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2011: Politics and Ideology

Where are we heading in the global political landscape? Will old ideologies disappear, fade away or be reborn, and if the former is the case, what will the new ideological landscape look like and how will it affect the conditions of political life? The death of ideology has been predicted repeatedly over the years, but time and time again we have also seen old ideologies return under new covers.

Most of the major political parties in the Western world have, in recent times, moved towards the centre, motivated by the idea of universal welfare, and in our global era all Western states embrace the idea of the welfare society.

In a country like Sweden, some on the left see the adjustments of the Social Democratic party as treason or an adaptation to “neo-liberalism”, blaming the decline of the party on its drift towards the “right”. Meanwhile, in the conservative and liberal parties, critics rail against the adjustment to the left in their own parties.

Nevertheless, the centre-rightwing alliance in Sweden has won two elections in a row with this policy. Do these developments signal a general international trend, where the old struggle between labour and capital has finally been settled in a universally embraced welfare ideology, and classical social democratic components are spiced up with a dose of life-style liberalism?

All over Europe, parties characterised as national “welfare huggers” are being set up. That includes the Sweden Democrats, a party difficult to pinpoint on the left/right scale, and whose sympathisers are often members of the labour union.

Not everyone, however, sees “the end of history” in the form of the welfare state. Irrational exuberance of course also applies to careless politicians who have allowed citizens to overconsume, as in Britain and Greece. Some have also begun to question the sustainability of the welfare state as such, asking how deep the cuts in the welfare systems will be in the developed world. In some ways the “sacred cow” of universal welfare has already suffered its first serious blow; families with an income over £40,000 in the UK will no longer receive child care benefits from the state.

And last but not least: some ask whether the national welfare state in the long run is compatible with liberal ideals such as free immigration.

In this conference we addressed the present but also the past. We highlighted some of the historical political ideas and systems which impact on the present. We also looked at authoritarian state capitalism, as in the case of China, asking if it is sustainable. And if it is, how will it influence the world? Will it become the exemplary model, just as liberal democracy has been for a long time to many peoples and nations? Will Islamism, xenophobic and anti-immigrant parties and other movements on the fringes of the political and ideological spectrum in Europe, US and the Islamic world, strengthen the existing order of things, or undermine confidence in them? And what are the long-term consequences of the recent developments in the Arab world – liberal democracy or democracy bringing Islamism to power?

Has globalisation meant that politics has taken a quantum leap, so that the ideologies from the 18th and 19th century – communism, conservatism, social democracy and liberalism – are no longer relevant as expressions of the class interests that characterised the modern era? In the final analysis, what are the implications of globalisation for politics and ideology? Will a world parliament, a worldwide green movement, or various movements with religion as the common denominator be the answer? Or will we perhaps instead see the return of another old phantom: nationalism?


Richard Miles: Politics & Ideology in the Ancient World

Senior Lecturer in the Department of Classics and Ancient History, University of Sydney, Australia

Dick Harrison: Politics Before the French Revolution

Professor, Lund University, Sweden

Kenneth Minogue: Ideology versus Politics in History

Emeritus Professor of Government, LSE, UK

Michael Bentley: British Ideologies: Separation and Fusion

University of St Andrews, UK

Richard Evans: German Ideologies

Regius Professor of History and Professor at Wolfson College, University of Cambridge, UK

John Keane: Ideology of Democracy

Professor of Politics at the University of Sydney and at the Wissenschaftszentrum, Berlin, Germany

Michael Freeden: Ideology: From Temporal Contingency to Political Ubiquity

Professor of Politics and Professor at Mansfield College, Oxford, UK

Vernon Bogdanor: On the Journey of British Li­beralism

Research Professor, Institute of Contemporary History, King’s College, London, UK

Nicholas Boles: Role of Ideology in Modern Conservatism

MP and Parliamentary Private Secretary, Political Fellow, Institute for Government, UK

Ulrike Ackerman: Eco­-Egalitarianism

Professor and Head of the John Stuart Mill Institute for Research on Freedom, Germany

John Lloyd: Strains in the Centre­-Left

Contributing Editor to the Financial Times. Director of the Axess Programme on Journalism and Democracy. Director of Journalism, Reuters Institute, Oxford, UK

Per Schlingmann: Swedish Welfare: A Moderate Future

State Secretary, Prime Minister’s Office, Sweden

Robert Shapiro: America and the Reluctant Welfare State

Chairman of Sonecon. Member of the Board, Ax:son Johnson Foundation, USA

James Bartholomew: The Welfare State as Drug Addiction

Journalist and Author, UK

Stephan Eisel: Social Market Economy: An Alternative

Member of the Editorial Board of Die Politische Meinung, Germany

Minxin Pei: Strains in Authoritarian Capitalist Regimes

Professor and Director, Keck Center for International and Strategic Studies, Claremont McKenna College, USA

Mark Leonard: China’s Intellectual Emancipation

Co-Founder and Director of the European Council on Foreign Relations, UK

Johan Lagerkvist: Uneasy Coexistence: Social Media and China’s Authoritarian Capitalism

Senior Research Fellow, Swedish Institute of International Affairs, Sweden

Robert Kaplan: Is Authoritarian Capitalism an Ideology?

Author and Senior Fellow at the Center for a New American Security in Washington, USA

Scott Atran: The Science of the Sacred

Research Director, National Center for Scientific Research, France. Visiting Professor, University of Michigan, USA

Malise Ruthven: Religion, Ideology, Identity

Writer, UK

Paul Berman: Religion and Intolerance

Author, USA

Maria Wetterstrand: The Greens in Between

Former Spokesperson Green Party, Swedish Parliament, Sweden

Roger Scruton: Mass Movements and Local Loyalties

Visiting Fellow, American Enterprise Institute, Senior Research Fellow, Blackfriars Hall, Oxford. Visiting Research Professor, University of St Andrews, UK

Anna Jardfeldt: Challenges to Overcome

Director, Swedish Institute of International Affairs, Sweden

Hisham Melhem: Arab Springs: The Promise and the Perils

Washington Bureau Chief, Al Arabyia, USA

Nathan Shachar: Western Influences on Arab Ideologies

Foreign Correspondent, Dagens Nyheter. Member of the Editorial Board, Axess Magazine, Sweden

David Frum: Will America Turn Hard Right?

Editor,, USA

Robert Cooper: A World Without Ideologies?

Counsellor in the European External Action Service (EEAS), UK

Oliver Kamm: Tranquillity of Spirit: the Future of Liberalism

Leader Writer, The Times, UK