Ralf Dahrendorf

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Ralf Dahrendorf at the presentation of his portrait in 1984

Ralf Gustav Dahrendorf, Baron Dahrendorf, of Clare Market in the City of Westminster , KBE , FBA , (born May 1, 1929 in Hamburg ; † June 17, 2009 in Cologne ) was a German-British sociologist , publicist and politician ( FDP ) . He was chairman of the German Society for Sociology , member of the German Bundestag , parliamentary state secretary in the Foreign Office , member of the European Commission , director of the London School of Economics and Political Science , co-founder of the University of Konstanz and member of the British House of Lords .


Third Reich and post-war years

Ralf Dahrendorf was founded in 1929 as the son of one cooperative member and SPD - Reichstag Gustav Dahrendorf was born in Hamburg. After he had voted against the Enabling Act in 1933, his father became unemployed after a brief imprisonment. Ralf Dahrendorf started school in Berlin in 1935 and attended grammar school since 1938. In 1941 he and his family moved to Buckow . In the boarding school there , he was 14 years old when he co-authored leaflets against National Socialism . When his father, who agitated in the social democratic underground , was imprisoned after July 20, 1944 , this activity was exposed in November 1944 and Dahrendorf was to be interned in the prison in Frankfurt (Oder) . The overseers there refused to do so because of his youth. So he was taken to the labor education camp near Schwetig , where he was held until the arrival of the Red Army.

Because his father did not want to go through the compulsory unification of the SPD and KPD in the Soviet occupation zone in 1946 and thus opposed Otto Grotewohl , the family moved from Berlin to Hamburg on the advice of the American occupying forces, where Dahrendorf took his Abitur. At the beginning of 1948 he took part in a political course in Wilton Park , England .

Studies and university career

He then studied philosophy and classical philology at the University of Hamburg . His most important teachers were the classical philologist Ernst Zinn and the philosopher Josef König . In 1952 he received his doctorate there for Dr. phil. with the work The Concept of the Just in Thinking by Karl Marx . From 1952 to 1954 he studied at the London School of Economics , where he heard Karl Popper and, together with David Lockwood and Basil Bernstein, joined a circle of Ph.D. -Students supervised by sociologist AH Halsey . Thomas H. Marshall acted as his PhD supervisor at the LSE . From July 1 to August 31, 1954 he was employed as a research assistant to Max Horkheimer at the Frankfurt Institute for Social Research . According to Adorno, the fact that he left it after two months was due to a brilliant offer from Saarbrücken University; In addition, he theoretically felt that he “did not belong to us”, as Adorno wrote to Horkheimer.

In addition to his British dissertation under the title Unskilled Labor in British Industry (1956), he was already working there on his book Social Classes and Class Conflict in Industrial Society , which he submitted as a habilitation thesis at the Saarland University in Saarbrücken in 1957 . From 1958 to 1960 he taught as a professor of sociology at the Academy for Community Economics in Hamburg and also gave lectures at the University of Hamburg . From there he was appointed to Tübingen and then to the University of Konstanz , of which he is counted as one of the founding fathers.

Political engagement in the FDP

Ralf Dahrendorf (left) in conversation with
Klaus Mehnert in 1970

Although Dahrendorf after the war, first the SPD - and briefly also the time of Helmut Schmidt led SDS in the British zone of occupation - had heard, he was in his political activity, especially as a thought leader of liberalism known. After he had previously run once on a regional list for the Free Democrats, he finally switched to the FDP in 1967 . Together with the then General Secretary Karl-Hermann Flach , he played a key role in the party's programmatic realignment in the late 1960s and early 1970s. He also became known through public discussions with the protagonists of the 1968 movement such as Rudi Dutschke .

In 1968 Dahrendorf entered the state parliament of Baden-Württemberg as a member of the Liberals , but resigned his mandate on October 28, 1969 when he was elected to the German Bundestag via the state list , which he had already on August 25, 1970 left again. He worked for a short time in the first Brandt government as Parliamentary State Secretary in the Foreign Office , before moving to Brussels as Commissioner for Foreign Trade in the Malfatti Commission in 1970 . Until his resignation in 1974 he was responsible for research, science and education in the Ortoli Commission .

