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The Weimar Republic

Dubiel: There's a conventional method of interpreting the biographies of left-wing intellectuals. The resistance to the Weltanschauung transmitted by paternal authority is explained psychoanalytically by the Oedipus complex. Does this fit in your case?

Lowenthal: Actually, my complicated relationship with Judaism is a classic illustration of the Oedipus complex. My grandfather on my father's side was a strict orthodox Jew who taught at a Jewish school in Frankfurt. This school, the Samson Raphael Hirsch Schule, was named after the founder of German-Jewish Orthodoxy. He also ran a boarding school where orthodox families from all over Germany sent their sons. Here the parents could be sure that the kosher laws would be strictly observed and that the boys would lead the life of pious Jews in accordance with the religious precepts. But my father took exception, and this really did have an oedipal significance.

Dubiel: So your father rebelled against your orthodox grandfather?

Lowenthal: My father wanted to be a lawyer. But my grand-

This chapter and the four that follow, collectively entitled I Never Wanted to Play Along, were originally published as Leo Löwenthal, Mitmachen wollte ich nie: Ein autobiographisches Gespräch mit Helmut Dubiel (Frankfurt am Main, 1980). Chapter 1 translated by Ted R. Weeks.


father—according to my father, at least—refused to grant him permission because he thought this would mean that my father would have to work and write on the Sabbath. Consequently, he prevailed on my father to study medicine, which my father did, though his heart wasn't in it at all. But then he took his revenge—either consciously or unconsciously—when he later became totally "free": not just irreligious, but decidedly antireligious. He was a convinced adherent of the nineteenth century in the sense of a mechanistic-materialistic, positivist way of thinking. My first "serious" readings were from Darwin, Haeckel, and a popular philosopher of the Darwinist school, Carneri. My father encouraged me to read Schopenhauer. In short, the whole atmosphere at home was secular, enlightened, and antireligious. I hardly knew anything about Judaism, for example about Jewish holidays—with the exception of Yom Kippur, when we had a particularly good dinner at home because a cousin of my father's, who didn't "live religiously" but lived in a kosher-run boarding house, did not get anything to eat on that day. I still remember when they divided us up for religious instruction in sixth grade. When the teacher told the Protestants to gather in one part of the classroom, the Catholics in another, and the Jews in a third, I remained seated—I really didn't know what religion I belonged to!

Dubiel: Later in your life that changed considerably for a time, in the form of an "about-face," a return to Judaism. Not in the sense of a religious renewal, but rather as a political identity mediated through Jewish tradition. Can it be put this way?

Lowenthal: Well, it didn't happen quite so quickly. At first the Jewish element was introduced very indirectly. Through the influence of Luise Habricht, an older educator and close friend of Walter Kinkel, a professor of philosophy at the University of Giessen, I became involved with the Marburg neo-Kantian school and consequently with Hermann Cohen. Although Hermann Cohen was a


liberal Jew, he nonetheless had a very intense relation to Judaism and to Jewish religious philosophy, which was imparted to me through exchanges with various intellectual friends I had at that time. But at first that was still very abstract. This changed when I began my studies at Heidelberg in 1920 and joined certain groups of Zionist and socialist students. At that time, Zionist students were politically on the left. They stood in direct opposition to the KC [Kartell-Convent der Verbindungen Deutscher Studenten Jüdischen Glaubens; Syndicate of Organizations of German Students of the Jewish Faith], the assimilationist student organization, which was an offshoot of the Central Association of German Citizens of Jewish Faith [Zentralverein Deutscher Staatsbürger Jüdischen Glaubens]. I hated the latter because I saw them as fellow travelers of German nationalism.

Dubiel: The term "assimilationist," then, refers to those Jews who believed in total integration into the German nation?

Lowenthal: Yes, but only now do I realize what I hated about that assimilationist group. Not that they as Jews wanted to be human beings like everyone else, but that their convictions were essentially capitalist. It was most likely the socialist-revolutionary factor that caused me to cast my lot with the Zionist students, whom I generally liked as individuals. It's also characteristic that in 1923 I married a woman from Königsberg who came from a relatively orthodox Jewish family. A sort of Jewish cult was forming around the charismatic Rabbi N. A. Nobel in the circles I was involved with in Frankfurt and Heidelberg. He wasn't technically orthodox, but conservative and well-educated in philosophy. He attracted a following of many young—but not only young—talented Jews. Under the influence of this Jewish atmosphere, which also contained some philosophy, socialism, and even a little mysticism, there developed in my young wife and me the desire to live a conscious Jewish life. She was already a Zionist (as was the rest of


her family); I myself was amiably disposed toward Zionism, but only half-heartedly. I can come back to that later. We decided to keep a kosher Jewish household, to go to synagogue, and to observe Jewish holidays. Of course, this had a catastrophic effect on my father, who took an immediate dislike to my wife because she came from Königsberg (for him, that was Russia!)—he automatically considered any Jews who lived east of the Elbe Ostjuden, which was quite absurd, of course. But he didn't like any of this Jewish atmosphere, and when we began to keep a kosher house—I still remember it very well—he broke out in tears of anger. It was a terrible disappointment for him that his son, whom he, the father, the true scion of the enlightenment, had raised so "progressively," was now being pulled into the "nonsensical," "obscure," and "deceitful" clutches of a positive religion. Well, the kosher household didn't last very long, but the relationship to Judaism and to Jewish questions and issues remained central in my life for quite some time. You know that my first publications were essentially concerned with Jewish problems. The very first is an essay, published in a Jewish student journal, on Jakob Wassermann's book My Life as German and Jew .

Dubiel: In the early twenties you engaged in political, pedagogical, and organizational activities that illuminate your relationship to Judaism at that time. I'm thinking first of all about the circle around Rabbi Nobel, then about your work on the Advisory Board for Jewish Refugees from Eastern Europe [Beratungsstelle für Ostjüdische Flüchtlinge], and finally about your work together with Ernst Simon on a Jewish weekly. Who actually belonged to the Nobel circle?

Lowenthal: A few names: Martin Buber, Franz Rosenzweig, Siegfried Kracauer, Erich Fromm, Ernst Simon, and several others. The names of the most important members of this circle can be found among the contributors to a festschrift for Rabbi Nobel that appeared in 1921. These names convey a good impression of the sort


of Jewish renaissance that developed around Nobel and that later found its institutional continuation in the Jüdische Lehrhaus.

Dubiel: There is always mention of "the circle around Rabbi Nobel." What was this actually, in more precise terms? In our sociological jargon, was it a loosely organized group of intellectuals [intellektuellenbund ], or was it some sort of cult or sect?

Lowenthal: In a certain sense it was a cult. This man was a rabbi, originally from Hungary, who had also studied philosophy. He knew Hermann Cohen and represented a curious mixture of mystical religiosity, philosophical rigor, and quite likely also a more or less repressed homosexual love for young men. It really was a kind of "cult community." He was a fascinating speaker. People flocked to hear his sermons. He kept his house open to all, and people would come and go as they pleased. Of course, that was a godsend, especially in the chaotic times after World War I. If I were to place this whole story about the Nobel circle in a broader context, namely that of my somehow politically motivated return to Jewish tradition, I would say that it was the Zionist, anti-assimilationist impulse that first motivated this new identification. Then came, encouraged by these groups, the acceptance of a Jewish style of life, and very soon thereafter, professional activity in Jewish organizations.

