Principiis obst! Mind the beginning!

We talked a couple of times about Hannah Arendt – point of departure was actually something that seems to be very distant from her work: criteria that constitutional courts can refer to when taking decisions. And of course, taking the perspective from the legal doctrine is different from that taken by others. Funnily enough, legal doctrine translates into German as Rechtsdogmatik – suggesting something like dogmatic law, of even dogmatic thinkers on legal issues?

At some stage I mentioned some literature to my office mate – stuff I would think being important on this topic. Books, some more or less legalist, at least coming from sociology of law, philosophy of law, and perhaps stuff philosophising on justice – we both laughed when I dared to say – mind, to a jurist:
law is not interested in justice, hardly knows about it. what we share – legal scientists and economists – is a more or less blind interest in coherence. that may be rather simple: you put numbers and articles and even laws, we put numbers on goods and people – no matter on how bad the goods are, no matter how deep personalities are buried behind the figures.
 We laughed, knowing that it is reality and when it is lived reality it is harsh.
After such books, and after working a bit on our different tasks, I interrupted the silence:
Right, there is another one: Hannah Arendt’s Human Condition. it is probably the most comprehensive book she wrote, and from reading this, it is possible to understand the others …  to least the one on he Eichmann-trial and the banality of evil.
 A short chat, a couple of days later, we had been sitting for lunch – just across the street. Else a rather dull, grey day. I don’t know why she asked me about Hannah and Martin Heidegger … – I said what I knew, and part of it, actually part of the question had been already about Heidegger’s relationship to the fascists.
The romantic relationship between the two philosophers was known as a difficult one – and apparently the relationship between Heidegger and the fascists had not been so clear …
– can one say it was part of this banality of evil? We talked about it, the time, the difficulty of admitting that it is difficult. For me it is again and again emotionally a difficult matter, having known comrades, colleagues, friends who went through that hell – making impossible to accept that those had been ordinary people.
It could be him
I pointed on the table to the left
or her
my eyes moved to the right. I looked into her eyes:
It could be you — or do you know if it is not me at some stage?
It was loud, the snowfall was not too bad and I proposed to leave. I opened the brelli:
Let’s go to the LMU. I do not know exactly where it is …
– did you ever hear about the Geschwister Scholl?
She did not – and I told her the bit I knew, talked also about Anne Frank, my visit in the Anne Frank House, im Amsterdam. I remembered, at the end of the museum little notes, one asking
Why do we feel such a pity for this one child, knowing that there had been so many more being brutally slaughtered. – it is because we hardly can cope with this one, bearing the large number would crash us completely. 
After a while we found one person who could help us finding the way – and a little while later we find the little memorial – I had to swallow, as usual when being confronted with my past which is not my past and against which I had been fighting. I managed, we entered – we walked along the exhibits, I have had the impression getting slower and slower. And for my part I was wondering if it was right to put all this weight on her shoulders. Or if it was my duty? Or …just something like a waste of time?
 After we left, we stood a while at the bottom of the broad stairs …
Do you know, I fell sometimes so … riven, so unsure, insecure …
She talked about Korea, the occupation by the Japanese … – and I had to ask sincerely and honestly to forgive me for not knowing anything about her country. A bit later, when we walked back to the Institute, I remembered Albert Einstein – I used this reference to underline what I said before, and already while we have had lunch:
I cannot guarantee that I would be as brave as these people – I would like to be, but would I be as strong as they had been? Albert, with all his knowledge, he was one of the enablers – finally his contribution mad it possible that the USA developed the nuclear weapon. And he did so intentionally, ‘knowing’ that the bomb in the hands of the US would better than it would be in the hands of the fascist Germany. Later, when he knew better, namely that it had been used so senseless, the US playing with the muscles without any military need and humane consideration, he changed not just his mind but concentrated much of his effort on condemning .., well part of his own deeds. – Braveness …
The morning of the same day I submitted another recommendation letter for  student – the boxing exercise – the mail to the university is already prepared but I have to wait, sending it:
Earlier I just submitted a recommendation – and I dare to make a recommendation to your institution:
Be professional and serious, and do not breach confidentiality law – there is much improvement for you, actually I was near to recommend to the student not to go further with the application due to your highly unprofessional way of treating students.
Sincerely worrying about the quality of academic standards I remain
Prof. Dr. Peter Herrmann
The evening I went to a presentation at the institute:
„Jenseits der Praxis? Die aktuellen Vorschläge für eine Reform des Gemeinsamen Europäischen Asylsystems (GEAS) aus rechtlicher und praktischer Sicht“
 A very clear presentation, also highlighting some fundamental flaws – followed by a ‘soft debate’, leaving some important points out,
Principiis obsta. Sero medicina parata, cum mala per longas convaluere moras.
Mind the beginning| Too late the remedy is prepared when the evil became stronger simply by time.
Ovid wrote it, thinking Remedia Amoris – what then about the self-loving academics …?
Today, I went for my usual walk  the first time that I really was getting aware of the name of the one street I passed so often: Ackermannstreet – the city of Munich still celebrating this loyal property of a man who had to go to court because of misappropriation,
This day I did not listen to my usual lectures and audio-plays, I remembered my last visit in Athens. After that visit I wrote:
a long way … from the priests on the Acropolis [ἄκρον (akron, “highest point”) and πόλις (polis)] to the gardens which had been the roaming place of the philosophers to the reality of today’s Europe.
It is a way full of the tensions: on the one hand the small academies of free thinking – free and ready for the hemlock; on the other hand the abduction, about which Maria Mies wrote in the one book on Europe I edited [Mies, Maria, 1999: Europe in the Global Economy or the Need to De-Colonize Europe; in: Peter Herrmann (Ed.): Challenges for a Global Welfare System: Commack, New York: Nova Science Publishers, Inc.: 153-171].
Studying the history – sine ira et studio – as Tacitus said.
Also making history without hate and zealousness? There is always the danger then of abduction: the legal doctrine, expressed in the constitutional state, the state under the rule of law is turned into the one-sided application of law, its consistency the utmost and only validation. The economic doctrine, being caught in the mirage of closed systems, the equations make equal what is different, and not able to see that not figures but power matters.
Life goes on – only not forgetting its complexity and ambiguity can make us free. [I could not find the link to the one, the eleventh song].

