The Misunderstood Society - New Approaches are needed to understand the Society of the 21st Century


Democracy lives from diversity of opinion. This phrase has been used so often in the past that it now seems like a cliché. But it is not, because the diversity of opinion in question is part of a process that should ideally lead to a balance that produces the compromises that can unite the interests of the majority of the population. At least that is how the basic idea can be described. This diversity of opinion always includes militant extremes, dangerous excesses and also plain nonsense. This is sometimes hard to bear, but democracy and above all the rule of law can, because they are, compared to some constellations of the past, defensive. In the end there should be a balance and never a lack of alternatives.

Thesis, Antithesis, Synthesis

If the two poles of security and freedom now meet in the context of the Corona crisis, this is not a fatal but rather a welcome development, for it bears witness to the vitality of the conflict. If the predominance of one side is threatening, a counterforce is needed to create a balance afterwards. Thesis, antithesis, synthesis - quite in the spirit of Hegel, if one prefers this philosopher. It is a natural and healthy development. A blooming garden full of different plants, in which the weeds can and must be sorted out by the delicate hands of the gardener "constitutional state". The fact that some flowers do not particularly appreciate another - one only has to think here of the oppositional pair "market radicalism/strong state" as an example - does not change anything about the legitimacy of their presence on the diverse meadow.

This is the democratic consensus that should be generally accepted. But why does it seem necessary to emphasize such self-evident facts? Perhaps because they no longer play the role they should? Because it does not seem to have been possible to transfer it into the 21st century and anchor it there? Because the idea itself now finds other conditions? A different society with which it is necessary to communicate in a different way in order to present the advantages of different plants and flowers, or even of the chaotic democratic garden itself? 

Social developments in the 21st century

This ultimately brings us to a central point: the social development of the last decades and in the 21st century. Does it even fit in with old ideas? How is this society actually structured? What makes it what it is? What are the dominant factors? What moves it?

One often hears and reads about a crack, but such a crack suggests that, grossly simplified, there are only two parts that are irreconcilably opposed. It feigns a certain block homogeneity, which in fact does not exist. Society has long since disintegrated into many individual realities, some of which have completely different lifestyles, values and norms. And it continues to erode. So there are not a few blocks, but many. Some of them are louder, some quieter. Conflicts arise, which ultimately lead to so-called milieu struggles, which are far more important today to explain social developments than any class theories.

Parallel to this, carry Behavioral capitalism, the modern stimulus society and the development of the homo stimulus is making a massive contribution to driving forward a process of individualisation. Especially the side effects of the corona crisis are a fuel to expand the power of behavioral capitalism even faster, because it is the behavioral capitalists, the big internet companies, who will be the biggest economic beneficiaries of the pandemic. A development which is hardly ever discussed.

Milieu role and the process of individualisation also collide and trigger an identification dissonance.    

Understanding and learning from social developments

All in all, the society of the 21st century is complex, but in its understanding lies the key to future social peace and democratic balance. Therefore, it seems to be time to complement the existing classification models and theories for social development, because the age of collective individualism has long since dawned. It is not helpful to maintain the illusion that the national or global structures of the 20th century still dominate. The world is moving forward, we should not stop, because otherwise it will leave us behind.


This article by Andreas Herteux is published in various national and international media. He is an author, publicist, economist, social researcher and the director of the Erich von Werner Society, an independent institution that deals with the analysis of social, economic and political realities and develops solutions for a better future.

In terms of content it refers to the following monographs/books:



 Definitions and glossary:

·         Behavioral capitalism

Behavioural capitalism is a variety of capitalism in which human behaviour becomes the central factor in the production and provision of goods and services.

·         homo stimulus

A homo stimulus is understood to be a person who is conditioned in such a way, who is used to a permanent confrontation with highly frequented, short as well as artificial stimuli and who can or wants to evade them hardly or only partially. On the contrary, certain stimuli are often demanded or a corresponding stimulus dialogue is initiated.

·         Collective individualism

Collective individualism is understood to be an individualism in which the individual is embedded in such a way that individual self-development can take place within a framework that is not or hardly visible. Collective individualism is at the same time the designation of a period of time.

·         Milieu struggle

Milieu struggle means that conflicts arise between the realities of life (milieus) of a society (or several societies), which are fought out actively or passively.

·         Milieu Conflict

Milieu conflicts always precede milieu conflicts.

Milieu conflicts are conflicts which are justified when the needs of the people who form the milieu remain partially or completely unfulfilled or when the self-image of the reality of life is attacked.

·         Modern stimulus society

A modern stimulus society is a group of individuals who are exposed to influencing, usually artificially generated stimuli at a high frequency and who have difficulty or difficulty in escaping them, or in some cases do not want to.

·         Identification dissonance

The theory of modern identification dissonance, which presupposes that the erosion of life's realities has become more dynamic and the possibilities for self-development have increased, states that there may be increasing conflicts on the part of the individual with regard to his or her own role as part of a milieu and the personal process of individualisation and embedding, and that these will have a long-term influence on social developments and structures.

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