Two articles recently published in the Swiss Newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung open the view on a personalist consideration of today’s policies – as well as a personalist perspective.
The first article from 6 June 2020 is an interview with Glenn Cartmann Loury, 72-year-old professor teaching economics and social sciences at the US-American Brown-University at Rhode Island. Loury was the first regularly employed black Harvard Professor. During the past days and weeks people demonstrated against racism worldwide chanting protest slogans like “no justice no peace”, a slogan that might well be understood as a threat to wage a permanent war, as long as “justice” – a mouthful word – has not been accomplished. Is this an appropriate way in order to come to terms with the issue? The interview answers that question. It is entitled “Racism exists, but it does not really explain what is going on here”. Glenn Loury explains in the interview why he thinks that racism is a problem in the USA (like everywhere else) but that it is not the essential cause for today’s situation of Blacks in the USA.
The second article, however, published on 8 June 2020 is entitled “The debate on digitalised education is running out of course” by Julian Nida-Rümelin, teaching philosophy at the Ludwig-Maximilian-University Munich and Klaus Zierer, professor for school education at the University Augsburg. In their article they explain their thesis that concepts of digitisation at schools may be supported only in case they are compatible with the main ideas of humanistic eduction. This second article is very important as well. It is quite obvious that the school lock-downs of the past months and the accompanying the stopgap of online learning are being instrumentalised to accelerate comprehensive digitisation of schools. (See also “The second wave” in this issue)
What is a personalist conception of politics?
There cannot be a comprehensive answer in this article, but an invitation may be expressed to try and grasp the substance of the term. Only this here: A personalist understanding of politics is based on the conception that man has a social nature, he can develop his individual personality only in the human community, and a free and democratic constitutional state of law are unrenouncable to this end.
Every individual is called up to find answers to the tasks of life, which contribute to the advancement of the human community as well as to his or her own development. Part of this is to find constructive answers to the tasks put by the community, economy and politics and this way help form the social, economic and political order. The goal is the common good (bonum commune). The distinction between: “here is me, there is politics – and that doesn’t concern me” is not justified. Every grown-up is the co-creator of political life – even in case he believes that he has nothing to do with it. As citizen of a state there is no non-political acting. Even the official, the elected representatives of the people and those serving the state in one of the three powers, are primarily citizens, co-creators in the framework of constitution and law – with their individual answer to the tasks of life.
There are no “structures” beyond human willing, but this willing leads to structures and institutions that are compatible with the “willing of all”, but may also be changed again by the willing of all. It is true that in our social reality there is a “powerful” and a “powerless” willing. However, power and impotence are not compatible with man’s social nature, the latter requires a communal consent.
Succeeding and failing
Man can lead a successful life, but he can also fail. The causes therefore are manifold, absolutely decisive is the individual style of life, i.e. the kind of his or her individual answers to the tasks of life. For one’s style of life one’s own biography and one’s world of thought are decisive, evolved from one’s education, one’s individual history but also the history of one’s family, of one’s people, of its culture and the commonwealth in which one lives. All this is reflected in one’s own “image of man” and “view of life”, in one’s own “world view”.
A personalist understanding of politics can give support to find appropriate solutions for political tasks. But it also helps to better understand political events – and in some cases to enquire, whether there might not be another “willing” behind the official version; for instance to ask the question whether the present worldwide demonstrations against racism or the digitalisation of eduction might be about something quite different than is officially declared.
Our destiny lies in our own hands
The above said seems to be the background to the interview with Glenn Loury, as well. He does not deny that there is racism in the USA just as everywhere else, and that there is racist behaviour inside state institutions, that there are problems of immense inequality and that the racist history has an aftermath until today. But he does not consider this the main problem of black people in the USA. Instead he maintains: “We have to enlarge our perspective and consider more how people may acquire the techniques, abilities and behaviours apt to make them productive members of our society. That is what I call development. This may be about education but as well about behaviour, emotional, psychological and social development.” He insists on his view “that we Afro-Americans are free actors after all, who shape our lives according to our own ideas and that we are not just the produts of our historical conditions. These were real and are a hindrance, but they are not our destiny. Our destiny is not determined by the fact that our ancestors were enslaved. Our destiny lies in our own hands.”
