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The question of German guilt, First Edition Edition

4.5 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews
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--This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.

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aOne must respect the profundity of [Jaspersas] approach to the problem and his freedom from all evasions.a --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.

Language Notes

Text: English (translation)
Original Language: German --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 123 pages
  • Publisher: Dial Press; First Edition edition (1947)
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0007DYDSU
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.1 x 0.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #10,305,979 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Most philosophy books deal with trying to find the axiom of uniting reality & thought. To Plato the axiom was the "Good" or "Ideal", to Descartes the "Thinking Self", to Kant the "Categories of Thought" etc...this book is completely different. Karl Jaspers started out with a psychiatry degree but after World War I became Professor of Philosophy at Heidelberg, but during the mid 1930's with the raise of Hitler & Nazi Germany, he had to leave his post due to his Jewish wife & anti-Nazi stand. After World war II, he returned to Heidelberg to give a series of lectures dealing with "The Question of German Guilt", this book being a written version of those lectures. Karl Jaspers writes very clean & precise while not using the difficult words like Kant's "Transcendental Manifold" or Heideger's "Dasein" etc...therefore sit back, get a cup of coffee & enjoy another very well written, easy to read philosophy book. Within these lectures Karl Jaspers tries to help his fellow German people to struggle through their current defeat & the Nuremberg trials by giving the reasons behind the raise of Nazi Germany, the dates when certain people either left or were trapped within the new social system, the defeat, & current responsibility of certain individuals or the German people as a whole. Karl Jaspers then lists 4 categories of guilt & degrees of responsibility: Criminal guilt (the commitment of certain acts & judgment by trial), Political guilt (how involved one is within one's government), moral guilt (your own private or circle of friends consciences), & metaphysical guilt (an universally shared responsibility to choose to live rather than protest evil). Each category is then explain in great detail of its pros & cons of legality, & which categories have more of a proof of guilt. I enjoyed the book, I hope you will too.
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Format: Hardcover
The following review is based on the original (1947) English-language edition. What Karl Jaspers means by guilt, in all of its types (see pp. 31-32), has already been discussed by another reviewer, and will not be repeated here.

Jaspers has, correctly or incorrectly, been considered an existentialist. In either case, his work includes a considerable emphasis on personal moral reflection.

Oddly enough, Jaspers has been accused of advocating collective German guilt. This is manifestly incorrect. He writes: "It is nonsensical, however, to charge a whole people with a crime. The criminal is always only an individual. It is nonsensical, too, to lay moral guilt to a people as a whole. There is no such thing as a national character extending to every single member of a nation...Morally one can judge the individual only, never a group...A people cannot perish heroically, cannot be a criminal, cannot act morally or immorally; only its individuals can do so. A people as a whole can be neither guilty nor innocent..." (pp. 40-41)

Going further, Jaspers comments: "Lastly, the phrase [You are the guilty] may mean: `You are inferior as a nation, ignoble, criminal, the scum of the earth, different from all other nations.' This is the collective type of thought and appraisal, classifying every individual under these generalizations. It is radically false and itself inhuman, whether done for good or evil ends." (p. 50)

Valid "collective guilt", according to Jaspers, is actually collective liability: "Every German is made to share in the blame for the crimes committed in the name of the Reich. We are collectively liable. The question is in what sense each of us must feel co-responsible." (p.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book was written not long after the end of WW2, but is still considered a classic among the 100's of books on the German
psyche of the first half of the 20th c. I am a cultural historian, specializing, for nearly 50 yrs, in the art/culture of Nazi Germany.
There are so many 1000's of books on every aspect of that era in Germany (& probably 1000's more to be written) that of course
no-one can possibly read them all. But the really oustanding works on the subject deserve a read by anyone really devoted to
the subject, & I wanted to add Jaspers' contribution. It is not just well-written, but, considering the post-war publication date, a book
that endeavors to deal with German participation (physically or psychologically) in the "Third Reich" quite objectively--not an easy
task back then. Recommended.
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Format: Paperback
Picked up an early English version, started reading it and, I could not put it down until I was done.

Of course I have a love of philosophy - purely recreational reading - and this is one of the best books I've found. I must confess too that I have a fascination with how things in a democratic society could have possibly gone so sideways.

If you share those interests, this is money well spent!
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