National liberalism

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National liberalism is a variant of classical liberalism, consisting of a combination of issues and policies which form a core of liberalism to nationalist positions on migration, citizenship, international relations and trade. The term is also used to describe a number of past and current European political parties that have been active on the subject. The basic concepts of national liberalism were formed in the 19th century, when conservative liberals influenced European political life and superseded the monarchists.


In opposition to current liberalism, i.e. the submission of person to state, the goals of national liberalism are the pursuit of individual/economic freedom along with national sovereignty.[1][2][3] The starting point, as author Yael Tamir pointed out, is "a set of beliefs endorsing individual rights and liberties, affirming the right of individuals to equal respect and concern, and presuming that governments should be neutral and impartial, vis-a-vis individual interests, preferences, and conceptions of the good."[4] This may mean acceptance for protectionism and other government interventions in the economy, but only to a limited extent and in support of the national private sector. Such ideas are in stark contrast to modern liberalism which advocates government control in all aspects of society. National liberals reject the idea of a world government of any kind and see the value of having free, independent, liberal states.


The term "national liberalism" was mainly used in German-speaking countries such as Germany and Austria during the nineteenth century, where national liberal parties had been in the government for a number of years. This concept also became very influential in neighboring countries such as Romania, which had a minority German community.


The political origin of German nationalism is due to the consequences of the Congress of Vienna in 1815. It was there that the system of loose, interconnected independent states was created as a successor to the Holy Roman Empire, which was perceived as a dissatisfying division of Germany from many of the contemporaries who had expected a nation-state solution against the backdrop of the various European wars. At the same time, the demand for the granting of civil rights dominated the political debate. The citizens' rights, which were influenced by the French Revolution and were introduced in some German states at the beginning of the nineteenth century, were curtailed in the years between 1819 and 1830 by decisions taken by the Carlsbad and other restoration measures.

The demands for civil rights and a German national state were represented in parallel by opposition politicians throughout Germany and united in the struggle against the anti-liberal princes of the German states. Early highlights of this political phase were the Wartburgfest, organized by Burschenschaften, in 1817, and the Hambach festival in 1832. These early national liberals often advocated a more authoritarian nationalist Germany, unlike more classical liberals such as Max Weber who wanted to see a democratic German nation with liberal ideas at the center.

In the course of the revolution of 1848/1849, the bourgeois-liberal forces, together with the radical-democratic movement in the Frankfurt National Assembly, made the implementation of the two demands but ultimately failed to implement a definite German national state and bourgeois liberties, especially when it encountered Prussian resistance, which itself pursued a more conservative variant of the German national state with the Erfurt Union. The liberals were divided into two party groups: left-leaning democratic liberals, who demanded universal and equal voting rights and republics, and the moderate liberals who demanded limited voting rights and constitutional monarchy[5] (the latter group, the so-called "casino party", became the ideological basis for German national liberalism). Leading representatives of the right met at the end of June 1849 in the Gotha post-parliamentary group to discuss the proposed constitution. A majority spoke out to give a chance despite the concerns of the national state, but the failure of the Union also meant a considerable loss of prestige among the liberals.

After Prussia had won the hegemony over Germany in the Prussian-Austrian War in 1866, the National Liberal Party (NLP) was founded in the North German Confederation in 1867. This separation from the party of progress saw the constitutional conflict as finished and wanted to work with Otto von Bismarck. In the Reichstag of the North German Confederation, and then of the imperial empire, Bismarck and the NLP found genuine compromises in domestic and judicial policy, which considerably modernized and unified Germany. This period lasted about a decade until the break of 1878, when Bismarck, by introducing protectionist measures such as the protective tariff policy, announced a conservative turnaround. On the question of how far Bismarck could meet, the NLP had groups split from the party. Since 1890, the NLP lost votes; they reached about 13 to 15% during the following Reichstag elections and were no longer the dominant party.

