Contemporary liberal societies face a loss of confidence in the ability of their core institutions to provide solutions to an array of challenges, which lie at the heart of prominent domestic and international conflicts in the early 21st century. These conflicts are not merely driven by power and interest but include contestations of the liberal script.
We define the liberal script as ideas and institutional prescriptions about the organisation of society based on the core principle of individual self-determination. Its foundation rests upon implied universal values such as freedom, equality, justice, progress, and tolerance. Its manifestations range from human rights and the rule of law to free market capitalism. As such, it competes with alternative scripts for organising societies, such as fascism, communism, authoritarianism, or Islamic fundamentalism.
Current contestations are puzzling in historical comparison when measured against the general developments in world society over the past twenty-five years. There have been few interstate wars, enormous growth rates and poverty reduction in some fast-growing countries in the global South, only modest average unemployment rates in the consolidated economies of the global North as well as a significant improvement of the Human Development Index over time including remarkable advances in health and life expectancy. Yet amid such otherwise positive developments, contestations of the liberal script have nevertheless emerged.
By putting the contestations of the liberal script in a broader historical, global, and comparative perspective, the Cluster aspires to answer the following three sets of research questions:
To what extent do current challengers target the liberal script? Are alternative concepts of political and social order that claim universal validity on the rise, or are they varieties of existing liberal ideas?
What are the causes of these contestations? Under which conditions does the liberal script lose or gain attractiveness, and what are the drivers of the rise of alternative scripts? To what extent are the causes of current contestations different from earlier ones?
What are the consequences of the intensified contestations of the liberal script and the potential rise of alternatives for politics, societies, and individuals as well as the challenges the world is facing in the 21st century?