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Liberalism Is Not Dead

Conference held by Institute For Politics and Society

Martinská 2, Prague

November 1st, 2022

Šárka Shoup
Executive Director
Institute for Politics and Society 

Why are there so few liberals in Europe? Why are they always weaker against conservatives, socialists and greens? Can we consider a conservative a natural ally of a liberal? Viktor Orbán, for example, recently proclaimed that the liberals are the conservative’s arch-foes. Did he mean progressives as opposed to liberals? Did he say it purposely? How does the concept of liberal democracy relate to liberalism? How can we describe the relationship between liberalism and constitutionalism, or between liberalism and federalism? 

4 Minutes…

Reply: Christopher Gleadle, CEO, The Paddy Ashdown Forum

November 1st, 2022, Prague.

Liberals attract highly educated intellectual types who get the common-sense values of liberalism – inclusivity, an equitable and fair free market economy and so on…but what does this mean to ordinary people, who, at such an urgent time, many struggle to pay their energy bills and put food on the table for the children.

On the whole people are not extremists, they live their lives as well and as good as they possibly can with the resources that they have. They do not walk towards extremists but are pulled by one-line messages that are designed to ignite their fears.

Education is at the heart of what I consider liberals and liberalism need to do better expressing the values of liberalism in terms of what it means to ordinary people: not as part of some intellectual debate, but action that takes place on the ground in communities that are interdependent with districts, regions, nations and so on.

Liberalism is too easily viewed as sitting between left and right, each with their clear-cut messages. While common sense views that act as a bridge get shrouded in mist by the two sides.

I appreciate that complex systemic solutions can seem harder to communicate when against hard-line single focussing messages that ignite peoples’ fears. Balanced messages are more complex because they are naturally inclusive. But when viewed, mapped, and delivered in the context of societal and environmental perspectives and applied to the lives of ordinary people and not just intellectual elites, what appears complex can be simplified into the context of everyday life.

Through better education that extols the benefits of more systemic approaches that raises the competence and delivery of system literacy can true balance, equality, diversity and inclusion come – for systems understanding balances the delivery of those who have gifts in academia and those whose gifts are more practically based. A world where apprenticeships are not viewed as second class to pursing an academic path. It is certainly from my experience; practical people are typically better and faster problem solvers.

Importantly too, in bringing such inclusion brings the virtues of liberalism into the homes of ordinary people as they can feel the benefits to their lives. The key aspirations of ordinary people are not different to our liberal values, it is that caught between the clear messages of left and right, being seen as being no more than striking a balance, is seen to be lest trust worthy. 

And trust is vital, for resilience is founded on trust. But when viewed as idealists with a good heart does not make us relevant to the public as a whole.

So, if I may beg your indulgence and leave with you a few thoughts:

  1. We must avoid blurring policy distinctiveness by avoiding defining ourselves in terms of others behaviour.
  2. Avoid being a movement of protest without decisive leadership and government potential
  3. Educate – become real to ordinary people who are doing their best with what they have – there is much to be learned from them!
  4. Being a picture of moderation and walking a middle ground can be perceived as chaos and uncertainty.
  5. Clarity on liberal positions and what it means to ordinary people will avoid having to react to events
  6. Clarity will stop extremists such as the Orban, Trumps and Johnsons splitting the opposition where divide and conquer rules.
  7. Don’t be against stuff…be for stuff. Mother Theresa was once asked if she would speak at an anti-war rally. She humbly declined, adding that if the organisers would schedule a for peace rally, she would be the first one there!

This is thinking in three dimensions – not thinking in silos but understanding its not so much about things but the relationship between things. It creates decisive, inclusive, just and equitable outcomes as it is the outcomes that are the focus and not the process. 

Liberalism is far from not dead…never has the world needed this common sense approach more!

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