Year XXXI, 1989, Number 1, Page 47
ON THE JENNINGER CASE
When one becomes acquainted with the whole text of the speech given by Jenninger on the 50th anniversary of the “Kristallnacht,” the charges made against him of being ambiguous about the Nazi regime’s responsibilities, or even almost justifying them, seem to be absolutely disgraceful. And Jenninger’s instant resignation, more than just a graceful gesture, of an elegance which is hard to find, becomes a slap in the face for a press with an inclination towards libellous slander and for a confused political class. For this reason the Federalists not only wish to express their solidarity to Jenninger, but also to congratulate him as a winner, not as a loser.
Our judgement of the press does not require any explanation. But why should the political class be “confused?” The answer is not difficult. There is an idol in Germany that is not only legibus solutus, but escapes even historical judgement. It is the German nation-state. The fact that the Germans, in practising this cult which is actually pagan, keep good company with all those who identify nationality with the state, does not modify the essence of the problem. Whoever besmirches the image of the nation-state incurs the most serious of crimes, treason, if not in fact the most abominable of sins, blaspheming God’s name, as if the ethics of the polis still existed and Nazism had not openly shown what consequences are brought on by denying the ethical system of the West.
Jenninger has committed this crime and sin. Here is some evidence: “Our history cannot be shared between the good and the bad, and the responsibilities of the past cannot be divided according to an arbitrary geographical definition of borders created after the War… Everybody could see what was going on, but most people looked the other way and kept quiet. Even the Church kept quiet… It is true that everybody knew the Nurimberg laws, that everybody could see what was happening in Germany fifty years ago and that deportations took place in daylight.” And, as “to the end of time mankind will remember Auschwitz as part of our history, of German history, it is pointless to ask to ‘definitely shut away’ the past. Our past will never find peace nor will it ever go. And this regardless of the fact that the younger generations are not guilty… Only by keeping our memories and past alive as part of our identity as Germans will we, both old and young, be able to free ourselves from the burden of history.”
However, these extremely clear words also mark the limit of Jenninger’s analysis. It is right, in fact, to say that not only Hitler and his cronies carry the responsibility for Nazism; but is it also right to conclude that Auschwitz is an unforgettable part of German history, a part that contributes to defining its identity? Obviously this is not true. If it were, we would have to admit that Nazism is also part of the identity of those who, like Dietrich Bonhofer, were executed by the SS or who, like Thomas Mann, chose exile. And that it is also part of the identity of the inhabitants of Zürich, even of those who offered hospitality to the victims of Nazi-fascism. To admit this is clearly contrary to common sense, even though common sense is usually powerless against ideological myths, however anachronistic they may be. Among these ideological myths, the anachronistic myth par excellence is that of the nation, arbitrarily identified with the political community, or even better, as the boundaries of political communities change in time, with that particular political community which is the “nation-state.” In Jenninger’s analysis this is very clear. So the Germans, those Germans who according to Jenninger should forever bear the responsibility of Nazism, are supposed to be those who lived, live and will live within that territory which more or less coincides with that of the state founded by Bismarckat at the end of the 1870 Franco-Prussian conflict. The fact is that these are not the “Germans”; they are simply “some Germans” with different experiences from those of other German-speaking groups. Supposing there is only one “German history,” that which according to Jenninger defines the Germans’ identity, in any case it would be different. It is a statement which can be denied only on condition that we deny that the German nation, as Kulturnation, existed before Bismarck’s state and had much wider dimensions and very different characteristics.
The truth is that at Versailles, in January 1871, a state was born, the German “nation-state”, a state which founded its legitimacy on the German nation (a cultural, linguistic, ethnic fact, in other words not political in itself), instead arbitrarily identified with the people of that particular German state (a political fact, the citizens of that state) and thought of as natural, as if races existed. It is this ideological representation which induces Jenninger to consider that there is a German history to be imputed only to the Germans (as if it were possible to understand Kant without Rousseau), and that there is only one history of only one Germany (as if it were possible to find any continuity not only between Prussian and Second Reich politics — continuity which is undeniable but also between the politics of Bavaria, Rhineland, the Palatinate and the over three hundred states which made up the First Reich after the Westphalia peace and that of the Germany of Bismarck, William II, Weimar and Hitler; and as if it were possible to explain Frederick the Great or William II without considering the European system of states). And it is always this representation that leads Jenninger to believe that the boundaries of the first history (that of the Kulturnation) coincide with those of the second (the history of the state founded by Bismarck).
This non-existent history is founded on the nationalism of which Jenninger too is a victim. It is an obstinate but fragile ideological veil. To fully realize this, it is enough to consider that that representation of the German nation, born with the German nation-state, is bound to die the very day that the Germans become aware that the national political formula belongs to the past and found its historical death at the end of the Second World War, with the internationalization of the productive and social process, and the birth of the world system of states. That day, which will mark the end of the ruinous myth of the nation-state, in other words of the myth which has tied nation to state (and therefore to power politics), the Germans will understand that the state, and not the nation, is the subject of power politics and its atrocities, that their national identity, outside the crazy age of nationalism, has never been defined exclusively by membership in the political community, and that in fact this identification with the political community is marginal with respect to other identifications with a very different significance, such as those which would bring them to trace their roots in a language and culture expressed by Cranach and Holbein, Bach and Beethoven, Holderlin and Goethe, Kant and Marx, Mommsen and Ranke, and even Kafka and Lukacs.
This does not at all mean that the “question of the blame” for what was done has been liquidated. On the contrary. This means simply refusing to judge an awful past with the national prejudices which caused it. When this is done, it will be clear that it was not Germany, but the European system of States that was the driving force behind the European historical process in the modern age. This system has been cleverly described by Ludwig Dehio as a situation characterized not only by recurring hegemonic attempts always contrasted by the forces of the system itself trying to redress the balance, but which has shown also the demonic nature of power every time the hegemonic force has abandoned the cautious path of raison d'état and has fallen into the abyss of the lust for power. From the first point of view, Hitler's hegemonic attempt was not different from those of Philip II, Louis XIV, Napoleon and William II. If its demonic aspects were so evident as to seem of a different nature, it is only because Hitler was able to avail himself of the explosive mixture of nationalism and modern destructive technology and because, as the European system of states was by then on its knees, he had to face the new great powers of the world system of states. And it was this very interlacing of elements which exalted the lust for power to reach a demoniac folly that mankind had never known before then. According to Dehio, therefore, Germany can be compared to a tragic Magdalene, victim of a fate which was mostly predestined and which led her, more and more obstinate and blinded, to final destruction.
Dehio's is a great lesson, a lesson that, by rightly ascribing the European catastrophe to nationalism, redeems the Germans not personally involved in Nazism from a sin which is not theirs and instead makes them share a responsibility which is common to all Europeans: that of not having done, and of still not doing, all that is necessary to put an end to the fateful interval of nationalism and to open the way to the new course of federalism, transcending — here and now — the political formula of the nation-state and founding the European federation: substantially, the responsibility — which also concerns Jenninger — of not having done, and of not doing, all that is necessary to defeat, with the culture of the nation-state, the culture of war and to start off the culture of peace, a culture which involves both the future to be built and the past to be understood.
Luigi V. Majocchi