Icon of another age

If he were still alive, Ralf Dahrendorf would have celebrated his 89th birthday yesterday.

I fear that many readers of this blog will not know who he was, but Dahrendorf was a key political and intellectual figure of the second half of the 20th century. He was born in Hamburg in 1929, and in the course of a full life he was active in the anti-Nazi resistance (and was sent to a concentration camp in consequence), became a German politician (in the Free Democratic Party), was a European Commissioner, was appointed Director of the London School of Economics and later Warden of St Antony’s College, Oxford, and was a Research Professor in Berlin. He was awarded national honours in Germany, Luxembourg, Belgium, Italy and the United Kingdom; in Britain he became a life peer, taking the title Lord Dahrendorf of Clare Market. He died in Germany in 2009.

As a writer and thinker, Dahrendorf engaged strongly with different political traditions, focusing on social equality and integration in his key works. His analysis of this is contained in his seminal bookClass and Class Conflict in Industrial Society.

The political and intellectual tradition to which Dahrendorf belonged and which informed his thinking has not fared well since his death. I suspect he would have been horrified by Trump and Brexit, but also by the language and actions of those making up the opposition to both. We now have an angry society that looks everywhere for treachery and deceit, and has little time for cohesion and a common purpose.

It would be good if Ralf Dahrendorf, and others like him, were not forgotten.

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2 Comments on “Icon of another age”

  1. Anna Notaro Says:

    How good to read a post about Ralf Dahrendorf! His work around citizenship beyond the confines of national borders is incredibly relevant, we need such icons of the past to be rediscovered and gain fresh intellectual life!

  2. Vince Says:

    I have not met him before.

    Lately I read a saw that went like this. When a solvable problem keeps recurring, it’s not a problem but a policy.

    Loosely my two penn’orth goes like this. Most of the social reforms of the late Victorian and early 20th have been removed. These mostly deal with housing, one of the main pillars of economics. Then the legislation underpinning employment right were removed. Then the dismantling of the industries. Then a sequence of victim blaming.
    Basically we’re recreated most of the social structure of the early 19th century, and why. We’ve had a delusion the goings on in the USA was some sort of reformation.

    My sympathy on the death of your friend.


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