Further university and social careers from 1974

In 1974 Dahrendorf returned to science and until 1984 headed the renowned London School of Economics (LSE) . In 1975 he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences , and in 1977 to the National Academy of Sciences . From 1984 to 1986 he taught at the University of Konstanz and from 1986 to 1987 at the Russell Sage Foundation in New York. From 1987 to 1997 he was the rector (Warden) of St Antony's College at the University of Oxford and from 1991 to 1997 he was also the prorector (Pro-Vice-Chancellor) of the university there .

In 1982 he became Queen Elizabeth II. To Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire (KBE) hit , is thus connected for British citizens of personal nobility with the suffix "Sir". In 1988 Dahrendorf became a British citizen, in 1993 he was raised to a life peer and received the title Baron Dahrendorf , of Clare Market in the City of Westminster . Clare Market is a place by the London School of Economics which also serves as their parking lot. As usual, Dahrendorf chose the title himself, thus showing his solidarity with the London School of Economics. Since becoming a British citizen, he has been a member of the Liberal Democrats and has been a member of the British House of Lords since 1993 . In the House of Lords he worked as chairman of the Commission on Wealth Creation and Social Cohesion (1995) and as chairman of the Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform (until autumn 2006) for many years.

1982 to 1987 Dahrendorf was also chairman of the board of the FDP-affiliated Friedrich Naumann Foundation . From 1983 to 1987 he was co-editor of the magazine liberal . In Germany he worked as a consultant for the Badische Zeitung .

In 1989 Dahrendorf received the Sigmund Freud Prize for scientific prose . He was an ambassador for the New Social Market Economy Initiative . In 1997 he was awarded the Theodor Heuss Prize for his life's work in political and humanities. In 2002 he was the first to receive the Walter Hallstein Prize from the University of Frankfurt, the City of Frankfurt and the Dresdner Bank.

Last years

Gravestone Dahrendorf , Ohlsdorf cemetery

Between 1969 and 2002 Dahrendorf took part in a total of seven Bilderberg conferences , especially between 1969 and 1977, when he took part four times.

From January 2005 he was research professor at the Social Science Research Center in Berlin . From 2006 until his death in 2009 Dahrendorf was chairman of the jury for the award of the Gerda Henkel Prize . In 2007 Dahrendorf was awarded the internationally renowned Prince of Asturias Prize in the social sciences category.

On April 4, 2008, Dahrendorf was appointed by Prime Minister Jürgen Rüttgers (CDU) to chair the new future commission of the North Rhine-Westphalian state government. In 2009 he received the Schader Prize . He was also Honorary President of the German-British Society . Dahrendorf lived in London and in Bonndorf in the Black Forest.

Dahrendorf died on June 17, 2009 at the age of 80. He was buried in the Ohlsdorf cemetery in Hamburg, grid square Y 12 (south of Norderstrasse ).


Dahrendorf's earliest publications dealt with questions of industrial and company sociology .

Many students are familiar with Dahrendorf's work from the “ Dahrendorfhäuschen ”, a representation of the stratification of the population in the Federal Republic of Germany . Theoretically interested, he is known as a representative of the sociology of conflict , through his contributions to role theory and partly also through his participation in the so-called positivism dispute in German sociology, in which the philosophers Karl Popper and Theodor W. Adorno met in Tübingen .

Already with his habilitation thesis Social Classes and Class Conflicts in Industrial Society (1957), which promised to open a "third way" in the school dispute between Marxist sociology and structural functionalism , he became known in German sociology, then to a far greater extent in the Anglo-Saxon language area ( many of his works were published in English translation).

With a series of essays - summarized in the volume Society and Freedom (1961) - he founded a sociological theory of conflict and domination , which saw itself as an alternative to the structurally functional theory of society by Talcott Parsons and his students. He did not understand conflicts as "dysfunctional" phenomena that disrupt the social order, but as "an outstanding creative force" of social change .

The title of his book Education is Citizenship (1965) about German educational deficits, which he viewed as a threat to German democracy, became a popular phrase. He thus provided essential arguments for an educational expansion .