Dubiel: Before you talk about your work with the Advisory Board for Jewish Refugees from Eastern Europe, can you explain what the Jüdische Lehrhaus was?

Lowenthal: Well, the Jüdische Lehrhaus in Frankfurt was a kind of Jewish center for adult education [Volkshochschule ]: its spiritual fathers were Franz Rosenzweig and Martin Buber. The Lehrhaus also saw itself as a secularized form of Jewish-Talmudic doctrine. Today I can't even say whether all the lectures there concerned Jewish themes. I myself can remember having given a few lectures on Buddhism. Martin Buber lectured there, Ernst Simon, and others. Franz Rosenzweig was already too ill to actually take part in the


lectures. The Jüdische Lehrhaus in Frankfurt remained in operation until the Nazis came to power in 1933.[1] My association with it became progressively looser in the late twenties. For that reason I can't give any reliable information about its later development.

Dubiel: Perhaps you could talk about your work with the Jewish social welfare agency.

Lowenthal: Yes, my job with the Advisory Board for Jewish Refugees from Eastern Europe—I got this job through my friend Ernst Simon, who was very influential in Jewish circles in Frankfurt. I had the pompous title of Syndikus [trustee] of this advisory board. It was also a quasi-juridical position. The board's main purpose was the following: as a consequence of the upheavals of the war and the postwar period, progressively more Jews were coming to the West—not just from Russia but also from Poland and from the Polish areas of Upper Silesia. Most likely they left partly because of manifestations of anti-Semitism there and partly because they hoped for a better life in the West. So, there was a great exodus of mostly illegal emigrants. These people—often naïve to the point of simplicity—generally arrived without papers, without a passport or identity documents. They wanted to settle in Germany and work there, which was in most cases impossible, although we did manage, a number of times, to find them—especially the younger people—jobs as apprentices to merchants or artisans. Mainly, however, we had to try to get these people to France, a country that, as you know, was traditionally more open to refugees than Germany. But we often had to try to obtain at least temporary residency permits in Frankfurt for our clients. On the one hand, I had to see that money was at our disposal; on the other, I had to deal with local authorities, especially with police headquarters and the head official in the alien registration office. That was very interesting. I remember this gen-


tleman perfectly. His name was Polizeirat Schmidt, and he looked like Hindenburg. For some reason he took a great liking to me. We always had the best of relations. In general, whatever I requested, he approved. But I'm sure that good old Herr Polizeirat Schmidt didn't always act only out of goodwill, but also because he was obsessed with the anti-Semitic legend of the vast power of Jews, especially at that time in Frankfurt. This attitude, nourished by a deep-seated misconception, but very advantageous for us, functioned so well that I often had to make concessions; that is, I had to take less than he wanted to give, because other wise his subordinates would certainly have created insurmountable difficulties.

Dubiel: Was this organization a local phenomenon limited to Frankfurt or a part of a wider net?

Lowenthal: It was part of a broad system. Its organizational support was the Jewish Workers' Welfare Office [Jüdisches Arbeiterfürsorgeamt] in Berlin. But the name—"Workers' Welfare"—shouldn't be taken too seriously for this Jewish organization. After all, there weren't many Jewish workers in Germany. Essentially we dealt with immigrant Jews from the East, and this had the effect, of course, that the Workers' Welfare Office wasn't a popular organization because nobody wanted to identify with Eastern Jews. The Jews who had lived in Germany for generations preferred to identify with the Germans. An especially characteristic phenomenon for this Jewish type of social help is the following: imagine that for some reason we wanted to send an individual or a family to Berlin, Hamburg, or Paris. The most obvious thing to do would have been to buy a train ticket for the destination, say, Berlin. Of course, this would have been possible only if there were a national Jewish parent organization that administered the monies of the individual Jewish communities in a national fund. But precisely this kind of fund didn't exist because all the small Jewish communities on the road wanted to contribute their own empirically identifiable bit of compassion. So, if I wanted to send the man to Berlin, I gave him a


ticket for, say, Kassel. The community in Kassel gave him another ticket that got him to Hanover, in the welfare jurisdiction, so to speak, of another Jewish community, and so on.

Dubiel: An interest in palpable, concrete charity to one's neighbor, as it were, not in an abstract principle of charity that would be paid into the central fund of a national organization.

Lowenthal: Yes, that is an expression of the Jewish tradition of mitzvah, the duty to do good deeds. And they wanted to do these good deeds in a concrete and palpable way. All my organizational attempts with the Berlin branch to make funds centrally available failed. But in spite of that, in many cases we did some good and interesting work. As I said, sometimes we managed, especially for the young Jewish emigrants from the East, to provide training and occasionally a job as well. Many of them later emigrated to Palestine.

Dubiel: Before we go into the fundamental problematic of the relationship between Jews and Germans, I'd like to hear something about your work as editor at the Jüdische Wochenzeitung [Jewish Weekly] with Ernst Simon. When was that, actually?

Lowenthal: Around 1925. Ernst is now a highly respected professor emeritus of pedagogy in Jerusalem.

Dubiel: Can it be said that this was a Zionist newspaper?

Lowenthal: Yes, I suppose it was a Zionist newspaper, but with the quite naïve ambition of being an internationally known publication, which we of course weren't. We published our own and others' articles about the international situation, especially on international problems and Jewish politics, a lot on cultural politics, book and theater reviews. Above all, the newspaper was concerned with specifically Jewish matters. It was a modest enterprise; financially it was never a success. I finally left because I increasingly disagreed with its Zionist tendency. That is, inasmuch as I came to see Zionism no longer as an oppositional movement but rather as a short-sighted political reality, stripped of all messianic ideas and


robbed of its utopian elements—through this policy of settlements in Palestine. . . .

Dubiel: What was your stand on this policy?

Lowenthal: Negative, negative. It was my impression that the settlement policy carried out by the Zionist central organization was very inconsiderate toward the Arab population. At that time I wrote an article in our newspaper entitled, "The Lessons of China." I referred to contemporary events in China and wrote that dealings of these Jewish organizations with the rich Arab landowners would result in the creation of a great mass of discontented, landless Palestinian peasants and rural poor, a development that sooner or later would have negative consequences for the entire Zionist movement. As it turns out, I wasn't all wrong. After that I broke with the movement and stopped writing for the newspaper, particularly since I was by then starting with my own Marxist-oriented literary-sociological studies and on the verge of working for the Institute of Social Research.

Dubiel: If we were to draw up a kind of balance sheet for this period, could one say that this turn to Jewish tradition, aimed against your father, was less religiously motivated than . . . what should I call it . . . politically? Or is that putting it too narrowly?

