Why do things get destroyed over time

Oskar Negt "Humanity needs bonds that capitalism destroys"

On the occasion of his 85th birthday, the “Frankfurter Rundschau” spoke to the influential social philosopher Oskar Negt about the need for political education. We reproduce the interview in slightly abbreviated form.

  • FR: Political education is facing enormous social challenges today. The crisis of democracy is noted, right-wing populist movements and parties are gaining strength, and the consequences of the financial crisis in 2008 seem to have had a lasting effect on socio-political reality and its perception to this day. You once formulated that the concept of politics was a deficiency phenomenon on the part of the left, and consequently you turned to the concept of politics. What is your understanding of politics?

Oskar Negt: The volume “Measures of the Political” deals with the question of the original connotation of politics. The overall context of society, roughly speaking, would be politics. Just as Plato demonstrates: These are not individual parts, they are not constitutions, but politics is concern for the cohesion of human urban societies.

  • FR: In contrast to Aristotle, you formulate that no human being is born as a political living being. So humans are not a “zoon politikon”?

Negt: Nobody is born as a political being, therefore political education is a prerequisite for the existence of any peaceful society. The fate of a living democratic social constitution depends essentially on the extent to which people ensure that the community is not damaged by the justified realization of their own needs and interests, i.e. the extent to which they are prepared to take political responsibility for the well-being of the whole to take over. This is also a character issue, but not alone. It can be assumed that the blind power of the circumstances does not occupy all fields of action.

  • FR: Which fields of action are you thinking of?

Negt: The main field of action in political education is the basic democratic order. Because democracy is the only state-based social order that has to be learned - again and again, every day and well into old age. These are learning processes that begin in families and in day-care centers, and they do not end in old people's homes. Even the greatest individual efforts are not enough to give political education a place in the social order and its collective consciousness through which all competencies are bundled and directed towards change goals.

  • FR: Change goals means?

Negt: Political education cannot succeed if the system question is left out. Wherever it is included, the limits that are placed on political action as education become immediately apparent. It can be assumed that our world of experience is determined by fundamental upheavals. The turmoil in our society is so great because power-based centrifugal forces are at work that can break any social context. The financial crisis is only one expression of this self-turmoil of the situation.

  • FR: You speak of a loss of ties, orientation and experience and use the term cultural erosion crises. Can you specify this connection?

Negt: When I speak of cultural erosion crises, which are characterized by the fact that old values, attitudes, norms no longer apply unseen, new ones are not yet there, but are intensely sought - then that means that education is always a double goal for the structure of learning processes has: to convey specialist knowledge and offer orientation.

  • FR: How are these erosion crises related to the system question you mentioned?

Negt: There are three major devaluations by capitalism: on the one hand, the devaluation of attachment, the second is the devaluation of memory and, third, the devaluation of experience. Attachment means the object fixation of the person and the inner fixation of the person. These are things that contradict the capitalist system. That is why the question of attachment is so important to me. When attachments are broken, those in need of attachment often seek out wrong objects. They try to somehow make an eroding context of life bearable. The devaluation of attachment does not make the need for attachment disappear, on the contrary. Right-wing radicalism takes advantage of this need.

  • FR: Cultural erosion crises, as you have now described them, consist, among other things, in the destruction of bonds, relationships of trust and orientations. What do these elements have to do with education or political education?

Negt: I put these questions of ties, relationships of trust and need for orientation at the beginning of my discussions on political education, because successful learning processes require an emotional basis that gives cognitive operations strength and perseverance. And this is where a politically precarious problem becomes tangible. To the extent that a democratic social order does not succeed in compensating for these disturbed ties and relationships of trust with attractive offers, right-wing extremist columns are on the way to using the gaps and breaks, now also in the pan-European context, to restore old relationships of authority. that promote the dismantling of democratic self-determination rights and ultimately create a society whose disaster policy must be the subject of critical political education.

  • FR: You speak of the need to locate political education. What do you mean by that?

Negt: When I speak of the localization of political education, then the remarkable fact should be mentioned that it always moves up in the hierarchy of values ​​when the social catastrophes have already happened. The Weimar period was full of educational initiatives, in adult education as well as in school. After fascism and war there are some time shifts, but here too, in the course of coming to terms with the past, a lot has been done in Germany in the post-war period, which can justifiably be described as creative approaches. But political education in particular cannot derive its self-image from concentrating all its strength on analyzing the present and dealing with what has already been concluded. Hegel had committed philosophy to the mere comprehension of the already finished state of the world. In the “Philosophy of Law” he says: “If philosophy paints its gray in gray, then a figure of life has grown old, only with gray and gray it cannot be rejuvenated, it can only be recognized; the owl of Minerva does not begin its flight until the onset of dusk. ”Where the conditions, as always astute, are painted gray on gray, there is indeed no passion for change. Without this, the analysis becomes one-sided and loses reference to the meaning of the whole.

Frankfurter Rundschau from August 1st 2019, Interview: Waltraud Meints-Stender and Dirk Lange © All rights reserved. Frankfurter Rundschau GmbH, Frankfurt.

Oskar Negt was born on August 1, 1934 in East Prussia. He studied with Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno and was assistant to Jürgen Habermas. Since 1968 Negt was one of the spokesmen for the extra-parliamentary opposition. From 1970 to 2002 Negt, who has been a GEW member and E&W author for many years, was Professor of Sociology in Hanover.Waltraud Meints-Stender is professor for political and cultural education at the Niederrhein University of Applied Sciences.Dirk Lange is professor for didactics of political education at the Leibniz University Hanover and the University of Vienna.