With the concept of homo sociologicus , he also introduced role theory into German-speaking sociology. The transition from an innovative, clear and eloquent academic teacher to an actor in politics during the time of the student revolt, his open-air discussion with Rudi Dutschke , surprised the professional world.

He was an advocate of political liberalism, which he saw endangered by the "destruction of ligatures " (ties) in society. With regard to the economic order, he represented positions of ordoliberalism , but until the end of his life also the concept of an unconditional basic income (“citizen's money”).

As a time-critical intellectual, he took a stand on many current issues, paying particular attention to the upheavals in Eastern Europe ( considerations on the revolution in Europe , 1990) as well as the developments after 1989 and in Europe . He described his extensive essay The Modern Social Conflict (1992) as the “sum of my social sciences”, which puts his main themes - social classes and conflict, rights and life chances, civil society and cosmopolitanism - in a consistent context.

In his works Engagierte Beobachter (2005) and Temptations of Unfreedom (2006), he dealt with the phenomenon of intellectuals in times of trial who (temporarily) succumbed to totalitarianism , and with those who always separated themselves from ideologies . He put forward the thesis that the vote of the latter was based on four pillars: the ability to strictly pursue independent thinking and to endure the contradictions and conflicts of society, on a meticulously committed manner of observation and on the recognition of reason as the basis of every theory and practice.

He named Karl Popper , Raymond Aron and Isaiah Berlin , who shaped him, as great examples of such independent, purposeful thinking based on freedom . In Dahrendorf's view, the humanist Erasmus von Rotterdam founded this way of thinking in the 15th century and can therefore serve as a model for modern intellectuals. He was also one of the so-called Erasmus intellectuals , in different degrees, among others. a. Arthur Koestler and Manès Sperber , both former communists who became known as critics of Stalinism, as well as Norberto Bobbio (Italian legal scholar and anti-fascist), Jan Patočka (Czech philosopher), Hannah Arendt and Theodor W. Adorno .

According to Dahrendorf in the 20th century, the steadfast, liberal intellectuals in thought and action were only a minority, many succumbed to the numerous temptations of bondage . Dahrendorf viewed Great Britain as a liberal society (Erasmus country) , which was based on a common sense as an open society and with which the author more or less identified himself as a liberal.

Awards (excerpt)

Further honors

The Ralf Dahrendorf Prize for excellent local journalism has been awarded every two years since 2011 . This is donated by Christian H. Hodeige and Wolfgang Poppen , the publishers of the Badische Zeitung . The award will be given to “German-language contributions that explain in an exemplary manner how democracy works at the local level”.


Dahrendorf's book estate was placed in the care of the University and State Library in Bonn in 2010 by the widow . The archival legacy is in the Koblenz Federal Archives .