Lowenthal: "Political" isn't the right word for it. I would simply say oppositional. I was a rebel, and everything that was then oppositional, that is, to quote Benjamin, on the side of the losers in world history, attracted me as if by magic. I was a socialist, a supporter of psychoanalysis and of phenomenology in neo-Kantian circles. I took a job that brought me in contact with Eastern European Jews, something that, for example, was extremely embarrassing for my father and for Adorno's. . . . It was nothing short of a syncretic accumulation in my brain and heart of aspirations, tendencies, and philosophies that stood in opposition to the status quo. I still vividly remember reading Lukács's Theory of the Novel and his indictment of "the infamy of the status quo." This formulation


summed up my fundamental feelings—namely, to hate and reject as "infamous" all elements of the status quo. This was deeply rooted in me.

Dubiel: I'd like to shift from this group of questions to the problem of anti-Semitism.

Lowenthal: Perhaps I should quickly add one story that is very characteristic of this entanglement of intellectual and Jewish traditions, namely, the development of psychoanalysis during the Weimar Republic. Throughout Europe, but especially in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, psychoanalysis was extraordinarily esoteric. I don't want to elaborate on that here. I first came into contact with psychoanalysis through Erich Fromm, a friend from student days. My then-marginal contact with the psychoanalytic movement was mediated through the relationship that developed between Erich Fromm and the woman who was later to become his wife, Frieda Reichmann. Frieda was a psychiatrist in a sanatorium near Dresden. In 1924, or maybe 1925, Frieda moved to Heidelberg, where she started a psychoanalytic treatment center. My wife Golde and I joined her and Erich Fromm there. The sanatorium was a kind of Jewish-psychoanalytic boarding school and hotel. An almost cultlike atmosphere prevailed there. Everyone, including me, was psychoanalyzed by Frieda Reichmann. The sanatorium adhered to Jewish religious laws: the meals were kosher, and all religious holidays were observed. The Judeo-religious atmosphere intermingled with the interest in psychoanalysis. Somehow, in my recollection I sometimes link this syncretic coupling of the Jewish and the psychoanalytic traditions with our later "marriage" of Marxist theory and psychoanalysis in the Institute, which was to play such a great role in my intellectual life.

Dubiel: Do you mean in particular Fromm's studies and essays on an analytic and materialistic social psychology?

Lowenthal: Yes.

Dubiel: Leo, I'd like to ask you a little about your own personal everyday experiences of anti-Semitism during this time. I'm re-


minded of two contradictory impressions. In conversations I've had with Marcuse, with Horkheimer, and with you, everyone emphasizes, even with a certain pride, that your group around the Institute of Social Research was able to foresee the disaster of 1933 because of an alert historical-political sense and relevant research. Both you and Marcuse have frequently told me that although you knew about the phenomenon of anti-Semitism, you were seldom directly victimized by it. You probably know Franz Neumann's radical thesis, that before Hitler's rise to power in 1933 the German population was the least anti-Semitic in all of Western Europe. How do these two facts fit together: on the one hand, the quite clear presentiment of the rising specter of national socialism, and on the other, this trivialization—I don't know what else to call it—of anti-Semitism in the late Weimar Republic?

Lowenthal: I've probably always overstated or understated this point. Let's just say it was generally very clear to me that I was a Jew. My parents' social circle was limited essentially to Jews. I can scarcely remember a non-Jewish friend of my father's. And later, my closest friends in school and at the university were almost all Jews.

Dubiel: When was the first time that you came physically into contact with anti-Semitism?

Lowenthal: Well, it was well known that in Wilhelmine Germany a Jew couldn't become an officer and that it was difficult to become a professor. But personally, we hardly experienced it at all. To answer your question, though, I remember Kiesstraße in Frankfurt, the street around the corner from where I lived. That was a "proletarian" street; workers lived there. And if you walked along Kiesstraße, you had to be pretty brave, because it could happen that one of those unfriendly young scamps would yell "Yid!" at you. That was actually the extent to which I had personal contact with anti-Semitism. We always noted with a certain amount of humor that there was a tiny hotel in Frankfurt—I've forgotten its name—that had a sign, "Jews not welcome" or "Jews not allowed." And


there was a little spa, Borkum-bei-Norderney, that was "reserved" for anti-Semites. But we didn't take all that seriously. That was vulgar anti-Semitism. The people in Borkum or in that hotel in Frankfurt were pathetic repressed, petit-bourgeois nobodies.

Dubiel: At some point later that must have changed. At the end of the twenties, did anti-Semitic attacks become more noticeable in everyday life, commensurate with the growing strength of the National Socialist movement?

Lowenthal: Yes, there were people who acted more shamelessly. But these were isolated incidents. I'll tell you a few such episodes. In 1929, I think it was, I was with my friend Siegfried Kracauer in Oberstdorf in Bavaria. This area was particularly anti-Semitic—you know, it started very early in Bavaria. I remember once going through the dining room of our hotel with a cigarette. I asked someone for a light, and he said no. It was obvious that he didn't want to light a Jew's cigarette. The other episode I'm thinking of occurred at the annual Convention of Germanists; I believe it was 1931 in Munich. I went into one of the halls where a lecture was to take place later. Hardly anyone was there except Hans Naumann, a then well-known specialist in Old High German from Frankfurt. Later he became a leading Nazi in Bonn. At the end of the twenties Hans Naumann and I knew each other well; we were practically friends. He had tested me in my exam for my secondary teaching credential, and I remember him holding me up to his students as the example of a well-trained Germanist because I could translate the first stanza of the Hildebrandslied into all Franconian dialects! So, I amiably went up to Hans Naumann to shake his hand. Without offering me his hand he asked me, "Herr Löwenthal, where is the men's room here?" I turned right around and left him standing there. It was completely clear that he no longer wanted to have anything to do with Jews. And I have one more story. This was around the end of 1932, when it was already clear that the Nazis would come to power. I was telephoning the director of the city


library about some matter concerning the Institute—I was then the acting head of the Institute, because the others were already in Geneva. I remember that he said on the phone, "Hello, Herr Löwenstein." I hung up immediately. He had known my name for five years, but suddenly all Jewish names were interchangeable. Such little things should perhaps be mentioned. They helped to call into question my notion of an apparently completely successful emancipation. Suddenly these little pinpricks signal that you're an outsider, that you're not accepted. At that time I was teaching at a Gymnasium and had some interesting discussions with one of my pupils there, a high school senior. His name was Friedrich, and he was a fervent Nazi. We would discuss politics quite openly together. I asked him once in jest, "Well, Friedrich, you'll see to it that nothing happens to me later, won't you?" For some reason, Friedrich had great respect for me even though he was an ardent anti-Semite. He answered, "No, that's out of the question. We have our principles. You're just as bad as all the others. That has nothing to do with my respect for you."

Dubiel: In view of these kinds of experiences, what do you think about Franz Neumann's statement that before 1933 the German population was the least anti-Semitic in Europe?

