Over the last few years, a previously somewhat abstract finding has become an empirical fact: Democracy is not a given. The rule of law, the separation of powers, freedom of opinion, and obligation to the common good have lost some of their binding effect even in core democratic countries, and have been relativized, called into question, and limited. Thus, amongst other things, we are currently witnessing a shift in political weighting in Europe away from an essentially pro-European stance toward an anti-European discourse, which apparently still has the potential to mobilise more support. Such challenges, from populist movements among others, not only call into question democracy as a political order, but also the role of academia and the relevance of its research results. After all, the freedom of research and teaching hinges on the acceptance of democratic principles. With this current problematic situation as a starting point and a goal of placing it in a greater historical context, the Gerda Henkel Foundation has established a new funding program for the theme of
Democracy as Utopia, Experience and Threat.
“Democracy”, as an overriding concept of this historically-oriented funding program spanning different eras, may be simply a search direction, a heuristic guideline, and not a universalization of any – for example, our current – social and political system. The focus here is on the history of confrontation concerning the basic principles of social order, whereby there is a clash of demands for enhanced participation, for greater scope for self-organization, for more justice, or for the dismantling of hierarchies on the one hand, and on the other the value systems of those who consider the relevant status quo worthy of preservation or who see entirely different objectives of fairness, freedom and hierarchization as worth fighting for. These confrontations took place and continue to take place from ancient times until today, sometimes with and sometimes without application of any concept of democracy. What they can provide information about is the diversity of the value systems, the preconceptions of justice, and the ideals of a good society that are brought to the field by the conflicting sides.
These sorts of histories of conflict over a just order, good leadership and participation in both therefore make it necessary for the preconceptions of values and order of all the conflicting sides to be taken into account. Only this way does it become possible to historicize the diverse histories of conflict over good order, and thus to understand them in their relevant historical context: It can’t just be about the proponents of enhanced participation or a more comprehensive form of justice, not only about social movements and their hierarchies or criticism of the elite. After all, the relevant proponents of limited participation, selective socialization concepts and preconceptions of justice and freedom that cannot be universalized are equally important. The examination of conflict histories within societies that see themselves as democratic requires just this multiperspectivity: There is an interplay between the social movements and protests that critically oppose the relevant established forms of democracy and defenders of the established order and their preconceptions of participation, justice and freedom.
With the triad of concepts “utopia, experience and threat”, three of the key references to conflicting social value systems from ancient times to today are touched upon: Social movements inspired by utopias determine ideal preconceptions of politics, religion and society and fight for their realization. In societies that see themselves as democracies, people have experiences, which they mobilize in a way that is critical of democracy – be it against democracy as such or against specific aspects of the relevant established democratic order. The historically – and currently – frequently found references to conflicting social value systems is the impression of threat, as a result of which, for example, ruling elites deploy their law enforcement forces against social movements, various social groups fight for re-order and new order, religiously based preconceptions of society or justice come into conflict, or social inequality becomes a political issue. All three points of reference can be utilized for historical research into conflict histories surrounding the correct order and just society. They expand the theme of the funding program beyond the classic fields of protest and revolutionary history, or the history of constitutions, elections and political parties – which are likewise part of it all – to include a multiperspectival history of conflict and culture surrounding the right order in society and politics.
The funding program is designed to be interdisciplinary. Eligible to apply are post-PhD researchers based in a university and working in the area of humanities and social sciences. Funding can be provided for projects with up to three persons involved, who are carrying out research into the same issues, by means of bursaries (PhD scholarships and Research Scholarships) as well as travel and material aid. Scholarship applications from single researchers are not accepted. The funding program also provides for the project partners to participate in a public “workshop discussion on democracy research”, organized by the Foundation. This way, a contribution is made to the current conflicts over how a democratic society should be arranged against the background of historicization of earlier examinations of just order. Hence particular value is placed on the results of the research project being communicated publicly, and thus reference made to current constellations and problems, alongside the annual workshop discussion, for example as part of the academic portal L.I.S.A.
The next deadline will be announced soon.
The Board of Trustees decides on the applications on the basis of a recommendation from the members of the Academic Advisory Council.