Why don't you like libertarians

Freedom as a value? - New observations on an old debate

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“Freedom that I mean, that fills my heart, come with your shine, sweet angel image! Do you never like to show yourself to the troubled world, lead your dance only in the starry canopy? Where God's flame is sunk in a heart that hangs faithfully and lovingly on the old tribe; where men can be found who bravely join forces for honor and justice, there is a free sex ”(text: Max von Schenkendorff (1813) / melody: Karl Groos (1818)).

The social discussion about values ​​in general and about the nature and culture of freedom as a central value for a democracy is as topical as it is problematic. Anyone who asks the Federal Constitutional Court about the freedom to ride in the forest,1)The doubling of the old-age quotient in the next few decades can hardly be stopped. This implies either a halving of the pension benefits or a doubling of the burden on the contributors or significantly longer working lives. Cf. Herwig Birg, The aging republic and the failure of politics, Berlin 2015. or striving for the definition of the “honorable businessman” with the Hanseatic merchants, or those who seek a “change in values ​​or culture” in finance or for written “basic values” shouts in party programs, he seems to be clear about the concept of value and its foundation.

But can, should and should one be? What are values ​​from a philosophical point of view? How do they come about and how can they be narrowed down in terms of definition? Which values ​​exactly are rated positively and which are not and why? Does freedom take precedence over the common good, or is it the other way around, and are both “timeless values”?

Because whoever propagates seemingly timeless values ​​does so against the background of a certain as well as highly personal and thus always subjective value awareness. And behind this, anthropologically, in the sense of Kant's fourth basic question “What is man?” There is always a concrete and individual image of man. If, for example, the quoted text of the song "Freedom, which I mean" speaks of the value of freedom, then this freedom, which is sung about in this song, has Christian, masculine, astronomical and German connotations and the text was not coincidentally composed in 1813 . That means: Even with this seemingly simple example, the concept of freedom is strongly contextual, but at the same time highly valued.

But can the concept of freedom as a concept of value, at least in terms of definition, be as clearly delimited, even a timeless “basic value”, as the contributions of the lawyers in this volume seem to insinuate? Is there even a “culture of freedom” of its own, as Udo di Fabio assumes, and what then distinguishes the freedom culture of 1813 from that of 1989 or 2016?2)Udo di Fabio, Die Kultur der Freiheit, Munich 2005. In view of all these open questions, there is a need for clarification about what is actually meant in terms of content when - especially often in times of crisis - different political currents demand a new value awareness and after what appears to be “timeless “Values ​​is called. Many are calling for a return to values; only to which exactly and in what context? And who can provide information here? In which faculty is there any historical expertise? In short: where does the concept of value come from?

In order to clear up just one of the many misunderstandings in this area right from the start: Also and especially in theology one often comes across the talk of Christian values ​​and the Christian image of man: Others use the concept of value sparingly and still others do not use the concept of value out of conviction. For example, at the joint press conference with the Federal Minister for Family Affairs on the “Alliance for Education” in April 2006, the former bishop Margot Käßmann emphasized that she would like the Christian churches to play a strong role as “providers on the market of values” - but without localizing the marketplace to make for it.3)“Against inner poverty and arbitrariness”, in: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung of April 21, 2006. Hans Küng also speaks in the declaration of principles on the “Global Ethic” that one can find a common set of “core values” in all religions. He also speaks of “basic values”, “values ​​of life” and “spiritual values”.4)Hans Küng / Karl-Josef Kuschel, The Declaration of the Parliament of World Religions, Munich 1993. On the Protestant side, Eberhard Jüngel and others try to keep the concept of value out of theology and to speak of "truth" instead.5)Eberhard Jüngel, Worthless Truth. On the identity and relevance of the Christian faith, 2nd edition, Tübingen 2003. Even if it can be objected that the discussion about values ​​was settled at the latest with the philosophical fundamental criticism of Martin Heidegger, and that with Eberhard Jüngel's remarks on the "worthless truth of the gospel"6)Ibid. All that is necessary for the theologians has been said, the discussion does not ebb away. Apparently there are very different ways of dealing with the concept of value. But what is the reason for the ambivalence that emerges so clearly in this example and the underlying uncertainty in dealing with the concept of value?

The Concept of Value - A Brief History of Concepts

How did the concept of value even get into the sphere of theology and philosophy before it found its triumphal march into everyday language and even the law, in which clear definitions are essential for its application? Historically, the concept of value is originally not a central philosophical term. Plato and Aristotle with their concept of virtue or Thomas Aquinas, who does not focus on values ​​but on truth and natural law, get along excellently without the concept of value. The modern concept of value only establishes itself with the economy, when providers and buyers try to agree on the question: "What is something worth to me?" Following on from Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas, Adam Smith differentiates between the exchange value and the use value of a thing. A golden cage, for example, has a high exchange value due to its material, but a relatively low practical value. The concept of value was received in philosophy by Rudolf Hermann Lotze and subsequently by the neo-Kantians such as Wilhelm Windelband and Heinrich Rickert, who wanted to objectify the concept of value. It was taken up, but fundamentally differently filled, later in the value-philosophical hierarchy of Max Scheler.

