The Charms of Liberty

Discussion about Lord Ralf Dahrendorf's model of a liberal civil society at the British Embassy in Berlin

June 20th, 2019
Valeriya Kharchenko, News from Berlin
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On June 19, 2019, the British Embassy in Berlin hosted an event honoring the life and work of a German-British sociologist and liberal politician Lord Ralf Dahrendorf. His model of a liberal civil society influenced many political and philosophical thinkers and remains highly relevant and valuable even today.

Lord Dahrendorf would have turned 90 this year. British Embassy in Berlin took the opportunity to honor his life and work and discuss his ideas in a contemporary context.

Conflicts, euro skepticism and social heterogeneity – aspects that are often perceived as problematic and challenging in current political and social debate – Lord Dahrendorf would have interpreted as a sign of a strong democratic system: “Conflicts are a vital element of society – as conflicts may be even an element of life.”

According to Dahrendorf, a possibility of free expression of different positions and negotiating them through open debate is an indicator of strength of a democratic society. Lord Dahrendorf's work, whether in his role of a scientist, politician, member of the European Commission, university lecturer or member of the British House of Lords, was always guided by the principle of freedom. He considered the protection of elementary human rights and the citizenship right to education an indispensable prerequisite for freedom. He believed that only then could citizens participate in society and pursue their individual rights and duties.

Sir Sebastian Wood, ambassador of the UK to Germany and Prof. Dr. Karl-Heinz Paqué – Chairman of the board at the Friedrich-Naumann-Stiftung für die Freiheit – opened the event with welcoming remarks. Dr Franziska Meifort – Dahrendorf biographer and historian at the University of Oldenburg – talked about Dahrendorf’s life and work as well as his definition and perception of conflict and liberal society. The event followed by a panel discussion “Experiment through Action” with Carl Cevin-Key Coste scholar at Friedrich-Naumann-Stiftung and Dahrendorf-Initiative, Prof. Dr. Jürgen Kocka a historian and President of WZB Berlin Social Science Center, Dr. Franziska Meifort, Prof. Dr. Karl-Heinz Paqué moderated by Prof. Dr Karen Horn – an economist from University of Erfurt.

Lady Ellen Dahrendorf – British historian, translator of Russian political works and the former wife of Lord Dahrendorf – also attended the event. The formal gathering ended with a wine reception, where the participants had an opportunity to talk in an informal setting.


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