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Cultural impoverishment and social disintegration

If, despite a drop in material wealth, Western societies are to retain their functionality and remain democratically governed political entities, then people have to realize that a culture which mainly focuses on expanding wealth is a poor culture. At present, all manifestations of culture such as education and science, politics and law, art and sport, communities and even the family are in the service of the one great aim of growth. Their own worth accordingly takes second place. But this means that they are no longer able or are only partially able to fulfil important social functions. Here are some examples:




Nowadays schools concentrate on areas of study which are aimed at preparing their pupils for business and working life. In the opinion of most German teachers, mathematics, computers, internet or new forms of media belong to the most important school subjects. On the other hand, sport, literature, ethics, religion, philosophy, art and music take a back seat. This concentration on "what is useful for practical purposes" results in a reduction of the social, cognitive, physical and creative abilities and skills of many school leavers. Consequently, 56 percent of the German educational institutions complain about their poor ability to express themselves, 50 percent about their low motivation, 45 percent about the lack of discipline, 43 percent about the insufficient ability to work under pressure, 39 percent about bad manners and 30 percent about the general lack of interest.1

Academic Domain

The universities now also focus on "what is useful for practical purposes". Of the 39 graduate schools which received an award in the first two rounds of the German "Excellence Initiative", only nine of them concentrate on the arts and only six of the 37 "Excellence Clusters" do so.2 From 1995 to 2005, the number of professorships in arts subjects dropped by nearly 12 percent, whereas law, economics and social sciences registered an increase of 5.6 percent.3 However, without intensive research in the arts the universities will not be able to contribute to solving present and future social challenges.


In the field of sport, commercial interests increasingly supplant non-profit-making and social aims.  Many sport clubs have turned into business enterprises with a high turnover. Football clubs such as Manchester United, AS Roma or Borussia Dortmund are limited companies which are quoted on the stock exchange. The Olympic Games have also been more or less entirely commercialised. Meanwhile the revenue of the International Olympic Committee chiefly comes from marketing TV and radio rights as well as from contracts with sponsors.  During the cycle of 2005 to 2008 they amounted to roughly 4.5 billion US dollars. The aim for the current cycle is more than 5 billion US dollars.4 In view of this, whoever would like to talk about "sport in the sense of participating being more important than winning, about activities which bind nations together or about a healthy spirit in a healthy body runs the danger of making a fool of himself".5


Communities also more or less consider themselves as business enterprises. Public services become products and citizens become clients. The latter behave as such and their readiness to serve the public welfare is dwindling.  

Community authorities are conducted as profit centres with decentralized responsibility for resources. That raises their profitability, but at the same time it contributes to former social integration work being no longer carried out. For example, the civic garden and park authorities often used to employ school leavers from special schools. In the course of their commercialisation this became no longer profitable for a community. The result: disadvantaged young people are out on the streets and put the community to other kinds of expense.6


Not least because they try to do justice to the demands of modern business and working life, more and more families are breaking up. In Germany, every third marriage ends in divorce. Every seventh child grows up in a home with only one parent7. 58 percent of 15-year-olds seldom talk to their parents. Following unemployment, separation and divorce are the most frequent reasons for the heavy indebtedness of private persons. Between 1996 and 2006 they caused nearly one-fifth of the increase in the number of low-income children.8 At the same time, children whose parents are separated suffer more often under mental or emotional disorders.



Thus the focus on increasing material wealth undermines social foundations. Social cohesion is crumbling, loneliness, detrimental after-effects of prosperity and diseases of modern civilisation are on the rise. The rising material standard of living which results from the commercialisation of all fields of culture no longer increases the well-being and contentedness of people.

Plea for a cultural renewal

List of references

1cf. Deutsche Industrie- und Handelskammer, education survey 2009, p. 21

2cf. Jörg-Dieter Gauger and Günther Rüther (31 Jan. 2008), Bildung ohne Zukunft? Zur Lage der Geisteswissenschaften, published by Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung e.V.

3According to an analysis of university statistics 2007 by the German Association of Universities

4cf. Bundeszentrale für Politische Bildung (5 Aug. 2008), China Dossier by Jens Weinreich „Die Olympischen Sommerspiele in Peking“

5Prof. Werner R. Müller, professor of business management at Basel University. Edition of the Basler Zeitung of 17 Jan. 1997. "Die Zukunft gestalten - mit dem Homo oeconomicus?"

6cf. Paper by Prof. Dr. Heinrich Mäding at the founding symposium of Denkwerk Zukunft on 10 Oct. 2008

7cf. Statistisches Bundesamt Deutschland, Datenreport 2008: Der Sozialbericht für Deutschland, p. 33-36

8cf. Miegel, M./Wahl, S./Schulte, M. (2008), Von Verlierern und Gewinnern – Die Einkommensentwicklung ausgewählter Bevölkerungsgruppen in Deutschland, June, Bonn. pp. 56 ff.