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Liberalism and human rights | Liberalism and the media | Liberalism and education |
Liberalism, race and gender

On the one hand, being ‘liberal’ has conventionally been regarded as being open-minded and progressive, while on the other hand, liberals are often attacked for either being insufficiently radical, by the left, or being too ‘progressive’, by the right. The prevailing definition of liberalism has traditionally revolved around tolerance, progress, humanitarianism, objectivity, respect for and promotion of reason, democracy, human rights, etc. Yet despite receiving a very good press throughout its history, liberalism has also been subject to passionate and sustained critiques by the left and the right.

Liberals and liberalism remain very relevant in contemporary neoliberal circumstances as sources of ideas and action. This series aims to provoke critical engagement with the theories, histories, practices and contradictions of liberalism today, in particular by taking specific contemporary topics as a way of assessing the transformations in, as well as the transformative aspects of, liberalism. We have invited contributions that reflect on how liberalism – in all its forms – continues to underpin specific institutions such as the university, the ‘free press’ and the digital sphere and how these ideas are mobilised in areas such as human rights, minority rights and liberal political cultures. We may not agree on much but we can certainly agree that liberalism is simply too important to be left to the liberals.

Series introduction: Liberalism in neo-liberal times - dimensions, contradictions, limits

Liberalism was undoubtedly conceived as an emancipatory project, one which duly recognized the value and dignity of the individual. However, from its very inception, this model of social interaction has been fraught by terrible contradictions. In our neoliberal times, its legacy should be critically assessed more than ever.

Latest articles in date order:

Book: Liberalism in neoliberal times

A new book, based on the openDemocracy series of the same name, is now available.

Budget 2015: A growing student movement has found its new hook

After the trebling of tuition fees in 2010, student movements suffered a major blow. Now they are rising up again.

A guided tour through our series on 'liberalism in neoliberal times'

We started the series with the proposition that liberalism is far too important to be left to the ‘liberals'. 38 articles later, what did we find?

The strange death of the liberal university

Those working in higher education now face a choice - capitulate to the de facto privatisation of universities, or fight it.

Social Science Inc

The neoliberal approach to higher education is turning social science academics into brand managers and commercial researchers.

Prevent Education?

Some issues pass through many organs of the body politic like a barium meal, rendering visible flaws and faults that might otherwise escape detection.

Latin American media and the shortcomings of liberalism

Liberal theory is ill-equipped to deal with existing and historic inequalities; the market alone would never be enough to dismantle the media monopolies which plague Latin American media.

In privileged white man land, freedom of speech is always under attack

Despite what Spiked may claim, protecting our campuses from fascists, aggressive pro-life campaigners and sexism is entirely proper - 'free speech' debates must recognise the issue of power imbalance.

Charlie Hebdo tragedy: free speech and its broader contexts

This was a specific attack designed to sow division. We musn't let it.

A second response to Meredith Tax - straw men make poor argument

Tax's misleading interpretation of my arguments do little to counter the central realities - that liberals and imperialist feminists have been prominent supporters of authoritarianism and state violence.

Imperialist feminism: a response to Meredith Tax

A new generation of thinkers and activists are actively seeking a larger framework than the one liberals such as Tax can provide.

The role of 'best examples' in human rights

It is not only ideology that shapes human rights discourse but also reference points, 'best examples', cases that at their most successful combine a victim, a perpetrator and a right.

Does capitalism need mass higher education?

The neoliberal paradigm is economically dead but ideologically still very active especially in the education sector, which has assumed a far more business-like and 'entrepeneurial' value system.

Who exactly is the "we" that liberalism talks about?

Though always a construct by necessity, the gap between the idea and the reality of "we" is getting ever larger.

Imperialist feminism and liberalism

Colonial feminism is based on the appropriation of women’s rights in the service of empire and has been widely utilised in justifying aggression in the Middle East. But is it liberal?

