Research MagazineBetween Individual and Society. Of Human Freedom

Susan Richter

Why is it worthwhile to study historical concepts of freedom in Germany? Concepts of freedom are always based on the relationship between the individual and the society he or she lives in. Sometimes authors ascribed more rights and duties to society, sometimes to the individual. This, then, is a history of freedom as a political category. As in any other historical analysis, we must consider the prerequisites for freedom in a certain time period. For example, who was seen as a guarantor of the freedom of citizens? And was really everyone capable of individual freedom, or even worthy of it? Concepts of freedom could thus also be used to legitimise unfreedom.

As we can see, concepts of freedom are shaped by the interplay between historical experience and expectations, and their nature and content have changed significantly through the ages. At times, they created an origin myth of freedom, at others they interpreted their era as a time of progress or, alternatively, of decline that must finally give way to a free society. The term “freedom”, used in various contexts, became an instrument for political stakeholders and was in each instance associated with different ideas. Moreover, different people understood it to represent different notions, systems of thought and beliefs. Finally, the concept of freedom that was prevalent at a given time always reflected existing relationships of power, i.e. it was used within the limits of what people could and were allowed to say during the respective time period.

The article cites the civil servant Friedrich von Gentz (1764–1832), an employee of the Austrian government, to illustrate why some people believed that the French Revolution was not the right path to freedom for Germany. Gentz differentiated between absolute and relative freedom.

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Kapitelbild RuCa 14 / Kap 2.3 Zwischen Individuum und Kollektiv

Issue 14 • 2019: ABSOLUT & RELATIV

More than one hundred years ago Albert Einstein revolutionised science with his theories of general and special relativity. The insights these theories unveiled are among the topics covered in the ABSOLUTE & RELATIVE issue of the research magazine "Ruperto Carola". The diametrical pairing in the title also generally reflects one of the basic tenets of science which thrives from a change in perspective. When things are called into question and viewed from another angle, new findings and discoveries can emerge. Is there anything that is truly permanent, or is everything in fact relative? The sixteen articles from twenty-two Heidelberg University scientists address this basic question along with other aspects of the topic.

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The research magazine "Ruperto Carola" reports on scientific findings and ongoing research projects at Heidelberg University. Each issue of the magazine is dedicated to a socially relevant topic on which Heidelberg researchers present their scientific work across disciplines and subjects. In easy-to-understand language, the authors show the myriad ways in which research is conducted at Heidelberg University.

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