Anyone who has to gather the material here seems to be well advised to concentrate on two names, namely Max Scheler and Friedrich Nietzsche, because they have had the most lasting impact on the debate about the concept of value. While Scheler and, following on from him, Nicolai Hartmann, were looking for eternally valid values ​​that evaded rational objectification, it was Nietzsche who demanded the “revaluation of all values”, which presupposes their fundamental variability.7)Friedrich Nietzsche, Zur Genealogie der Moral, in: Giorgio Colli / Mazzino Montinari (Hrsg.), Kritische Studienausgabe, Volume 5, Berlin 1999. Nietzsche's work gave impulses in three directions: firstly, for further empirical work on the origin and development of values, firstly especially with Max Weber; second, to a philosophical theory of values ​​in Max Scheler; and finally, thirdly, to a radical criticism of the philosophical and other use of the concept of value in Heidegger and others. Scheler attempted to make the concept of value the foundation of his material ethics.8)Cf. Max Scheler, The formalism in ethics and the material ethics of values. New attempt at an ethical personalism, 4th edition, Bern 1954. For him it is imperative to ascribe a being to values ​​as part of a larger whole, ie to make them entities of a metaphysical construction. This being of the values ​​should, however, differ from the real being of the existing real as an ideal being-in-itself, whereby phenomenologically developed values ​​are brought into an allegedly a priori hierarchy. And he claims of this hierarchy that it is intuitively accessible. This last step, of course, led Scheler's theory of value into the abyss, since normative ethics can hardly be developed with intuition. How do I convey intuitive values ​​to those who think differently who refuse to follow my intuition and share its source? That does not mean that Scheler's value thinking remained without influence. On the contrary, it has a deep effect on the law of the Federal Republic of Germany: In German criminal law one asks about the “worthlessness” of an act, and the immorality of a legal transaction is measured by the “legal feeling of all those who think fairly and justly”. The Federal Constitutional Court even assumes that the fundamental rights provisions embody an "objective value system" which "applies as a basic constitutional decision for all areas of law".9)See "Lüth judgment" of the Federal Constitutional Court, BVerfGE 7, 198. The concept of value also unfolded its effect in Catholic social teaching, where Oswald von Nell-Breuning and others tried, albeit not quite in Scheler's sense, the concept of value to the traditional ethical concept of To adapt good ones and thus to insert them into the natural law tradition. In the sixth edition of the state lexicon of the Görres Society you can read about the keyword “value”: Reality […] shows itself in all beings in their peculiar graduated perfection, which can be described as goodness (bonitas) or value.10)Max Müller / Alois Halder, Art. Value I. In State Lexicon. Law, Economy, Society, ed. von der Görres-Gesellschaft, Volume VIII, 6th Edition, Freiburg 1963, Sp. 596-601 (597).

Heidegger would have felt that his diagnosis was confirmed by this sentence: “The value and the valuable” have become “the positivistic substitute for the metaphysical”.11)Martin Heidegger, Nietzsche's word “God is dead”, in: Martin Heidegger, Holzwege, Frankfurt am Main 1977, pages 209-267 (227). It is evident that Heidegger's criticism of the philosophy of values ​​is linked to his own philosophical insights, which are not discussed here in detail. But even if one does not want to follow Heidegger's alternative: He made it clear that the claim of the philosophy of values ​​to construct a realm of objectively valid values ​​on a vague ontological basis had to be misleading.

The added value of the concept of value

But doesn't the concept of value and consequently freedom as the apparently most important “basic value” have at least a high practical value in use despite all the problems associated with it? As stated at the beginning, it is not by chance that it is extremely popular because it is difficult to compare anything comparable in the areas of money, law or politics: Participation in a theater performance, such as owning a car, has a comparable price in terms of form a monetary value guaranteed by a central bank. And in the meantime, even litigation risks in the banking sector have a price that can be accounted for in billions of euros. Can the concept of value perhaps help to adequately solve the problem of the validity of norms, supposed "basic values" and principles, which exists in many areas of our society? The result achieved so far allows only one answer to this question: then and only if the concept of value does not claim absolute validity. Another answer would only be justified if it could have been shown that a generally comprehensible, philosophical reflection can prove the absolute validity of ideal values, as they are asserted by Scheler and others. But whoever asks individually “What is something worth to me?” Does not do so collectively or normatively, but first as an individual. This result in no way speaks to an ethical relativism. On the contrary: The fact that certain values ​​in general and freedom in particular have normative validity should not be denied at all. But the normative status of validity claims in avoiding a naturalistic fallacy cannot in any case result from the fact that these values ​​are “basic values”. They do not have their reason for validity within them. Values ​​“are” not.

The concept of value is valuable in practice where it makes "the incommensurable commensurable" in the sense of Carl Schmitt, so that "very different goods, goals, ideals and interests (...) become comparable and compromised".12)Carl Schmitt, The Tyranny of Values, in: Carl Schmitt / Eberhard Jüngel / Sepp Schelz, The Tyranny of Values, Hamburg 1979, pages 9-43 (13). A useful, practical instrument, then, but it must not grow too much for the user, it must not gain a life of its own. Otherwise we are like the sorcerer's apprentice with a broom, and the "tyranny of values" threatens13)Eberhard Jüngel, Worthless Truth. Christian experience of truth in the dispute against the "tyranny of values", in: Carl Schmitt / Eberhard Jüngel / Sepp Schelz, Die Tyrannei derwerte, Hamburg 1979, pages 45-75 (49). (Nicolai Hartmann), in which one value threatens to dominate all others. How do you deal with this dilemma? At this point, thinking in terms of discourse ethics is a further step: According to Jürgen Habermas, norms are “generally binding”, whereas values ​​are only “particularly deserving of preference”.14)Jürgen Habermas, facticity and validity, contributions to the discourse theory of law and the democratic constitutional state, 2nd edition, Frankfurt am Main 1992, page 315. It follows that when working with and on the concept of value, it is necessary and entirely possible to have the ideal validity claim of values ​​to go off. The recognition that values ​​are shared by certain groups does not necessarily have to lead to ethical relativism or narrow legal positivism. Rather, it can lead to the demand to conduct the norms discourse in a different way, in which the values ​​and norms discourse must always remain related to one another. Because values ​​require binding norms to control them and, on the other hand, show how and why people actually commit themselves to certain rules in their actions. The American sociologist of religion Peter L. Berger identifies the danger of individual values ​​beyond normative and legal control in the concept of tolerance and the limits of this value of constitutional status using the following memorable example: "The children of upright, thoroughly Protestant average American citizens become libertarian bohemians, who tolerate everything except intolerance: 'Oh, you are a cannibal? How interesting! I think we would all gain a lot if we understood your point of view better ‘. Their children, in turn, tend to go along with whatever religious, political or aesthetic fanaticism they encounter. And what can happen to individuals can also happen to larger groups, even to entire societies. "15)Peter L. Berger, Longing for Meaning. Faith in a Time of Gullibility, Frankfurt am Main / New York 1994, page 75.

In other words: Everyone evaluates and values, and norms alone cannot create human action, but they can control, regulate and measure against a binding standard. Values ​​are defined by us, but not invented, not constituted by philosophy or theology, but relativized, confirmed, rejected or ranked by them.16)Compare Hartmut von Hentig, Oh, the values! A public awareness of conflicting tasks. About an education for the 21st century, Munich / Vienna 1999, page 69. Values ​​have their roots in the judgmental subject, which they do not make available or abolish for sale on the value market, but rather recognize or deny. The fact that and how values ​​play a role in human life is determined by the fact that humans are communicating and learning beings, whereby the creation of values ​​is also a communicative process. Before we even begin to reflect on it, our actions are determined by our embedding in social institutions, by upbringing and imitating role models or by questioning them critically. The concept of value unfolds its possibilities where one moves from the prescriptive to the descriptive, when one no longer thinks about the question: “What should I do?” But rather: “Why do I do what I do?”. Then it turns out that the values, as the side of the ends turned towards the subject, have in fact a very decisive, existential significance in this area.

If one now changes the perspective away from theology and philosophy towards economics, the initial question of whether and how one should convey values ​​in general arises in a completely different light. The question now has to be asked: Can it be theologically justifiable to incorporate the described contribution of the concept of value into the economy, and - assuming the answer is in principle in the affirmative: How can this contribution look exactly?17)Cf. T. Hüttenberger, What does the concept of value do for the tasks of theology and the church ?, in: A.-K. Finke / J. Zehner (Ed.), Confidence in Theology, Berlin 2000, pages 316-332.

