- Letter to Károly Kerényi / Draft Introduction to Secret Germany1
Turin, 2 May 1965
Please allow me to trouble you again, only a few days after my last letter, to submit to you the first section of the volume that I have recently been commissioned to write. The book—which I would like to entitle Secret Germany—is intended to study the survivals of certain mythical images in nineteenth- and twentieth-century German culture.2
I feel the need to know your opinion on this introductory "programmatic declaration" of sorts, for you have lived the problems explored therein with the consciousness [coscienza] of a scholar of myth, as well as a non-passive spectator of modern European civilization. In particular, your participation in Thomas Mann's spiritual trajectory leads me to seek your views as an incomparably sensitive witness to the grave moral implications of the work of the greatest German artist of the twentieth century.
You will perhaps tell me that the very nature of your position rules out declarations that would prove too superficial, in contrast with the demands of a personal, intimate spiritual experience, which is not to be publicized. But I know that you are a teacher [un maestro], and as a teacher I have known you. That is why I take the liberty of interpellating you, and I hope to benefit from your understanding.
Along with my gratitude, dear Professor, please receive assurance of my heartfelt and cordial devotion.
Germany's contribution within the frame of nineteenth and twentieth-century European culture has been considered to be so typical, among Germans and non-Germans alike, as to permit the inclusion of 'Germanism' among the analytical categories of the modern history of [End Page 999] civilization. The historical reality of Germanism was an indisputable fact both for those who assumed a polemic attitude against it—from Hölderlin to Nietzsche, Thomas Mann and Lukács—as well as for those who saw in it an ideal to promote and defend—from Fichte to Stefan George, Frobenius and the theorists of Nazism.
The events of the past fifty years have dramatically underscored the need to take a clear position with regard to what is defined as Germanism, and the choice that is thereby faced by all conscientious human beings is above all a moral choice. But one runs the risk of superficiality and unfairness if one sees in Nazism the culmination and emblem of Germanism, thereby subjecting to the same verdict, as though they were responsible for the same faults [colpe], Frobenius and Rosenberg, Gottfried Benn and Goebbels. The dilemma thrown up by the rallying to Nazism of numerous German intellectuals, and even more so by the presence of elements that inspired Nazism in artists that were nevertheless adversaries of that political regime, was already at stake at the time of the First World War, the Declaration of German intellectuals3 and Thomas Mann's Reflections of a Nonpolitical Man. Back then, it was Romain Rolland who, with his famous formula of a trahison des clercs, produced a blanket condemnation of all those who had accepted to share and support the fate of Wilhelmine Germany. But the Second World War, with its excess of horrors and the tragic ambiguity of almost all its protagonists, has painfully taught us to proceed more cautiously. When the guilt becomes so great and the world undergoes such a vast and profound upheaval, even the rigorous application of moral criteria becomes more difficult. Pain sometimes overwhelms the clarity of one's gaze, and the desire for vengeance often supplants feelings of justice.
The experience of the past decades should, alongside so many tragic consequences, also bear some positive fruit: the emergence of an insuppressible need to go deeper, to see in guilt that which is everyone's responsibility because it was accepted by everyone (or almost everyone), albeit with mental reservations to which morality can hardly accord value.
From this investigation—we can foresee this already, and not because of any prejudice on our part—Hitler's comrades will certainly not come out looking less guilty. But it will be...