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«A. Dirk Moses Whoever thou art... by ceasing to take part... in the public worship of God, as it now is (with the claim that it is the ...»

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A. Dirk Moses 87 not only did Walser rely on Hegel and Heidegger for his contention that the conscience was a radically solitary inwardness, he also invoked the contemporary German theologian Eberhard Jüngel (b. 1934), whose Lutheranism, Brumlik sensed, posited a sinister binary opposition between the God of law of the Old Testament and the spiritual freedom of the New Testament.164 Brumlik presented no evidence that Walser was using Lutheran anti-Judaic categories. More plausible is that Walser shared Luther’s concern about the emptiness of outward religious observance, a concern based less on his well-known antipathy to Judaism than on his critique of Aristotle and the scholastic theology of the Roman Catholic Church, which was, of course, what led him to stand before its authorities to defend his conscience by (allegedly) saying, “Here I stand,” in the manner of Walser himself. Walser had grown up as a Roman Catholic and felt oppressed by the duty of confession.165 In fact, Jüngel’s theology was an important inspiration in a less obvious but important way. Pace Brumlik, it was not his political theology, which explicitly rejected Metz’s call for corporate Christian activism.166 It was his theology of justification. Because personhood was based on intersubjectivity, a community can call on individuals to justify themselves before some duly constituted authority if accused of a crime. Individuals could show themselves to be innocent and thereby justified in the secular realm. But what about the sinner and spiritual realm? Only God, through the sacrifice of his son who gave the gift of life by taking upon himself the sin of the world, could justify the sinner. As might be expected in Jüngel’s orthodox Lutheranism, the sinner played no part in her redemption. She was saved by faith alone (sola fide). There could be no mediator, whether human or semidivine, like Mary. God’s love could not be earned. “It occurs unconditionally—or it is not love. When it has mercy on sinners, God’s love does not turn to those worthy or deserving of love, but to those who have deformed themselves, those unworthy of love, those first made worthy of love through God’s love.”167 What is the relevance of this theology to Walser? The author rejected the proposition that he—or any German—needed to justify himself before anyone—especially the public through the media. Nor did Germans require a mediator, like the media, for their salvation because their secular god—the

164. Brumlik, “Messianischer Blick oder Wille zum Glück,” 128–29.

165. Walser, “Über Freie und unfreie Rede,” 1047.

166. Eberhard Jüngel, “Toward the Heart of the Matter,” Christian Century 108, no. 7 (1991):


167. Eberhard Jüngel, “On the Doctrine of Justification,” International Journal of Systematic Theology 1 (1999): 41.

88 Dilemmas of Identity after the Holocaust nation—took the communal sin upon itself and gave life at the same time in the manner of the “happy exchange” between sinner and God described by Luther. Individuals could not bear the guilt of Auschwitz because the crime was communal; the nation therefore assumed responsibility: “What we did in Auschwitz we did as a nation, and for this reason this nation must persist as a nation.”168 Walser thus came to the opposite conclusion to Habermas and non-German Germans based on the same understanding of German guilt!

Jüngel was not Walser’s only theological source. The Christian existentialist theologian Søren Kierkegaard was another. Walser was drawn to Kierkegaard because the Dane helped him regard the attempt to institutionalize stigma as a campaign to persecute, even liquefy, German nationality. “My holy Kierkegaard said it is unethical to judge the inner life of another by their behavior. A grain of respect for the conscience of others would do us all good at this time. Can one not imagine, please, what Heidegger thought and felt when he discovered the enormity of the Nazi regime in its entirety?”169 In asking for sympathy for the likes of Heidegger, Walser was rehearsing the Kierkegaardian themes about the authentic source of conversion. Becoming a Christian issued from inner struggle rather than participation in so-called Christian society. It entailed making the individual independent of others, a turning inward that led to feelings of anxiety about disordered relationships and a consciousness of finitude, then dependence on God, and finally a leap of faith.