Monographs and edited volumes

  • Industrial and business sociology (= Göschen Collection. Volume 103). Walter de Gruyter, Berlin 1956 (4 editions until 1967; later editions continued by Wolfram Burisch ).
  • Social classes and class conflict in industrial society . Enke, Stuttgart 1957.
    • Class and Class Conflict in Industrial Society . Routledge, London 1959 (English, numerous new editions, widely used as a textbook in the Anglo-Saxon world).
  • Social structure of the company - company sociology . Gabler, Wiesbaden 1959.
  • About the origin of inequality among people . [1961]. Mohr (Siebeck), Tübingen 1966.
  • Society and freedom. For the sociological analysis of the present . Piper, Munich 1961.
  • Applied education. Society and Sociology in America . Piper, Munich 1962.
  • Education is a civil right. A plea for an active education policy. Nannen, Hamburg 1965.
  • Homo Sociologicus. An attempt at the history, meaning and criticism of the category of the social role [first printing 1965]. 16th edition. With a new foreword. VS, Wiesbaden 2006, ISBN 3-531-31122-0 .
  • Society and Democracy in Germany . Piper, Munich / Zurich 1965.
  • Conflict and freedom. On the way to the service class society . Piper, Munich / Zurich 1972, ISBN 3-492-01782-7 .
  • A plea for the European Union . Piper, Munich 1973, ISBN 3-492-02038-0 .
  • Paths from Utopia. Work on the theory and method of sociology . Piper, Munich / Zurich 1974, ISBN 3-492-00401-6 .
  • Life chances. Approaches to social and political theory . Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1979, ISBN 3-518-37059-6 .
  • The new freedom. Survival and Justice in a Changed World . Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1980, ISBN 3-518-37123-1 .
  • The opportunities of the crisis. About the future of liberalism . DVA, Stuttgart 1983, ISBN 3-421-06148-3 .
  • Travel inwards and outwards. Aspects of time . DVA, Stuttgart 1986, ISBN 3-421-06183-1 .
  • Fragments of a New Liberalism . DVA, Stuttgart 1987, ISBN 3-421-06361-3 .
  • Reflections on the Revolution in Europe . DVA, Stuttgart, 1990, ISBN 3-421-06579-9 .
  • The modern social conflict. Essay on the Politics of Freedom . DVA, Stuttgart 1992, ISBN 3-421-06539-X .
  • Liberals and others: portraits . DVA, Stuttgart 1994, ISBN 3-421-06669-8 .
  • LSE. A History of the London School of Economics and Political Science, 1895-1995 . Oxford University Press, Oxford 1995, ISBN 0-19-820240-7 (English).
  • European diary . Steidl, Göttingen 1995, ISBN 3-88243-370-1 .
  • with János Kornai : The future of the welfare state . New Critique, Frankfurt am Main 1996, ISBN 3-8015-0281-2 .
  • Liberal and independent. Gerd Bucerius and his time . Beck, Munich 2000, ISBN 3-406-46474-2 .
  • Over borders. Life memories . 4th edition. Beck, Munich 2002, ISBN 3-406-49338-6 .
  • Looking for a new order. Lectures on the politics of freedom in the 21st century . Beck, Munich 2003, ISBN 3-406-50540-6 .
  • The beginning of history: from the fall of the wall to the war in Iraq; Speeches and essays . Beck, Munich 2004, ISBN 3-406-51879-6 .
  • Dedicated observer. The intellectuals and the temptation of time . 1st edition. Passagen, Vienna 2005, ISBN 3-85165-726-8 .
  • Temptations of bondage. The intellectuals in times of trial . Beck, Munich 2006, ISBN 3-406-54054-6 .
  • (with others) climate change and basic income. The not accidental simultaneity of both topics and a socio-ecological experiment. Edited by Maik Hosang . Mascha, Munich 2008, ISBN 978-3-924404-73-4 .

Articles in newspapers, magazines and edited volumes

In 1971 Ralf Dahrendorf published two articles at the time using the pseudonym Wieland Europe, which deal critically with the work of the institutions of the European Community at that time.




