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„Komunismus znamená v pravém a úplném smyslu bludné učení, že nikdo nemá míti žádné jmění, nýbrž aby všechno bylo společné, a každý dostával jenom část zaslouženou a potřebnou k jeho výživě. – Bez všelijakých důkazů a výkladů vidí tedy hned na první pohled každý, že takové učení jest nanejvýš bláznovské, a že se mohlo jen vyrojiti z hlav několika pomatených lidí, kteří by vždy z člověka chtěli učiniti něco buď lepšího neb horšího, ale vždy něco jiného než je člověk.“

Karel Havlíček Borovský ve svém časopise „SLOVAN“ 26.7.1850


„Lepší je být zbytečně vyzbrojen než beze zbraní bezmocný.“

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Jaspers KarlJaspers aversI can only recommend this book. It is constantly reprinted and sold out. J.Š.


In Jaspers' conception, man is only a possible existence; not every man actually becomes an existence: becoming an existence is man's task, his mission, it is not part of his givenness, his nature. Against this mission every man can be guilty, can fail, and in various ways. This is the novelty: the subject is no longer what "is", what endures in the midst of the mutability of life, but someone who happens, who "becomes", who can fail in this, who can be guilty not only towards others but also towards himself, towards his vocation to existence, who blocks his own future and loses himself. Jaspers goes even further and argues: one becomes existent in liminal situations and it is in these that one also fails. This shipwreck, however, is already prepared in everyday life as a transgression.

 Jaspers reversOne could therefore say that man as one who "is here" (in his "Dasein") becomes a man of existence in particular also by becoming aware of his concrete failures, his transgressions. The problem of guilt is therefore primarily and fundamentally an internal, intrinsic matter of every man himself; he who speaks only of the faults of others has not yet grown up, has not really become a man, because he does not know his faults at all (this is bad) or does not want to admit them (this is worse). To be truly aware of one's guilt is to awaken in oneself a man, to become an awakened, new man, to be reborn, as it were, only born again. The philosopher, according to Jaspers, must live up to larger, broader demands than the narrowly professional; he must also demonstrate his integrity in his personal life and, not least, in his social and political responsibilities. And this is precisely impossible without a proper understanding of the situation.

"You must not think that you have done enough with your spiritual achievements. Each one of us is to blame if he remains idle. Passivity knows that it is guilty of every moral failure that neglects the duty to understand to take up any possible activity to protect the vulnerable, to relieve injustice, to resist evil. Those who participated in the racial madness, those who had illusions of construction based on deception, those who acquiesced in the crimes that were already taking place, are not only responsible but must be morally regenerated. Whether this is possible and how one achieves it is one's own affair and can hardly be judged from the outside. Metaphysical guilt is the lack of absolute solidarity with man as man. This solidarity is violated when I watch injustice and crime occur. It is not enough that I prudently put my life on the line to prevent it. If it happens and I am present and remain alive while the other is murdered, then there is a voice in me that makes me realize: the fact that I am still alive is my fault. Thousands of Germans have sought or even found death in resistance to the regime, most anonymously. We who are still alive did not seek them out. We didn't take to the streets when our Jewish friends were taken away and we didn't scream for them to kill us too. Rather, we stayed alive, with the weak, though legitimate, reason that our deaths would do no good anyway. That we live is our fault. We are conscious before God of something that humbles us deeply. Something has happened to us in these twelve years that marks a profound change in our being. We are all complicit in the fact that there was something in the spiritual conditions of German life that made this regime possible. We must take the blame of the fathers. We are politically responsible for our regime, for its actions, for starting the war in this historical situation, and for allowing leaders of a certain type to come to the forefront."

When the book was published in 1946, the American officer overseeing the university thanked Jaspers for it, saying that it was written not only for the Germans but also for the consciences of the victorious Allies.

"It is not right if the victor simply withdraws into his shell again, wanting to be at peace, and only looks at what is happening in the world."