Lowenthal: Yes, I always said that, too. I think I even wrote that sentence somewhere. Now, your question regarding the extent of anti-Semitism and the predictability of fascism in the late twenties concerns two different things. We foresaw Hitler's rise to power not because we thought that the German people were becoming more and more anti-Semitic, but because through political analysis and insight we believed very early that the Nazis would come to power and that resistance was so poorly developed, particularly in the Liberal Democratic and the Social Democratic parties, that they wouldn't be capable of any great resistance against victorious fascism. Moreover, we grew increasingly disappointed and pessimistic, first independently from each other, and then in the political


exchange of opinions within our group, about the Soviet Union and the international Communist movement. And then developments in the Weimar Republic made us more and more worried and uneasy. Of course there was progressive literature and progressive theater, but in the final analysis these were only futile fringe-phenomena. No, precisely in cultural matters one could notice, from the middle of the twenties on, that Germany was becoming increasingly conservative, if not reactionary.

But back to anti-Semitism, la vie quotidienne . Well, then, in everyday life it really made no difference if one was a Jew or not. One could go into practically any hotel, join almost any club. We always laughed about the fact—precisely because it was such a phenomenon of the fringe—that the island Borkum didn't allow any Jews. I only learned about a kind of anti-Semitism—that which made it impossible for one to go to certain restaurants, hotels, or clubs—here in America. To be sure, I had heard about this already in Germany, but I couldn't believe it. So, I came to America in 1934, and in 1935 I wanted to take a vacation with my wife for the first time. We went for advice to a very elegant travel agency in Rockefeller Center. They gave me the addresses of some twenty hotels and resorts to which I then wrote, always adding at the end, "Please tell me whether Jews are welcome." I had been advised to do this by friends who had already lived some time in America. Of these twenty letters—and you have to keep in mind that this was 1935, at the high point of the depression in America—at least half weren't answered at all. Some of the others wrote that they generally rented to older people, which was quite ridiculous, since I hadn't mentioned my age at all. And others wrote that of course they had nothing against Jews but that we might feel "uncomfortable" with their other guests. So, in short, we suddenly discovered that something like a real everyday anti-Semitism did exist here and that as a Jew one couldn't freely take part in all social spheres. That was a nasty disappointment. That hotels and clubs, even whole professions,


were simply closed to Jews—that didn't yet exist in Germany to such an extent. German anti-Semitism in relation to other European varieties of anti-Semitism is still an issue. Look, Jews were driven out of England, France, Spain, Portugal, Poland, Turkey, and who knows where else. That sort of thing was quite rare in Germany until Hitler came. To be sure, then he drove the Jews straight into the gas chambers.

Dubiel: As a former German and a Jew you have, so to speak, the moral right to speak about non-German types of anti-Semitism. Any gentile German who did that would expose himself to the suspicion of trying to relativize or to trivialize German anti-Semitism and its apocalyptic consequences. No German has the right to relativize Auschwitz. Do you actually see an essential difference between German anti-Semitism and that in other parts of Europe or in America? Was German anti-Semitism under Hitler just an extremely pronounced and artificially whipped up mass hysteria, used as an instrument by the Nazis?

Lowenthal: Now you're talking about the anti-Semitic atrocities committed under Hitler. Well, there are antecedents to that which reach back to before Hitler. Our friend Paul Massing wrote a good book about that.[2] Yes, there's a great difference, I believe. It's a bit difficult to answer the question conclusively, because my present formulations are based on methodologically different sources. What I have to say about German anti-Semitism is based on what I personally experienced. What I know about American anti-Semitism—I can't say anything verifiable about types of anti-Semitism in other European countries—is something for which I have my own theoretical and empirical experiences, also as a "participant observer." I would say that German anti-Semitism was derived from the feudal estate structure, which excluded certain groups from society. Thus, for example, a professorial career at a university


was usually unattainable for Jews, as were the ranks in the bureaucracy and the military. Something like a latent institutional anti-Semitism existed there. But, as I've said, it was here in America that I first experienced an anti-Semitism that manifested itself in everyday life.

I have to expound some on this point. After all, it's a fascinating fact that in all known history there exists no single social or ethnic group that became so much the symbol of something perhaps extraordinarily admirable but also, and principally, detestable, as the Jews. It originated in Roman times and has never ended. How is this riddle to be solved? I consider anti-Semitism a perverted and suppressed form of utopia. The Jews represent something that others would like to be. Let's just go through the topoi of anti-Semitic prejudices: First, "clannishness." That can, after all, be interpreted as "community." Then second, the Jews live by exploiting others, that is, they themselves don't really work with their hands and by the sweat of their brow. Now, if you will, this refers to the elimination of heavy physical labor. Third, Jews love luxury, they're lascivious, they like good food, they throw their weight around in spas and summer resorts, they're loud, they're expressive. All of these "characteristically Jewish" modes of behavior can be summed up within the concept of a hedonistic life-style. Jews do things that are forbidden. Nobody knows exactly what they're really doing. They slaughter Christian children, rape Christian girls, they like to eat dill pickles, they eat kosher food, they have weird holidays during which nobody quite knows what happens, they carry around that strange Torah, they build huts out of tree branches, they play a trumpet. . . . In short, Jews know something about a life that is more than everyday life, and, because of this whole aggregate of unencumbered pleasure, they enjoy their lives fully; they know a freedom for which one doesn't have to pay continually, the obvious lack of a necessity to constantly battle with nature. For example, think about the Jewish joke, "The Jew doesn't belong in


nature, the Jew belongs in the coffeehouse." Well then, that also means that one doesn't have to exert oneself so much. So—if Jews aren't heavy manual workers, or in heavy industry, either as workers, as businessmen, or as managers—so what do they do? Supposedly, they control the media, they control the so-called sphere of circulation, banks and so on, they control insurance companies—all areas where manipulation rather than physical labor is most important. The psychology of anti-Semitic reaction, of anti-Semitic rage, of anti-Semitic mass actions and outrages is connected with this. The fact is that all I've pointed out—the entire communications industry, banking, parts of the consumer industry—aren't the sources of actual social power; they don't represent strong political or military power. In short, anti-Semitism sees the Jews ultimately as a colossus of clay. It will suffice to give the Jews a little kick, as one might kick over a vase, and the whole thing will collapse. For that reason I consider the terrorist activities of 1948 in Palestine the worst blow to anti-Semitism: it demonstrated to the world for the first time that Jews, too, could commit violent acts. Of course, I'm exaggerating, but that way it's clearer: I support anything that destroys this anti-Semitic image of the Jew as a weakling, as castrated and effeminate.

Dubiel: Leo, I'd like you to talk about the formation of your political consciousness. Can one say that your father influenced you, either by recommending certain books to you or by his own political positions?

Lowenthal: Oh yes, one can certainly say that. My father was politically committed. He was a liberal democrat, a member of the Liberal People's Party [Freisinnige Volkspartei], later known as the Staatspartei, and was a great admirer of the formation of democratic parties in Germany. I have in mind such names as Eugen Richter, Ludwig Bamberger, and Friedrich Naumann. My father very much encouraged me to think in a politically liberal vein, and not nationalistically. He was such a dyed-in-the-wool democrat


that he called me crazy when I told him that I was going to emigrate because of Hitler. He was firmly convinced that there would be new elections that would do away with the Hitler regime.

