Balancing Private Interest and Community Orientation: Cultural Patterns in the United States and Germany
Conference at Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universitaet Frankfurt am Main, June 23th - 25th, 2000
The issue of how, in a modern society, an individual may continue to uphold his bond to a community by contributing to its aims has recently been the focus of numerous intellectual discussions as well as scholarly studies. In general, processes of modernization dissolve established patterns of how to legitimately pursue oneís personal goals without neglecting those of the community, on the one hand, and the ways in which the individual may render a true service to this community, on the other. These processes create novel conditions for establishing new individual and cultural balances within this tension between individual and community.
In intellectual debates considering the meaning and implications of these transformations, the relationship between the individual and the community has frequently been considered to be problematic. Processes of modernization generally result in a widened range of possibilities and an increased potential for autonomy. This development is perceived from two perspectives:
From the perspective of the individual, the disappearance of established means of serving the public welfare open up the question what new forms such a contribution should take. From the perspective of the community, other questions are prevalent: How should it distribute the potential for autonomy that has emerged -- at the same time balancing inequality and injustice which may be a result of that process? Should it leave these options to the individual, trusting the citizenís ability to make responsible use of additional resources now at his disposal? Or should it choose a more "collectivist" option, closing off these options to the individual in the name of the community?
In this context, intellectual debates providing interpretations of these processes play an essential role. They establish and reflect options and solutions available to the community. This leads to several questions: Are these debates advancing a true understanding of the crisis in which this community finds itself -- thereby opening up possibilities for successfully dealing with it? Or do these debates regressively conceal necessary reforms by inaccurately diagnosing these problems?
The United States and Germany have established quite different cultural solutions in balancing out individual interests and those of the community.
The United States have traditionally held the individualís interest in much higher regard than European countries, and Germany especially. The American nation-state did not emerge from a community that would already have been able to rely on a stock of common experience and traditions comparable to those of European nations. Individual duties vis-a-vis the nation-state are less numerous and less intense. How citizens will fulfill their duty to the nation is not similarly prearranged, the range of options available to the individual is wider than in Germany. Part of this tradition has been the difficulty to legitimize steps undertaken by the nation-state. Today, this is reflected in the relationship of individual rights and the welfare state.
In Germany, civil society has traditionally had an altogether different status. The Republic here emerged without a revolution, and the state grew powerful before it was provided with democratic legitimation. In keeping with this heritage, solutions for problems in the wake of modernization are usually sought on the state level. The strength of state regulation corresponds to a lack of civility. Citizens hesitate in identifying themselves with their nation-state, and there is a tendency to express political doubts by resorting to fundamentalism. Germans have less opportunity and willingness to define themselves what they, as individuals, consider the right balance between a dedication to individual and public interests. In this way, the political community closes off potential sources for renewing solidarity and a sense of citizenship.
We specifically invite papers that will analyse historic phenomena or provide a comparative view of the United States and Germany.
Abstracts should be submitted no later than 1 February 2000. A provisional title and an outline of the key arguments should be presented in no more than 500 words. The conference will be held in both German and English, i.e. papers can be read in either language. Should you like to attend the conference without reading a paper, registration will be necessary. We might be able to provide simultaneous translation for those not speaking German.
This is an abridged version of the complete Call for Papers available at our web site shown below. The German version of the complete Call for Papers is available at this address as well.
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