chapter  20
German Guilt
(1948)
Pages 8

Right from the start of Schuldfrage,1 Karl Jaspers takes a hard look at something that has not yet been thought, in the strict sense of the word: German guilt. This clear-sightedness has an ethical aim, that of purging the complexes attendant upon the German reaction to the accusation or the feeling of guilt. Hence, from the beginning, Jaspers implicitly makes the assumption that the effective, lived will to clear-sightedness leads to a catharsis and thence to a reconstruction (Wiedergutmachung) of the self and of things. Consequently, he locates the answer to the Schuldfrage in the individual rather than the political sphere. A number of designs converge, in excess of the problem proper, so as to appear to sketch an entire moral (or religious) system, founded on the twin assumptions of a sin against oneself and against God and of the absolute efficacy of the understanding. An initial hesitation between Kierkegaard and Socrates ends up as a strong desire for the concrete. It indeed seems, despite various contradictory formulas, that for Jaspers the concrete is the individual: the individual as self-consciousness.