It was decisive for the development of my own political consciousness that from about the age of fifteen I was strongly influenced by a maternal friend named Luise Habricht. She was a socialist, a feminist, and a pacifist. She was extraordinarily well educated in philosophy and literature, and I'm very indebted to her. And this woman, the private tutor in a wealthy friend's house, "radicalized" me, so to speak. She was a socialist without being revolutionary. She was a pacifist and fought for women's suffrage. I would say that she was a radical reformist. It was quite impressive for a young person like me to be acquainted in the middle of the war with the works of the pacifist movement, which was naturally illegal at that time. The German Pacifist Association [Deutscher Friedensverein] and similar organizations couldn't carry out their work openly at that time. There was a representative in the Reichstag, Ludwig Quidde. He was a very brave man whom I met in Frankfurt through my friend Luise. I was proud when he entrusted me with the illegal and secret task of mailing leaflets.

Dubiel: That was perhaps your first practical political act. . . .

Lowenthal: Yes, I was fifteen or sixteen years old at that time. It was, in fact, my first political and at the same time "illegal" activity. It can't be said that this activity was particularly risky or dangerous. It was much more dangerous later, in 1920 in Frankfurt, to flee over rooftops from the police. Early, in school, my friends and I were predominantly liberal or socialist. I already told you that many of my classmates and most of my friends were Jews. In their parents' homes, too, the war was generally thought of very critically and openly discussed. We greeted the Russian Revolution in 1917 with enthusiasm. In school we secretly read antiwar novels by Henri Barbusse and Leonhard Frank.

Dubiel: Can you elaborate on that, please?


Lowenthal: I saw the Russian Revolution as an act of human liberation, not just politically but also culturally and philosophically. You understand, we saw it as a great democratic revolution, and continued for quite some time to see the Communist movement as a liberating democratic philosophy. I still remember the horrid five months I spent as a soldier in Hanau. I only knew one person there, a cousin of mine, and he was a member of the Spartakusbund.[3] At his place I felt at home.

Dubiel: Was the connection between developments in the Soviet Union and the politics of the Spartakusbund as close then as it was in the late twenties? Was the Spartakusbund already perceived as a sort of German branch of a Russian-dominated international movement?

Lowenthal: Well, not in the sense of being seen as a kind of Soviet envoy, which in the late twenties was more or less the case for the KPD [German Communist Party], which is why I finally lost all sympathy for the party. No, at that time it was a kind of brotherhood; in any case, I saw it that way.

Dubiel: Let's speak for a while about the postwar years.

Lowenthal: I became active in the socialist student movement. In Frankfurt I joined the General Student Parliament [Allgemeiner Studentenausschub /ASTA] in 1918. While still in Frankfurt, along with people such as Franz Neumann and Ernst Fränkel, among others, I helped found the socialist student group at the University of Frankfurt. That was 1918–1919. When I transferred to the University of Heidelberg in 1920 I became friends with the then president of the German Socialist Student League [Deutscher Sozialistischer Studentenbund]. He was a Greek by the name of Karanikolos. He hired me and granted me the pompous title Secretary General of the German Socialist Student League [General-


sekretär des Deutschen Sozialistischen Studentenbundes]. It didn't last long—the money soon ran out.

Dubiel: The name German Socialist Student League suggests that this organization wasn't limited to Frankfurt and Heidelberg. Is it accurate to say that this organization was influential in student politics, or perhaps even in general politics?

Lowenthal: Hardly in national politics, but certainly at the university. We were definitely in the minority when compared to groups on the right, such as those linked with fraternities. At this early stage we had had some vehement discussions with these groups but as yet no violent confrontations. That changed by the time of the Kapp Putsch in March 1920.[4] At that time I was still in Frankfurt; I only started in Heidelberg in the summer semester of 1920. We socialist students were then very active; we not only demonstrated, but a group of about ten or twelve of us one day even searched the houses of the most reactionary fraternities for weapons. We were practically trespassing, and all for nothing, since we didn't find any weapons. These people then—justifiably, I'd have to admit today—brought a complaint against us to the president [Rektor]. A group of four or five ringleaders, including me, was called before him. He was a good-natured man named Kautzsch, an art historian by training. I remember him perfectly: he was a nice, kind, old man. He summoned the so-called ringleaders into his office and informed us of his intention to institute proceedings to have us expelled. Half in a state of shock, half out of impudence, I had a good idea. I said, "Herr Rektor, you can, of course, do as you please. But if you institute expulsion proceedings against us, every streetcar driver in Frankfurt will go on strike tomorrow." We were immediately asked to leave the office, and nothing ever happened to any of us. His behavior was certainly based on the fantasy that there


are certain social groups that possess mysterious powers. Somehow that kindly old art historian must have imagined secret links between the socialist students and the Frankfurt labor unions. Unfortunately, such links never existed in reality. I had just made it up. The affair with Kautzsch is similar to my dealings with Polizeirat Schmidt and his fantasies about the powerful influence of Jews in Frankfurt.

Dubiel: So the moral of this story is that the president was foolish? That the socialist student groups of your youth were just as lacking in influence and alienated from the workers as those of my generation?

Lowenthal: No, Helmut, your formulation is too radical for me. After all, the parties and the unions recruited large numbers of cadres from students and young intellectuals. As you know, Franz Neumann and Ernst Fränkel, whom I just mentioned, both later became legal counsels for large labor unions, one for the metal workers' union, the other for the construction workers'. So there were connections, especially in cultural politics. I can mention myself as an example. I mean my later advisory work for the People's Theater [Volksbühne ]. This is just one example that shows how the Social Democratic Party recruited young academics for their cultural work.

Dubiel: Which grouping in the socialist camp was most open to intellectuals?

Lowenthal: Well, without being able to remember precise data too well, I'd assume that the USPD [Independent Socialists] and, initially, the KPD were more interested in intellectuals, because they had hardly any mass basis, at least not in the early years of the Weimar Republic. It was somewhat more difficult with the Social Democrats, you know, because of the influence of the party bosses. But nonetheless, even there the intellectuals weren't totally ignored.

Dubiel: Could you now describe your political development in the course of the Weimar Republic—not only which parties you


actually belonged to, but also your changing preferences for certain political groupings?

Lowenthal: I don't know exactly, any more. I just know that I was a member of the USPD in 1919 and 1920. When the USPD split into a left and a right wing—I think that was around the end of 1920—I remained in the left wing. Already early on I had regarded Social Democracy as something petit-bourgeois or bourgeois, as the betrayer of the revolutionary cause, so to speak.

Dubiel: Betrayer of which revolution, the Russian or the German?

Lowenthal: The two can't be separated. The Russians betrayed the German revolution—at least, that's how we saw it then.

Dubiel: Can you give dates or events after which you saw things that way?

Lowenthal: Actually, it already started in the Hölz revolts, with the government in Saxony-Thuringia, in which Karl Korsch was involved.[5] Already one could see that the Russian support wasn't there. That became extremely obvious.

