Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, liberal ideals have defined Europe’s political order. Parties that questioned free trade and democratic checks-and-balances could hardly gain many votes. Cultural tolerance and religious neutrality was the norm. The EU was seen not only as an engine of wealth, but also as an ethical power spreading liberal norms throughout the world. This era is now approaching its end. Liberal ideals are under fire from Helsinki to Athens. There are many local variations of the anti-liberal surge, but let us not delude ourselves: populism is not just confined to Hungary, Greece and Poland. Nigel Farage and his populist party UKIP have triumphed in the Brexit referendum. The Freedom Party of Austria, which came to …
The Italian left, heirs to the strongest communist party in Western Europe and a powerful Catholic political tradition, is struggling to adjust its values and political agenda to the new needs and constrains of the modern globalised world. As the Democratic Party seems set to win Italy’s general elections next year, and thus take control of the third largest economy of the Eurozone, such ideological adjustment is now particularly urgent.
The Anglo-Saxon understanding of ‘liberalism’ can be contrasted with the continental European understanding of the term, especially the French one. The liberal tradition in the United Kingdom or the United States refers to ‘social-liberalism’. In France, liberalism is often associated with the Anglo-Saxon conception of ‘economic-liberalism’ involving deregulation and a free market economy, which are, to an extent, alien to French views of the state and the economy. But liberalism is more than free market capitalism; it also relates to the role of the state.
Barely a week passes these days in the UK without a new story and controversy over the Coalition government’s changes and cuts to welfare. One controversial feature is what policy wonks call ‘conditionality’: making eligibility conditional on some prescribed activity (usually) related to work. Most controversial is ‘workfare’: requirements that benefit recipients work full-time while receiving benefits rather than a wage. Many have compared workfare, in this sense, to slavery.