Lord Dahrendorf: The Charms of Liberty

Panel discussion entitled ‘The Charms of Liberty – Lord Dahrendorf’s model of a liberal civil society’


Ralf Dahrendorf, Lord Dahrendorf, 2019 marked the 90th anniversary of his birth. His theses are more relevant than ever, but even in his time, his insights were visionary. In his honour, the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom, in collaboration with the British embassy, hosted a panel discussion entitled ‘The Charms of Liberty – Lord Dahrendorf’s model of a liberal civil society’. Taking part in the debate were Dahrendorf’s biographer Dr Franziska Meifort, the historian and former president of the WZB Berlin Social Science Center, Professor Jürgen Kocka, Lukas Köhler, member of the Bundestag, and Carl Cevin-Key Coste, holder of a scholarship from the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom.

Sir Sebastian Wood, the British ambassador in Berlin, said in his welcome address that Dahrendorf had not only been a great German sociologist, but also an enthusiastic British politician. ‘Even then, Lord Dahrendorf noticed a polarisation – as well as an atomisation of political debate,’ said Wood. The old debate between left and right had been replaced by a debate between an open and a closed society.

Prof Karl-Heinz Paqué, Chairman of the Board of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom, called to mind the memorable debate Ralf Dahrendorf had with Rudi Dutschke in the late ‘60s.

‘What Ralf Dahrendorf presented back then about populism is more relevant today than ever. Written 16 years ago, Dahrendorf hits the nail on the head.’

Prof Karl-Heinz Paqué

For Dahrendorf, it was a matter of course to talk to others on an equal footing. Moreover, Dahrendorf held that ‘education is a civil right’. In that same spirit, Karl-Heinz Paqué explained that it was necessary to have an educational system providing opportunities for advancement to all.

Franziska Meifort described his qualities as a visionary. ‘As early as the turn of the millennium, Dahrendorf noted a crisis of democracy and predicted that the 21st century could become the century of authoritarianism.’

Jürgen Kocka added that it was astonishing how he had analysed globalisation. ‘He spoke of the emergence of a class of liberal, open-minded people from science, the media, and the arts on one side of the divide and those not being able to keep up on the other. Dahrendorf was a class analyst, who continued to use the term “class” right up to the end.’

So what are the ‘Charms of Liberty’? The panel’s answers reflected the diversity of liberties: Jürgen Kocka named the right to correct oneself, Franziska ­ Meifort individual flourishing, moderator Karen Horn political liberty, Carl Cevin-Key Coste respect of the constitution, and Karl-Heinz Paqué emphasised the personal quest for happiness.

In 2003 it appeared in the renowned cultural magazine Transit. European Review a contribution by Lord Ralf Dahrendorf. You can read his "Acht Anmerkungen zum Populismus/Eight remarks on populism" here in a new edition:

Read more about the Charms of Liberty event:

Panel discussion entitled ‘The Charms of Liberty – Lord Dahrendorf’s model of a liberal civil society’


Lord Dahrendorf: The Charms of Liberty

Ralf Dahrendorf, Lord Dahrendorf, 2019 marked the 90th anniversary of his birth. His theses are more relevant than ever, but even in his time, his insights were visionary. In his honour, the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom, in collaboration with the British embassy, hosted a panel discussion entitled ‘The Charms of Liberty – Lord Dahrendorf’s model of a liberal civil society’. Taking part in the debate were Dahrendorf’s biographer Dr Franziska Meifort, the historian and former president of the WZB Berlin Social Science Center, Professor Jürgen Kocka, Lukas Köhler, member of the Bundestag, and Carl Cevin-Key Coste, holder of a scholarship from the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom.

Sir Sebastian Wood, the British ambassador in Berlin, said in his welcome address that Dahrendorf had not only been a great German sociologist, but also an enthusiastic British politician. ‘Even then, Lord Dahrendorf noticed a polarisation – as well as an atomisation of political debate,’ said Wood. The old debate between left and right had been replaced by a debate between an open and a closed society.

Prof Karl-Heinz Paqué, Chairman of the Board of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom, called to mind the memorable debate Ralf Dahrendorf had with Rudi Dutschke in the late ‘60s.

‘What Ralf Dahrendorf presented back then about populism is more relevant today than ever. Written 16 years ago, Dahrendorf hits the nail on the head.’

Prof Karl-Heinz Paqué

For Dahrendorf, it was a matter of course to talk to others on an equal footing. Moreover, Dahrendorf held that ‘education is a civil right’. In that same spirit, Karl-Heinz Paqué explained that it was necessary to have an educational system providing opportunities for advancement to all.

Franziska Meifort described his qualities as a visionary. ‘As early as the turn of the millennium, Dahrendorf noted a crisis of democracy and predicted that the 21st century could become the century of authoritarianism.’

Jürgen Kocka added that it was astonishing how he had analysed globalisation. ‘He spoke of the emergence of a class of liberal, open-minded people from science, the media, and the arts on one side of the divide and those not being able to keep up on the other. Dahrendorf was a class analyst, who continued to use the term “class” right up to the end.’

So what are the ‘Charms of Liberty’? The panel’s answers reflected the diversity of liberties: Jürgen Kocka named the right to correct oneself, Franziska ­Meifort individual flourishing, moderator Karen Horn political liberty, Carl Cevin-Key Coste respect of the constitution, and Karl-Heinz Paqué emphasised the personal quest for happiness.

In 2003 it appeared in the renowned cultural magazine Transit. European Review a contribution by Lord Ralf Dahrendorf. You can read his "Acht Anmerkungen zum Populismus/Eight remarks on populism" here in a new edition:

Read more about the Charms of Liberty event: