Hannes Richter

Think Tank and Center for Advanced Studies Institute for Human Science

Hannes Richter

In 1982, a group of young scholars established the Institute for Human Sciences (IWM) in Vienna, a Think Tank and Center for Advanced Studies. The idea was to bring together scholars and intellectuals from Eastern and Western Europe. Its mission was to reflect on issues concerning society and to alter the societies themselves. In short, it had a two-fold dimension, both reflective and practical, seeking to influence change by providing the intellectual basis for its policy-related programs affecting the social and political problems of the region.

Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna

Research at the Institute is devoted to the humanities and social sciences and focuses on four areas: the search for an intellectual, social and political identity of Europe, sources of inequality, Central and Eastern Europe - from transformation to integration -, and the work of the Czech philosopher Jan Patocka.

With the opening of East-West borders in 1989, the Institute incorporated a socio-political dimension into its agenda to support the reconstruction of civil society in the former communist countries of Eastern and Central Europe. Of particular interest are the social consequences of economic changes in the region.

Supported by a community of scholars, permanent and visiting, the Institute hosts about forty visiting Fellows each year from Eastern and Western Europe and from the United States to spend a semester in residence, researching and participating in conferences, workshops and public debate.

Since its founding, the Institute has become an international intellectual center in Vienna with an impact reaching far beyond the borders of Central Europe. In November 2001, a branch institution was established at Boston University to act as a forum for new, non-partisan debate, research and education in international relations, and particularly transatlantic relations. A new project will study the role of the U.S. in Europe. Two renowned intellectuals and leading contributors to the Institute are Krzysztof Michalski and Ralf Dahrendorf. As Rector of the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna and Professor at Boston University, the Polish philosopher Michalski has not only played an important role in the deepening of the political and cultural dialogue between Eastern and Western Europe, but he has also been an important mediator in the transatlantic dialogue in his capacity in Boston. Ralf Dahrendorf, German-British sociologist, Member of the British House of Lords and former Director of the London School of Economics, received one of the Institute's highest honors by having been asked to give the annual Jan Patocka Memorial Lecture in 2004.

2005_dahrendorf.jpgLord Ralf Dahrendorf

On November 19, 2004, Michalski and Dahrendorf held a discussion on The Problems of Democracy Today, and the new importance of 'governance,' a topic of particular relevance in view of the integration of countries into an enlarged European Union. Here are some of their comments: Democracy today faces the challenge of renewing the forms of political participation and decision-making. Traditional institutions representing political interests are losing their influence and power. This became increasingly clear while drafting the Constitution during the European Convention or judging from the low voter turnout at the last EU parliamentary elections. At the same time, there has been an increase in the number of non-profit or non-governmental organizations (NGOs) over the past years, which represent much more efficiently the particular interests on the local, national as well as international level.

Democracies today need to protect against the creeping advance of authoritarianism with laws being made by a council of ministers behind closed doors, an indication of a deficit in democracy within the European Union. The fact that no one is fazed by a few officials governing and don't concern themselves with the decisions being made, is a form of authoritarianism. There is decreasing interest in democratic participation by the ever growing masses.

2005_conference.jpgIWM Conference; Krysztof Michalski, Professor of Philosophy (third from left)

The decline of trade unions in many countries is another example of the loss of democracy, indicating more and more a general tendency of non-participation in the public sector. This weakens a democratic society built on citizen participation, the foundation of a liberal order. The strongest example of citizen participation is America, a typical society made up of individual citizens. Americans are interested mainly in what is happening in their own state. There are many elections on issues and the participation is high.

In times of globalization, important decisions are increasingly made by international organizations and big corporations rather than democratic institutions established by national governments. When global firms with their profit-making decisions begin to exert more influence over the welfare of people throughout the world, then democracy is indeed in danger. Decision-making processes are increasingly being diverted from local or national, democratically elected institutions and replaced by a diffuse entity, often out of reach. The result is that the individual feels disempowered and lacking control, falling into a state of resignation. One must not simply stand by and allow this to happen without taking action. The Institute’s website is: http://www.iwm.at