Faculty of Education, Social Sciences and Law

School of Politics and International Studies

Liberal Realism: The Fate of Freedom in an Age of Insecurity

01 January 2010 - 01 January 2012

The rise of international terrorism during the first decade of the new millennium has served to expose a dramatic and troubling void in the discourse of academic liberalism. The relative political tranquillity, security and prosperity of the 1990s provided a context in which a certain kind of political philosophy was able to flourish in universities. The central preoccupations of this philosophy, associated primarily with the figure of John Rawls, were with problems of justice in the distribution of Western affluence and with the negotiation of disagreement among the reasonable citizens of liberal democracies.

9/11, the Madrid, Bali and London bombings shattered the background of peace, stability and assumed consensus on liberal values upon which this theoretical enterprise had depended, investing both its methods and its conclusions with an air of unworldly innocence. While recent years have witnessed a proliferation of theoretical interest in the host of new political questions to which our age of terror has given rise – conceptual analyses of terrorism, the ethical status of torture, the balance of liberty and security – there is a deeper and more fundamental issue that has been neglected. How is liberalism itself to survive in an age of insecurity? If the authority of liberal values depends on a background of peace, stability and consensus, what becomes of those values in a world characterised by conflict, fragility and discord?

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