Dubiel: Of course, there are big differences between how such events are experienced by contemporaries and how they are reconstructed by historians. I'm just recalling the arguments of people who, although not really apologists for Stalinism, hold that the Russians simply lacked any resources in the twenties with which to help revolutions in foreign countries. But I'd like to ask once again, because I'm not really well acquainted with this argument, especially in this clear form and in reference to this early period. First of all, can the estrangement from the Soviet Union felt by this radical intelligentsia, which belonged to neither the Social Democratic nor


the Communist Party, be dated this early; and second, can it be interpreted as a function of the disappointment felt because of the lack of support from the Soviet side for the German revolution?

Lowenthal: There's no doubt at all that we in Germany saw it that way. In America it took another twenty years. Developments in the Soviet Union were really traumatic for large sections of the radical intelligentsia in the Weimar Republic. And the trauma lingered on. The high point and, in a certain sense, the working through of this traumatic experience came with the show trials in the Soviet Union during the thirties, then the Spanish Civil War, and finally, of course, the Hitler-Stalin pact.

Dubiel: Leo, I'd like to formulate an impression of mine and test your reaction to it. Today's perception of the critical and radical intelligentsia during the Weimar Republic always focuses on their relation to the development of the labor movement. This is even true of people like you and many others who were not involved in the practical organization of the labor movement. When I read memoirs of, for example, Wolfgang Abendroth who, so to speak, worked at the heart of the labor movement organizing effort, I get the distinct impression of a strong difference between an intellectual like Abendroth and the type of intellectual you represent. However, one really can't call your sympathy for the labor movement just that of a mere observer. How would you describe your own relation with the labor movement and that of your friends at the Institute?

Lowenthal: I definitely had contact with workers' groups. I remember that I often went into the country on USPD business to give lectures to workers, to hold training courses, and the like. And at the time of the Kapp Putsch we worked together with the workers and organized defense squads against the Kappists. It came as a great shock to us when we came to America and discovered that all these Communist and Trotskyist organizations were nothing but small sectlike groups without any mass support. No, it was quite


different for us then. For us there was never any doubt that as a socialist one had to work together with the workers.

Dubiel: It's always struck me how in the twenties and early thirties your circle seemed imbued with a sense of unabashed fellowship with the labor movement, without ever translating it into a concrete organizational form. But nonetheless, there were places between organizations in which you were active, which couldn't be called definitely KPD- or SPD-oriented. I'm thinking, for example, of your work with the People's Theater.

Lowenthal: That was certainly a political activity. And it's probably a bit naïve to take activity within the internal organization of one of the socialist parties of the Weimar Republic as the only criterion for partisanship for the labor movement. What developed in the course of the twenties was a sort of free-floating intelligentsia, not in Mannheim's sense,[6] but in the sense of a generalized revolutionary attitude. I never wanted to conform; I always saw myself as somebody who was in opposition. Already in 1920 at the university, I was forever "against"—that was my fundamental attitude. For that reason I attacked Jaspers, for example, because he was then a positivist and thus perceived by us as fundamentally reactionary. To a large extent we didn't attend lectures, because that seemed like bourgeois fraud and ideology to us. Besides, we were all expecting the great socialist revolution any day. In my memory now, that seems perhaps somewhat exaggerated; when I leaf through my papers I see that in spite of it all I studied quite diligently. Be that as it may, my basic feeling during my university years and the first years at the Institute was: We're outsmarting bourgeois society. They have no idea of our dream of a radical revolution.


Dubiel: So you saw yourselves as people who were somehow mimicking bourgeois society?

Lowenthal: We always perceived ourselves in opposition to the status quo; we were radical nonconformists. We didn't want to play along. Probably if we hadn't done that, we wouldn't have survived. Ultimately the thought of the disasters that resulted from "playing along" never left us. Everything we did later in the Institute of Social Research in Frankfurt (already at that time it was known in the academic community as "Café Marx") was tinged with this radical conviction.

Dubiel: Was that really possible? If I compare it with the chances today at West German universities to express Marxist attitudes, there's such a pressure to be labeled as a Spartacist, a Maoist, as the representative of some group or another, that such an independent Marxist attitude—as some malicious people say, "left-bourgeois"—is just not possible any more. Wasn't it similar at that time? Even within your own circle, weren't there people who pursued an orthodox course? After all, there were some committed Social Democrats among them. Didn't this "dissent" function as a barrier against the independent humanistic Marxism you describe?

Lowenthal: Very little. Well, in any case the orthodox didn't belong to the innermost circle of the Institute.

Dubiel: Weren't you attacked by any group at that time? I'm thinking for example of a biographical interview with Wolfgang Abendroth, where in reference to you and your Institute colleagues, he says, more or less, that you were insignificant marginal figures on the Frankfurt political scene. At that time, you played no role for Marxist theory and politics. One could easily back up Abendroth's perception with a comparison between, say, Horkheimer's rhetoric and that of organized party people. What for the former is "struggling humanity" is for the latter the "forward-storming proletariat."

Lowenthal: We've always been accused of that. We retained our


independence from all sides, but our sympathies were quite obvious. This political and intellectual independence was made easier by the fact that we had money. Actually, the Institute could do what it wanted.

Dubiel: Leo, a passage from Horkheimer's Dämmerung[7] just occurred to me. I can cite it only approximately, but I'd like to know what you think about it. He said that one can't criticize socialist parties and organizations from the outside—you know what I'm referring to . . .

Lowenthal: I think so. I believe the formulation was as follows: One can criticize Communism only if one simultaneously criticizes anti-Communism. It has to be done dialectically. Communism and Social Democracy are bad enough, because they stand in opposition to the principles they once stood for; but those who criticize Communism the most sharply must be criticized sharply themselves, because they are guided by motives that are far worse yet.

Dubiel: Now I don't know which passage you're referring to. I just remember the two last sentences of the passage I was thinking about: a critique of the socialist revolution and its supporting groups on the part of bourgeois intellectuals is a logical impossibility. So anyone—in 1929 Horkheimer apparently thought that way—who criticizes a socialist party ought to apply this criticism within the framework of this same organization. That's quite a strong moral postulate.

Lowenthal: A moral postulate, indeed. But not an organizational one.

Dubiel: Organizational, too: a morally formulated postulate of organized political activity.


Lowenthal: One should, so to speak, keep it in the family. But that doesn't mean that one has to be a member of that party. However, one shouldn't embrace the opposite extreme, as happened so frequently later, when erstwhile radicals came to identify totally with political reaction.

Dubiel: Let's talk about that later. First I'd like to discuss the beginnings of your intellectual development. I'd like to start once again by asking about paternal influences on your intellectual development.

Lowenthal: My father was, so to speak, both a formal and a material influence. As a formal influence he succeeded in making an intellectual out of me. My father, an idealist and an intellectual, stood in contrast to my mother who was materialistically and hedonistically oriented. I readily admit that I myself still haven't completely resolved this conflict.

