The Reconstitution of Postwar Europe: Lineages of Authoritarian Liberalism
Michael A. Wilkinson and Michael W. Dowdle (eds.), Constitutionalism Beyond Liberalism, Cambridge University Press, 2016, Forthcoming
39 Pages Posted: 6 May 2016
Date Written: February 10, 2016
The historical conjuncture reached in the European Union recalls the spectre of authoritarian liberalism, with politically authoritarian forms of government emerging in defence of practices and ideas associated with economic liberalism. Offering a long view of this formation, the paper traces its relation to the project of European integration from the interwar breakdown of liberal democracy to the ongoing Euro-crisis, by way of its postwar and post-Maastricht reconstitution. Postwar Europe was constituted to restore liberalism and protect it not only from sovereign violence and political nationalism, but also from the perceived threat of democracy. Contributing to the taming of sovereign authority, the erosion of constituent power, and the de-politicisation of the economy, this geopolitical constitutionalism functioned during the early years of the common market to produce a relatively stable settlement, through a mixture of supranationalism, ordoliberalism, corporatism and social democracy. But after Maastricht, and in the shadow of geopolitical transformations inaugurated by the fall of the Berlin Wall and the unleashing of global capitalism, Europe was reconstituted on a neo-liberal basis which left the European Union and its Member States unable to respond to financial crisis other than through circumvention of the rules and principles of integration, technocratic discretion and political and economic coercion. This response now prompts concerns of regional imperialism and German hegemony as well as the return of anti-systemic political parties, leading to a conjuncture reminiscent of interwar authoritarianism, as any democratic or constitutional alternative to economic liberalism and its ideology of austerity is obstructed. It might therefore be worthwhile to recall that the authoritarian liberal repression of democratic socialism in the interwar period was followed by an authoritarian illiberal counter-movement of dramatic, and devastating, proportions.
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