  • Jens Alber : In memoriam Ralf Dahrendorf (May 1, 1929 to June 17, 2009). In: Soziologie 38 (2009), no. 4, pp. 465-475.
  • Dirk Brietzke : Dahrendorf, Ralf . In: Franklin Kopitzsch, Dirk Brietzke (Hrsg.): Hamburgische Biographie . tape 5 . Wallstein, Göttingen 2010, ISBN 978-3-8353-0640-0 , p. 89-91 .
  • Gilbert Gratzel: Freedom, Conflict and Change. Comments on the understanding of liberalism in Ralf Dahrendorf. In: Jahrbuch zur Liberalismus-Forschung 2 (1990), pp. 11–45.
  • Jürgen Habermas : Born in 1929 . Oxford speech on the 80th birthday of Ralf Dahrendorf. In: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung , May 2, 2009, p. 35.
  • Thomas Hauser : Ralf Dahrendorf. Thinker, politician, publicist . Kohlhammer, Stuttgart 2019, ISBN 978-3-17-034857-8 .
  • Karl-Heinz Hense : Interview with Lord Ralf Dahrendorf: “The citizen nation as an open society”. In: Courage - Forum for Culture, Politics and History , No. 335, July 1995, pp. 6-18.
  • Karl-Heinz Hense: From active freedom - Ralf Dahrendorf on his 75th birthday. In: Courage - Forum for Culture, Politics and History , No. 441, May 2004, pp. 54–59.
  • Karl-Heinz Hense: A contentious cross-border commuter - Ralf Dahrendorf in memory. In: liberal - Vierteljahreshefte für Politik und Kultur , August 2009, pp. 58–61.
  • Thomas Hertfelder : Neoliberalism or New Liberalism? Ralf Dahrendorf's sociological diagnosis of the times in the late 20th century . In: Heuss-Forum 7/2016.
  • Jürgen Kocka : Dahrendorf in perspective. In: Soziologische Revue 27 (2004), pp. 151–158.
  • Jürgen Kocka: Ralf Dahrendorf from a historical perspective. On the occasion of his death on June 17, 2009. In: Geschichte und Gesellschaft 35 (2009), pp. 346–352.
  • Franziska Meifort: The Dahrendorf estate in the Federal Archives. Legacy of a Public Intellectual. In: Jahrbuch zur Liberalismus-Forschung 27 (2015), pp. 301–314.
  • Franziska Meifort: Ralf Dahrendorf. A biography . Beck, Munich 2017, ISBN 978-3-406-71397-2 .
  • Matthias Micus: Ralf Dahrendorf - failure of an experiment. In: Robert Lorenz, Ders. (Ed.): Side entrants. Unconventional career as a politician in party democracy. VS Verlag, Wiesbaden 2009, ISBN 978-3-531-16483-0 , pp. 31-60.
  • Marius Strubenhoff: Materialist Method, Agonistic Liberalism: Revisiting Ralf Dahrendorf's Political Thought . In: History of Political Thought 39 (2018), pp. 541-567.

Web links

Commons : Ralf Dahrendorf  - Collection of images, videos and audio files
Wikibooks: Sociological classics / Dahrendorf, Ralf  - learning and teaching materials

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Theodor W. Adorno, Max Horkheimer: Correspondence . Volume IV: 1950-1969 . Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 2006, pp. 275 and 277.
  2. New honorary senators of the university: Komatsu Chikô, Lord Dahrendorf and Michael Otto. ( Memento from June 22, 2009 in the Internet Archive ) Press release of the University of Hamburg from July 22, 1999.
  3. ^ So in the obituary of the University of Konstanz ( Memento from January 30, 2012 in the Internet Archive ).
  4. Jochen Wiemken: A Moving Life ( Memento from December 7, 2015 in the Internet Archive ), accessed on November 11, 2015.
  5. ^ Sociologist Ralf Dahrendorf receives Asturias Prize .
  6. Prime Minister Rüttgers appoints members of the Future Commission. In: Press release of the state government of North Rhine-Westphalia, April 4, 2008 (PDF; 29 kB).
  7. Lord Dahrendorf in Bonndorf. ( Memento from November 26, 2015 in the Internet Archive ) In: Sparkasse Bonndorf-Stühlingen, August 9, 2007 (PDF; 71 kB).
  8. ^ Ralf Dahrendorf: Society and freedom. For the sociological analysis of the present . Piper, Munich 1961, p. 124 ff.
  9. Ralf Dahrendorf: Temptations of bondage. 2006, p. 79.
  10. Ralf Dahrendorf: Temptations of bondage. 2006, p. 157 ff.
  11. List of all decorations awarded by the Federal President for services to the Republic of Austria from 1952 (PDF; 6.9 MB).
  12. Honors and prizes from the university. Honorary senators of the University of Hamburg ( Memento from December 8, 2015 in the Internet Archive ).
  13. ^ II. Walter Hallstein Colloquium University of Frankfurt .
  14. ^ Ralf Dahrendorf Prize for excellent local journalism. Retrieved November 20, 2017 .
  15. This inaugural lecture in Tübingen contains the “most famous footnote in German post-war sociology ” ( Dieter Claessens ), in which Dahrendorf admitted that he had to take back the core thesis of his habilitation thesis on social classes , namely that conflict and function theory are equally important and valid side by side in sociology be. Now he is primarily based on a conflict theory .