Western values ​​should be defended

Western values ​​under pressure

Human rights and Western values ​​of freedom have come under increasing pressure worldwide in recent years. Here too, in Europe, which we believe to be safe, attacks are increasing. In the meantime, Islamist terror has also arrived in Germany. Islamists have long waged a war against our freedoms and our modern, western lifestyle. In their eyes, Paris is the “capital of fornication and vice” that they want to destroy. Explosive hatred strikes the West. The spirit of the West as expressed in science and reason is hated. His individualism, materialism and hedonism, sexuality and its archetype, the female body, are branded. Singing, dancing, drinking or the miniskirt, symbols of the western way of life, should be eradicated. Hatred is especially true of the wicked; it should be destroyed in order to pave the way for the global rule of the caliphate. In this, the individual counts for nothing and the collective counts for everything. For too long, politics has tolerated the isolation of the parallel societies that have emerged in our country, in which there are still honor killings, forced marriages and contempt for women, and the immense increase in Salafism.

Propaganda against Europe

But it is not only totalitarian Islamism that challenges the West and its self-image. Vladimir Putin's neo-imperial politics, his war in Syria and Ukraine have created a new situation since the end of communism in East Central Europe. This also puts Western values ​​under pressure. With zealous propaganda and large sums of money to left and right-wing populist movements, Putin is trying to divide and destabilize Europe.

With their criticism of globalization, anti-capitalism and anti-Americanism, populists stir up doubts about the achievements of Western civilization across Europe. The assessment that the West caused the refugee crisis itself due to its colonial history and earlier wars extends to the middle of society. For a long time, the public debate gave the impression of a lack of freedom and a lack of values.

Above all, the appreciation of the individual towards the collective, from which the principle of personal responsibility and the opportunity for self-determination is derived, is an essential element of our western canon of values.

Ulrike Ackermann

What are these Western values ​​and the lifestyle underlying them? Democracy, the rule of law, separation of powers, social market economy, respect for human rights, the separation of state and church or society and religion, freedom of expression, freedom of religion and protection of minorities. Above all, the appreciation of the individual towards the collective, from which the principle of personal responsibility and the opportunity for self-determination is derived, is an essential element of our western canon of values, which is the basis of our social secular order. It is thus the opposite of an umma - as is striving for political Islam or of a collectivism that was and is peculiar to totalitarian dictatorships. For good reason, it is explicitly about individual and not collective rights - which, by the way, is also to be understood as a response to the European experiences of dictatorships in the last century.

The search for happiness

Joy of life and tolerance are symbols of western societies. (Photo: Picture Alliance / Matthias Balk)

Furthermore, our western way of life is characterized by: voluntary ties that are not based on coercion, gender equality, sexual self-determination, the plurality of lifestyles, tolerance, skepticism towards old certainties, the right to error and, last but not least, the love of life in this world as opposed to religious Otherworldly, in short hedonism and the individual search for happiness.

For the western understanding of freedom, the emergence of the polis was in the middle of the eighth century BC. An important building block. The first citizens in history made their own laws in a state governed by public reason. It was the basis for what the English philosophers later called "Government of Law, not of Men" and "Rule of Law". The legal scholars of the Roman Empire then, in just a few centuries, created private law, which defined private property, the positive historical basis of modern Western legal systems. The distinction between mine and yours postulated therein is ultimately the prerequisite for the emergence of the independent individual person, the personaCicero spoke of. This successive appreciation of the individual was the basis for the Jewish and Christian conceptions of the human being as a person who is morally responsible for himself and who was created by God in his or her uniqueness. In the course of secularization, the idea of ​​the equality of people before God was transformed into the equality of all people before the law. The distinction in Christianity between God and Emperor, spiritual and secular sphere, was the forerunner for the later separation of powers and the emergence of civil society.

