No theory forbids me to say "Ah!" or "Ugh!", but it forbids me the bogus theorization of my "Ah!" and "Ugh!" - the value judgments. - Theodor Julius Geiger (1960)

Temptations of servitude

Dahrendorf, R. (2006), Versuchungen der Unfreiheit - Die Intellektuellen in Zeiten der Prüfung, München: C.H. Beck.

Ralf Dahrendorf discusses the temptations faced by intellectuals during critical periods, focusing on the example of National Socialism and its irrational elements. Dahrendorf examines the intellectual and spiritual underpinnings of fascism and communism, emphasizing the importance of scientific methods in understanding reality and combating dogmatism. He introduces three figures as exemplars of intellectual virtues: Raymond Aron, Karl Popper, and Isaiah Berlin. Dahrendorf explores how intellectuals engage in public discourse and the influence of their environment on their beliefs. He outlines the elements of temptation in National Socialism, such as the search for belonging, leadership, transfiguration, and glorification of violence.

Karl Popper's approach to scientific knowledge is highlighted, emphasizing the importance of theories and falsification in advancing understanding. His work on politics and anti-Semitism is briefly discussed, along with the application of his scientific logic to political philosophy. Isaiah Berlin is presented as another exemplary intellectual, known for his essay "The Hedgehog and the Fox," which distinguishes between those who think from a central idea and those with multiple unrelated goals. Berlin challenges prevailing stereotypes of freedom and argues for the importance of personal freedom, individuality, and the avoidance of conflating social values with freedom. Raymond Aron's commitment to truth through dedicated observation is highlighted, distinguishing it from mere persuasive literature or decisive action.


Dahrendorf discusses the classic cardinal virtues of courage, justice, prudence, and wisdom, emphasizing their importance in guiding individual behavior and shaping a just society. He argues against the glorification of romantic heroism and martyrdom, instead advocating for moral courage in standing up for one's convictions and intervening against injustice. The concept of justice is explored as an inherent part of a just constitution and the need for institutions that manage conflicts without suppressing basic freedoms. Dahrendorf critiques the temptation to seek peace through unrealistic ideals, such as a return to a supposed original world or the creation of a utopian society. Wisdom, as the right use of reason, is presented as essential in rational behavior, tolerance, and humanitarianism, contrasting with the dangers of irrationalism and intolerance. Reason's strength lies in clear thought, experience, and a sustained commitment to speaking out against irrational passions that threaten public discourse. Reason's power comes from human traits like pride, humility, curiosity, and the love of truth.


Dahrendorf continues with three other exemplary intellectuals who embody the cardinal virtues: Desiderius Erasmus, Hannah Arendt, and Norberto Bobbio. These individuals resisted the temptations of their time and remained committed to freedom and truth. Erasmus advocated relying on reason rather than emotions and avoided interference in partisan affairs. Hannah Arendt demonstrated the courage to uphold her convictions even among opponents, while Norberto Bobbio, despite living under fascism, maintained his anti-fascist stance and fought against hypocrisy and subservience.


Dahrendorf also describes philosophical shifts, with many seeking a direct approach to existential questions. Heidegger turned to the pre-Socratic Greeks, and Theodor Adorno's phenomenology showcased a limitless negativity. Dietrich Bonhoeffer combined active commitment with powerful words in resisting tyranny, and Adorno exemplified both exiled intellectuals' restlessness and the moral attitude of not feeling at home in his own country. For public intellectuals, exile provided an opportunity to escape limitations and become worldly.


Public intellectuals faced different challenges in various exile countries, focusing on England and the USA. Dahrendorf describes the multidimensional nature of intellectual personalities and rejects the idea of a universal scale to judge their worth. While England, with its tradition of democratic and aristocratic elements, provided a conducive climate for Erasmian virtues like wisdom and passionate reason, the USA presented a harsher climate for dealing with others, demanding a more practical approach from intellectuals. George Orwell, an example of an Erasmian figure, believed in equality of opportunity and fought fascism without succumbing to communism. The US, despite its practical nature, also faced the temptations of servitude, and some immigrants adopted the American tradition's pragmatic style to influence the course of events after the war. Intellectuals committed to defending their positions and embracing the world's inherent contradictions.


The aftermath of World War II was not the end of totalitarianism in different parts of the world, particularly in the form of communism in the East. The Vietnam War and the 1968 rebellion are significant historical events that shaped the intellectual landscape. Dahrendorf compares the approaches of different intellectuals, particularly contrasting the Erasmus intellectuals who valued individual struggle for truth and liberal values with figures like Sartre, who embraced activism and collective efforts, but supported rebels like the Baader-Meinhof group.


The 1968 rebellion is a movement that questioned authority, political institutions, and the idea of reason. It was a rebellion rather than a sustainable revolution, and it brought about both positive changes like women's emancipation and negative consequences like relativism and fundamentalism. Public intellectuals experienced disillusionment with the movement and the changes it brought, recognizing that it marked a profound shift in cultural patterns of behavior, including the rise of tolerance, environmental awareness, and citizens' initiatives, but also the erosion of rational discourse and the introduction of extremism and violence.


In the final part of the book, the focus is on the developments and challenges after 1989. Dahrendorf defines totalitarianism as modern regimes that aim for total mobilization based on an ideology and for the benefit of a leader and ruling elite. Totalitarian regimes, like fascism and communism, are unsustainable and inherently flawed systems, according to Dahrendorf. But the fall of totalitarianism doesn't mean the end of all challenges to freedom. The rise of Islam is a rival to the open society; while written Islam allows for modernization, it resists secularization and the idea of a pluralistic civil society. The jihadist project, according to Dahrendorf, remains a threat primarily due to its ability to offer a vision of the future as an alternative to the liberal order. Dahrendorf emphasizes that the present is not comparable to the times of great trials during the decades of totalitarianism.

The virtues of the Erasmians, the values and characteristics of liberal-minded intellectuals, are essential for those who value freedom. The challenges to freedom may continue, and cultivating the virtues of the Erasmians is important for navigating the future, Dahrendorf writes.