In the attempt to be more specific, a specific dilemma quickly becomes clear, almost squaring the circle, as initially revealed in Margot Käßmann's quotation from the “Market of Values”. If you act as a theologian or ethicist in a market economy, you are often confronted with the following expectations: “Say something about values, that's your area!” Ethics is expected to respond to a social interest and at the same time this interest actively shaping or redirecting. Another dilemma, as stated, is that social expectations meet ambivalent and sometimes diffuse: many, conservatives and progressives, cold warriors and pacifists are calling for a change in values. Should and can one meet such ambivalent expectations and, if so, how? For example, as one of many providers on the “value market” alongside trade unions, associations and parties, as a space for experience or as a mediator? And what would the alternative be?

Ethics, whether as business ethics, theological or political ethics, must address this social issue by examining it scientifically in order to be able to say in their own words, if necessary, how it is compatible with their task and their self-image, their contribution to To provide value orientation. Critical in the sense of krinein, namely involved and at the same time distant, constructive and at the same time critical. And this contribution is, for example, the specifically theological experience of truth, which, unlike the concept of value, from Eberhard Jüngel's point of view, always has the peculiarity "that it clearly interrupts human existence in their favor".18)Eberhard Jüngel, Worthless Truth. Christian experience of truth in the dispute against the "tyranny of values", in Carl Schmitt / Eberhard Jüngel / Sepp Schelz, Die Tyrannei derwerte, Hamburg 1979, pages 45-75 (49). If one has this Christian concept of freedom in view, especially in contrast to other ideas of freedom, in the light of the “worthless truth of the gospel” what is economically or politically valuable from a secular point of view often turns out to be “worthless”. In this respect, the fundamental Protestant insight into the justification of the human being sola gratia is always a radical criticism of existing institutions and values. The point is that from the experience of faith, the whole world should, as it were, move into a new light, that the believer should experience a new kind of freedom. The freedom of the Christian cannot be scaled, it has no place on the value scale because it transcends and abolishes all entries on this scale. It is worthless, but worthless in the sense that the English word "priceless" means. Values ​​are and always remain intersubjective.

Hans Joas underpinned this existential tension in dealing with the concept of value in his book “The Origin of Values” with a quote: “Strictly speaking, there are no certainties; there are only people who are certain of their cause. "19)Hans Joas, The emergence of values, Frankfurt am Main 1999, page 6. It should be added: This is exactly why only people are morally capable. A bank is neither good nor bad, only those who act for it. That is why there are no values ​​in the abstract that have a “being” of their own, only people who live values. Theologians, lawyers, economists and philosophers can and must criticize the claim of values ​​to normative validity, if it is raised. At the same time, however, they can convey the way in which values ​​based on personal convictions are an indispensable part of our social order, since the state, in terms of the Böckenförde dictum, lives from conditions that it cannot and may not guarantee itself.


Only with this clarity about the possibilities and limits of the concept of value can its appropriate use succeed and be meaningful. The analysis of the concept of value has shown that dealing with values ​​must always contain, as a corrective, reflection on norms, since otherwise concrete behavior by concrete individuals would become an arbitrary and therefore non-binding exchange of sensitivities, intuitions and opinions. Value orientation only succeeds if the realization of what I always am is followed by thinking about what I should, may and can be. Specifically for freedom as a value and right, this means: freedom can only be shaped by those who face this challenge individually, because freedom cannot be delegated collectively. This knowledge ultimately leads back to Kant's basic question of ethics “What should I do?” While ethics, with Kant, searches rationally for universalizable norms that test the values ​​in their claim, experience and rules lead to a constitutive, subjective criticism of human values . Theology, economics, law and ethics are each different aspects of the human that cannot be reduced to one another. They fertilize each other if they first meet their own demands - whether in the market economy in markets, in the constitutional state in court or in society in parliaments. For the reasons presented, only natural persons are morally capable, just as only natural persons can form and live values ​​in a concrete context in the world of life. That is why the initial question, whether freedom is a timeless value, has to be answered clearly: No value is timeless - think of "Freedom I mean" right at the beginning as the freedom of Christian, German men in 1813. Or you remember it that slavery was desirable for Aristotle because in his time not all people were free and equal in rights.

For the initial question of whether freedom is a timeless value in itself, this means that a material examination of the content of the concept of freedom and its limits was not necessary. Because without having attempted to define freedom, according to the above statements, the question of whether “freedom” is a timeless value can be answered clearly with “no”, because values ​​are never timeless. However, it is also undisputed that through the ages many people attached great importance to freedom. All of that is correct. Freedom, on the other hand, can never be an eternal “basic value” because it always wants to be defended anew at all times by individuals who value it or even consider it indispensable for their lives. When it says that freedom - like trust, by the way - comes on foot and flees on horseback, or when the Frisians' coat of arms reads “Lever duad us slav” - not to be confused with “Better red than dead” - then reflect Individual values ​​and experiences of people are reflected in it, precisely with this personal freedom of theirs. To remember it again and again and to live freedom is therefore not a timeless value, but a great good nonetheless.