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The Question of German Guilt


Shortly after the Nazi government fell, a philosophy professor at Heidelberg University lectured on a subject that burned the consciousness and conscience of thinking Germans. "Are the German people guilty?" These lectures by Karl Jaspers, and outstanding European philosophy, attracted wide attention among German intellectuals and students; they seemed to offer a path to sanity and morality in a disordered world.

Jaspers, a life-long liberal, attempted in this book to discuss rationally a problem that had thus far evoked only heat and fury. Neither an evasive apology nor a wholesome condemnation, his book distinguished between types of guilt and degrees of respoonsibilty. He listed four categories of guilt: criminal guilt (the commitment of overt acts), political guilt (the degree of political acquiescence in the Nazi regime), moral guilt (a matter of private judgement among one's friends), and metaphysical guilt (a universally shared responsibility of those who chose to remain alive rather than die in protest against Nazi atrocities).
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Tags: German, philosophy, attention, among, intellectuals