Start arrow Sozialwissenschaften arrow Strukturelle Evolution und das Weltsystem

< Zurück   INHALT   Weiter >

4 The Moral Microprocess: The Instability of the Allocation of Moral Respect

As a symbolic and generalized medium of communication, moral respect is not bound once and for all in a fixed quantum to the birth status of an individual in the hierarchical structure of society. This parallel nature of respect and birth status is replaced to an increasing extent in modern society by the fundamental readiness to respect all individuals. To a certain extent this is a matter of the morally guaranteed income of a person in terms of respect. Furthermore however, moral respect is obtained to a greater or lesser extent via morally exemplary action, in particular voluntary services for the community, with a tendency toward the global community. A specific connection between economics and morality is present here. Solidarity is classified as a scarce commodity, the Provision of which rests on the achievements of the members of society. The more a member achieves, the more moral respect he/she can accumulate.

Moral respect that has already been obtained can also be spent again up to the limit of an individual's guaranteed basic income by the individual taking advantage of the solidary services of the community. The generous businessman who donates a lot to charity, and who declares bankruptcy and becomes dependent on social security not only loses the majority of his money, but also the majority of his moral respect if he is unable to compensate for his sponsorship money by working. Moral capital is accumulated via exemplary moral action, in particular, services to the community, and spent via services received from the community. Direct moral capital is dependent on proven exemplariness and achievements attained, moral loans are based on expected moral achievements and exemplary, morally correct action. The family, schools and universities serve as banks which collect our moral respect in the form of loans, in order to educate our children, pupils and students into morally qualified persons. They can only invest enough moral capital in concrete educational programs if they have this loan with the help of which they can teach their pupils to respect the institution themselves and the readiness to learn about morals which follows on from this. The moral qualities of those adults who emerge from the educational process determine the moral income of the individual educational institutions. They receive moral respect to a greater or lesser extent because of their services in morally qualifying their graduates. The loans taken out during the educational process lead in the most successful cases to an increase in moral qualities through which moral respect flows back into the institutions. This tangibly earned moral respect is reflected back as heightened respect on those who at the beginning gave their respect to an educational institution on loan.

A good example of this would be the foundation of a private school. Prominent persons transfer their moral respect to the school as its founding members. The school's directors allow the individual teachers to participate in the moral respect with the courses that they teach and acting as a kind of bank pass this onto the „teaching firm“ – the teacher. As a result of teaching the pupil becomes morally qualified which in turn increases the respect the teacher receives. This respect can then be reflected back onto the school (as an institution) in as much as the teacher transfers the respect that he has personally obtained, via his pupils, back to the school. In this manner, the teacher pays the interest on his loan of respect to the school (the bank). On its part the school then transfers a portion of its actual income in increased respect back to its founding members as a kind of interest. The founding members' respect has increased to the degree in which the school shows its gratitude to them and lets them take part in its success.

One will increasingly be able to observe this form of economizing the allocation of respect, the more often educational institutions are run as businesses. This is particularly true of the educational system in the United States. At the moment, the Federal Republic of Germany is also working on producing a similar form of competition between the educational institutions. The fact that this is taking place within long-lived bureaucratic state structures however simply leads for the time being to chaos with no recognizable success.

Individuals who are particularly well-qualified morally can attract more moral respect than less-qualified individuals and can also show respect for a greater number of other individuals. Their moral capital is used up more slowly than that of moral low-earners. Therefore they hardly ever get into situations where they do not enjoy any respect and cannot confer any. On the other hand, low moral earners come up against the limits of their capital much more quickly. The number of people who particularly respect them is as small as the number of people whom they particularly respect themselves. This is why it is difficult for them to integrate themselves into global moral contexts. They meet too many people who show them no respect and who are given no respect in return. The more society forces such meetings as a result of globalization, the larger the moral no-man's-land will become – a place where anything is possible.

Respect has to be passed on further along the line in order to maintain society's moral context. Those who are not respected or are cast out need the respectful attention of persons who are particularly respected in order to get out of moral isolation. A mayor who visits the homeless and a president who talks to a group of prisoners gives them back a piece of the respect that they need in order to be able to return to the context of earning and assigning moral respect in society. The allocation of respect which is confirmed by morally exemplary action thus experiences a renewal. The moral bonus which has been assigned increases in the most successful cases the moral capital of the bonus giver. Failure however decreases this capital. People who make a mess of assigning their respect too often, lose other people's respect in the end themselves. A mayor who earns respect through a series of youth projects which happen to turn into hot-beds of criminal activity has soon gambled away all his respect.

The above thoughts on moral respect as a symbolic and generalized communication medium indicate the economization of moral action in the modern contemporary society. This is a result of the free allocation of moral respect on a moral market where the members of society compete for moral respect. This combination of economics and morality can barely be repressed because it is part of our moral code that everyone has the same right to moral respect but that this right is only to be taken advantage of via morally correct action, in particular services for the community. There is no respect hierarchy which is fixed once and for all. Thus competition for moral respect is inevitably opened whether we want it or not.

5 Concluding Remarks

Modernity has its price. Even moral modernization on a global scale cannot change this. On the contrary, for all its good intentions and for all its beneficial consequences (which it would be impossible to do without), it is heavily involved in the diabolic union with barbarism itself. Modernity wishes to realize moral goodness yet manages to create the opposite effect time and again. It is unable to escape this dilemma (Münch 1993). The lesson we must learn from this insight can only be: even in the modern age we will have to acknowledge the fact that the world is and always will be incomplete.

Translation: Helen Nurse


Beck, Ulrich (1992), Risk Society, London: Sage (Risikogesellschaft, Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp 1986).

– (1993), Die Erfindung des Politischen, Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp.

Habermas, Jürgen (1980), Die Moderne – ein unvollendetes Projekt“. Festvortrag anläßlich der Verleihung des Theodor W. Adorno-Preises, in: Die Zeit, 9, pp. 47-48.

– (1984/1989), The Theory of Communicative Action, 2 vols., Boston: Beacon Press (Th orie des kommunikativen Handelns, 2 Bde., Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp 1981).

– (1992), Faktizität und Geltung, Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp.

Kohlberg, Lawrence (1969), „Stage and Sequence: The Cognitive-Developmental Approach to Socialization,“ in: D.A. Goslin (ed.), Hand book of Socialization Theory and Research, Chicago: Rand McNally, pp. 347-480.

– (1987), Child Psychology and Childhood Education. A Cognitive Developmental View, New York and London: Longman (Die Psychologie der Moralentwicklung, Frankfurt am Main 1995).

Luhmann, Niklas (1988), Die Wirtschaft der Gesellschaft Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp. Merton, Robert K., (1949/1968), „Social Structure and Anomie“, in: Social Theory and Social

Structure, New York: The Free Press, pp. 185-214.

Münch, Richard (1987), Theory of Action, London: Routledge (Theorie des Handelns, Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp 1982).

– (1988), Understanding Modernity, London: Routledge.

– (1991), Dialektik der Kommunikationsgesellschaft Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp.

– (1993), Das Projekt Europa. Zwischen Nationalität, regionaler Autonomie und Weltgesellschaft Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp.

Parsons, Talcott (1969), Politics and Social Structure, New York: Free Press.

< Zurück   INHALT   Weiter >

Related topics