How did John Locke affect society?

Political commitment

Hans Joas

To person

Dr. phil., born 1948; Professor of Sociology and Social Philosophy at the Free University of Berlin and the University of Chicago; full member of the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences.

Address: John F. Kennedy Institute, Free University of Berlin, Lansstr. 5-9, 14195 Berlin.

Publications including: Wars and values. Studies on the history of violence in the 20th century, Weilerswist 2000; (Ed.) Textbook of Sociology, Frankfurt / M. 2001.

About some common sense dilemmas

How do the three common sense dilemmas differ? They result from the tension between common sense and three forms of inequality.

I. Conceptual questions

Common good and Common sense are just two of the numerous terms that are currently used regularly when it comes to diagnosing and treating social cohesion and the ability to act politically. Civil society and civil society, communitarianism and revitalized republicanism, "social capital" and "trust", "third way" and "modernizing government" - they all belong to the same subject area. Each of these terms has its own history, advantages and disadvantages; some are sure to encounter incomprehension or trigger aversions and distrust of the motives of those who use it. But at the core of this multitude of coexisting and partly also competing current discourses is about a common question: Which social forces can be used to ensure that the market and the state, as the two dominant mechanisms of modern socialization, are relativized and modified by a third principle - like this that we are not faced with the alternative of either simply accepting the consequences of unregulated market events passively or, conversely, relying exclusively on state intervention to overcome them, with the risk of a suffocating bureaucratization of social life?

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  • Even if the different terms aim in the same direction, they are not all equally well suited to designating what is meant: the term Civil society for example, it has a history that goes back to John Locke, but it was only brought to the fore by the anti-communist dissidents of Eastern Europe and in particular the Polish Solidarnosc movement. It expresses the anti-totalitarian endeavor to wrest responsibilities from the state and to allow a vital and differentiated society to emerge again in the first place. For the same reason, however, it provides little impetus for the Western discussion; As important as strengthening civil society in the West may be, fortunately it is not about creating it.

    The term Communitarianism in turn - primarily in Germany, through the association with the semantics of the German term community - triggers fears of a return to homogeneous collectives or even a cross-societal, potentially totalitarian "national community" - fears that the American representatives of communitarianism, whose democratic credibility yes beyond reproach, head shakes.

    The term Third way[1] in turn, at least in continental Europe, has been associated with so many, often remote, projects in the past that its revival by Anthony Giddens and Tony Blair did not meet with enthusiastic approval. Even his advocates no longer seem to be completely at ease.

    I will use the term below Civil society use, although this expression does not seem to me to be the right choice either. Difficulties in finding the right term usually also signal difficulties in the matter. These can currently be identified in the program discussions of all political parties in Germany, as they all have to readjust their understanding of the balance between state, market and society or between the individual and the community. In doing so, they rediscover temporarily neglected strands of their own traditions - such as the subsidiarity principle of Catholic social teaching or the cooperative ideas of the workers' movement - and deal with historically new phenomena such as broad-based individualism. But the same difficulties run through the journalistic diagnoses of the times and even the professional social science research.

    In the nineties there were mainly two attitudes that had a disturbing and stressful effect on a further discussion of the opportunities for increased civic engagement: on the one hand, the more "left" suspicion that all these debates were just different versions of the attempt to put a pleasing facade in front of the dismantling of the welfare state, and on the other hand the culturally pessimistic topos of a progressive decline in values ​​and community. A brief discussion of these reservations should pave the way for the presentation of some empirical evidence and for reflections on what I call the "common sense dilemmas". I will distinguish three such dilemmas; they result from the tension between common sense and three forms of inequality: social, cultural and political inequality. These dilemmas will prove to be the rational core in the attitudes previously identified as the burden of the discussion.