Values. What values?

(Lecture at the Free Market Road Show, Zagreb, May 7, 2018)

We supposedly live in a time of decaying values, or perhaps of changing values, but in any case values are in the center of political life. Instead of “good” and “bad”, everyone speaks of values. Political parties debate values; constitutions are regarded not as the fundamental law but as “systems of values.”

Governments feel entitled to disregard the legal order in the name of „superior values“

Armies no more defend territories. They fight for „common values“, regardless of international law.

The use of chemical weapons in Syria is punished not in the name of international law, which explicitly prohibits such punitive interventions, but in the name of „common values“.

Elections no more decide on presidents or governments but on values. Hungarians did not vote for Orbán at the last elections, because they think he is a better PM, but supposedly because they are against „European values“.

Orbán’s Hungary is a danger for the values system of the EU, said the Jan Asselborn, the socialist foreign minister of Luxemburg, „now Germany, France and all member states“ have „to neutralize this tumor of values“. Please notice the military language in which „neutralize“ means destroy, delete, extinguish. In oncology you neutralize a tumor by cutting it out or killing it by radiation and chemical substances.

What will the EU do with Hungary where the voters prefer their traditional value system to the progressive secularist model imposed by Brussels? The temptation to use the same means as the former Soviet Union is big.

In a certain sense talk about values is trivial because each community, even if committed to pluralism, must share certain convictions its members believe to be valuable. There are a few universal values like life, dignity and freedom, which are independent of individual and cultural views, as well as independent of whether or not they are known and apprehended.

Those universal values may be given by divine order, by natural right or simply by the utilitarian ratio that a peaceful and prosperous society cannot exist without respecting them. They are the fundament of the legal order in any free community.

We may say that those values are on the top of the hierarchy of values, in which  the higher value has the prevalence at the expense of the lower value or of the dis-value.

But already here the conflict begins.  Who defines the superior value? And is not the highest value, only a ranking value within the value system?

The European Charter of fundamental rights for example states in its preamble:

„Conscious of its spiritual and moral heritage, the Union is founded on the indivisible, universal values of human dignity, freedom, equality and solidarity.“

As we see, the charta enlarges the set of fundamental values, it mentions not only human dignity and freedom , but also equality and solidarity as „universal values“.

But is equality a value in itself?

And which equality? Social equality?

And what does solidarity mean? Who may receive solidarity? Everybody? Is it a good that the state has to provide? Where are the limits to solidarity?

Are those entitled to receive the solidary support by the majority in a society also entitled to contribute through their vote how generous this support has to be?

The Catholic priest Antonio Rosmini answered this question in a proto-libertarian way. Rosmini wrote in his constitutional comment „La Costituzione secondo la Giustizia Sociale“, Milano 1848:

„The Christian Civil Society acknowledges also the poor, and it receives them for free protecting them with justice and supporting them with caritas – but that does not include the necessity to attribute them political power…

To pretend that those who do not contribute to the budget of the state may vote is an opinion detrimental to property.“

A fundamental problem posed by the European Charta of Fundamental Rights is that it allows the values of equality and solidarity to overwrite the right to property which it acknowledges only as a relative value, subordinated to the higher values of solidarity and equality:

Article 17

Right to property

  1. Everyone has the right to own, use, dispose of and bequeath his or her lawfully acquired possessions. No one may be deprived of his or her possessions, except in the public interest … The use of property may be regulated by law in so far as is necessary for the general interest.

An even more important issue regards the fundamental value of life, which is not always and everywhere accepted as a universal value. What about the life of unborn children? What about euthanasia? Is „quality of life“ a higher value as life itself?

There is a clash of values in our societies whenever fundamental ethical questions are raised. How should a secular state behave?

Should it endorse one set of values against the competing set of values?

Or should it be neutral and regard any association of citizens based on common convictions as equal so long as it does not violate the existing laws?

More often than not it is an instrument of power against people who do not share the changing values and convictions imposed by the political establishment.

It is easy to be marginalized in public life:

if you oppose the policy of the government towards migrants

if you are against gay marriage

if you doubt that there are over 2 sexes

if you don’t believe in man made climate change

if you say Islam does not belong to Europe

In March several German intellectuals published the „declaration 2018“ which comprises only two harmless and obvious sentences:

„ We observe with disconcertment how Germany is going to be damaged by illegal mass migration. We declare our solidarity with those who peacefully demonstrate to support the restoration of the rule of law at the borders of our country“.

