Gilles Campagnolo, Adrienne Sala(Day Ⅱ)
Franz Waldenberger, Sébastien Lechevalier (Day Ⅲ)

Miriam Teschl | Richard Sturn | Naoki Yoshihara | Serge Audier | Tsutomu Hashimoto | Yufei Zhou | Valérie Charolles | Nikita Dhawan | Shinji Nohara | Franz Waldenberger | Saori Shibata | Cédric Durand | Yuko Harayama | Joanna J. Bryson | Mario Ionuț Maroșan


As the world entered the 21st century, hopes have been curbed and we have been facing major crises, one after another. Financial crisis and a series of economic breakdowns (with rebounds) have hurt growth badly from the 2008 financial crash up to the present-day. Moreover, a crisis of life conditions on Earth: climate is in jeopardy, biodiversity is at stake and disease spread (like the COVID pandemic), with their consequences. In this gloomy picture, old narratives tend to come back while all the technology we master cannot be redirect old paths towards new destinations. This is true as well regarding our mental frameworks and ways of understanding the world: not only the course of our material environment (life that turns more and more digitalized), but ideas and thoughts are changed. In a nutshell what are we to do with ways of thinking that have shaped our previous views on the world.

One such major issue at stake is the rationale of modernization for countries that have developed over the last two centuries, trusting voluntary exchange and freedom of trade, on the one hand, civil liberties and the expansion of democracy, on the other hand. In one word: liberalism. What is its future when we are facing the aforementioned crisis?

The mindset that seems in jeopardy was based upon scientific knowledge and attempts at clarifying the stakes taken into consideration by thinkers and scientists (both natural scientists and social scientists): the crisis regarding the ideas based “on liberty” (as John Stuart Mill framed the issue in his grounding philosophical work in 1859) is thus epistemological in nature.

Thus, one may point to a second type of crisis that we would like to stress at the start of this conference since it provides its orientation: it is a global crisis that sparks of a crisis of liberal ideas and ideals. It is a crisis that is as well economic and political in nature; it deals with the material world that we live in and with the values that support it.

Let us be explicit: we shall use the word “liberal” in the way that Europeans have in mind. We understand it to mean pro-liberty, pro-free-trade, for instance – not the American use that relates “liberals” to what Europeans tend to call the “progressive camp”. Incidentally, the US-English use is not foreign to us, since it fundamentally rehashes the meaning that the word had in the mid-nineteenth-century Europe, while a Spring of Revolutions shook this continent in 1848. The specifics of the notion have evolved in Europe towards specifically economic debates, while its original meaning was essentially retained throughout in US-English parlance (but lately evolved to include issues related to so-called intersectional studies). It is necessary to make things precise since this conference is held in English: yet contributors debate the future of liberalism in terms of economic policies supporting freedom. And we indeed experience a major crisis of such liberal ideas, such as the one that existed in the 1930s – moreover, with a war-like situation to the fore in both cases.

Now, these two sets of crises – that is to say, 1° the actual threats to the living environment that imply an epistemological quarry and raise debates about how to deal with it at the economic level; 2° the crisis of liberal ideas and hopes with issues at stake factual, theoretical and methodological altogether – both concern the ideal of freedom and free individuality. And they intertwine to make things more intricate and lead some to despair or wish they could go back to older frames (nationalistic, socialistic, and so on).

Those two sets of crises present both the opportunity to discuss abundantly ideas that had been put aside while so-called “liberal policies” were buoyantly advocated (the vibrant, but dangerous and false argument that there would be “only one way of rational thinking”) and they bring uneasiness, together with a fundamental doubt: do, can (and even will) political liberalism and economic liberalism always go together? Are those two guarantees for (some, even minimal) equality, especially some level of income equality guaranteeing a way-of-life where minimal comfort (or even affluence) and the absolute right to freedom are both implemented in all fields of civil society? Are those two meanings of liberalism still compatible, for all, or for the many, or even at all? Are they intrinsically linked at the fundamental conceptual level so that one cannot be found without the other being in stock?

This issue has surfaced each time that “liberalism” (in the sense put forth above and that runs as the main thread of this conference) has been submitted to a major crisis. For example, socialistic views can indeed be described as one product resulting from a former major crisis of liberalism. Each time the latter faces major difficulties, the former tends to emerge again under a new guise. Hence our Opening Session, where we are glad to invite Thomas Piketty, who presents himself as an advocate of socialism and a prosecutor of liberalism. It is only if liberalism can overcome impediments and obstacles, but we may foresee future perspectives for its claim to freedom. Indeed, is there a Future for Liberalism today?

In the 1930s, this issue was already raised. Hence the updated goal of this 3-Day Conference: to provide listeners, and now readers through this publication, a sort of arena like that of the so-called Walter Lippman Colloquium, which was held in Paris in 1938, organized by the French philosopher Louis Rougier in the name of the famous US publicist Walter Lippman. There gathered some Americans and mostly Europeans, especially French, German and Austrian thinkers. The aim was to analyze what had gone so wrong with liberalism, to explain how dark times come to overshadow Europe and the world. Almost one century later, hard times are back. However, the center of gravity of the world’s economy seems to shift from Europe to Eastern Asia, and it is in another major capital of what may once more called the “free world” that a conference with a somewhat analogous aims can be organized.

The way how to implement policies really depends upon issues that root deep within a common understanding between diverse civilizations. What may then appear as divergences is just as important as the essential agreement that signing official documents illustrates in turn. Treaties like the European Partnership Agreement (EPA) and the Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA) between the European Union (EU) and Japan portend greater cooperation. International lawyers dealt with these treatises. Within this conference, they mean less to enter debates that both preceded and followed negotiations than a scientific debate on notions more generally supporting the validity of such talks on values. Some thinkers oppose the trend and some aim at rebuking its cogency, and their position has to be assessed as well, as a counterpoint to the conviction that a future exists for liberal ideas facing present-day crisis.

The initiators of the project, Gilles Campagnolo and Adrienne Sala, acknowledge such pro and contra positions to better cope with the crisis of liberalism at both an epistemological and an ideal level. The aim of this 3-Day Conference is to discuss concepts at the basis of a diversity of forms of liberalism whereas we have come to times of crisis again. The initiators wish to thank the three institutions (one from each participating country, all three in Tokyo): they made possible to hold the conference whose proceedings are published in this volume.

Here, economists and philosophers, social thinkers who, for some, contend with the ideas of liberalism and, for others, support them, deal with fundamental theories and notions. They put forth the role of technology as a major factor of change in forms of liberalism adapted and adopted in the present world, and in its near and further future. For France, Germany and Japan, the list of contributors (all renowned in their field) is found in this document (with references/ credentials) as well as a summary and (when they agreed to) full contents of their presentations. In the view of offering more room for expanding EU–Japan cooperation at this scientific level, the conference is meant as the start of a larger enduring project, whose success (as reckoned by various media and institutions related to the event) the initiators intend to carry on in the future.

Institut français de
recherche sur le Japon à la Maison franco-
German Institute for
Japanese Studies
The Nippon Institute
for Research
Advancement (NIRA)