Original Research - Special Collection: Christian Leadership

Character education for public leadership: The continuing relevance of Martin Buber’s ‘Hebrew humanism’

Bernhard Ott
HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies | Vol 76, No 2 | a5936 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/hts.v76i2.5936 | © 2020 Bernhard Ott | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 06 January 2020 | Published: 20 May 2020

About the author(s)

Bernhard Ott, Department of Christian Spirituality, Church History and Missiology, Faculty of Missiology, University of South Africa, Pretoria, South Africa


The need for character education for those in public leadership is of unquestionable importance. Professor Christoph Stückelberger (University of Basel, founder of Globethics) has recently argued that ‘structural ethics’ (constitutions, policies and standards) have their merits, and that ‘there are no virtuous institutions, there are only virtuous people’. Stückelberger calls for the cultivation of virtues, especially the virtue of integrity. In recent decades, character education has received new attention. Those who call for character education most often draw from Greek traditions, especially from Aristotle. This article will explore a different source for the discussion of virtues and character. About 80 years ago, the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber proposed character education, based on what he called ‘Hebrew humanism’, as the foundation of nation-building. I will explore the continuing relevance of Buber’s view of character and character formation, taking his famous Tel Aviv speech on ‘The Education of Character’ of 1939 as a point of departure.


Public leadership; Education; Virtues and character; Character formation; Martin Buber


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