Friday, 18 October 2013

Nous sommes tous "Indesirables"

Incredibly, when Mary McCarthy returned from Hanoi to Paris in May 1968, she moved from the cutting edge of anti-imperialist war resistance in SE Asia to the beating heart of anti-capitalist revolution in NW Europe, as instantly as stepping off a plane. And, apparently incredibly 'co-incidentally', one of the key figures in the student/worker rebellion in Paris, Daniel Cohn-Bendit, was the son of German Jewish anti-nazi comrades of Hannah Arendt and Heinrich Blucher in 1930s occupied France. 'Co-incidentally' ?  - Non! : Nous Sommes Tous Indesirables'.

Die Welt: What did Hannah Arendt mean to you, when you were still a real,
radical leftist 68er?
Daniel Cohn-Bendit: That's complicated, because she was a friend of my
parents. I knew her and was aware of her theses as a child. After emigrating
in 1934, she belonged to a group of intellectuals in Paris along with my
parents, Walter Benjamin and Hannah Arendt's husband Heinrich Blücher. My
father and Blücher were interned together at the beginning of the war, and
that resulted in a deep friendship. But you make a point in your question:
Hannah Arendt was not the most influential thinker for me at that time.
Hannah Arendt 1941. Foto: Fred SteinWhen did you meet Hannah Arendt?
When she held a laudatio for Karl Jaspers in 1958, when he received the
Friedenspreis des Deutschen Buchhandels. My father had just died and she
visited my mother. The second time I saw her was at the Auschwitz trial in
Frankfurt. I was there with my school class – and she happened to be there
When did you begin to get interested in Hannah Arendt's work?
In the 1970s, as the discussions about totalitarianism became more and more
pressing. I was a leftist anti-communist and when I came to Germany in 1968,
I was perplexed by the reluctance to compare communism with national
socialism, which was rooted in German history.
Did your referring to Hannah Arendt's "The Origins of Totalitarianism" lead
to conflicts with your colleagues?
There was conflict from the outset, because when I was expelled from France
in 1968, I was absolutely certain that, despite my revolutionary
convictions, I would prefer to live in West Germany than in the GDR. I saw
in France and the GDR bourgeois societies – that's what we called them back
then – that needed reform but not totalitarian systems.
What does Hannah Arendt's still controversial book "Eichmann in Jerusalem"
mean to you?
That the demonisation of the Nazis doesn't help us in the long run. The most
insane thing, that has to be understood is that the Nazis were "normal
people"! Eichmann was a nobody who was only to achieve the status and commit
the annihilation he did in a totalitarian, totally racist system.
But some of the claims that Hannah Arendt makes in "Eichmann in Jerusalem"
don't hold up historically. Take for example her complete condemnation of
the Jewish councils...
Daniel Cohn-Bendit facing the police in Nanterre 1968Nonetheless, the
question that she asks with the Jewish council remains relevant: when does
one accept developments and at what point does one put up resistance? It's
possible that Hannah Arendt was not fair on the Jewish councils. But her
basic question is still legitimate: Was it right to collaborate in the first
place? Because it wasn't just the Jews who didn't want to see the
annihilation that was facing them. When the western democracies signed a
treaty with Hitler in Munich in 1938, they didn't see the annihilation
potential that was being developed in Germany. It's basically this question
that is still being asked in Israel. The injustice that Israel is doing to
Palestine is related to the feeling that one doesn't want to ever end up in
the same situation again. That's a problem that, in my opinion, has not been
dealt with adequately – but it's a real problem.