Secondary virtue

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Secondary virtue is a term used to refer to character properties that contribute to the practical coping with everyday life and to "trouble-free" operation of a company, but without by itself an ethical to have meaning unless they are held up as an end in itself and not to implement the primary virtues serve .

To civil or secondary virtues were especially hard work , loyalty , obedience , discipline , duty awareness, punctuality , reliability, orderliness , politeness etc. counted, cleanliness, mostly from the catalog of Prussian virtues or the "bourgeois" virtues catalog. In 1963 Otto Friedrich Bollnow once again confirmed order and cleanliness, diligence and truthfulness, but already registered "the declining understanding" in society.

Criticism and counter-criticism

After 1968 ( student movement ), bourgeois values ​​came under fire and were devalued or made contemptuous , with critics pointing out that upholding these virtues under National Socialism did not prevent the National Socialists from committing inhuman crimes. Instead, post-materialist values such as humanity , creativity , self-actualization and social values ​​such as solidarity were emphasized. Carl Amery , who criticized the (petty) bourgeois system of values ​​and virtues with his work “Die Kapitulation oder Deutscher Katholizismus heute” and had a lasting influence on the discussion, wrote: “I can appear on time for service in the rectory or in the Gestapo cellar; I can be meticulous in written matters ´Judenendlösung´ or welfare; I can wash my hands after a righteous day at work in the cornfield or in the concentration camp crematorium. ”(page 23). One of Oskar Lafontaine’s response to Helmut Schmidt to the Chancellor’s political demand for “loyalty to the US in the dispute over the NATO double resolution” is famous , in an interview with Stern on July 15, 1982: “Helmut Schmidt continues to speak of a sense of duty, Predictability, feasibility, steadfastness. [...] These are secondary virtues. To be more precise: You can also run a concentration camp with it . ” With this, Oskar Lafontaine had introduced the term into the ethical debate and at the same time postulated a clearly subordinate position to civic virtues.

In parts of the pupil and student movement, the traditional educational goals were thrown overboard without looking. This also had an impact on educational practice. The upbringing in Summerhill ( AS Neill ), which stimulated many liberal parents, radically rejected the secondary virtues. Order and cleanliness were of no importance to Neill. He renounced the humility and gratitude that children often feigned in favor of a new understanding of honesty. The pedagogically understood terror about the “lies” of the children was portrayed as a mendacity of the adults, and as far as diligence was concerned, Neill could understand it if his students stayed away from class. He defined blind obedience as obedience that drives children into marginalization.

In the German discussion of values ​​at the end of the 20th century, bourgeois virtues had no place. Even if the discussion about the flat anti-authoritarian upbringing in favor of a more reflective emancipatory pedagogy quickly subsided, goals such as self-determination, the ability to deal with conflict, nonconformity, equality, emancipation and solidarity retained priority.

Defenders of a harmonious complex of virtues and thus opponents of the 1968 virtue criticism continue to argue with the following sentence, among other things: "Everyone has whoever has one and offends none, and has none and offends everyone who offends one." With this they want to express that virtues all connected. For example, those who live justice without tact and order cannot be just in the true, virtuous sense, since justice always consists in giving everyone their own, which is not possible without an orderly separation of equal and unequal.

A rehabilitation of the secondary virtues was attempted by the Hamburg educationalist Friedrich Koch . For the educational implementation, it should be borne in mind that no one contributes to the cultural ability who cannot accept the child's instincts and suppress them. In concrete terms this means for the virtues:

  • Nobody brings up order and cleanliness who tries to squeeze the children into a strictly prescribed system;
  • no one educates gratitude who ignores the spontaneous impulses and needs of children;
  • no one educates to be honest who tries to achieve it with penalties or logical consequences;
  • nobody trains obedience by overemphasizing personal authority or by seeming practical constraints;
  • no one educates people to be industrious through open harassment or exaggerated mute expectations;
  • no one educates modesty who restricts the rights of the child from the outset;
  • no one is educated about sexual responsibility that suppresses the cognitive, affective and genital interests of children and young people. "


  • Carl Amery : The Surrender or German Catholicism Today. 76-100. Reinbek 1963.
  • Otto Friedrich Bollnow : Nature and Change of Virtues. Berlin 1963.
  • Friedrich Koch : The Kaspar Hauser Effect. About dealing with children. Opladen 1997.
  • Paul Münch (ed.): Order, diligence and thrift. Texts and documents on the development of the "civil virtues". Munich 1984.
  • AS Neill : Theory and Practice of Anti-Authoritarian Education. 61-90. Th., Reinbek 1970.

Web link

Wiktionary: Secondary virtue  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ↑ in addition to statements of others taken up in a collection of quotations on the subject of “Prominent aberrations in the Nazi era” in Der Spiegel 32/2011 , online at (Spiegel-online), accessed on August 14, 2012
  2. Friedrich Koch : The Kaspar Hauser Effect. About dealing with children. Opladen 1997. Page 123 f.