Transformations of Liberal Reason

Migration Politics and Shifts in Cultural Self-Interpretation

  • Hannes Kaufmann
Keywords: authoritarianism, Critical Theory, law, (neo-)liberalism, sovereignty, state


In light current multiple crises, authoritarian movements gain new strength. Claiming that globalization and especially migration is endangering social cohesion and national sovereignty, they call for a strong state. Along the lines of those claims, they revise what Helmut Dubiel called the “cultural selfinterpretation,” meaning the understanding of the political superstructure of their community. Doing that, liberal values and concepts are re-interpreted, as can be seen with the “rule of law”. From its intrinsic value of strengthening individual claims against the state’s rule, they turn into a concept of state power, interpreting the “rule of law” as the rule of a mythical legitimized sovereign. Those re-interpretations — and legal constructs referring to them — will be analyzed in this essay. Authoritarian politics and their roots will be regarded in their contradictory relation to (neo-)liberalism as they appear as a critique at first glance. Yet, taking into account early Critical Theory and its analysis of authoritarianism, the article aims to show that those tendencies emerge from liberal ideas and ideals. Seen from this perspective the article promotes the view that rather than a pure defense of liberalism, a materialist examination of liberalism’s inner contradictions is necessary to understand and criticize authoritarianism.