Why are values ​​important in every society

Basic political values

Siegfried Schiele

To person

Dr. h.c., born 1939; from 1976 to 2004 director of the state center for political education in Baden-Württemberg; Author of the book "Democracy in Danger?" (2013); Ludwigstrasse 54, 70176 Stuttgart. [email protected]

It would be tempting to begin with a dirge. How often can one observe that the "neglected youth" is being dragged on when everything was obviously better in the past. Often there is talk of the "elbow society", only a few would think of the common good. In May 2012, the "Time" magazine even ran the headline "The Me Me Me Generation". Many are of the opinion that processes of disintegration and dissolution call into question the necessary stock of values ​​in our society. But what are values ​​anyway? The following is not about a scientific definition, but about a pragmatic, manageable determination. Values ​​are goals that influence our practical actions. They have a certain stability, but can change over the course of a lifetime. They are of great importance for people to live together. Often the central values ​​of different people are the same, there are sometimes significant differences and shifts in emphasis. In a democratically organized society there will always be a pluralism of values. This pluralism is the essence of democracy.

And yet one must ask the question whether there does not have to be common ground in central points for the cohesion of society. This addresses the basic values ​​without which a democratically constituted society could not exist. These can be fed from different sources. But if we did not agree, for example, that freedom was a central guiding principle for our democracy, we would not be able to live together prosperously. Of course, the term "freedom" is so broad that there is still a great deal of leeway in political disputes to shape the free society one way or another. We must always bear in mind that freedom is not a gift, but a great task and is inconceivable without the category of responsibility. It gives the individual as well as the state community as a whole the opportunity to take the shaping of private and public life into their own hands.

It is also inconceivable that a democratically constituted society could do without the basic value of justice. Unity in principle is important. Yet there are many ideas about what constitutes a just society in detail. It is not for nothing that there is a traditional debate on the subject of justice from Aristotle to John Rawls. A just society strives to balance the differences between people, which will always exist in a free society, or to make them tolerable. According to Rawls, the differences are only fair if they result in advantages for everyone. It would be good for political disputes if such theses were the focus of the discussion. [1]

In a similar way we could look at other basic values ​​such as equality, solidarity, peace or security and find that they are very important for living together in a democracy. You will then also find that the basic values ​​are in a tense relationship with one another. It immediately makes sense that freedom and equality, for example, have to be balanced again and again. The same applies to the values ​​of freedom and security. It is worth arguing about how such tensions can be balanced out in each case. What remains undisputed, however, is that these basic values ​​are a foundation for a society with a democratic nature.

The basic values ​​mentioned all culminate in human dignity. It is not to be weighed in gold that Article 1 of the Basic Law (GG) with the simple and clear statement "Human dignity is inviolable" sets the course for the entire political and social life. This sets the standard against which all political and social action can be measured. Of course, no recipes for everyday life can be derived from this fundamental norm, but the lighthouse human dignity is not without obligation. For many decisions in everyday political and social life, Article 1 gives at least an orientation for solutions that have human dignity in mind. At the high level of abstraction, human dignity and the basic values ​​mentioned are affirmed in our society. However, the more concretely we approach everyday life, the more complicated it becomes.

Since the 1960s there has been a change in the attitudes of broad sections of the population towards the values. [2] In essence, it is about turning away from the values ​​of obedience and self-restraint towards values ​​of self-development. This change in values ​​took place slowly but steadily. Since the turn of the millennium, some observers have seen another trend change. The shift in emphasis in favor of a high appreciation of the individual scope of freedom is definitely a positive development. However, there is a risk that the willingness to enter into commitments and commitments that are important for the community will decrease significantly. For years, people have been complaining about the lack of social ties, be it parties, trade unions, churches, associations and clubs. The enlightened, critical person probably sees long-term relationships as a possible limitation of his or her autonomy. Here it becomes clear that the change in values ​​that has to do with modernization processes can also have downsides that require intensive discussion.

However, change in values ​​must in any case be distinguished from decline in values. It would be quite an exaggeration to claim that values ​​in our society are generally on the decline. It may be that some see change as a loss. Change is not automatically change for the better. That is why the intense public debate about what is very important to us is very important.

The "production of values" is one of the most difficult tasks of all. There is agreement that the state cannot simply set and enforce values. As early as 1976, a conference on basic values ​​took place at the Catholic Academy in Hamburg. At that time Helmut Schmidt was of the opinion: "The democratic state has not created values ​​and the moral foundations. (...) The democratic state lives from the values ​​and values ​​it has given moral regulators in society fail. "[3] So if the democratic state cannot create the values ​​on which we are dependent, then society must take over.

But who is responsible for these requirements? A whole host of actors comes into view here. The family should be mentioned first, but kindergartens, schools, peer groups, churches, associations or the media are also involved when it comes to conveying values. The problem is that there is no uniform concept according to which the various and very different actors proceed when communicating values. In addition, these are rarely intentional processes. Much happens informally. It is not uncommon for contradictions to arise in the mediation process. For example, it is almost the rule that what is important in the family is frowned upon in the peer group. Dealing with such contradictions can be important for training young people. This example shows how complex and complicated further training processes are.

A golden rule is: values ​​cannot be taught, they are not just teaching material. We must therefore be on our guard that no matter how good the intentions, the teaching does not turn into a teaching that is generally rejected. Young people in particular are annoyed when something is brought to them in small coins without any authenticity, which is basically very important to them. Therefore, role models are important that some have written off as old-fashioned. The latins already knew exempla trahunt, Examples carry you away. Wasn't Mother Teresa a shining example? She has credibly campaigned for human dignity and charity. Many try to follow in their footsteps. It will always inspire young people in particular when they see that what is important to them is already being lived here and there. And there are mostly examples in the vicinity of young people.