Truth inhered in this interior process rather than in subscription to objectively and publicly articulated dogmas.170 Kierkegaard was led to this existentialist approach by his disgust with contemporary Danish society. The smugness of the established Lutheran Church in Denmark, whose prominent theologians had adopted Hegel’s philosophy of religion and state, conspired against authentic Christian interiority. The newspaper culture of the 1840s in Denmark appalled him, too, because it likewise promoted an abstraction—public opinion— over the integrity of concrete, individual, lived experience, which he thought was the only avenue to truth. Finally, the Christian establishment had made its peace with the liberal egoism of early capitalism and thereby violated the radical Christian message of renouncing wealth and status.171

168. Walser, “Wovon zeugt die Schande,” 443; Walser, “Auschwitz und kein Ende,” 632–33.

169. Walser, “Über Freie und unfreie Rede,” 1054–55.

170. Louis P. Pojman, “Kierkegaard on Faith and Freedom,” Philosophy of Religion 27 (1990):


171. George Pattison, Kierkegaard: Religion and the Nineteenth-Century Crisis of Culture (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 33–34; Karl Löwith, From Hegel to Nietzsche:

The Revolution in Nineteenth-Century Thought, trans. David E. Green (New York: Rinehart and Winston, 1964), 349, 359, 364.

A. Dirk Moses 89 The lessons that Walser drew from Kierkegaard were clear. Freedom was not an expression of what we chose—the official view of the Holocaust— but how we made our decisions. Just as official Christianity distracted from the existential decision for Christ—the inner stages of awakening through dread that are necessary for a true, personal faith—so ritualized Holocaust memory inhibited coming to terms with its meaning. An established civil religion— Holocaust memory—impeded the readiness and ability of Germans to grapple inwardly with Auschwitz.172 Because accepting the consequences of guilt and disgrace was so difficult, Germans required full autonomy. They had to be trusted to wrestle with their consciences on their own, without external moralizing. In fact, Walser insisted, the conscience could not process guilt if it is coerced into conforming to official views. Terms like singularity and relativization—which signified stigma—made Walser “shy back” (schrecke ich zurück).173 He thus bitterly opposed the “instrumentalization of this past for acceptance rituals and political correctness tests, for improvisations of the...

moral organ of the feuilletons. I at any rate prefer to be ashamed without encouragement than with it. I don’t blush on command. Moreover, I believe that we are a kind of people whom something bad like this would leave no peace. One can leave us to ourselves.”174 Just as Kierkegaard had attacked the official, Hegelianized Christianity of his day—in the terms of the epigraph that begins this article—so Walser attacked the “Hegel of the Federal Republic,” Habermas, for publicly questioning the conscience of others.175 And just as, in the end, the individual could choose not to accept divine grace, so non-German Germans and others must be prepared to accept that Germans might not come to the same conclusions as the non-German Germans.

Walser’s Kierkegaardian insights into how conscience functioned have not been sufficiently appreciated in the debate about his Paulskirche speech.

When it is read with his previous, more elaborate statements on the topic, we witness a tortured attempt to confront an unbearable past. So appalled was he by the images of the Holocaust that he admitted to being physically unable to look at them. He could not leave the perpetrator collective to enjoy emotional relief by standing with the victims. He conceded the guilt of his nation and the complicity of all Germans in the genocide. He thought that they should ponder the Holocaust in their consciences, even as he insisted that Germans were

172. As he pointed out to his critics, his target was not education in schools and the like but the media’s incessant depiction of Holocaust images (Walser, “Wovon zeugt die Schande”).

173. Walser, “Über Freie und unfreie Rede,” 1056.

174. Ibid., 1060.

175. Ibid., 1052.

90 Dilemmas of Identity after the Holocaust likely to close off their minds if they felt lectured to about the appropriate feeling to experience.176 And yet, as much as he was prepared to lend Auschwitz a traumatic meaning—one whose excess of meaning exploded attempts to grasp or master it in concepts or narratives—Walser ultimately denuded it of collective implications. In fact, he used the Holocaust to reinforce what he regarded as an attenuating German national consciousness. By insisting that the Holocaust was purely a matter for the individual conscience, no one could gain an epistemological vantage point from which to determine its meaning. “There is no position that I could reach from which I could have a firm view about what was done; or at least one that the victim could acknowledge and the perpetrator bear. Every image of Auschwitz smashes every possible coming to terms [abkommen] with this past, which cannot become one.”177 Consequently, no grounds existed for a public memorialization of the Holocaust;

official memory would entail the imposition of a unitary meaning.