Since then over 150.000 Germans signed the declaration which will be presented as a petition in the German Bundestag and the number continues to grow, irrespective of the pressure the governmental parties and the mainstream media exerted against them. The witchhunt is still going on. The supporters of the petition are vilified as „nazis“

Writers and even a publisher withdrew their signature fearing a boycott of their books. This is a real danger. A similar boycott almost ruined  Akif Pirincci, a very successful German writer of Turkish origin, who dared to criticize the cultural suicide of the German nation.

It is a witch hunt in the name of „European values“.:

The government and mainstream media maintain that the value of solidarity overrides the law that obliges the government to protect the borders.

The opponents of open borders maintain that solidarity cannot be unlimited and that the first priority of the government is the protection of the citizens.

One side argues with the legal order, the other side maintains that their values overwrite the law.

Let me quote the German philosopher Robert Spämann:

„A modern secular state is supposed to be based on law, not a set of substantive value commitments. Although a state committed to individual freedom demands obedience to its laws, it does not demand agreement with the values which form the basis of its legal system. This is the cornerstone of modern freedom, painfully won in the wake of the wars of religion. So talking about the state as a “community of values” is dangerous because it tends to undermine this secular principle in favor of a dictatorship of political convictions.

The Third Reich was a community of values. As a Volksgemeinschaft (national community), it valued nation, race, health – and these values always prevailed over law. As in Communism, the state was an agent of certain values; the party committed to them was therefore more important than the state.

Today’s Europe should stay clear of this dangerous alley. Citizens sometimes disobey the law because it conflicts with their values, and the state has a right to force them to live within the boundaries prescribed by its legal norms. But state power should not be allowed, in the name of promoting “values,” to try to prevent people from doing things not forbidden by law. Unfortunately, our states often do exactly that.“

(The dictatorship of values, Transit online, Nr. 25/2003 –

When and how did the concept of „value“ conquer the public discourse?

It all started with Nietzsche and his notorious claim that god is dead.

But if god is dead, what is the moral fundament of human society?

Nietzsche answer was negative. He denied the existence of binding moral norms in the name of the „Übermensch“.

But soon a new philosophy of values appeared in Germany which tried to elaborate an objective value system that could substitute the transcendent order. Max Scheler and Nicolai Hartmann considered „value“, originally an economic concept, as a philosophical phenomenon.

Who would set up values? Obviously the individual human being. But what for one is the Devil is God for the other. Who promulgates values wants to influence the choices of other people.

In 1959 the eminent judicial scholar Carl Schmitt wrote an essay with the title “The Tyranny of Values”.

As Schmitt observed the peculiarity of the value concept lies

„in the very fact that instead of an existence of its own, it is part of a valuation only. Consequently, its potential comes to nothing, unless it gains acceptance. Value must continuously valuate, that is to say, it must bring its influence to bear: otherwise it dissolves into an empty manifestation.  Whoever claims a value, will want to assert and enforce it. Virtues will be practised, standards applied, and commands executed; however, values will be set and enforced. Whoever asserts a value, must bring its influence to bear. Whoever maintains that it has value regardless of the influence brought to bear by any individual human being who endorses it, is simply cheating.“

(Carl Schmitt, The Tyranny of Values. Plutarch Press, 1996)

Schmitt predicted that the value based school in German constitutional law, historically an understandable reaction to national socialist nihilism, would undermine the preconditions of the law abiding state. The first article of the German constitution enacted after the second world war says: „Human dignity is inviolable“.  Is there anything wrong with this sentence? Nothing, if you understand it in a negative sense, as a protection of the citizen against the state. But the German Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe interpreted this sentence several times in a positive sense, obliging the government to create conditions under which as „dignified life“ would be possible.

Six years ago, in July 2012, the Court in Karlsruhe obliged the lawmakers to increase the allowances for asylum seekers up to a minimum of 336 Euro of which at least 130 Euro in cash. The court motivated its judgement with article 1 of the German constitution arguing that there is no human dignity below that sum. If you ever wanted to know why Germany attracts more migrants than other European countries: this is one of the reasons.

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