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2004-07-08

First speech of the new president 

Heinz Fischer was sworn in today as the new federal president of Austria for a period of six years. His speech to the parliament is online [DE]. It was prudent, balanced, integrative - and boring. It does not have freshness or new ideas. The only part that caught my interest is towards the end, when Fischer discusses a letter he got from a young citizen:
A few days ago I received the letter of a young Austrian, Stefan Herr, and he raised the bar for the office of the federal president rather high, by writing, "He who is elected federal president is in the fortunate situation of not having to care about the mechanisms of power any longer. He is in an enviable position, because he does not have to prove anything to anyone, because in his professional career there is nothing higher left to achieve. He is elected by the people and can afford to be responsible exclusively to the people.”

“Dear Stefan”, I will write to him, “in your sentences there is a good piece of truth, and I respect the statement that the federal president is responsible to the people. But this truth is not the whole truth. The people is not or in any case not always a completely undivided unity with completely homogeneous interests. To find the ‘bonum commune’, the general best for the country and a society, is not only not simple, but basically the most difficult art of politics. And the high degree of freedom, which you mention, implies also an utmost of responsibility. Following Schopenhauer one could maybe ask the question: even if the federal president could do what he wants – could he also want what he wants?”
I find wisdom in this that I can appreciate. Over the last few days I have deliberated over another correction to my defense of leisure in the postings from last week. There is such a diversity of individual situations in that matter. Maybe there really are people who have too much leisure for their own good, while others have too little in almost the same material situation. In the experiments comparing attitudes to pay to those to leisure, the test subjects were students at Harvard, but the political debate is mainly about working time in less qualified jobs. Unions seem to have little sensitivity to such differences on the level of individuals, and I'm not sure where in the political process one would find the required readiness for differentiation. If the president is determined to advance such sensitivities in the political system then I'll be ready give him credit for that.



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