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Fiftieth Anniversary of the Basic Law (May 28, 1999)

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The state must present itself to its citizens as a “participatory state.” Then it will not be necessary to buy approval by making promises – which cannot be kept in the end – of a perfect, paternalistic welfare state. Why don’t we sit down together and work out models and solutions that take into account the needs of both the state and its citizens and smaller entities? And – for once – both sides should spare us the knock-out arguments that we’re all so sick and tired of hearing.

Besides that, there are also areas where we do not need collective organization, where the human spirit is left to its own devices and yet still serves the common good. Creativity, artistic work, and culture are among the essential components of a vibrant society. In science, art, and creativity, freedom tests itself and discovers new ways of seeing and understanding for the individual and the community.

And finally, freedom also means being responsible for the results of one’s own actions. Responsibility is the unavoidable consequence of freedom. Today, it seems that this isn’t always clear. We increasingly tend to socialize the unpleasant consequences of our actions and to privatize the gains. This must stop. If everyone believes that “the honest man has to pay the piper,” then no one should be surprised by the end results.

We really should pay more heed to the fact that popular approval of our liberal social system is not necessarily a given, especially not at a time when it no longer produces new good deeds. Approval of freedom and democracy is also tied up with the basic mood of the collective citizenry, whether they feel they are “doing well” and are being treated “fairly.” This, in turn, is closely connected to people’s confidence in political institutions.

[ . . . ]

Democracy and freedom face two major challenges today: in a globalizing economy, how can we continue to create prosperity in the future, and in doing so, how do we uphold the goal of justice, to the extent that it can even be achieved among people? Democracy and the Basic Law gained recognition in Germany, not least because they were accompanied by prosperity. The success story of the former Federal Republic was therefore also the success story of the social market economy.

[ . . . ]

Source: “Ansprache von Bundespräsident Roman Herzog anlässlich des 50. Jahrestages des Grundgesetzes” [“Speech by Federal President Roman Herzog on the Occasion of the 50th Anniversary of the Basic Law”], Bulletin [Press and Information Office of the Federal Government] no. 32, May 28, 1999.

Translation: Allison Brown

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