melting pot. Instead we have developed societies in which difference has been valued as a liberal principle. But now it is coming back in some ways to haunt us as the levels of social solidarity that have helped sustain the welfare state seem to be suffering. The bonds of citizenship seem to weaken in diverse multicultural societies. There seems to be a lot of evidence coming from right, centre and left sociologists, who have made the argument fairly convincingly that the willingness to share declines where there is immigration but intensive integration remains absent. In some ways, the United States has it easier since we have a much weaker welfare state regime. The European experience of demanding more sharing makes for greater vulnerability to such developments. We have seen populist hostility based on an "ethnic privilege" that people in titular nations are unwilling to surrender. This other aspect that the immigration crisis has highlighted is one that we need to take seriously if we are to combat the disaggregation of social solidarity that the welfare state lived from and helped to reinforce. The liberal Left attitude toward integration and immigration needs some revisions.

Claus Offe: I will start with the question of solidarity; that is solidarity as fraternité, the translation that Ulrike Guérot provided during the current conference, or a normative mandate to share. Share with who? With the members of your own family – this is the metaphor; to share with your brothers and sisters. The nation is analogous to the family, both institutions are the only ones that last forever. This is the model of community members who are committed to sharing among themselves.

However, we live in a society where collectivity is not given, it is contested. Whom are we supposed to share with? In our societies, we have a whole portfolio of identities or reference groups that we might want to, or refuse to, share with. Membership is optional and, in accordance with the reference unit that we choose to rely upon and to follow, the interests that we pursue change. We are in a way all multiple personalities. Each of us consists of at least the four persons that Robert Reich once distinguished. Namely, we are workers, consumers, savers or investors, and citizens. Depending on the reference unit we chose for the moment, our interests can be very different and there is no clear hierarchy of what comes first and what is less important. We can also say we belong to a certain generation, we are parents or not parents, we have many other identities to choose from and to practice solidarity for.

This uncertainty concerning relevant collectivities is something that causes confusion and often panic. The liberal model of the individual is self-responsibility, everything that I become is due to my own effort, my strength or weakness. I have to be responsible and I will be held responsible for myself. Yet if we ask, what is the strongest predictor of a person's life income, the answer is his or her place of birth.... 
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