Cities bring self-confidence

With the appreciation of the individual person and their opportunities for development, the Renaissance created the beginning of modern individualism and was, as it were, the forerunner of liberalism. The Reformation and the ensuing process of secularization accelerated the further development of political, intellectual and individual freedom. The surge in individualization of the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries in Europe transformed the image of the human being in a comprehensive way. The new self-confidence was closely linked to the economic upswing in the cities. National and international trade grew steadily. Market, capital, competition and competition gained in importance and paved the way to capitalism in the long run.

We owe technical, scientific, social and cultural progress to the Enlightenment and its criticism, and modernity to capitalism and democracy.

Ulrike Ackermann

The philosophers of the Enlightenment accompanied this path to freedom. A courageous bourgeoisie sparked the democratic revolutions in the new and old West, which brought representative democracy and the separation of powers on the way. The ideas of the American Revolution of 1776 and the French Revolution of 1789 resulted in the Declaration of Inalienable Human Rights and have become the core of our Basic Law.

We owe technical, scientific, social and cultural progress to the Enlightenment and its criticism, and modernity to capitalism and democracy. It was an emancipation process for the individual as well as for society that was founded in constant transformation. From feudalism arose democracy, rising capitalism encountered the labor movement and patriarchy the women's movement. Colonialism challenged anti-colonial movements. The dictatorships in Europe in the 20th century could be overcome because the resistance against them was stronger à la longue and an anti-totalitarian tradition developed. Even if history is marked by catastrophes and relapses into barbarism, this ongoing process of liberation could not be stopped.

Belonging to the west

Is the population aware of these western values ​​of freedom? In 2015, the John Stuart Mill Institute's Freedom Index Germany focused on “Western values”. In 2016, the sequel will be about the western lifestyle. The survey produced very interesting results. 64 percent of those questioned assume a special “Western lifestyle”. Over 90 percent of the German population clearly feel they belong to the West. 52 percent say there is a Western culture, common values ​​and beliefs that distinguish Western countries from others.

The diversity and diversity of life plans is expressly recognized as a characteristic of the western lifestyle.

Ulrike Ackermann

Democracy, the rule of law and civil liberties are among the core elements, as was the case with the survey on Western values ​​last year. In the first place this year, when characterizing the western lifestyle, “equality of the sexes” is given, followed by “freedom of opinion, press and speech”, “general rights of freedom” and “freedom of individual lifestyle”. This means that the diversity and diversity of life plans is expressly recognized as a characteristic of the western lifestyle.

In this context, a return to classic bourgeois virtues can be observed in the long-term trend. The goals of upbringing are "politeness and good behavior", followed by "taking responsibility for your own actions", "honesty", "sincerity" and "helpfulness". 40 percent of the respondents see life primarily as a task; almost the same number, namely 39 percent, want to enjoy life above all else. This means that hedonism and self-commitment are almost balanced as an idea of ​​life and are not in contradiction to one another.

Lifestyle at risk

The population is uncertain about the extent to which this lifestyle is endangered. Above all, immigration, Islam and terrorist attacks are mentioned, all of which are external threats. After all, 40 percent of those questioned have the feeling that Western values ​​are threatened. The development of freedom of expression is particularly worrying. Only 62 percent of those surveyed are of the opinion that they can freely express their political opinion in public discussions. That is the lowest value since 1990.

The arson attacks on asylum seekers' homes, the right-wing mob who let off steam in the streets and on the Internet with their xenophobia and social envy, however, show a vocal minority that has little in mind with values ​​of freedom. Right-wing populist movements also exist among our European neighbors; AfD and Pegida are more of a straggler, but, as the latest election results show, they are making considerable gains. Xenophobia mixes here with admiration for Putin, anti-capitalism with anti-Americanism, German foolishness with the contempt for democracy and its institutions. This hodgepodge of different emotions and slogans leads to a pronounced anti-Western resentment - which unfortunately is not only common to angry citizens of Dresden. Because skepticism about the achievements of Western freedoms reaches far into the center of society and is not limited to populism on the right or left - a phenomenon that we now find in all parts of Europe and the USA. But also intellectuals, parts of the functional elite and economic actors seem to have lost their enthusiasm for the success story of the West.

