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‘Hard Liberals’ and their Opposition to the Muslim Veil: Romantic, rather than Enlightened, Liberalism?
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Government.
2013 (English)In: ECPR General Conference, Bordeaux, September 2013, Colchester: European Consortium for Political Research , 2013, -22 p.Conference paper (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

This paper challenges the concept of ‘enlightenment liberalism’, which is held to prioritize the fostering of autonomy over tolerance and diversity. Enlightenment liberalism, it has example been argued, lies at the roots of recent attempts in many European countries to ban the Muslim veil in the name of liberalism. This paper questions the central role that previous research has attributed to ‘enlightenment liberalism’. I provide one of the first thorough explorations of the arguments of self-professed ‘enlightenment liberals’ such as Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Paul Berman, Nick Cohen, Pascal Bruckner, and the recently deceased Christopher Hitchens. Specifically, I look at their opposition to the Muslim veil and their view of the right role for religion in what they describe as secular modern democracies. This analysis shows that, contrary to the predominant view, their ‘hard liberalism’ does not revolve around fostering autonomy among supposedly irrational and emotional Muslims. Rather, they castigate liberal Westerners for lacking in emotional fervor and sincerity. Their position in fact builds on the value of authentically expressing one’s emotions; their goal is courageous dedication on the verge of martyrdom. To describe them as ‘enlightenment liberals’ or ‘enlightenment fundamentalists’ thus distorts their true ideological roots, which I argue are romantic. In fact, their stance is best described as ‘romantic liberalism’, an ideology that I have previously argued was also found in the defence of the infamous Muhammad cartoons in 2005 (Gustavsson, forthcoming in Political Studies 2013). This paper thus suggests that romantic ideals need not always side with multicultural toleration and diversity, as is often assumed. On the contrary, certain romantic ideals are more likely to end up taking the very opposite side, siding with ‘illiberal liberalism’ and its antagonism against the Muslim veil.Self-professed ‘enlightenment liberals’ among contemporary public intellectuals today, I argue, are better described as ‘romantic liberals’.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Colchester: European Consortium for Political Research , 2013. -22 p.
National Category
Political Science (excluding Public Administration Studies and Globalization Studies)
Research subject
Political Science
URN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-248710OAI: oai:DiVA.org:uu-248710DiVA: diva2:800798
ECPR General Conference, Bordeaux, September 2013
Available from: 2015-04-07 Created: 2015-04-07 Last updated: 2015-08-13Bibliographically approved

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