Postliberal Politics

The Coming Era of Renewal
Polity Press
  • 1. Auflage
  • |
  • erschienen am 16. Juni 2021
  • |
  • 160 Seiten
E-Book | ePUB mit Adobe-DRM | Systemvoraussetzungen
978-1-5095-4682-4 (ISBN)
Hyper-capitalism and extreme identity politics are driving us to distraction. Both destroy the basis of a common life shared across ages and classes. The COVID-19 crisis could accelerate these tendencies further, or it could herald something more hopeful: a post-liberal moment.

Adrian Pabst argues that now is the time for an alternative - postliberalism - that is centred around trust, dignity, and human relationships. Instead of reverting to the destabilising inhumanity of 'just-in-time' free-market globalisation, we could build a politics upon the sense of localism and community spirit, the valuing of family, place and belonging, which was a real theme of lockdown. We are not obliged to put up with the restoration of a broken status quo that erodes trust, undermines institutions and trashes our precious natural environment. We could build a pluralist democracy, decentralise the state, and promote embedded, mutualist markets.

This bold book shows that only a politics which fuses economic justice with social solidarity and ecological balance can overcome our deep divisions and save us from authoritarian backlash.
1. Auflage
  • Englisch
  • Cambridge/Oxford
  • |
  • Großbritannien
John Wiley and Sons Ltd
  • Reflowable
  • 0,29 MB
978-1-5095-4682-4 (9781509546824)

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Adrian Pabst is Professor of Politics at the University of Kent, Deputy Director of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research and a leading thinker in the 'Blue Labour' movement.


Prologue: a new era


1 Resolving the interregnum

2 Politics after the plague

3 Why opposites coincide

4 New polarities


5 The art of politics

6 Social virtues

7 Mutual obligations

8 Pluralism

9 Place, limits and ecology

III POLITICAL AND POLICY PROGRAMME 10 Building a relational economy

11 Renewing democratic corporatism

12 Reweaving the social fabric

13 Restoring the common home of nature

14 Promoting civic internationalism

Epilogue: a new battleground of ideas


Prologue: a new era

For a brief moment in 2020, it seemed as if the long interregnum that began with the 2008 financial crash might finally end. After years of austerity and anger, the Covid-19 pandemic brought people together by acts of quiet generosity. Our polarized politics gave way to national unity as we rediscovered a sense of shared purpose: acting in solidarity to slow the infection rate and save lives. In neighbourhoods and across nations, people volunteered to deliver food and medicines to the vulnerable and those experiencing poverty or loneliness. Governments of all stripes paid the wages of workers and provided emergency loans for businesses. The coronavirus crisis brought out the great human spirit of decency, fraternity and kindness. Our response during the first lockdown was a communitarian moment.

Yet it proved to be a false dawn. The winners of the shutdown were tech oligarchs such as Amazon, Google or China's Alibaba while family-owned businesses folded and inner-city shops were boarded up. And following the brutal police killing of George Floyd in the US, a wave of protests and counter-protests once more poisoned the public realm, backed by big business and fuelled by a culture of abuse on social media. After a short period of compassion and community, hyper-capitalism and extreme identity politics were back with a vengeance. Both are destroying the basis of a common life shared across ages and classes.1 What comes next will be different from what came before, but the 'new normal' is largely an intensification of the forces that dominated the old status quo: capitalism, nationalism and technocracy. Instead of resolving the interregnum, politics seems caught in an impasse.

Across the West, the old opposition of left versus right has been supplanted by a new polarity of liberal versus populist, but neither appears to be capable of defining a new position except negatively and by demonizing the other. The stand-off between the old establishment and the new insurgent elites leaves little space for decent leadership or real democracy.2 In China and the 'rising rest', authoritarian one-party rule is fusing state capitalism with nationalism in ways that deny fundamental freedoms and supress democratic movements. In response to the paralysed liberal order and a divided West, the challengers in Eurasia portray themselves as peaceful civilizational states that supposedly combine pre-liberal civilization with modern statehood.3 In reality, authoritarians sow discord at home and abroad while dressing up their demagogy as strength compared with liberal-democratic weakness.

