Liberalism - Historical and Contemporary Variations

Helsinki, Finland

24-25 October 2019

The fate and future of liberalism is one of the central questions of our times. In the European context, nationalist and populist movements are challenging its central achievements: peace, economic integration and the rule of law. Recent developments in Europe, the US and Latin America have posed a serious threat to democratic institutions and rule-based international order. All in all, the optimistic visions of the post-1989 world are being replaced with more pessimistic accounts on the future of liberalism. In February 2018, The Atlantic even called the "death of liberalism" the biggest mass funeral since the "death of God".


At the same time, the very concept of liberalism suffers from several ambiguities. As a historical phenomenon and a concept, liberalism has been used to denote a variety positions and dogmas from extreme libertarianism to moderate forms of social liberalism, from value liberalism to Third Way reformism. This concerns particularly the problematic concept of neo-liberalism that evidently constitutes one of the key strains of contemporary liberalism. Many see neoliberalism as the leading ideology of our times, yet there are very few who actually call themselves neoliberal.


This conference seeks to bring analytic clarity to the concepts of liberalism by investigating into its historical and contemporary variations. We pay special attention to the various reconfigurations of the liberal doctrine that emerged in the context of interwar and post-WWII Europe (e.g. different forms of neo-liberalism, German ordoliberalism, social liberalism). We invite presentations that discuss particularly the theoretical underpinnings and intellectual transformations of the liberal doctrine in the past 100 years with a focus on the following questions:

What were the key theoretical and intellectual questions that defined the emergence of different "new" liberalisms (neo-liberalism, ordoliberalism, social liberalism etc.) in the interwar period? What kinds of intellectual and philosophical resources they employed?

How should we understand the relation between liberalism as a theoretical or moral-philosophical doctrine vs. political movement? What were the main political strategies of different liberalisms?

How has contemporary liberalism employed the conceptual and theoretical tools of individual sciences such as economics, law, and political science?


The conference will be held at the University of Helsinki, October 24-25, 2019. Please send your abstracts (max. 400 words) with relevant contact info to the address: by May 15, 2019. For practical information, please consult our coordinator Dr. Heta Bj√∂rklund ( The organizers are unfortunately unable to assist with travel or accommodation arrangements or costs.

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2019-10-24 2019-10-25 Liberalism - Historical and Contemporary Variations Helsinki, Finland | University of Helsinki Centre of Excellence in Law, Identity and the European Narratives, University of Helsinki heta.bjorklund[at] true YYYY-MM-DD
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