Clusters of Excellence

Contestations of the Liberal Script

The Cluster of Excellence SCRIPTS analyzes contemporary controversies about the liberal order from a historical, global and comparative perspective. What are the causes of the current contestations? How do they differ from earlier crises? What are the consequences for democracy and the global challenges of the 21st century? In operation since 2019, SCRIPTS is hosted by the Freie Universität Berlin and unites eight major Berlin-based research institutes.

The liberal script is defined as ideas and institutional prescriptions about the organisation of society based on the core principle of individual self-determination. The foundation of the liberal script rests upon implied universal values such as freedom, equality, justice, progress, and tolerance. Its manifestations range from human rights and the rule of law to free market capitalism.

The term script originates from the theatre playbook as a terminological concept for “social order“ or “social system”. As a generic concept, it is not geographically or culturally confined to the so-called “West”. Moreover, the term allows for describing not only liberal but also competing scripts, given that the liberal script has been in competition with alternative scripts for organising societies, such as fascism, communism, authoritarianism, or Islamic fundamentalism. Through these interactions, the script has been shaped and redefined. The world has experienced a series of political shocks in the last two decades. Among them were transnational terrorism, unexpected right-wing populist electoral gains, a rise of fundamentalist religious movements and the success of state capitalism in China.

Nation-states that are committed to liberal models of political and social order are challenged both internationally and domestically. In consequence, contemporary liberal societies face a loss of confidence in the ability of their core institutions to provide solutions to an array of challenges, which lie at the heart of prominent domestic and international conflicts in the early 21st century. Astonishingly, this has happened despite huge economic and social achievements: from a decreasing number of interstate wars to economic growth and a decline of absolute poverty in many places. SCRIPTS was established to investigate this puzzle of an increasing number and frequency of contestations of the liberal script.

Involved Institutions:

  • Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin
  • Deutsches Institut für Wirtschaftsforschung
  • Hertie School – The University of Governance Berlin
  • German Institut for Global and Area Studies
  • Leibniz-Zentrum Moderner Orient
  • Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin für Sozialforschung
  • Zentrum für Osteuropa- und Internationale Studien

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