Locked in a national and global struggle, none of the three dominant ideologies looks set to be hegemonic: liberalism neither dies nor renews itself; populism is effective at ejecting liberals from office but in power amounts to little more than complacent boosterism; authoritarianism taunts Western democracy without offering any viable long-term alternative to the challenges of the modern world.

The Covid-19 pandemic is a crossroads: a moment of decision about journeys taken and prospects ignored. We can either revert to liberal individualism, or slide ever more into demagogic populism, or accelerate towards authoritarian control. Alternatively, we could build a politics on the things that matter to people: our families and friends; the places where we live and work; the relationships of support and community that sustain us; and the institutions that provide security. Key to this conception of politics is the idea that we are embodied beings who flourish when we are embedded in interpersonal relationships and institutions giving us meaning as well as agency. Such a politics is postliberal and communitarian - one that avoids the excesses of liberalism without succumbing to the errors of populism or the oligarchic criminality of authoritarianism.

Communitarian postliberalism

Postliberal thought is not new, and it draws on intellectual traditions stretching back to Aristotle, Catholic social thought and communitarianism.4 But in recent years it has too often become associated with a politics that is antiliberal and antimodern, animated by a reactionary desire to roll back the new rights of minorities and to return to social and political exclusion along the axes of race, sex or class. A true postliberal approach eschews crude forms of solidarity built on ethnic or religious homogeneity and instead embraces the pluralist heritage of ethical traditions forged in the nineteenth and the twentieth century - including personalism, one-nation conservatism and ethical socialism.

The postliberal politics which this book develops is emphatically not antiliberal. Rather, it begins with a sense of the limits of the liberal project: the damage done by individualism; liberty reduced to the removal of constraints on private choice; individual rights disconnected from mutual obligations; the erosion of intermediary institutions by the combined power of the free market aided by the centralized state; global disorder based on coercion, trade deficits and permanent war.5 By contrast, postliberalism views human beings as relational and freedom as a balance between autonomy and self-restraint. Rights are not just indissociable from duties but also ineffective without them. States and markets only generate shared prosperity together with social cohesion when they are embedded in strong civic institutions and structures of self-help that sustain a sense of belonging. A genuine international order requires cooperation between nations and peoples anchored in social and cultural ties, fair trade as well as military restraint.6

Postliberal politics is communitarian in new ways. It links the deep desire for community that was manifest during the first lockdown to the recognition that most people belong to more than one community and that they are also part of free, newly shaped associations beyond given communities. The communitarianism which this book defends is also corporatist and internationalist. Democratic corporatism seeks to reconcile the estranged interests of government, business and organized labour. To protect people from the pressures of state and market power, we need to strengthen all the intermediary institutions that help constitute society: trade unions, universities, local authorities, business associations, faith communities, as well as all other components of our social fabric like pubs, post offices and public libraries. And since this cannot be done within the boundaries of nation-states or by one country alone, we also need a new account of international relations and global politics.7

A new era

To resist the temptations of reverting to technocratic liberalism or sliding into authoritarianism, communitarian postliberalism requires a shared political and policy programme anchored in a public philosophy. At the heart of it is a vision of national renewal based on a reconstruction of our shared interests and underpinned by principles of contributive justice and reciprocal obligations. Instead of pinning our hopes on a single political leader or party, we need to build a broad communitarian consensus that puts society above politics and the economy, rebuilding the social fabric that binds communities and countries together. Postliberalism recognizes the true purpose of politics as the conciliation of estranged interests through the pursuit of the common good. The economy only works well when it serves shared prosperity rather than vested interests. All this has to be translated into public policy, joined up to combine greater economic justice with more social stability and ecological balance.

The national interest is intertwined with international solidarity. Nations and peoples, sometimes under religious inspiration, form bonds of trust and cooperation with one another within states but equally across borders. The nation-state and the working classes have not been and should not be swept away by globalization or the rise of a professional-managerial class, but going forward the task is to forge new cross-class and cross-cultural coalitions both nationally and internationally. Postliberal politics promotes an internationalist vision anchored in nations and civic institutions as a constructive alternative to globalism and nationalism; of an international order founded on establishing trust and friendship rather than calculated self-interest.

