ADVANTAGES

This perspective on a future that is always open to political intervention is further reinforced by consideration of our past. An examination of earlier extra-institutional movements shows us that the world we know and the political institutions we have inherited are themselves the products of past struggles. Liberal rights and freedoms, democratic institutions and universal citizenship would not exist without the actions of radical social movements in the past. Anti-slavery, working-class and democratic activists helped to extend the rights of citizenship to all men. The first wave of feminism extended those same rights to women. At the same time, it is important to recognize that those liberal democratic laws and institutions which, with all their imperfections, currently protect our individual rights and freedoms are always vulnerable to future threats and challenges. They are maintained only by the habits, beliefs, values and, above all, the potential actions of citizens. There can be no guarantee, for example, that our current rights and liberties will survive the challenges of global warming and ‘peak oil’, international terrorism, nuclear proliferation and nation-state rivalries. And the problem is not just that external forces might destroy our liberal democratic institutions: it is rather that we may be tempted to sacrifice our rights and liberties for the sake of security and survival in the face of such external threats. Extra-institutional politics, in other words, is concerned with the preservation of existing institutions as well as with their reform or transformation.

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