Werner Binder 1
  • 1 Masaryk University, Joštova 10, 602 00 Brno, Czech Republic

A Liberal Order Beyond Earth? Civil Sphere, “The Culture” and the Future of Liberalism

2020, vol. 19, No. 4, pp. 36–60 [issue contents]
Starting with George Orwell’s liberal problem of meaning, this article investigates liberalism as cultural structure and myth, drawing on the theory of civil sphere by Jeffrey C. Alexander and the science fiction novels of Ian M. Banks. Following Alexander, it is argued that liberal societies are built around a sacred core described by the cultural structures of the civil sphere, which are structures of meaning as well as feeling. Civil discourses and movements in liberal (and not so liberal) societies mobilize powerful sym-bols of the sacred and profane and are thus able to inspire an almost religious devotion. The article then continues to explore the meaning structure, cultural contradictions and possible future of the liberal order discussing Bank’s Culture series. These novels are set in the borderlands of “the Culture”, a galactic civili-zation and liberal utopia. It is precisely this utopian setting, which allows Banks to probe the internal dilemmas of liberalism, for example between pacifism and interventionism, while addressing issues of contemporary relevance, such as the liberal problem of meaning, the allure of authoritarianism or the social status of artificial intelligence. With their literary imagination, science fiction writers construct “a myth of the future” (Banks), which may often reflect the myths of their time, but which can also—as in the case of Banks—reflect on those myths, their implications and contradictions. Finally, the fictional possibilities of social order in science fiction can be a valuable source for our imagination as sociologists contemplat-ing the very possibility of social order.
Citation: Binder W. (2020) A Liberal Order Beyond Earth? Civil Sphere, “The Culture” and the Future of Liberalism [Либеральный порядок за пределами Земли? Гражданская сфера, «Культура» и будущее либерализма]. The Russian Sociological Review, vol. 19, no 4, pp. 36-60
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