The problem of political correctness
The question why this way of thinking has met with so little dissemination, he answers. “I believe that we do not live in a really free environment, which grants room for the discussion of these facts. There is a strong pressure to conformity, because nobody wants to evoke the impression that he or she are on the wrong side with regard to these great moral issues. Tis means that everybody follows the others in the flock. Everybody wants to emphasise his or her virtuousness by showing the world: I stand up against injustice, against racism. A part of that is simply an implied consent which we call political correctness.”
Digitisation may dissolve societies …
Julian Nida-Rümelin and Klaus Zierer contribute to the personalist understanding of politics in another form. They pose the question whether it makes sense to comprehensively digitise schools. The answer is No. They criticise the steering of communication and information that accompanies digitising. “Non-conforming and opposing views are being disregarded and eventually cut out. One might maintain that the logic of marketing is being extended on to political and cultural communication and this may lead to dissolution of societies into more or less seclusive communication communities in the social networks. Democracy, however, is based on the concept of a shared public, an open space in which the arguments pro and con can be exchanged and forming of opinions happens in confrontation of diversive views. That what is called filter bubbles in the social networks actually endangers the basic conditions of political culture and democratic practise.”
… and lead to of loss of connectedness
Nida-Rümelin und Zierer also criticise that digitisation at schools may cause the teacher to become less significant. For “all empirical studies show that the relationship between teacher and learner is of essential significance for successful learning and for successful education in general […]. They criticise the social isolation that accompanies digitisation.” Some of the digital tools in school-routine lead to isolation and retreat followed by problematic cultural and social consequences”. Experiences in the USA show “that learners are lacking interaction and social communication, also physical impairments caused by the prolonged activities in front of the computer are a problem.” They add the warning: “Such criticism must not be shrugged off as the old-reactionaries’ propaganda, because they show that the unintended consequences of digitisation in everyday education may lead to exactly the opposite of what was intended. No enhancement but debilitation of learner personalities caused by a loss of this relationship leading to isolation and digital addictedness.”
Instead: creating the conditions that man may be the author of his life
Conclusion: “Digital education is no alternative to an educational practise guided by humanistic instruction, instead the continuation of the latter is required, even its radicalisation. The human being has to be in the centre, the goal must be to advance his or her judgement, power of decision and zest for action. Digitisation must aim at creating the conditions that man is the author of his life.” •
“Aside from the mood of the public opinion, the admonishers still emphasise that the problem of police violence – above all is a result of an alleged racist prejudice – which is being played up to beyond all circumstances. Chicago is often used as an example. Last year in the city, of the 492 murders, only three occurred due to the armed police. Both the perpetrators as well as the victims of violence are mainly young black men. At the end of May, the ‘Windy City’ experienced, according to the statistics of the ‘Chicago Sun-Times’, with 25 casualties of death and 85 injured by firearms, the bloodiest weekend since the beginning of the records 60 years ago. One of the problems was that the police, with 65,000 emergency calls – somewhat 50,000 more than usual – was completely unable to cope, last but not least, due to the demonstrations and riots. This gives a fore-warning of what could happen in these cities were the police to be eliminated.”
