To Do or Not To Do: Inaction as a Form of Action

The Convoco! Edition is an annual book series that collects contributions from our thinkers on Convoco’s annual topics. The edition is published in both German and English.

To Do or Not To Do:
Inaction as a Form of Action

Series: Convoco! Edition

Contributors: Bazon Brock, Gert-Rudolf Flick, Peter M. Huber, Kai A. Konrad, Stefan Korioth, Friedhelm Mennekes, Hans Ulrich Obrist and Marina Abramović, Christoph G. Paulus, Jörg Rocholl, Wolfgang Schön, Roger Scruton, Pirmin Stekeler-Weithofer

Pages: 200

ISBN 978-0-9931953-0-3

Paperback: £19.32

Available here

Price EPUB: £3.99

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Conscious refraining from action is the main theme of this publication. ‘Not-doing’ is not just an alternative to ‘doing’, but – in times, which are characterized by constant fluidity –maybe it is the more demanding for m of action. This is because it takes more power and strength to refrain from action than to do something, if both forms of action are a possibility. To act can not necessarily be compared to/put on the same level with efficient, sustainable action. With the intention of reaching long term goals, it is necessary to refrain from the obvious/ to act in the most obvious ways.
It is not easy to decide between doing and not-doing. One has to be extremely confident to choose not to do something. It is often more challenging to justify.

Through inaction we can create important spaces to think and be in an unrestricted manner. For this reason, one only starts to understand what is truly essential by consciously not-doing something. When talking about inaction, we are talking about the responsibility for the impact of one’s actions.
The main aim is to limit the negative consequences of one’s actions. To refrain from action ideally should be a societal guideline for knowing action’s metes and bounds.


Today, more than ever, practicing inaction can be an expression of freedom. It is always possible to step back—to distance oneself through conscious, intentional not-doing. One must simply make use of one’s freedom and not do what one considers to be wrong.

Corinne M. Flick

Inaction can be seen as the expression of a concentration on the significant values of one’s own life and as a sign of an attitude that testifies to the same respect towards others and their life decisions. But inaction can also be proof of an internal lack of mobility and weakness of will, and an external indifference or repressive tolerance. State inaction may be perceived as a crude offence against public duties of care, or as a noble resistance to the autonomy of economy and society. And state activity is judged by some to be the paternalistic enforcement of benefits, and promoted by others as an expression of self-evident social solidarity. Nevertheless the truth—to echo Bertolt Brecht—is always concrete.

Wolfgang Schön

One very important way in which people can renounce the habit of doing things without also losing the virtue of responsibility is through membership of, and identity with, an institution founded on trust. Institutions have two virtues that individuals lack: they have long-term purposes connected, as a rule, with a conception of the common good, and they can learn from and embody the experiences of many people, including people who have passed away, leaving only their knowledge behind them.

Roger Scruton

How can we turn not-happening as the goal of historical action into an historical event? What does the eventfulness of what has not happened look like by comparison with the eventfulness of what has happened? The problem of representing not-happening leads to the philosophical observation that “not” is not “nothing.”

Bazon Brock

Doing and not-doing are sometimes very close. One can conceal the other. Particularly in politics this can lead to a seemingly active approach masking what is in fact inaction. However it is better to engage in not-doing in order to recognize and take the right course of action.

Christoph G. Paulus

The approach wherein taking action with forwardlooking legislation is the precondition of possible progress is no longer valid as it stands. The alternative of solving a problem by letting things happen, despite there being the option to take action, becomes attractive.

Stefan Korioth

Ultimately, the Federal Constitutional Court in Germany could provide an effective contribution to the better acceptance of legislative and administrative inaction were it to delve deeper into the idea of the additional or cumulative encroachment on fundamental rights. This might also create a more manageable standard for the various burdens which are placed on the citizen by one or several legislators. The whole picture might then come into focus, with the possible result that inaction, when it comes to creating further burdens, is not only the most challenging form of action but the only acceptable form.

Peter M. Huber

If one tries to refine and concretize expectations of corporate social responsibility more and more, the belief might arise that everything is allowed that is not explicitly forbidden. This could result in an unnecessary amount of bureaucracy, publishing voluminous company reports on activities in the area of corporate social responsibility, and “ticking boxes,” and thus elevating form over content. Such excesses would no longer have anything to do with improving the situation, but would merely lead to improved compliance on paper.

Jörg Rocholl

From a global perspective a dynamic economy creates an important side effect. Only a technologically progressive, well-educated, and preferably affluent population can react with sufficient flexibility to catastrophes and changes in living conditions.

Kai A. Konrad

Of course inaction is not always better than action, and never in the literal or trivial sense of merely doing nothing. First, however, it is always part of the framework for evaluating every action. Thus it belongs, as philosophers like to say, to the a priori assumptions and transcendental conditions of every act. Second, in cases where certain typical reactions or actions are obvious, it is often very difficult to resist the temptation to intervene through actions or even just words, and leave things to take their course instead of subjugating these things to one’s own will or keeping them under one’s own power and control. This is often far better and more challenging than any well-intentioned action.

Pirmin Stekeler-Weithofer

In the fine arts the full application of all pictorial resources leads ultimately to a result that is not completely satisfying. Therefore some of these resources must be omitted so that the art work can maintain its mystique. In the field of fine art we can even talk about a commandment of not-doing, that is not applying all available resources. Great artists have always understood how to strike the right balance in this context.

Gert-Rudolf Flick

In silence, man plunges into his foundations and seeks a foothold in the “eternal now.” Here—amid the fullness of time—the empty, sacred space imparts contemplation and stability, and shows the way where being unfolds itself into a question. It is the question as a question. Like silence, the question belongs fundamentally to the human self. Only when the individual looks into himself and redeems himself from himself, can he understand himself—in his location in space and time, in the question about himself and his free- dom. Within spaces understood in such a way new attitudes and their inner commandments can emerge freely, even the enactment of a specific commandment of not-doing.

Friedhelm Mennekes

I see silence as an extremely important condition of every- thing because I think that it is some extension of any deci- sion you have to take. So when you enter the silence of a space and you put this extra silence in your ears you auto- matically are in a different space, in a different zone. You are in a kind of parallel reality and that really helps people to focus.

Marina Abramović



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