Long before reading Oliver Moody's piece in The Times of 18 May saying that something called 'Western liberalism' is under threat from right-wing populists such as Hungary's Victor Orban I was wondering: Just what is that supposed to be these days?

Does 'liberal' mean relying on free trade and markets, does it mean constitutional democratic politics, or does it mean 'progressive' social policies on issues ranging from abortion rights to discrimination - or some vague mix of all of those? Each of those themes gets called 'liberal', sometimes favourably, sometimes with hostility, but each is promoted by very different and often conflicting political and social groups. When it comes to immigration and treatment of Muslims, all of them are likely to be downright incoherent.

In year gone by I used to consider myself a liberal, although I never supported the neoliberal reliance on markets for all possible purposes - markets that are not always as free as they are supposed to be. But now I reckon the notion of liberalism, Western or other, is so vague and confused as to be indefensible without a complete rethink. Further, liberals as well as nationalists will be pressed to deal with matters like climate change, plastic pollution, or species extinction without global action backed by real power.

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