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Project Research Background

Liberalism has, since earlier than the Enlightenment, implied at least the following two components: a component of economics and one of politics. Economic liberalism (at least in some of its most representative brands) assumes that the less the economy is controlled by the state, the more efficient auto-regulated free markets can be in terms of production and distribution of goods. Political liberalism, again at least most generally, assumes that the more citizens are free from control by the state, the more creative, responsible and auto-disciplined those free individuals can be in terms of production and diffusion of ideas and innovation. Economic liberalism may therefore, under given circumstances, equate to “Capitalism”; Political Liberalism may, also under given circumstances,equate to “Democracy”.

Inasmuch as some regard Liberalism as indeed being a Western Ideology, some structural correlation is often assumed between Economic Liberalism and Political Liberalism, as well as between Capitalism and Democracy: it goes at a par with the assumption that the more developed the economy in one country, the freer the persons living in this country. Now, does Liberalism truly work as a Western Ideology? And, in any case, is this correlation stable, in particular in the case of non-Western economies? Japan has been the first example, in the Meiji times, to face this dilemma. South Korea and Taiwan followed. And China is the most significant example in our times. If Liberalism works both at the level of expected economic welfare for the people and of political rights that it endows people with, shall we expect to observe such correlation in China as well? Is China an exception to the general “rule”, regarding its peculiar cultural background (notably its Confucian heritage) or is China a counter-example demonstrating that there is nothing as such a Rule, i.e. that the correlation between economic and social liberty purported by Liberalism is merely a matter of belief?

That dual line of thought ends up equating Liberty to Creativity both in economic (scientific discoveries leading to technological innovations and leadership assumed by free entrepreneurs) and in political terms (the “rule of law” in an open society). Yet, a major economic, social and environmental issue emerges *in the face of the inequalities that Liberalism also seems to inevitably generate.* It may thus be possible and/or useful to distinguish between a Liberalism of expected welfare (on the economic side) and a Liberalism of civil and political liberties and rights on the political side. As we differentiate those, tension surfaces which is intrinsic to what some name the ‘Western Ideology of Liberalism’. This project tests this upon the course of past and present history in between Europe and China, as the European Union seeks to shape a new understanding of that relationship for the future.

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