Politics is more difficult than science

Science and pandemic"Politics cannot be a pure executive authority for science"

The Swiss historian Caspar Hirschi is an expert for experts. He teaches general history in Sankt Gallen and deals with the history of the intellectual and expert in the history of science. Among other things, he wrote a book about scandal experts and published it in the F.A.Z. wrote a full-page article on this, which sparked a debate.

The intellectual as a moral authority begins his career at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries at the latest. The French writer Émile Zola publicly criticized the conviction of the Alsatian captain Alfred Dreyfus. He spoke up courageously. Today, however, experts are no longer on the margins of society, says historian Hirschi.

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Omnipresent experts

"Certainly not when we see how omnipresent experts are in society today. Experts actually have a right to a privileged say in a very limited area, namely their specialty. And then, of course, they also face politics and the media already up with a special feeling for privileged participation. (...) What we have actually seen in the last few decades is the role of the experts, that experts have become more and more assertive, especially in the media when it comes to current affairs and to develop instructions for action, especially in crisis situations. "

Hirschi admits that scientific expertise is essential in uncertain situations, without it we would not be able to act responsibly.

Problems of legitimation

"That is not a problem at all. I see a problem only to a very limited extent precisely where the roles and mix. (...) In my opinion, it only becomes difficult when you take on the role of scientific government advisers, who are privileged If you combine this with public criticism of politics, then you are actually exerting pressure on the political leaders, the representatives of the people, from two sides Legitimation of the role, especially in liberal democracies, there are actually problems that have to be discussed. "

Caspar Hirschi's objection is that the scientist's passive caution has turned into active intervention. He criticizes what he calls the "dedicated expert".

"It only becomes problematic when an institution or body has an unofficial advisory mandate to react to questions from politics. And when experts appear in the media as a warning to politics or as supporters of politics, then they fulfill you have two roles. On the one hand, you are still an official advisor, but on the other hand, you are actually already involved in government policy for legitimation purposes. "

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Politics is not an executive body of science

In addition to science, there are plenty of other legitimate reasons for making political decisions. It is no longer possible to make a clear distinction between a sphere of value-free science on the one hand and decisive politics on the other. "And that is actually a model that no longer does justice to today's collaboration between science and politics." Hirschi insists on the functional description of science in modern democracy, which is important for its existence.

"Scientific expertise is enormously important. Without it, we would not get through a crisis, but there are always other legitimate, normative or interest-related considerations that we have to include and that make it clear that politics cannot be a mere executive body of science. And If politicians can do this in argumentative debate with scientific expertise, I believe that science is much less suspected of wanting to crack down on expertocracy. "

Hirschi wishes to separate the roles more clearly. In a nutshell: as much scientific expertise as possible, but as little political legitimation as necessary. "Science cannot be the sole authority to legitimize political decisions. It becomes overloaded, and experts are also the targets of critical to populist defensive reactions. So it is actually dangerous for science if it makes itself the only authority to legitimize politics itself This is a game that plays along. Science can also be instrumentalized by politics. "

From critical writer to contemporary diagnostic sociologist

Historian Hirschis sees another type on the advance. The representatives of social theory are becoming increasingly important. "What strikes me, especially in the pandemic, is that this very generalist view of things actually comes very strongly from sociology and that, as diagnosers of the times, they somehow slip into the role that writers, i.e. really intellectuals, used to have."