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Series introduction | Liberalism and human rights | Liberalism and the media
| Liberalism and education

Liberalism, race and gender

Gholam Khiabany, strand editor

Gholam Khiabany, editor of the
liberalism, gender and race strand


The much celebrated 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, a foundational Enlightenment document, did indeed define the individual and collective rights of all the estates of the realm as universal. The ‘rights’ were qualified as ‘natural, unalienable and sacred’, and the first article proudly announced that ‘Men are born and remain free and equal in rights. Social distinctions may be founded only upon the general good.’ Yet the declaration neither revoked slavery nor recognised the equal rights of women. Why were the calls and petitions for recognising equal rights not applied to all people? Was this a simple accident or omission? How compatible is the universalism of liberal ideology with the system of hierarchies that is preserved and maintained in contemporary capitalist societies? To what extent are racism and sexism anomalies or part of the very system that has been shaped and defined by the very paradox of its own universality?

Favourable accounts of liberalism often fail to mention the ‘exclusion clauses’ which play a significant role in its history. Liberty, in its broader sense, needs to be linked to the question of equality and the conditions which make it possible for freedom and equality to be absent or present are the same. For Etienne Balibar, this means that ‘the diverse forms of social and political “power” that correspond to either inequalities or constraints on the freedom of man the citizen necessarily converge. There are no examples of restrictions or suppressions neither of freedoms without social inequalities, nor of inequalities without restrictions or suppressions of freedoms.’ In this strand we invite reflections on these and other questions that engage with the limits, contradictions and exclusive clauses in liberal thought and practice as applied to issues of race and gender.



This week’s editor

Alex Sakalis, Editor

Alex Sakalis is associate editor of openDemocracy and co-edits the Can Europe Make It? page.

Constitutional conventions: best practice

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 Antis: anti-imperialist or anti-feminist?

A recent article on "imperialist feminism" accuses the US women's movement of being a cheerleader for American empire from the war in Afghanistan to the present. Is this a sectarian strategy that misses the target and attacks the liberals instead of the right?

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.

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.

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