INTERVIEW: THE 1920s, 1930s, AND THE PRESENT: NATIONAL SOCIALISM, GERMAN HISTORY, AND GERMAN CULTURE.
The two interviews underlying this text both took place in Heidelberg, on July 2 and 4, 1986. Translated by the editors. The quotation at the end comes from the address entitled 'Von Lehrenden und Lernenden,' delivered on the occasion of Gadamer's receipt of the Jaspers Prize in 1986. It has been published under this title in Das Erbe Europas,' Frankfurt 1989, Suhrkamp. 158-65. The quoted and translated passage is from page 158.
QUESTION. In this last interview, we would like to turn to a different topic, and a difficult one at that. We would like to raise with you some questions regarding the nineteen twenties. We might put the question this way: It is common to see the 1920s treated in the outside world, in North America, for instance, as merely a kind of preparatory stage to the National Socialist experience of the 1930s. We are wondering if you would comment on that optic regarding the 1920s. And secondly, we might ask if you have comments on the different social currents that might have divided the intellectuals among each other or separated the intellectuals from the society at large in the 1920s. Perhaps you would care to comment on either of those points?
GADAMER. Indeed, you are right to draw attention to the confusions of this period. And, in essence, the confusion was this: That the militaristic power of Prussia, which had actually built the German nation, collapsed without warning in 1918, and left us in a situation for which our social structures gave us no preparation. It is true that a democratic republic was constituted. It is true that it had a very well thought out constitution with just one terrible flaw, the Emergency Law that was later used by Hitler. But the confusion was, of course, also between generations, and it is this confusion which is expressed in the infamous legend of the "stab in the back." You can even see that if you think about a figure like the great classical scholar Wilamowitz, the teacher of Werner Jaeger. He was commissioned to inscribe a memorial to the war dead in Berlin and he composed the phrase: invictis victi victuri. This means about as much as "To those who never were defeated -- we who have been conquered shall