Dubiel: (laughs)

Lowenthal: Even today I feel very indebted to my father. He was a typical representative of the educated German-Jewish middle class. I was encouraged to read Goethe, Schopenhauer, and Darwin. I was encouraged to go to concerts and to the theater, to prepare myself for operas and the like. Later my father was very dissatisfied with me because I pursued my university studies without a definite goal, changing from one faculty to another. Quite frankly, I studied everything besides medicine. That certainly has to do with the justmentioned Oedipus complex. Sometimes I'm sorry about that. I think I could have become a quite wealthy psychoanalyst!

Dubiel: (laughs)

Lowenthal: Substantively speaking, I owe my own materialistic orientation to my father. Naturally not Marxist-materialistic, but materialistic in the nineteenth-century sense. Haeckel's World Riddles, Darwin's Origin of Species, and the standard popular scientific books by Carneri were extraordinarily important for him and


then later for me, too. He also urged me to read Schopenhauer intensively. But I've already told you about all this.

Dubiel: How great was the influence of school?

Lowenthal: Very great. Most of the teachers in the higher grades of the Goethe Gymnasium in Frankfurt were excellent. They were so good that some of them became honorary professors at the university in 1918. Particularly strong was the influence in the classical subjects. I'm still proud today that I excelled in Greek, Latin, and German in the Abitur [general examination after completion of the Gymnasium ]. At the same time I regret to this day that I was drafted in the last year of the war and consequently missed part of my senior year. Sometimes I think that this gap in my education still shows. The attitude of these teachers, by the way, was not nationalistic—a "Wilhelmine" tone was hardly in evidence. My teacher for German and history wrote the standard history of the city of Frankfurt. The other influence came from my schoolmates themselves. Many of them came from prosperous Jewish house holds. There was really an esprit de corps among internationally oriented young people who often, encouraged by their parents, got together after school to read and discuss. I still remember reading Dostoevsky. We read Freud, Zola, and Balzac. We would voluntarily meet in the afternoons in school to do this. Many of my classmates later had distinguished careers. I remember, for example, my late friend Otto Kahn-Freund, who later became one of the most distinguished English legal scholars.

Dubiel: And your university studies? When did you actually graduate from the Gymnasium ?

Lowenthal: I graduated in early 1918 with the Notabitur [an emergency examination necessitated by the war effort]; then I was drafted into the army. The boys from middle-class families in Frankfurt would go into either the 63rd Artillery Regiment in Mainz or the 81st Infantry Regiment in Frankfurt. By bribing the corporals, during their training period they could live at home or


on their own, have their own uniforms, and eat what they wanted. My naïve father dissuaded me from doing that. One of his patients, who was also a friend, was a captain in the reserve of a railway regiment, which was stationed in Hanau. My father thought that his friend could pull a few strings to make my life in the army more palatable. So I reported there, as a simple recruit, of course. As was to be expected, no one there knew this Captain Schröder, who by then was stationed somewhere in France. So, believe it or not, I ended up in a workers' regiment made up of sons of proletarians and poor peasants. Poor devils, rough, sometimes brutal, uneducated men. We had to live in the barracks and eat the horrible swill there; we weren't allowed to have our own uniforms but were given the sweat-covered uniforms of previous "grunts." Besides drilling and shooting (which I was really not good at—the rifle butt would almost always recoil and hit me on the cheek), we were mainly kept busy loading rails for railroad tracks. Once a rail fell on my fingers; you can still see my crooked fingernail. I was the constant object of mockery. At that time I experienced the potential anti-Semitism and anti-intellectualism of the German proletariat and peasants. It was an awful time. I tried everything to get out of there. I volunteered for the front; I would have preferred to die. I was rejected. I then applied to become a cadet officer so that, as an officer, I could escape those circumstances. Refused. All of this was for me—and I am not exaggerating—a kind of anticipatory concentration-camp experience. It certainly contributed to the strengthening of my alleged elitist arrogance as an intellectual. As you know—we've discussed it often enough—I don't consider the accusation of elitism an insult, but rather praise. We felt that the war was already lost, and that we were thus involved with a fundamentally meaningless business. Sometime I'll show you a couple of pictures of me as a soldier in 1918 along with my company. Looking at these photos, one might say that I should demand a veteran's pension from the American government! I was really the epitome of a "sad sack," a


personal representation of the "stab-in-the-back" legend, so to speak. But enough of that.

Dubiel: When did you start your university studies?

Lowenthal: I started at the University of Frankfurth in the winter semester of 1918. In the summer semester of 1919 I went to Giessen, together with my maternal friend Luise Habricht, whom I've already mentioned. She was—as you remember—a friend of the philosopher Walter Kinkel, who taught there. He wasn't a very significant philosopher, but he was a good Social Democrat who appreciated good wine. In Frankfurt I had started out, under paternal pressure, with the study of jurisprudence, and I promptly gave that up in Giessen under the influence of Luise and Kinkel. I had also heard some lectures on philosophy in Frankfurt; I still remember those of Hans Cornelius quite well.[8] I heard the Germanist Peterson's lectures on Goethe, Cornelius's lectures on Kant, Kautzsch's—I've already spoken of him—lectures on medieval art, and Schönflies's introduction to higher mathematics. This interest in mathematics was influenced by my great sympathy with the Marburg philosophical school—for which a certain understanding of infinitesimal calculus was important. I also took part in classical proseminars, and I heard lectures on ancient history, aesthetics, and psychology. My intellectual tastes were very eclectic. I wanted, so to speak, to get everything into my head—a little Faust, if you will.

Dubiel: Could we proceed to your time in Heidelberg? Pardon the feeble metaphor, but Heidelberg at that time must have been an intellectual hothouse. Even for my generation it's still well known. I always think of the Max Weber circle, which was, of course, a prewar phenomenon, but I imagine its offshoots are still present there.

Lowenthal: Well, if you want to call his brother Alfred an "offshoot," then okay. Karl Mannheim didn't come to Heidelberg until


1921, when I was a student. Ernst Bloch was there frequently, and Jaspers was a member of the Weber circle. As for figures of really international stature, there were Heinrich Rickert, Karl Jaspers, and Alfred Weber. Also very significant were the historians, such as Hermann Oncken and Karl Hampe; the economist Emil Lederer, whose lectures on nationalization I attended at that time; and the Germanist and close friend of Stefan George, Friedrich Gundolf. Gundolf was for me a political issue. I didn't attend his lectures regularly because he was too reactionary for me. I attended lectures on philosophy: that was part of the Marxist tradition—it was necessary to be educated philosophically if one wanted to be a young nonconformist, a revolutionary thinker. I should remind you once again that I was fundamentally imbued with the conviction—don't forget, this was 1920, 1921—that the world revolution was around the corner and that this whole bourgeois lecture business would soon be done with.

Dubiel: Can we now turn to your first small publication, "The Demonic,"[9] and give some examples of those intellectual influences that really had an effect on you? How did this text come about, anyway? Perhaps you could begin with the anecdote about the row you had with Jaspers.

