The Curse of Exemplarism Edmund Husserl on the German Nation and Europe

    • Cover Porto 2017
    • Presentation speakers
      • Christian Sternad, Husserl Archives, KU Leuven


    The First World War sparked an intense discussion about the role of the nation and the special role of the German Nation in particular. In reference to Fichte’s Reden an die Deutsche Nation (1808), many of these ‘war philosophers’ saw in the German Nation a leading role which shall guide all mankind to its true potential of a life in truth. This can be seen first and foremost in Max Scheler’s Der Genius des Krieges (1915) but also in Husserl’s Fichtes Menschheitsideal (1917/18). In these conceptions, the German Nation and Europe are not exclusive but rather complementary moments of cosmopolitanism, in other words: nationalism does not exclude Europe but rather functions as the basis for Europe. This however changes after the First World War as the special mission of the German Nation has nullified itself amidst the total destruction in the war. Interestingly, the idea of a special mission in service of all mankind nevertheless returns in Husserl’s conception of Europe in the Crisis of the European Sciences (1935/36) and also in the various writings of many proponents of the phenomenological movement, first and foremost in Jan Patočka’s Heretical Essays (1975). Also here, one can observe the characteristic line of arguments in which Europe figures as the example by which all mankind shall be guided out of the crisis. As Karl Schuhmann in Husserls Staatsphilosophie (1988) has shown meticulously, Husserl’s thinking originated on the thin line between an enthusiastic nationalism and a theoretical universalism. Contrary to what is mostly taken for granted, i.e. that nationalism and universalism mutually exclude each other, one can observe here a very peculiar marriage between two seemingly opposed positions. In my paper, I want to investigate this problematic relationship mainly through Max Scheler and Edmund Husserl.