Holberg Prize Panel to Examine Challenges to European Liberal Democracy

What can German history since 1871 tell us about the relationship between nationalism, democracy, and authoritarianism, both in Germany and in Europe at large? And how can historians and social scientists cooperate in dealing with basic challenges to liberal democracy in the past and present?

These questions lie at the heart of a panel discussion hosted by the Holberg Prize and the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities on January 27. The discussion, part of a year-long series of events marking the 20th anniversary of the Holberg Prize, will be held live in Berlin and also appear on a YouTube livestream.

Panelists (fuller bios below) include the 2011 Holberg laureate, Jürgen Kocka, with Hedwig Richter and Michael Zürn, in a discussion moderated by Christoph Markschies, president of the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy. 

The splash page for the event offers context for the discussion:

The “Sonderweg approach” – that there was something particular about German history that set it apart and could explain the rise of fascism and Hitler’s ascent to power in 1933 – came under scrutiny from the 1980s onwards. Recently the debate has been revitalized, with the publication of Hedwig Richter’s book Democracy: A German Affair, drawing historical lines of German democratic traditions back to the Wilhelmine Empire. In an interview, Professor Kocka pointed out that such recent research has found new material on how the period of the Wilhelmine Empire saw rapid economic development, with societal and cultural changes that had emancipatory characteristics. However, it loses sight of how the Wilhelmine Empire was also what he calls an “authoritarian militarist-and-civil-servant state, which pursued aggressive colonial politics and bred extreme nationalism until the First World War (…).” In political science, Professor Zürn is working on the “democratic regression” and the “contestation of the liberal script,” in both European and global contexts.

The discussion, which is free and open to the public, takes place at the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities, Leibniz Hall, Markgrafenstraße 38, 10117 Berlin on Friday, January 27 starting at 18:00 CET. Register here for that live event. It will also livestream on YouTube.

Panelists and Moderator

Jürgen Kocka is a professor emeritus of Free University Berlin and the Berlin Social Science Center. He is the author of numerous studies of modern, European, and comparative history and an advocate of social science approaches to history. Kocka received the 2011 Holberg Prize.

Hedwig Richter is a professor of modern history at the Bundeswehr University Munich. In 2020 she received the Anna Krüger Prize from the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin. Her most recent publications are 2020’s Demokratie – eine deutsche Affäre and 2021’s Aufbruch in die Moderne.  Reform und Massenpolitisierung im Kaiserreich.

Michael Zürn is director of the global governance unit at WZB Berlin Social Science Center and professor of international relations at the Free University of Berlin. He is director of the DFG-funded Cluster of Excellence “Contestations of the Liberal Script” and a member of the Berlin–Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities and the Academia Europaea.

Christoph Markschies is professor of ancient Christianity at Humboldt-University in Berlin and currently serves as president of both the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities as well as Union of the German Academies of Sciences and Humanities. Among other awards and honors, he has received the Leibniz Award of the German National Research Council.

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