Ralf Dahrendorf

Ralf Dahrendorf is the author of Class and Class Conflict, and has been Director of the London School of Economics since 1974.

Disjunction and Analysis

Ralf Dahrendorf, 19 February 1981

The proof of a theory may lie in its application, but application means very different things in different corners of the universe of the mind. Expecting an eclipse of the sun at a certain time and place, and for a certain duration, is one kind of application. Producing a silicon chip which programmes certain operations is another kind. But in the social sciences there are no such tangible applications (and we all pay the price for the fact that some seem to believe that economics is different). It is true, I have sometimes dreamt of the weatherman after the television news being followed by a ‘social processes man’ who points at various parts of the globe and describes the unstable and thunderous condition in the Middle East, the stable high-pressure area over the Soviet Union, and the disturbing influence of Atlantic depressions on Europe. However, this is not going to happen, and if it were, it would still be different in kind from the application of theory in astronomy. It would be an exercise in Verstehen rather than straight application.

Social Policy

Ralf Dahrendorf, 3 July 1980

Must social policy be boring? After all, economic policy still keeps people awake while the phoney war between neo-Keynesians and monetarists lasts. Political policy (sit venia verba) continues to excite the adherents and opponents of adversary politics. Educational policy naturally interests the new educational class which dominates the journals and the universities. Defence policy provides a nice dividing line between those who believe that our survival depends on a new generation of Polaris rockets and those who are slightly embarrassed when asked where they propose to get the money from which they want to spend on doing good. But social policy?

Our Sort and Their Sort

Ralf Dahrendorf, 20 December 1979

Every country has its social obsession, and class is undoubtedly the British, or at any rate English, obsession. It is, to be sure, more amusing than some others. When Franz Josef Strauss recently argued that the Nazis had, after all, been ‘National Socialists’ and were therefore closer to the Social Democrats than to him, his extraordinary invective backfired, but the intensity of the public debate that followed showed that the subject was close to an understandable, and deadly serious, German obsession. Perhaps ‘ethnicity’ is now the American equivalent (we are not told how the little boy in the New Yorker cartoon felt when he failed to get an answer from his father to the question: ‘Dad, are we ethnic?’).

Conservative Policy and the Universities

Ralf Dahrendorf, 25 October 1979

Britain’s 45 universities are attractive, efficient, and cheap. In 1978, they attracted 250,000 home and 40,000 overseas students. While Continental countries, notably France and Germany, make great efforts to attract students from overseas by subsidies and quotas, such students seem to come to Britain naturally, and despite all attempts at deterring them. These universities are also efficient: less than 14 per cent of all British undergraduates drop out without a degree. In the rest of Europe, where tutorials and well-structured three-year degree courses are unknown, the figure is nearer 50 per cent, and those who finish often take five years and more to get their first degree. Finally, these universities are cheap: the unit of resource in Britain – that is, the total cost of universities divided by the number of students – is roughly half that of Continental universities; lower salaries, fewer supporting personnel, less equipment and similar factors play a part. (Incidentally, the unit of resource is the only relevant measure of the price of universities: the share of GNP, which is now sometimes quoted, tells a story about the economy, not about higher education.)


Peter Clarke, 21 September 1995

The troubles at the LSE go back a long way. Perhaps they began on the day in July 1894 when Henry Hutchinson shot himself, thus activating the terms of the will that he had made. A loyal if...

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The Open Society and its Friends

Christopher Huhne, 25 October 1990

It is barely more than a year since the Poles installed their first non-Communist government for forty years. The anniversary of the breaching of the Berlin Wall is still to pass. Yet it is...

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Driving Force

Stuart Hampshire, 19 June 1980

It is not disarming when Professor Dahrendorf writes, in the very first sentence of his Preface: ‘The subject of this volume is simple: what are human societies about?’ And later:...

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