New publication on the freedom of research: Quelle liberté défendre?

A new article on elitist and democratic interpretations of the freedom of research has been published this week. (English draft version here.)

I just want to point to one argument put forward in the paper. This argument seems even more important today than two years ago, when I initially conceived it: The freedom of research does not presuppose a political abstinence from researchers. On the contrary, their contributions to public debates are one of the key sources for strengthening the freedom of research.

This is obviously diametrically opposed to a popular argument, which, in the German debate, has recently been iterated by Jürgen Kocka. He claims that science risks its autonomy, if it ‘meddles’ in the public debate. In this perspective, the freedom of research is conceded by the generous state in exchange for keeping out of its business. What is more, Kocka’s argument reveals some cynicism, when he explicitly suggests that the severe attacks on the freedom of research taking place in Hungary right now are the consequence of science’s interference in political debates. The flip side of this argument would, of course, be: it’s their own fault.

In contrast, a political justification of the freedom of research, for which I opt, based on arguments elaborated by the philosopher Torsten Wilholt, takes the contested democratic debate as its starting point. It allows for a less state centered foundation of the freedom of research which is in itself an object of political struggles rather than being a gift, received in gratitude.


Adler, David 2019: Quelle liberté défrendre? La liberté de la recherche entre élitisme et participation, in: Mélanie Duclos/Anders Fjeld (ed.): Liberté de la recherche. Conflits – Partiques – Horizons, Paris: Éditions Kimé, pp. 43–53.

Kocka, Jürgen 2019: Forscher, werdet nicht zu Propagandisten! In: Der Tagesspiegel, 2. October 2019,

Wilholt, Torsten 2012: Die Freiheit der Forschung. Begründungen und Begrenzungen, Berlin: Suhrkamp.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.