Walser’s Kierkegaardian insistence on the inviolability of individual conscience and its direct relationship with God thus performed an important function. It vitiated the efficacy of rituals and symbols manifesting institutionalized, communal worship, as noted by Brumlik, who himself advocated the Berlin memorial as a form of “liturgical memory.”178 It was all very well for Walser to disparage the official, public commemoration of the Holocaust, but otherwise how was memory of it supposed to be transmitted? The same criticism was made of Kierkegaard’s anti-ecclesiology.179 Communicative memory, lasting three generations, needs to become cultural memory by its concretion in rites, rituals, and institutions for the community to reproduce its identity.180 Walser effectively wanted the Holocaust memory to disappear from German consciousness by preventing its institutionalization as cultural memory.

Even though “we” Germans were irredeemably linked to the perpetrators, such

176. See esp. Walser, “Auschwitz und kein Ende,” 632–33.

177. Ibid., 633; Walser, “Über Freie und unfreie Rede,” 1056 (“There is no normative relationship to this guilt, no standardization of confirmation [Bekennens]”).

178. Brumlik, “Gewissen, Gedenken und anamnetische Solidarität,” 1143–53. Traces of German pietism were also discernible in Walser’s idealization of free communication between authentic individuals, whose community prefigured a redeemed state of wholeness and therefore represented a “secularized eschatology” (Georg Pfleiderer, “Gewissen und Öffentlichkeit: Ein Deutungsvorschlag zur Walser/Bubis-Kontroverse,” Zeitschrift für evangelische Ethik 4 [1999]: 254).

179. Pojman, “Kierkegaard on Faith and Freedom.”

180. Jan Assmann, “Collective Memory and Cultural Identity,” New German Critique, no. 65 (1995): 128.

A. Dirk Moses 91 a memory was designed as the nation’s glue rather than its solvent. It was a perversion of memory, therefore, for the Holocaust to be used to undermine national solidarity. What was primary for Walser, then, was not consciousness of the Holocaust but national consciousness. The nation bore the burden of Auschwitz, but that burden had no negative implications for the nation, whose existence he took as a self-evident good because the nation was a surrogate god.

Walser’s elevation of the nation to divine status was by no means orthodox Protestantism. His “relationlessness,” his existing purely for oneself, oblivious to the needs of recognition of others—such as the descendants of the Holocaust’s victims—exemplified a sinful alienation from God and his creation.181 Moreover, his hypostatization of the solitary conscience ignored the tradition in Lutheran theology that taught that the individual required communal guidance because the unsaved conscience was corrupted by sin. The distinction between an informed and a captive conscience was the difference between its objective and subjective dimensions. To avoid the solipsism of the latter, the individual was bound to account to the deliberative community of his or her cobelievers.182 In this respect Walser’s use of Kierkegaard can be contrasted with that of Habermas. Whereas Walser wants to protect the individual from official Holocaust commemoration, Habermas seeks to inure him or her to the seductions of nationalist modes of identification that he sees emanating from elites like Walser.183 Walser was not alone in feeling lectured to about the Holocaust. Even the German Jewish journalist Henryk Broder complained about the memorial in Walserian terms, writing that he “hated architecture that tells him how he should feel.”184 It seems virtually forgotten that Karl Jaspers’s Die

181. Cf. Jüngel, “On the Doctrine of Justification.”

182. Martha Ellen Stortz, “Solus Christus or Sola Viscera? Scrutinizing Lutheran Appeals to Conscience,” Dialog: A Journal of Theology 44 (2005): 146–51.

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