A significant section of the constituency of contemporary contention is connected with neither the traditional organisations of the far left, nor with small groups intent on carrying out direct action for immediate change. The radical liberal frame is one apparently utilised by many in the movements who are more likely to be supportive of a range of well-known non-governmental organisations (NGOs) such as Greenpeace, Oxfam or War on Want. While these organisations’ primary operations are not directed at mobilizing a membership to take part in street demonstrations, they nevertheless often provide an urgent desire for social change.
Increasingly, over the past few decades, such NGOs have developed a set of intellectual tools that provides an understanding of western governments as culpable for social and environmental injustice, and the potential efficacy of massed populations in changing their governments’ behaviour. On this basis, the radical liberal frame emerges from a wide range of particular issue-focused critiques rather than either a body of theory or a particular approach to social change.
The radical liberal frame expresses the way that certain core beliefs appear to come together to justify an increasingly radical approach to holding governments to account, while seeking to achieve concrete gains in the immediate future. Some core ingredients of the frame include:
- A strong moral position centred on a (broadly egalitarian) understanding of justice.
- Critique of those in power focused on the abuse of that power.
- A positive evaluation of empirically grounded understanding and subsequent critique of any belief system that appears to be dogmatic.
- A belief in the potential of social change activities that work with, rather than against, current institutions of power.
- A strong belief democracy, justified on the basis of sharing relevant knowledge.