After the collapse of the German Empire in 1918 the majority of the national liberals under Gustav Stresemann and the right wing of the former Progressive People's Party joined the German People's Party (DVP) in December 1918. Against Stresemann's pro-Republican course, the short-lived National Liberal Reichspartei formed in 1924. In 1933, however, with the end of the DVP, the influential force of national liberalism was consumed; the rise of National socialism effectively ended all remaining political parties in Germany until the end of the Second World War.

Within the Free Democratic Party (FDP), there were mostly conservative, partly reactionary, nationalist struggles, especially in the 1950s, which were particularly strong in individual national associations. Thus, in the Bundestag, she voted against the denazification process introduced by the CDU and the SPD at the end of 1950. At her 1951 parliamentary convention in Munich, she demanded the release of all so-called war criminals, and welcomed the formation of the German Soldiers' Union of former members of the Wehrmacht and the SS to promote the integration of nationalist forces into democracy. The Naumann affair, named after Werner Naumann (1953), marks the attempt of old National Socialists to emigrate the party, which had many right-wing conservative and nationalist members in Hesse, North Rhine-Westphalia, and Lower Saxony. After the British occupation authorities had arrested seven prominent representatives of the Naumann circle, the FDP federal executive committee set up an investigation commission chaired by Thomas Dehler, which in particular criticized the conditions in the North Rhine-Westphalian FDP. In the following years, the right wing lost power, the extreme rights were increasingly seeking fields of action outside the FDP. Since the middle of the 1960s, the FDP under Walter Scheel and Hans-Dietrich Genscher had defined themselves as a party of the center, and with the Freiburg theses as a left-wing party. The majority of the still remaining national liberals left the party between 1969 and 1972 in protest against the New Ostpolitik and founded the short-lived small party Nationalliberale Aktion (NLA).

Later, attempts were repeatedly made to revive the national liberal tradition in the FDP. Hermann Oxfort and Alexander von Stahl founded the Liberal Society in 1979, which set itself the goal of a renewal of the law. With Achim Rohde and Heiner Kappel, he founded the Liberal Offensive in the FDP in 1995. In 2009, a Stresemann club was established as a national and right-wing network within the FDP, but now no longer exists.

The Alternative for Germany, established in 2013, which was programmatically positioned to the right of the CDU/CSU and the FDP, and was also able to bind former FDP voters, was also characterized by some observers as "nationalliberal". Since the split of the liberal wing around Bernd Lucke in 2015, however, the party has tended to be a national conservatism or a right-wing populist party.


Very few liberal parties developed in imperial Austria, with only the German-speaking party able to establish itself as a national force in the middle of the nineteenth century. A struggle against Catholicism and the Slavic peoples led ultimately to the breakup and defeat of the party, which split into several German-free and German-national parties and groups. In the First Republic, liberalism played only a marginal role, ineffective as it sat between the Christian Social and Social Democratic blocs. At present, the Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs (FPÖ) is sometimes considered a national liberal party, with the majority of its members classified as right-wing populist.


National liberalism had its breakthrough in Denmark in the 1830s during a movement that wanted to change society. In 1849, the National liberals led by D.G. Monrad introduced a new constitution which secured democracy in the state of Denmark.

The nationalist aspect was that the state and the nation should be the same, meaning that the state should include all Danish nationals residing within the country as well as its colonies. The liberal aspect included the requirement for a free constitution, with an assembly elected directly by the people that should have an influence on state policy; in concert with this the power of the king was reduced to that of a constitutional monarch.[6]

See also


  1. [1]. Google Books.
  2. [2]. Book.
  3. [3]. Book.
  4. Tamir, pg 6
  5. Eyck, pp. 223, 296
  • Yael Tamir: Liberal Nationalism. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey (1993)[4]
  • Martin Kitchen: A History of Modern Germany: 1800 to the Present, 2nd ed. Chichester, West Sussex/Malden, Massachusetts: Wiley-Blackwell (2012)
  • Frank Eyck: The Frankfurt Parliament 1848–1849. London: Macmillan/New York: St. Martin's (1968)