Between Politics and Suprapolitics
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How to Cite

Between Politics and Suprapolitics: Karl Jaspers and the Flight from Force. (2018). The Political Science Reviewer, 42(1), 119-145.


Despite a life-long weakness affecting his heart and lungs, which importantly determined the course of his existence, Karl Jaspers ended up living a very long life, embracing German history from the year in which Marx and Wagner died (and Bismarck was Chancellor, in the 1880s) until the triumph of the Federal Republic as a political and economic power in the 1960s. In this sense, he witnessed a number of political crises in Germany, most notably the fall of the Weimar Republic, the rise of Nazism, and the challenges attending the reconstruction of German civil and political life in the aftermath of World War II. Jaspers was born in Oldenburg in 1883, and he studied law, psychiatry, and eventually philosophy. Since late adolescence he lived with incurable bronchiectasis, a condition often associated with respiratory and heart failure. At the time, doctors used to recommend lengthy periods of rest to cope with this condition, and this weighed heavily (together, of course, with personal inclination) in his decision to abandon a career in psychiatry and devote himself to philosophy. His lifelong sickness also prevented him from ever being a “man of action,” and for most of his life he was perfectly content with thinking, writing, and teaching. He grew up and lived in the awareness of being severely handicapped in everything but knowledge and his inner spiritual life. Of crucial importance in the development of that life was the company of his wife and philosophical partner, Gertrud, a Jewish woman trained as a nurse with a brilliant mind and strong philosophical interests. The (literally) existential threat posed to them by Nazism had a profound impact on this physically fragile man previously uninterested in active politics, and presented to him political engagement after the war as a matter of life or death. His peculiar situation as internally exiled and overall uncompromised by ties with the Nazis put him at the forefront of efforts to rebuild German higher learning at the end of World War II, under the watchful eye of American occupying forces. This is when he wrote his most “activist” works. He left Germany in 1948, moving to Basel, Switzerland. He continued to be vocal in matters related to German politics after moving, though his influence declined sharply.

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