This conference aims to shed light on an increasingly prominent, clear, and present threat to the ideals and core values of liberal democracy. Participants must register and agree to read all papers in preparation for the workshop.

Download Papers (participant password required)

In well-established democracies such as the United States and in Europe, far-right thinkers, media personalities, and politicians increasingly seek to legitimize their positions by presenting themselves as defenders of ideas and norms that we typically associate with classical liberalism, such as “freedom,” “liberty,” “equality,” “tolerance,” and “rights.” In many cases, surprisingly, these claims have made it possible for these figures (e.g., Marine Le Pen, Thierry Baudet, Peter Thiel, Tucker Carlson) to attract broad public attention. This conference will address this contemporary use and abuse of the “language of liberalism,” exploring this aspect of the vulnerability of liberal democracies: the counterintuitive ways in which the core principles of liberalism can be used to serve illiberal and anti-liberal purposes. The conference will also provide an opportunity to reflect on the possible contours of a post-liberal democratic future (assuming that liberal democracy is no longer able to defend itself).


Presented by the Nanovic Institute for European Studies with cosponsorship by the Kellogg Institute for International Studies and the William M. Scholl Chair of International Affairs.

All sessions take place in 1050 Jenkins and Nanovic Halls unless otherwise noted.

Friday, December 9, 2022

8:30am Continental Breakfast

9:00am Session 1 - Welcome and Introduction
Discussion Theme:  The Language of Freedom

  • A. James McAdams
    “Orwell’s Nightmare: The Far Right’s Abuse of the Language of Liberalism and Democracy”
  • Joshua Vandiver
    “Hard Men, Hard Money, Hard Right: Republican Insurgency and the Crisis of the Liberal Global Order"
  • Laura Field
    “‘Post-Liberal’ Liberty: New Conceptions of Freedom on America’s Integralist New Right”

10:30am Refreshment Break

11:00am Session 2
Discussion Theme:  The Language of Freedom

  • Petra Mlejnková
    “The Far Right as Liberal Freedoms Defender? Evidence from the Czech Republic”
  • Alice Blum
    “In Search of the ‘Defensible Democrats’ - Right-Wing Extremist Patterns of Argumentation with a Focus of the Interpretation of Democracy in the Light of Specific German History”

12:30pm Break

1:45pm Session 3
Discussion Theme: The Language of Equality

  • Sarah Shurts
    “‘We are looking for a new feminism’: Marine Le Pen and the Language of Women’s Rights on the French Far Right”
  • George Hawley
    “From Practical Critics to Hateful Malcontents: The Decline of the Online ‘Manosphere’”
Saturday, December 10, 2022

8:30am Continental Breakfast

9:00am Session 4
Discussion Theme:  The Language of Democracy

  • Steven Pittz
    “Shine a Light or Burn it Down? Conspiracism and Liberal Democracy”
  • José Pedro Zúquete
    “Against the Global Prison-Society: The Opposition to the Great Reset”

10:30am Refreshment Break

11:00am Session 5
Discussion Theme:  The Language of the Rule of Law

  • Agnieszka Bień-Kacała and Tímea Drinóczi
    “The Use and Abuse of the ‘Language of Liberalism’: The Case of Poland and Hungary”
  • Frank Wolff
    “Rule of Law and Apocalypse Anxiety: Legal Scholars’ Contributions to Far-Right Conceptions of Migration and Border Policies”

12:30pm End of Conference

Confirmed participants in the conference are:
Agnieszka Bień-Kacała (University of Szczecin, Poland)
Alice Blum (University of Giessen, Germany)
Alejandro Castrillón (Baylor University)
Tímea Drinóczi (Federal University of Minas Gerais, Brazil)
Laura Field (American University)
George Hawley (University of Alabama)
Jim McAdams (University of Notre Dame)
Petra Mlejnková (Masaryk University, Brno, Czech Republic)
Steven Pittz (University of Colorado)
Sarah Shurts (Bergen Community College)
Joshua Vandiver (Ball State University)
Frank Wolff (Osnabrück University, Germany)
José Pedro Zúquete (University of Lisbon, Portugal)

A. James McAdams

A. James McAdams is the William M. Scholl Professor of International Affairs and former director of the Nanovic Institute for European Studies (2002-2018).  He has written widely on European, especially central European, affairs.  His new project, "The New Messiahs," examines the thinking of such post-Leninist theorists as Slavoj Zizek, Alain Badiou, Michael Hardt, Bruno Bosteels, Antonio Negri, and Costas Douzinas.