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The Politics of Academic Freedom: Weber, Westminster and Contemporary Universities

DOI https://doi.org/10.15543/MWS/2016/2/3

Kari Palonen



The practices of debate are for Weber inherent to the very concept of scholarship. My aim in this essay is to offer along this line a parliamentary interpretation for Weber’s writings on the status of values in the research process. My focus lies in Weber’s Wertfreiheit essay and his university writings. I discuss Weber’s concept of academic freedom with Quentin Skinner’s neo-Roman opposition between freedom and dependence and its application to the Westminster parliamentary politics in terms of free mandate and free speech of the members. Weber’s distinction between Wertfreiheit (value freedom) and Wertbeziehung (value relation) rougly corresponds to dualism between debates on the items on the parliamentary agenda and the procedural debates of parliamentary agenda-setting. Although the parallels between parliamentary and academic debate are incomplete, parliamentary analogies to scholarly debates are worth discussing. I further illustrate the parliamentary model of debates and Weber’s applications of it with examples from contemporary university politics. It is not difficult to detect striking parallels to the situation of the Wilhelmine Germany and contemporary tendencies to build new forms of dependence for both agenda-setting and debate.

Kari Palonen is Professor of Political Science (emeritus) at the University of Jyväskylä, Finland. He is editor-in-chief of the journal Redescriptions (Manchester University Press), co-editor of the book series Politics, Debates, Concepts (Nomos Verlag) and co-chair of the Standing Group ‘Political Concepts’ of the European Consortium for Political Research. He has published in English and German on the concept of politics and its history, on the principles of conceptual history, on parliamentary procedure and rhetoric as well as on the political thought and methodology of Max Weber. kari.i.palonen@jyu.fi

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