Confronting Global Challenges to Liberal Values: It is not too late yet, but...

CSDS IN DEPTH • 01/2022

By Richard Higgott

Liberal values—often called “universal” values or “western” values—are increasingly contested both inside and outside Europe and North America. This leads to at least four questions: (i) What are these values? (ii) How might they be defended from challenges—from both the illiberal left and the illiberal right—within the various polities in which they are thought to prevail? (iii) Can they be sustained against the mounting challengers in the wider global context of the fractious and increasingly competitive international relations of the current era?  Specifically, is an accommodation possible between liberal values and the objections and contrasting values advanced towards them by other international actors; including, inter alia, the self-styled “civilisational states” such as China, India and Turkey? (iv) If we are going to see a peaceful and constructive reform of world order in the coming decades of the 21st century, what place will there be for liberal values in any new order?  Indeed, what are the prospects of a reformed international order in which core of western, liberal values are sustained? This paper will attempt to provide answers—or, more precisely at least, a guide to how we might attempt to provide answers—to these questions. The assumption underpinning the paper’s analysis is that very future of liberalism as a core driver of international order now hangs in the balance.  It is no longer axiomatic that liberal values will prevail over, or even co-exist with, ideological competitors.