A conference on German Christian and Liberal Conservatism

A two-day international workshop was held at the Ludovika University of Public Service on the assessment of Christian and liberal versions of German conservative political and theological thought in the post-World War 2 era, on 5-6 October 2023. The workshop was organized by the Research Institute for Politics and Government of the Eötvös József Research Centre, co-sponsored by the Institute of Philosophy of the HUN-REN Research Centre for the Humanities.

In his opening lecture, the organizer of the workshop, Ferenc Hörcher, director of RIPG and senior fellow at the Institute of Philosophy outlined the background of the research project, summing up the political and theoretical background of post-1945 German conservatism, presenting its most significant representatives and streams. He took stock of the two generations of German conservative thinkers active in this era, all of whom had some connections to the so-called Ritter School of Philosophy in Münster. According to Hörcher, there was also an elder third generation behind them, whose intellectual influence cannot be denied, even though some of its representatives, like Carl Schmitt were excluded from public life because of their collaboration with the Nazi regime.

The following lectures and subsequent discussions dealt with the oeuvres and intellectual relations of thinkers related to these generations of German conservative thinkers.

Balázs Arató (Károli Gáspár University of the Reformed Church) dealt with the concept of tradition in the thinking of one of the most important members of the Ritter School, constitutional judge and legal philosopher Ernst-Wolfgang Böckenförde, who established the famous paradox regarding the importance of pre-political values in the functioning of liberal democracy.

George Joseph Vellankal (University of Szeged), András Jancsó (UPS Ludovika), André P. DeBattista (University of Malta) and Péter András Varga (IP HUN-REN) each dealt with some aspects of the theological thinking of Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI).

Vellankal discussed the significance of natural law reflecting the will of the Creator as a source of norms in Ratzinger’s works.

Jancsó outlined his relation to the different traditions of political theology.

DeBattista analysed the political significance of Ratzinger’s reflections on the idea of Europe.

Péter András Varga examined the possible meanings of the term Entweltlichung used by Ratzinger in one of his speeches to describe the consequences of secularization for the Catholic church.

Csaba Olay (Eötvös Loránd University) analyzed the political implications of the concept of tradition in the works of Hans-Georg Gadamer’s attempt to rehabilitate the role of prejudices in human understanding, and Odo Marquard’s concept of radical finitude and rejection of unnecessary changes.

Tibor Görföl (University of Pécs) presented a comparative assessment of Josef Pieper and Robert Spaemann, highlighting the difference of their view of tradition. While Pieper was only interested in the original texts of medieval authors he interpreted, detaching himself from their tradition of commentaries, Spaemann drew inspiration from the manifold strata of tradition in his critical assessment of modernity.

The focus of Richard Bourke’s (University of Cambridge) keynote lecture was on Joachim Ritter’s relation to the Hegelian tradition. Bourke pointed out the influence of the Hegelian concepts of Sittlichkeit and Versöhnung on Ritter’s thought, and also commented on Ritter’s misunderstanding of Hegel’s views on the French Revolution. According to Bourke, Hegel did not become opposed to the French Revolution as a result of Jacobin terror, but had even before that recognized the derailment of this event of great historical significance towards a tyrannical regime justified by freedom and equality.

Presentations and discussions of the workshop gave opportunity for a vivid scholarly discussion on the manifold directions of post-1945 German Christian and liberal conservative thought, encouraging further considerations and research. Ferenc Hörcher proposed the idea of the publication of a multi-author English-language volume on the topic.


Kálmán Tóth
research fellow
Ludovika UPS EJRC Research Institute for Politics and Government