It is reminiscent of the failure of the Western powers to tolerate the Japanese invasion of Manchuria and later the Italian takeover of Abyssinia. He blames England for allowing Mussolini to survive by allowing the resolution of the Geneva Society of Nations to remain a paper matter. And it also failed to take advantage of Mussolini's then willingness to stand up to Hitler. Jaspers recalls how in 1933 the Vatican concluded a concordat with Hitler, how all states recognized the Hitler regime, how the whole world streamed to Berlin for the Olympics, how France endured when Hitler occupied the Rhineland; he even recalls Churchill's shameful open letter to Hitler, as well as how England concluded a naval pact with Hitler. Nor does he forget Stalin's then with Hitler, which enabled Hitler to start the war. He points out that at that time all the neutral states stayed away, did not stick together or fight each other. Jaspers asks, "Are we supposed to admit that we are the only ones guilty?", but then significantly adds: "Our reflections on guilt serve to penetrate the meaning of our own guilt even as we speak of the guilt of others."

For the fundamental problem is not at all something that can be solved judicially, or by some legal or organizational measures. Jaspers is absolutely right: "...for all of us - as individuals - the following is true: we do not want to feel innocent so easily, we do not want to pity ourselves as victims of an unfortunate fate, we do not want to expect praise for suffering, but we want to question ourselves, to clarify relentlessly for ourselves: where I have felt falsely, acted falsely - we want to find fault as far as possible with ourselves and not with things or others..."

It is unimportant that he originally wrote this as a German to Germans. We today must read it as a message from a man addressed also to us personally, if we want to be "people" again in the true sense of the word, that is, to each of us who lived through even the last years of the debacle that still appropriated the name "socialism" and even "democracy". No one can be forced to do this, no one can be controlled; in the end, everyone decides for himself in this matter. The measure of its genuineness can only be measured by Truth, which no one has or ever will have as its "holders" in his power.

Of course, this is not just about us, about the so-called Czech question. It is above all a European question, facing the citizens of all countries and peoples who wish to participate in the preparation and then in the building of the "new Europe". It is the Europeans who today must also admit their enormous guilt and debts to the rest of the world. "Making our guilt clear means at the same time making our new life and its possibilities clear." If this does not happen, it will in fact mean the end of Europe.

From the introduction by Ladislav Hejdánek, 2.7.2006


From paragraph 1. The four concepts of guilt

Moral transgressions are the basis of the conditions out of which political guilt and crime have yet to grow. To commit countless small acts of negligence, of convenient accommodation, of cheap justification of injustice, of unnoticed support for injustice, to participate in the creation of a public atmosphere that spreads confusion and as such only enables evil, all these have consequences that in part also condition political guilt in conditions and events.

The moral sphere includes a vague notion of the meaning of power in human coexistence. To obscure this basic state of affairs is just as guilty as to falsely assert power as the sole determinant of events. It is the destiny of every man to be enmeshed in the power relations through which he lives. This is the inevitable guilt of all, the guilt of humanity. We face this guilt by standing up for the power that makes law, human rights, real. To neglect to cooperate in the structuring of power relations, in the struggle for power in the sense of serving the law, is a fundamental political guilt that is also a moral guilt. Political guilt becomes moral guilt where the purpose of power - that is, the establishment of law, the ethos and purity of one's nation - is destroyed by power. For where power does not restrain itself there is violence and terror which ends in the destruction of life and soul.

There is a state of alienation of the majority from politics. State power is not felt as its own thing. Man has no consciousness of social responsibility, but merely stands politically idle, working and acting in blind obedience. He has a good conscience both in obedience and in non-participation in what the holders of power decide and do. He endures political reality as something alien, trying to deal with it by subterfuge so as not to lose his personal advantages, or he embraces it in blind enthusiasm and willingness to sacrifice.

It is the difference between political freedom and political dictatorship, understood since the time of Herodotus as the difference between the West and the Orient (between Greek freedom and Persian despotism). But it is no longer, as a rule, up to individuals to decide what conditions should prevail. The individual is born into them, happily or unhappily; he must assume what is here and what is real. No individual and no group can suddenly - and not even in a single generation - change this assumption, without which life for all of us is unthinkable.

Karl Jaspers 


Karl Jaspers: the guilt of others


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