Lowenthal: I'd prefer to start with Rickert. In the winter semester of 1920–1921, Rickert held a seminar on Husserl's phenomenology, and in the same semester, Jaspers gave a course on his recently published book The Psychology of Worldviews . The Rickert seminar was particularly important for me because, as you know, I was originally committed to the Marburg neo-Kantian school of Hermann Cohen and Paul Natorp, which was what one might call a hostile sibling of the southwest German neo-Kantian school. I be-


lieve that this was the first time that Rickert dealt with Husserl's Ideas—General Introduction to a Pure Phenomenology . My impression at the time was that they would destroy each other—Rickert and Husserl were, after all, bourgeois philosophers—and I, as a Marburg neo-Kantian and Marxist, would win the day. To repeat once again, Rickert's intention was the critical destruction of phenomenology. My own attitude was one of ambivalence. On the one hand, profoundly steeped in Kantian philosophy as I was, I found it difficult to understand Husserl's concepts in the first place, let alone accept them; on the other hand, I thought I discerned an intention to go beyond the mere formalism of Kantian philosophy in the direction of a metaphysics that could possibly be of use for the kind of philosophical, revolutionary radicalism to which I was then committed.

Dubiel: Was it for that reason that you finally found yourself closer to phenomenology than to Rickert's neo-Kantianism?

Lowenthal: Yes. I myself realized that for the first time in the course of the Jaspers affair. At that time, Jaspers was exactly the opposite of what he is now famous for. Today, Jaspers is renowned as a metaphysical philosopher; the Jaspers of those days was a psychiatrist-cum-philosopher, essentially a scientistic positivist. The decisive book was The Psychology of Worldviews .

Dubiel: I must admit, to my shame, that I've never read the book. But the title sounds rather like a psychologically reductionist theory of Weltanschauung systems, some sort of vulgarization of Dilthey.

Lowenthal: On that point I'd defend Dilthey against you, but let's not get into that now. Yes, it was a reductionist book; unfortunately, I no longer own a copy. It was lost like so many other books of mine. At one time I had a library of ten thousand volumes, including an extensive collection of radical works from the German revolution, publications that, as people from the Hoover Institute in Stanford later told me, would be worth thousands of dollars.


Before we left for America, Horkheimer insisted that such works be either burnt or given away. He was afraid that we would be immediately deported if they opened my boxes of books. Nobody ever checked a single box.

Dubiel: Back to Jaspers.

Lowenthal: Right. Helmut, a couple of days ago I showed you suicide notes from 1920. At that time, I was in a mystical, radical, syncretic mood, a mixture of revolutionary radicalism, Jewish messianism, infatuation with an ontologically conceived phenomenology, acquaintance with psychoanalysis. . . . All of that was blended together to form a very missionary-messianic Bloch-like rapturous philosophy, if I look at it today. For instance, I was terribly agitated by Jaspers's book; it was, so to speak, the devil incarnate. Topics for presentation were distributed quite mechanically in the seminar, and I got the chapter on the demonic, which, as you correctly assumed, was essentially reductionist. Wherever the concept of the "demonic" came up in the history of literature or philosophy, it was reduced to merely psychological categories, which I have long since forgotten. In a kind of trance, I wrote as an oral presentation for the seminar this article, which flew in the face of all that Jaspers taught, and I referred to this psychologistic-positivistic method of explanation with obvious contempt. Jaspers became furious, even aggressive and insulting. He showed no pedagogical understanding whatsoever for this young student who had just let these ideas pour out. After Jaspers's outburst, I stood up, bowed to my fellow students, and left the seminar room, slamming the door. The episode became known all around Heidelberg. So that was the business with the "demonic." Later Ernst Bloch read it and was quite enthusiastic about it. It was finally published in the Nobel festschrift, although there were some critical protests from Franz Rosenzweig, who was the editor. There were also criticisms from Siegfried Kracauer, who was then my closest personal and intellectual friend and mentor. The syncretic elements in my essay were


typical for that time. I had friends and allies active in various intellectual spheres—psychoanalysis, Marxism, the Kantian school, Zionism, the religious Jewish movement—and I must have been a kind of focal point for all these intellectual currents.

Dubiel: One can see this phenomenon in a general sense, namely, that many of your intellectual fellow travelers at that time were given to syncretic tendencies, albeit to varying degrees. In Benjamin's case there were certainly also very heterogeneous aspects of his orientation as a whole, and that's no less true for Bloch.

Lowenthal: And, to a certain extent, for Lukács. Just look at Soul and Form or The Theory of the Novel —these works are far from History and Class Consciousness .

Dubiel: For Lukács it's quite simple. You just have to take The Destruction of Reason . All the people he attacks in that book represent the currents that he had to overcome in himself.

Lowenthal: Yes, an awful book.

Dubiel: Let's now turn to your dealings with psychoanalysis. How did that start?

Lowenthal: Like so many other things in life, quite by chance. I already told you that I fell in love with a woman—it must have been around 1922—who originally came from Königsberg and then lived in Frankfurt, and who was at that time a friend of Erich Fromm's. She later became my wife. Since her youth, she had been good friends with Frieda Fromm-Reichmann. Through my wife, Golde Ginsburg, Erich Fromm got to know Frieda, who later became a physician in a clinic near Dresden. I also became acquainted with Frieda through Golde. Before 1922, I was only somewhat familiar with psychoanalysis; I believe that there are certain allusions to this in the "Demonic" essay. But all of that isn't so important, just as The Critique of Pure Reason says: the empirical beginning can be established, but the conceptual origin is elsewhere. The systematic interest that must have spawned this fascination with psychoanalysis for me and many of my intellectual fellow travelers was very likely the idea of "marrying" historical materialism with


psychoanalysis. One of the fundamental problems in Marxist theory is, after all, the absence of mediating elements between base and superstructure, which psychological theory might supply. And for us, psychoanalysis came to fill this gap. I probably foresaw this already in the early twenties. It became consciously apparent to me and to all of us starting around 1930, perhaps already in 1927–1928. Intellectually, it was terribly exciting to familiarize oneself with psychoanalysis and to maintain psychoanalytical contacts, because it was so avant-garde. Later, in the circle of my colleagues in the Institute, we often referred in jest to my having brought Fromm to the Institute as one of my major contributions. In those days, he was certainly one of the most important influences. Particularly during the Frankfurt years the connection with Fromm was extraordinarily stimulating, even though at first he wasn't a formal member of the Institute and was usually not in Frankfurt.

Yes, and I might mention my modest role in connection with awarding the Goethe Prize to Sigmund Freud, in 1930, I think. At that time, no one wanted to grant Freud an official prize; psychoanalysis was a despised and scorned science; it was anathema—extreme and avant-garde. For that reason, for the city of Frankfurt to grant Sigmund Freud the Goethe Prize was quite extraordinary. I was indirectly involved, since through the People's Theater movement I was friendly with Gottfried Herzfeld, an important member of the selection committee. Another incident, perhaps less noticed, was the establishment of a psychoanalytical institute in Frankfurt at the end of the twenties. At that time we made it possible for this institute to hold its lectures in the rooms of our Institute of Social Research. That was only possible because from 1930 on Max Horkheimer was the director of the Institute and we owned our own building on the university campus. This situation was optimal in Germany at that early time—the mere fact that a psychoanalytical institute was allowed to use rooms on a university campus was then almost a sensation.


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