Not only persecuted Christians and enlightened Syrian doctors want asylum with us.

Ulrike Ackermann

In view of the wave of refugees and migration towards Europe and especially Germany, it seems to be dawning on many in this country how coveted this corner of the world is. Prosperity, the rule of law, a market economy, functioning representative democracy and respect for human rights are so attractive that in the last year alone, well over a million risked their lives to start over here. The economic migrants from the Balkans want to participate in Western prosperity just like the political refugees. Different values ​​then collide: on the one hand the great good of freedom of movement and mobility, freedom of travel and freedom of residence, on the other hand the rule of law, which regulates the granting of political asylum and must ensure that this fundamental right is not undermined by economic migrants. A majority of the population has shown themselves to be helpful and open-minded towards the newcomers for a long time. The mood has now turned. Due to the border closure in Austria and the Balkans and the controversial agreement with Turkey, the number of refugees and migrants has fallen significantly. But this year too, 250,000 are still to be expected.

Migration must be limited

The political class played down this expected migration for years and was completely unprepared. But how the registration, the care and, above all, the successful integration of the refugees, as well as their rejection and deportation, should be handled now and in the future, has still not been satisfactorily regulated. Not only persecuted Christians and enlightened Syrian doctors want asylum with us. 80 percent are unskilled. 2/3 are young men from Arab patriarchal societies, experienced in the war and in some cases traumatized, including petty criminals, IS sympathizers and jihadists. They bring with them a completely different understanding of law and society, often associated with an increased propensity for violence, misogyny, homophobia and anti-Semitism.

Migration has fueled innovation and prosperity over the past centuries. Why should this be any different today? However, it must be limited and orderly, the abuse of the asylum system and the welfare state must be prevented, the recognition procedure must be shortened even more, and refugees must be given faster and easier access to the labor market, and children and young people to schools and universities. The state must regain its control and its monopoly on the use of force. There can no longer be any legal vacancies. The tightening of the previous asylum law does not do much, however, if too few staff and funds are available for implementation, which also includes more consistent deportations. Because the West is so coveted, it has to draw boundaries in order to preserve its hard-won values ​​and lifestyles.

The taboo and denial of reality and the prohibition of discussion fuel mistrust in politics and the media.

Ulrike Ackermann

Parts of the political class, but also parts of the media, have played down the immense problems that the wave of refugees brings with it, as well as the previously unsuccessful integration. The connection between Islamism, the threat of terrorism, the refugee crisis and new forms of crime was denied and made taboo. The suggestion that a point of view that establishes these connections only pours grist on the mill of the xenophobic right and puts refugees and Muslims under general suspicion, achieves the opposite. Because the taboo and denial of reality and the prohibition of discussion fuel distrust in politics and the media - as the loss of importance of the popular parties and the immense growth of populist parties across Europe shows. Because it is not just populist resentment and xenophobia that are now shaking European societies and their evolved social orders.

Real problems affect our society

The idea of ​​liberal democracy and European unification, including the political architecture of the EU itself, are being scrutinized and threatened. Brexit is a symptom of this development. There are completely new and real problems, not just vague fears of the population, that are on the agenda today with the out-of-control migratory movements. There are new distortions and social divisions that affect our hitherto liberal and open societies, including their democratic institutions and the core of the political structure.

Wishful thinking and belief in a good cause will not help us. Only a relentless look at the conflict-ridden reality allows us to face the ominous world situation sensibly and to find clever solutions. Today we have to argue openly and without taboos and come to an understanding about what our hard-won freedoms are worth to us, how we can defend them and what is non-negotiable.

The author:

Prof. Dr. Ulrike Ackermann is a political scientist and sociologist. She is the founder and director of the John Stuart Mill Institute for Freedom Research in Heidelberg.