There’s no such thing as a liberal anti-racist

The liberal demand to depoliticise culture, to abandon “dangerous ideas”, is highly political and leads liberals to consider all manner of coercive initiatives to engineer the liberal subjects they feel are missing among oppressed groups.

The liberal arts in neoliberal times

In the neoliberal epoch the humanities have undergone a radical transformation.

Zionism and liberalism: complementary or contradictory?

The longish episode of left-wing, racist and militarist étatisme, has been replaced by a no less militaristic, neo-liberal racist state, which while professing liberal values, is continuing the illegal occupation and war crimes in Gaza.

Liberalism is no friend of gender equality

Historically, liberal thought was not aligned with female emancipation or gender equality. The idea that women were inferior to men and needed to be kept in a state of dependency was not a betrayal of liberalism – instead, it was at the heart of liberal thinking.

Intervention - imperialism or human rights?

Are we caught between support for liberal intervention which often has disastrous, unintended, but often foreseeable consequences, on the one hand, and an anti-interventionism where we simply ignore the repression faced by many people, on the other? 

'New managerialism' in education: the organisational form of neoliberalism

The ethos of 'new managerialism' is stripping public services of moral and ethical values and replacing them with the market language of costs, efficiencies, profits and competition. Anything which is not easily quantified becomes undervalued or abandoned.

Liberalism, the media and the NHS

Standing at some ill-defined midpoint between three neoliberal parties is now deemed, by the BBC and others, to represent some sort of "impartiality". Though impartial in Westminster terms it is clearly not in public terms. The NHS paid a heavy price.

Reshuffling education policy: the new vocationalism

A liberal approach in neo-liberal times means learning about work and not just learning to work. Westminster remains stuck in a rut of recycling failed ideas entirely unsuited to its economic model of low wage, low skill work.

When ‘liberals’ fail to defend academic freedom

The dismissal of Professor Steven Salaita is a wake up call as to the limits imposed on "diverse" debate within our commercialised universities.

The European Court of Human Rights: would Marx have endorsed it?

The ECHR still struggles to reconcile effective rights with the deep structures of a market economy.

Who is the human in human rights?

Human rights discourse relies on an abstracted human who is too often male and white. The challenge is to develop a human rights politics that is inclusive without obliterating differences.

Human rights and its inherent liberal relativism

Liberal relativism that celebrates civil and political rights is a neo-colonial construct which should be understood as such. What we see is really competing relativisms prioritised by the whims of private and public donors.

Sexual subalterns, human rights and the limits of the liberal imaginary

From within the liberal imaginary, human rights appear to be something that ‘we cannot not want’, even though they cannot give us what we want.

Patrimonial capitalism and the end of the liberal university

Universities no longer function to ameliorate social status and inequality, but are part of a renewed patrimonial capitalism; the private benefits of higher education to its graduate beneficiaries are today used to justify the removal of public funding and the charging of exorbitant fees.

‘Liberal’ reform and normativity in media analysis

Media reform in the neoliberal context may involve a fundamental re-evaluation and re-imagining of many of the ‘sacred’ normative foundations upon which free media and democratically functioning journalism are based. 

Liberal legacies and media reform after neoliberalism

Liberalism cannot secure the media pluralism it wishes. To address the failures of both liberal and neoliberal approaches to media plurality we need the insights of the radical tradition.

Rights. What are they good for?

The rights-bearing individual emancipated us from feudal absolutism in Europe. But that historical moment has passed with empire, and has the language of rights now lost its relevance?

Rights and power: illiberal constitutions of Latin America

Latin American constitutions are exemplary in going beyond liberalism in the way they formulate human rights. But they are at the same time illiberal in the powers they afford the executive to limit political freedoms.

Full monty journalism - Assange, Greenwald and Snowden

Liberal journalism has always depended on leaks. But changes in technology combined with recent events have opened up a new schism in how journalists approach the state and notions of objectivity.

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