A novel popular consensus is necessary to resolve the interregnum: the period between the previous and the next settlement. Liberalism's old hegemony has ended but not yet been replaced by a new worldview. To command majority support, politics has to start with what most people value: family, friendship, locality, community and country. Reasonable hope for a better future has to be rooted in ways of life that involve a sense of sacrifice and contribution to the common good. It is about cherishing freedom, a sense of fair play and the places and concrete communities where people live. All these values rest on lived solidarity: relationships of 'give-and-receive' that give our daily lives meaning.

For all the suffering it has brought, the Covid-19 pandemic represents a moment to rebuild the common life which lies at the heart of a healthy body politic. Now is the time for such an alternative that is centred on trust, dignity and human relationships. The coronavirus crisis could further accelerate the dominant forces of our age, or it could herald something more hopeful: a new era of...

"As the neoliberal consensus that provided the public philosophy of the post-Cold War West shatters, demagogic populism and authoritarianism threaten to take its place. Rejecting these dangerous alternatives, Adrian Pabst makes a persuasive case for rebuilding democracy on a foundation of strong communities."
Michael Lind, author of The New Class War: Saving Democracy from the Metropolitan Elite

"All thinking people realize that western liberal societies face dilemmas they have been unable to resolve, but until now there has been no constructive account of what a post-liberal social order would look like. Adran Pabst's brilliant short book fills that gap. Fully recognizing the irreplaceable achievements of liberalism, he argues compellingly that they are endangered by an excessively individualist understanding of human well being. By showing what this means in a wide variety of fields, he has given us a book that advances understanding of the most fundamental issues of our time."
John Gray, author and philosopher

"Adrian Pabst is one of our most interesting political thinkers - and this wise, compelling book provides not only a penetrating analysis of the crisis of liberalism but something much more valuable: a road map for a transformative politics. It should be essential reading for Keir Starmer - and indeed Boris Johnson."
Jason Cowley, Editor of the New Statesman

"A common critique of 'post-liberal' writing is that it's stronger on critique than on vision. In the erudite but highly readable Postliberal Politics, Adrian Pabst seeks to remedy that shortcoming. Pabst draws on classical and Christian thinking to synthesise a vision for healthy public life after liberalism, that's neither narrowly nationalistic nor inhumanly globalised but ordered by solidarity both at local and international levels, and with our natural world. Readers on both Left and Right will find much in this timely book to challenge political preconceptions, and also to enrich and re-humanise an urgent political debate."
Mary Harrington, UnHerd columnist

"By starting with the inescapability of limits and the common ground between liberal and authoritarian high-tech capitalism, Pabst succeeds with some flair in injecting political and intellectual substance into the idea of post-liberalism."
Helen Thompson, University of Cambridge

"Within an impressive body of work this is Adrian Pabst's most political contribution to date. His ambition is to rethink the terms of what is known as postliberalism and anchor contemporary debate within certain distinct ethical traditions. He succeeds and in so doing performs the essential - and long overdue - task of reclaiming postliberalism from the right. This is a vital contribution to any renewed public philosophy for the left. After four defeats in just over a decade, here are the foundations of a coherent domestic and foreign policy reset for Labour."
Jon Cruddas, Labour MP for Dagenham and Rainham and author of The Dignity of Labour

"Adrian Pabst is one of the most original and insightful thinkers writing about politics today. In this book he examines the challenges which technological change, environmental degradation and unaccountable power pose to human flourishing. You don't need to agree with his prescriptions to admire the power of his diagnosis - this work is essential reading for all concerned with our current discontents."
Michael Gove, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

"A compelling case for a new politics based on the things that matter: families, places, traditions, relationships. This is the proper ground of political dispute - right and left should be fighting to represent the communitarian idea. Dr Pabst has mapped the emerging post-liberal landscape with skill and passion. A vital book for the 2020s."
Danny Kruger, Conservative MP for Devizes

"Probably the word 'liberal' should never have been a noun but left as an adjective, describing an ethos of fairness and generosity. As a noun it has come to be attached to a messy, incoherent bundle of positions, as chaotic as the opportunist and value-free capitalism whose ally it so often is. This incisive and intelligent book exposes with brilliant clarity the failures of our current political culture, and outlines where we should look for a political future that - for a change - has something to do with the heart of human identity and human desire. It obliges us to ask seriously what we have learned about this in the collective trauma of the last year."
Rowan Williams, Former Archbishop of Canterbury

"A quite brilliant book"
New Statesman

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