CEU Launches “Re-thinking Open Society” Project

CEU Launches “Re-thinking Open Society” Project


Well CEU’s mission is open society.
And what does open society mean? It means free minds, free politics, free
institutions. And if you’ve held fast to that mission for 25 years, there comes a
moment when you ought to re-examine it, rethink what it means. Let’s be clear
open society is under attack in lots of parts of Europe, not just in Hungary
where we live, but in other parts of Europe and in North America. So why is it
under attack? Why our values that we hold dear so frequently criticized? And let’s
be honest, have we asked tough questions about open society? Open societies are widely associated with open borders. People say open society is a contradiction in terms
‘how can a society be open’? It must have boundaries and frontiers. So we’re asking
tough questions of ourselves because that’s what a university has to do. It
has to question its basic premises. You can’t believe something you haven’t
interrogated, that you haven’t put through a stress test. So think of
rethinking open society as a stress test for our values in the 21st century. An open society requires first a society that then is as open as it can be within
the limits of that society, but what that also means is it needs to impart somehow to the people in the society both the notion of openness and an attachment to
the institution and the customs and mores of the country at the same time.
And so the tension is always going to be there. That’s the balance we have to find.
That is to respect those who say open society never paid enough attention to
the need for national boundaries, and national sovereignty, and national
identity. Okay, those are perfectly reasonable yearnings and longings in a
political community, but how do we get those frontiers without creating
exclusion, rejection, cruelty? The creditor-debtor relationship is
one that is very very conducive to populist politics, and this is because it
pits states against each other. It’s states against states or governments against governments, rather than conflict within
countries. It also offers a way of finding basically the
external enemies and also the enemies that are within society, which are these
enemies of the people. Sort of the real people, what the populists call the
“real people”, which of course means a very select understanding of who the “real
people” are. One of the things that the notion of open
society does not address is fear and displacement. I mean what the psychology
is of being out and alone in an open world. I think we’re in a historical
moment where people generally feel this place just about everywhere in the world. The narration of a deep story, what Arlie Hochschild in her book on
Strangers in Their Own Land called the deep story, is basically a kind of
emotional narrative about the type of conflicts and and solutions we have. The deep story runs something like we are again in a situation where these big
states run over our small states, and impose their conditions, and take our
dignity, and don’t respect us, and we are just there to fulfill what
the big state or the creditors want to do. And we show them, we small East-European states, show them how to revolt against this. So this deep story also plays an
important role, and it allows basically populist leaders to reconfigure the
society in a non-open way. Budapest has been, and is at the center of these debates, but secondly we get students from 120 countries we have
faculty from 30-40, we’re one of the most global and international universities in
the world, so these questions are posed everywhere. Not just in Eastern Europe,
not just in Western Europe, but around the world. So what’s exciting
about asking these questions at CEU, is that we can ask them about the whole
world, and get some new answers. People who believe in open society
they should always be in dialogue, respectful, tough, smart dialogue with people who
hold different positions. And let’s be frank, in Hungary there are many people
who defend the idea of an illiberal democracy, and CEU needs to be in an
honest dialogue with them, a respectful dialogue, listening to them, not assuming
we have all the answers, but arguing back in favor of more openness, more freedom,
more respect for separation of powers than is evident in these models. So
the contrast that we used to make between open society and closed society
no longer works, and so we need to understand the relationship between illiberal democracies, and authoritarian capitalism, and the Western liberal
democratic model. These are now in new configurations that we have to
understand. So this is this is what I mean when we talk about Rethinking Open Society. Rethinking Open Society will be big
public lectures, and which we hope the general community will come. Students,
faculty, staff, and people from outside. And open society project means
open the doors to everybody, secondly some more focused more academic style
seminars. There will be some op-eds there’ll be I hope a book that comes out
of this, and the other thing that’s very important: one of the things
that makes CEU unique, is we have an ongoing relationship with the Open
Society Foundation. We’re not their think tank, but we’re their kind of brother and sister. And so we want to engage with the Open Society Foundation as it rethinks
its mission, as it rethinks its change model. Open society is the biggest funder
of human rights and governance assistance private funder of those
things in the world, that gives us an incredibly exciting privileged
relationship to one of the chief change agents in the modern world. Well can we
be helpful to them in sharpening up their change model, facing up to the
difficulties that the change model has encountered in helping them to go
forward to the next phase. That’s another very practical public policy orientation
to the Rethinking project, which I hope we’ll be able to deliver to the Open Society
Foundation in the year ahead.

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