Wohin treibt die Bundesrepublik?
Neither of these books is attractive. A historian, weighing them lugubriously in his hand and wondering whether he must buy, could mentally run through a few considerations like these: not much new in them, what’s new probably not reliable, both reek of spleen, both heavy going…. But in the end, perhaps with a groan, he will ask the girl to wrap them up and charge them to his account. They are not sources of information, but they are remarkable illustrations.
Two mistrustful old men, the philosopher and the statesman, have demonstrated once again the two poles of mental extremism which drag askew so many German attempts to assess the first twenty years of West German statehood. Younger men—one thinks particularly of Eschenburg and Dahrendorf—are by comparison immune to these extremes, which are the utmost of self-satisfaction and the utmost of condemnation. Both, of course, add up to the need for self-justification, national and personal, which must afflict any German old enough to have exercised authority in the last forty years.
For Karl Jaspers, the picture presented by the German Federal Republic is black and getting daily blacker. Everything is wrong. The state was founded for the wrong reasons, fell under the leadership of the wrong people who in turn gave jobs to even wronger people, adopted (with a very few exceptions) the wrong attitudes in foreign and German policy, and is now sinking irremediably into dictatorship under the weight of its own wrongness.
Millions of West Germans have read this verdict upon themselves—most of the atrabilious passages were serialized in Der Spiegel—and, as a foreigner living in the country, I would suspect that most of them conspue it. Some do so, no doubt, as deaf and blind nationalists, but many reject it because, simply, they do not recognize the portrait. And a discerning few reject it because they know that it panders to the national leaning to hysterical self-defamation, an emotional debauch as mindless and repulsive as hysterical self-affirmation. One cannot help noticing the masochism of those who are already writhing in public under the stern professor’s lash.
IT IS THE PAINSTAKING damnation of everything, detail by detail, which makes Dr. Jasper’s essay not only unhelpful but ridiculous. Parts of his case are cogent enough, if not very new. Arguing his general points from last year’s grand argument on the timebarring of Nazi murders, and from the major Bundestag debate which ended in the decision to prolong the limit for prosecution, he puts forward two definitions: That crime against “Menschheit,” as opposed to crime against “Menschlichkeit,” is a new offense not to be caught within existing laws and penalties; and that the state which on principle commits the crime against “Menschheit” itself becomes a qualitatively new state, a “Verbrecherstaat,” which can in no sense be considered a valid institution with a claim to loyalty. It follows that the successor to such a state must be a totally new creation, a clean break …
This article is available to subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:
Purchase a print premium subscription (20 issues per year) and also receive online access to all all content on nybooks.com.
Purchase an Online Edition subscription and receive full access to all articles published by the Review since 1963.