FREIHEIT oder GLEICHHEIT: FREEDOM or EQUALITY?

Jun 27, 2008 at 10:58 pm Leave a comment

While studying in Berlin, the theme of socialism vs. the American system of a free market economy has come up in seminars numerous times.  While both systems have heir weaknesses and strengths for various economic and social reasons, historian Uwe Hillmer brought up an interesting point that this argument boils down to the question of which “heit” is more important for a better life: Freiheit oder Gleichheit or Freedom vs. Equality and uniformity.
One reason that this question is particularly relevant in Germany is its history of East and West Germany, whose effects are still seen today, both in physical manifestations, particularly throughout Berlin, and German’s mentalities.
The legacy of communist DDR to an outsider, particularly an American whose been taught the importance of democracy and capitalism and the fallacies of communism, is one of repression, human rights abuses (think Stasi), citizens without political power and a disastrous economy.
Though much of this is correct, this is not the only life of an East German. Frau R. from the Freie Universitaet Journalisti-Kolleg, an east German who was ten when the wall fell down, said that the experiences of she and her family were quite positive, especially from one day to the next. The mentality of East Germans was certainly different than West Germans, she said, but every day life was not so negative as many have portayed* it to be. Though East Germans didn’t receive Western imports, such as Coca-Cola or chocolate, they had other chocolates and products from Eastern Europe and Russia.
Hillmer showed statistics from a survey of Germans in 2004, in which 16 percent of former East Germans preferred that both countries hadn’t reunited in 1989. Understandably, this percent for former West Germans in 2004 was slightly higher at 22.  According to Hillmer and some other professors that have spoken to the DAAD interns, many West Germans dislike how socialist Germany is today. They believe the burden is too great on German citizens and would like to align themselves more with the American capitalist, free market system. However, East Germans, said Hillmer, agree more with the socialist system and many even would prefer a more communistic system.
Hillmer argues that the difference in opinion has less to do with how rich the country is economically or the political system, but more of a mindset that boils down to what is more important: freedom or equality.
To former West Germans, many believe that an enforcement of equality in all areas of society erodes ones freedoms. The argument is that merit and hard work is never awarded. If everyone goes to university, what separates the brighter and more talented students from the others who just don’t have the talent for it? If everyone is guaranteed the same or near similar salary, no matter what the job, then what motivates people to work up the ladder or how does a state encourage innovation?
On the other hand, is the idea of a meritocracy, where everyone has the freedom to live as they choose. But what about the people with specific or unlucky circumstances, who can’t work or can’t go to school? How do you control a laissez-fair economy from resulting in monopolies or huge corporations who aren’t responsible to citizens, the state or the environment? America’s history has seen the negative result of some of these issues in the form of robber barons in the late 19th and early 20th century and during the industrial revolution, in the form of workers having little rights.
In addition to the economic negatives to the idea of Freheit over Gleichheit are social and moral issues, like discrimination, worker’s rights, environmental damage and the poor.
It is an obvious statement to say a balance between these two “heits” is the correct answer. What no one can agree over is in which direction these balancing scales should tip.

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