Crises of the West: Liberal Identities and Ontological (In)Security

  • Marko LehtiEmail author
  • Henna-Riikka Pennanen


This chapter scrutinizes the relationship between the current perceptions of crisis, the liberal order, and the idea of the West as its imagined owner. We approach crisis-talk as an expression of narrative power to contest, confirm, or constitute anew existing liberal identities. We argue that this crisis-talk is largely embedded in the question of securing symbolic agency, the role of a global leader, in an era that is seen to be characterized by the rise of non-Western actors and Western self-doubt regarding the liberal order. In this chapter, we identify three present crisis narratives of the West: the liberal internationalist, conservative (/libertarian), and right-wing populist. We compare them by introducing six variables: How the perception of crisis (1) generates anxiety, (2) (de)constructs self-esteem, (3) internalizes/externalizes feelings of shame, and (4) creates an antagonized Other. And on the other hand, (5) how crisis is interpreted, and (6) how the vision of an ideal, or alternative, world is positioned temporally. We place the three narratives into the context of the long genealogy of triumphalist and declinist narratives of the West, with the objective to bring closer together the prevailing international relations (IR) understanding of the West as a political and security community and a global actor with the understandings of the West as a marker of civilization, social imaginary, and identity.


Crisis narratives Civilization Identity Ontological security 


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Tampere Peace Research Institute (TAPRI)Tampere UniversityTampereFinland
  2. 2.Turku Institute for Advanced StudiesUniversity of TurkuTurkuFinland

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