In 1946, a professor of philosophy, at Heidelberg, lectured on guilt. That year a short book was published, Die schuldfrage : ein beitrag zur deutschen frage, The question of guilt: a contribution to the german question, which is usually rendered, The Question of German Guilt. Karl Jaspers had been a psychiatrist. After the first war, he became a philosopher. After 1933 and especially after 1938, life became difficult. Jaspers had married a jewess. After Dachau was established, he at any day, might become a resident, and his wife...
Jaspers was an existentialist, who was interested in christian mysticism, but did not believe in a personal God. He believed in a transcendence. As a psychiatrist, he studied delusion. As a man, he worried about the power of the modern world to crush men. He was an humanist. One can see how he would not have been a favorite of the fascists, then or now.
He wrote, and spoke, and by doing so ― questioned. There is guilt and liability, personal and collective, and there is responsibility. It is not sui generis, there is criminal, political, moral, and [he is a philosopher] metaphysical. Nuremberg had trials, at the time. The student in Germany must confront this in his culture and education.
Two of the recent award winning movies concerned this: The Reader, from a novel by Bernhard Schlink, and Frost/Nixon, from a play by Peter Morgan. In the former, Jaspers book, is specifically mentioned, at the beginning of a law seminar, as required reading. Several books are read from in the film, that one is not; but it is a thesis of the story. In the latter, there is an admission, by Nixon in an interview with Frost,“Well, when the president does it that means that it is not illegal.”* The ‘it’― that which, Mr. Frost posits, is something illegal. This is the old political theory, that, the sovereign is above the law; it is the opposite of that which is taught, in the american classroom, to children.
After Nixon’s resignation, his successor pardoned him. Gerald Ford lost the 1976 election, in part, due the anger of that move. Much of the nation believed and wanted a criminal trial. Some Republicans wanted revenge. Carter, Clinton and Obama are immaterial, any Democrat, thoroughly irregardless of thought, belief or deed will be attacked, even hysterically ― a priori.
Now, the germans must struggle with morality. The United States has no such compunction, or even scruples. A great deal is because of the essential, calvinist mythology developed here. Such americans, and the United States are uncondtionally, predestined for earthly glory; will not be damned: because, they cannot be; they need partake in no, personal atonement, it has been done for them by God; they can never lose this state. What this means, is they have absolute license and no culpability. History, even chronicles, are devoid of meaning and cannot instruct.
The german has to consider the burden of the nation’s fascist and nazi past. Certain routes of behavior are suspect, and cannot appear to be engaged in. In the United States of America there is a sizeable percentage of people, that will complain and accuse, and condemn the “blame America first crowd” and those citizens whom “hate America”. A german is required by the world to be moral, many americans, merely, and quickly sanctify every action.
Now, Nixon was wily, paranoid and vindictive. His Viet Nam policy and all the spying, dirty tricks and criminality that surrounded Watergate indicts him to history; but the man had a certain gravitas, he did do good things, he had diligence and he is better than any Republican who followed. Perhaps, the greatest evil he did was the promotion, from political oblivion, of GHW Bush, for his spawn, had none of the good qualities of Nixon, and did greater harm to the nation, and the world, in exceeding the degree of criminalities that Nixon invoked, caused and did do.
Just recently, Miss Rice, took a question at Stanford about busheviks and torture, she answered, “by definition, if it was authorized by the president, it did not violate our obligations under the Convention Against Torture.” Yesterday, she was asked, by a fourth grade elementary student a similar question. She responded, “So the president was only willing to authorize policies that were legal in order to protect the country.” She has a remarkable firmness in denial, she will not shake the party line. Those are just two incidents, but will the nation’s youth be undaunted in asking the questions, that, the press and the legal system are silent about?
*This was on the third televised program, seen 19 May 1977, in the story it is at the end.