What do people live for

moral: What are we responsible for?


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We humans are responsible for the state of the world. Who else? As far as humans do not control nature, as far as nature still controls people, it is up to people to take precautionary and aftercare for volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and tsunamis. We Europeans are also responsible for Europe and we Germans are responsible for Germany, which again includes adjusting to the political and economic influences from outside that we cannot control. Nothing else applies to the individual; he is responsible for his life, however other people, society and the state affect him, whatever they owe him, give or withhold.

Like everything else, individual responsibility also increases. The young person bears more responsibility than the child and the adult more than the young person; as the family and work expand, responsibility increases; Memberships in organizations establish shared responsibility for their actions; and civil rights and obligations create responsibility for the community, Germany and Europe.

If the world were to be good, the responsibilities would interlock via institutional transmission belts in such a way that no task would remain without those responsible who perform the task, are accountable for the performance and are held accountable. The state institutions would perform the tasks of the municipality, the state and the federal government, the European institutions the European and international institutions complement and legitimize the tasks of the world - a connection of responsibility and legitimation from the individual to the humanitarian aid operation of the United Nations.

This is not how it is with the world. The institutions are overwhelmed, the transmission belts overloaded. Countless tasks are left without a responsible person, or those responsible do not take them up, or they are not held accountable. One reason is that the law, which is specific and limited, has a harder time establishing responsibility than establishing obligations. Because responsibility is a task that the person responsible has to shape himself with initiative and creativity; he owes not the fulfillment of a definite and limited duty, but an attitude and an effort that make everything an obligation that the task requires. Another reason is that there are always too many and always too many new tasks for the law to take on by establishing responsibility.

From social coexistence to the coexistence of people and states in Europe and the world, it is not possible without the voluntary acceptance of responsibility. In family and work, in contractual and neighborly relationships, in the event of danger and damage, the responsibility of the individual is legally regulated, without this already guaranteeing family happiness, fulfillment at work, agreement with the contractual partner and harmony with the neighbor. Likewise, states owe one another more than the fulfillment of legal obligations if they want to get along profitably, and people help one another across countries and continents because they feel solidarity with one another. Sometimes this additional responsibility is entirely voluntary and can be denied as it is assumed. Sometimes it is so obvious as a political and moral responsibility, so compelling that it comes across as if it were inevitably imposed. When it is and how far it goes are central questions in our culture of responsibility today.

Bernhard Schlink

The 74-year-old is a professor emeritus for public law and legal philosophy at the Humboldt University in Berlin and a writer. Count among his novels The Reader and last, Olga.

It applies here that people have to take on their responsibility, once it has been imposed on them or taken on by them voluntarily. Many accept this and live up to their responsibilities. Others refuse to take responsibility and steal from imposed and assumed responsibility. But nobody escapes responsibility. If he does not stand by her, the others hold him tight to her; if they have no other sanctions, they withdraw their trust in him and turn away from him in disappointment. Living in society without taking responsibility and being accountable is not possible; Responsibility is a constitutive element of human existence.


The responsibility that is assumed in our society without any legal obligation applies to a colorful mixture of original and conventional, plausible and strange tasks. Dogs, cats, children, sick people, art, music, schools, hiking trails, wildlife parks, orchards, mudflat landscapes, start-ups - there is nothing that people do not take responsibility for. To what extent they are promoting the community in this way would have to show a balance sheet that does not exist. When young people fight for biotopes and habitats but do not vote, when entrepreneurs take care of museums and orchestras but not their workers and their customers, when non-governmental organizations want to do good, but, in competition with one another, do bad things when wealthy and educated Parents send their children to private schools instead of public schools, which makes them better and these worse, when tax-deductible money flows into cultural projects that would be used as tax revenue for democratically legitimized cultural funding, it turns out that the balance sheet is difficult.

Responsibility as a hobby has just as little to do with the primary responsibility that applies to the roles that people primarily play in society, just like tennis or vacation. Judges are responsible for ensuring that their decisions enforce the law, scientists for methodically correct research, and entrepreneurs for their products and the success of their company. If they fail to meet this responsibility, no charitable hobby will outweigh it. Responsibility as a hobby also does not outweigh what could and should be done for the cohesion of society, but is not done - in perception and in addition to primary responsibility.

On the one hand, we are responsible for the cohesion of society in the perception of our primary responsibility. For the cohesion of society it is crucial that people have work, live from their work and experience their dignity in their work, and whether they can do this depends not only, but also on entrepreneurs and their willingness to perceive their primary Seeing responsibility at the same time as being responsible for the cohesion of society. The willingness is little, less than the readiness for loving charity; This is justified and defended by the fact that economics cannot help but obey the constraints of global markets and therefore evade moral attribution of responsibility and that, moreover, employees are responsible for their qualifications, their flexibility, their mobility, their performance orientation be. The responsibility for the cohesion of society is passed on, downwards and upwards - from entrepreneurs to employees, from bankers to the state, which has to regulate financial markets more closely if it wants to avoid financial crises.

On the other hand, we are responsible for the cohesion of society in addition to our primary responsibility. For their cohesion, society depends on people taking responsibility for and in the institutions of the community. Politics, parties, schools and universities, trade unions and associations, churches - the institutions only hold society together if the citizens get involved in them. When they vote and let themselves be elected, when they become members of political parties, when as parents they see not only their child, but also the school as a community of children and teachers, when as professors they do more than just research on their cause, which increases their reputation and salary do, but the teaching, the education of the students and the public discussion, if as students they concern themselves with university politics, if as employees they not only let the trade unions work for them, but also work for the trade unions, if they at least know the churches let why they exit when they exit. The institutions on which the community lives are legal entities, but they need more than just the commitment to which the citizens are legally obliged.