“Neue Zürcher Zeitung” from 11 June 2020
(Translation Current Concerns)
km. On 9 June 2020, the German Deutschlandfunk broadcasted an extended report on three former GDR civil rights activists. The title of the programme was: «Einmal Widerstand, immer Widerstand. Bürgerrechtler am rechten Rand?» („Once resistance, always resistance. Civil rights activists on the Right“)1 The three former civil rights activists were Siegmar Faust, Michael Beleites and Antje Hermenau. From different political perspectives – after 1990, Siegmar Faust was close to the CDU (Christian Democratic Union), Michael Beleites and Antje Hermenau were involved with the GDR environmental movement and after 1990 with the East German Greens (Bündnis 90) – they had criticised the GDR and in some cases paid for this with long prison sentences. For some time after 1990, Faust and Beleites were commissioners for the Stasi Records Agency (the organisation that administers the archives of Ministry of State Security (Stasi) of the former German Democratic Republic (East Germany).) on behalf of the Free State of Saxony. Antje Hermenau sat for the Greens in the Saxon state parliament and in the German Bundestag.
For a few years now, they have been criticising current German politics. They have publicly admitted to vote AfD (Alternative for Germany) today and/or to talk with people from AfD – or with participants of the Pegida (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the Occident) rallies in Dresden. All this has led to campaigns against them, some of them with existential consequences. Siegmar Faust was not allowed to continue his guided tours and lectures in former political prisons of the GDR. The radio journalist says: „You are publicly accused of being right-wing. But – this is how you see it – you just think differently from many in the middle or to the left. Pronounce it and feel ostracised because of it.“
In his small Berlin apartment, Siegmar Faust has a picture of Traute Lafrenz. The centenarian is the last surviving member of the “White Rose“ (a non-violent, intellectual resistance group in the Third Reich led by a group of students including Hans and Sophie Scholl). Downplaying the National Socialist tyranny is far from his mind. The radio announcer says: “Faust likes to dish it out. His polemics are sharp. He writes about ‘left-wing do-gooders’, ‘false pious hypocrites’, ‘ideologically corrupt zeitgeist’.“ Faust himself says: “If Merkel  opens the borders without asking the people [...] and everyone who does not like it is declared a Nazi, etc. – that is unfair. That destroys democracy. I am not an opponent of the state. I’m just dissatisfied with the government.“
Michael Beleites is accused of writing a preface to a book that tries to better understand the participants in the Pegida rallies. Beleites says: “For me, my intention was to realise that something very strange was going on here. That the Pegida people and the demonstrations were suddenly portrayed as Nazi marches. And if you saw them yourself, it was obvious that you didn’t have to agree with everything, but that they weren’t Nazi marches.”
Regarding the “peaceful revolution“ in the GDR, he adds that “we would not have been able to achieve a peaceful revolution at all if we had not dared to sit down at the table with the others. Nobody would have thought of accusing us of being close to the Stasi or of being SED functionaries just because we talked to them. This refers to the fact that the trenches are so deep today, that this right-left escalation has become so extreme that people are now even being held liable for talking to the others.”
And then, “I wanted to make sure that this trench was practically bridged.“ And: “I did experience that, because I spoke with or in front of the Right, I was accused of now being far right. In consequence, many people distanced themselves from me without asking what actually had happened. That is something that reminds you of the eighties in the GDR, where people distanced themselves from me out of fear, because they knew that I was not adapted and that I was under observation. And of course I am very worried when this atmosphere of fear is spreading again today and such an over-adaptation is suddenly considered normal. That’s what is worrying me.“
Finally Antje Hermenau. She is accused of trivialising the importance of the Nazis in Saxony. She says: “My people are the Saxons. And the Saxon bashing in recent years has only strengthened my resolve to do so. Because it is not okay. The attempt to destroy a different world view, a different way of looking at the world in this way, by holding a whole part of the population responsible for it, for assumed opinions […]. It is always said that I was playing down the fact that there are real Nazis. No, I’m not trivialising that. Around them, I also feel physically afraid. And I find their slogans unbearable. But it’s not one third of the population, that’s just nonsense. If 25,000 people take to the streets in Dresden, then something’s going on. And if you take away the Nazis, there are still many people left. When many were rallying with Pegida, […] it was the worry that what you have built up and what is perceived as normal lifestyle is threatened.“
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