The Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS) hosted a public lecture by Professor Alan Kahan at the Asia School of Business on the 18th of March 2019. The evening lecture, entitled after Professor Kahan’s soon-to-be published book, “ The Three Pillars of Liberalism: Freedom,Markets and Morals from the Present to the Enlightenment”, was attended by IDEAS Chairman and Founder YAM Tunku Zain Al-’Abidin and the High Commissioner of Canada to Malaysia, Her Excellency Julia Bentley.
The evening opened with welcoming remarks from Dr Renato Lima, IDEAS Senior Fellow and Assistant Professor at the Asia School of Business. The lecture by Professor Kahan then ensued, with a brief introduction to liberalism where the Professor argued that liberalism stems from a collective need to escape fear, specifically being: fear of religious persecution, fear of revolution, fear of poverty and the fear of totalitarianism and more recently, populism. The former four fears have given rise to four distinct historical liberalisms, that is: proto-liberalisms, classical liberalism,new liberalism and libertarians and proceduralists; each historical period adding on to the meaning of liberalism. As such, Professor Kahan likens liberalism to an oyster- where liberalism grows in an accrual.
Professor Kahan goes on to introducing each historical liberalism period,its unifying theme and proponents. Classical libertarians include Kant,Madison and Constant, the majority of which advocated for limiting government power to secure individual freedom. New libertarians- whom go on to rename their predecessors as “classical”- advocated for the end of poverty through the invention of a limited welfare state. In succession was the idea that the state was terrifying. Rising during the time of Stalin and Hitler, Libertarians and Prodceduralists include Hayek, Popper and Berlin, and existed during a period in which libertarians advocated against welfare states. Here, Professor Kahan then introduces the newest “layer” of liberalism, one in which he dubs “Liberalism 4.0”- a pushback to the previous libertarians, welfare staters and a rising fear of populism- emphasises the priority of freedom,the necessity of virtue and the indispensability of markets.
After the lecture, joining Professor Kahan was Ali Salman, Chief Executive Officer of IDEAS in a discussion question. Amongst the topics raised by the audience were how to approach societies that have rejected liberalism, ideal definition of state in liberal thought and the rise of populism has affected libertarians and liberals alike.