Academia Today — and also the rest of the world

Sometimes I get the impression that there all the outperforming which we are facing and which we are asked to join is best captured by Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker‘s Guide to the Galaxy. I recently found a nice version of the little story concerning the magic 42, translated here:

A well advanced extraterritorial culture strives to answer the ultimate question, namely the question concerned with the foundation of and reason behind ‘life, the universe and everything’. The supercomputer Deep Thought is built. After calculating for 7.5 million years Deep Thought comes up with the answer „42“.

Deep Thought replies to the baffled constructors that the question had not been sufficiently clear, and proposes to build an even large computer, able to find an appropriate question to which „42“ is the answer. it turns out that this larger computer is actually the planet earth.

Here the original:

Eine weit fortgeschrittene außerirdische Kultur sucht die Antwort auf die Frage aller Fragen, nämlich jene nach „life, the universe and everything“. Dazu baut sie den Supercomputer Deep Thought. Nach einer Rechenzeit von 7,5 Millionen Jahren erbringt Deep Thought die Antwort „42“.

Auf die Ratlosigkeit der Erbauer hin entgegnet Deep Thought, dass die Frage nicht präzise gestellt worden sei und schlägt vor, einen noch größeren Computer zu bauen, der fähig ist, die zur Antwort passende Frage zu finden. Dieser Computer wird gebaut und das Programm zur Suche der Frage auf die Antwort wird gestartet. Es stellt sich heraus, dass dieser noch größere Computer der Planet Erde ist.

In other words – more in the formulation of systems theory: we re producing an increasing number of empty spaces, in order to fill them with the same emptiness. And instead of really arriving at public spaces, we establish in two ways pseudo-and quasi-public places

  • by charismatisation of individuals and institutions, leading to the ‘obligation’ that being part of it is the main thing – one has to publish in THEIR vicinity, one has to GO TO the events WITH THEM, one has to know HERHIM … – name dropping as the other, i.e. personal droppings are considered to be and are made meaningless.
  • and then there is the perpetuation of this charismatic fields of hegemony: who did not read THAT, who had not been THERE, who did not know ALREADY … – All this is, of course not about the factual but the somewhat virtual. If WE write and say something, it becomes only meaningful if THEY stated it already , and if WE say something meaningful it remains an empty phrase as long as it is not quoted. – I am not talking about the gained meaning by spreading the word – that is a purely quantitative aspect and as true as it is that things we think without letting others know are equally meaningless as the most stupid things even of they are published ‘properly’. It is better to be a footnote that everybody can see than being a sapience crawling serpently in the stash. And who does not belong to this and that who-is-who-social-network, can prove a certain number of friends, fans, supporters, follower is nearly non-existent – the social-network-death, which can only be beaten by brain death.

But how much is really new and how much is really limited to the academic world?

living and being lived …

Without doubt, a great piece

Turandot, Prinzessin von China Friedrich Schiller
Ein tragikomisches Maerchen nach Gozzi
– though personally I found the presentation too stagy. The core remans unchanged and valid


Prinz, noch ist’s Zeit. Gebt das verwegene

Beginnen auf! Gebt’s auf! Weicht aus dem Divan!
Der Himmel weiss, dass jene Zungen luegen,
Die mich der Haerte zeihn und Grausamkeit.
– Ich bin nicht grausam. Frei nur will ich leben;
Bloss keines Andern will ich sein; dies Recht,
Das auch dem allerniedrigsten der Menschen

Im Leib der Mutter anerschaffen ist,

Will ich behaupten, eines Kaisers Tochter.
Ich sehe durch ganz Asien das Weib
Erniedrigt und zum Sklavenjoch verdammt,
Und raechen will ich mein beleidigtes Geschlecht
An diesem stolzen Maennervolke, dem
Kein andrer Vorzug vor dem zaertern Weibe
Als rohe Staerke ward. Zur Waffe gab
Natur mir den erfindenden Verstand
Und Scharfsinn, meine Freiheit zu beschützen.
-Ich will nun einmal von dem Mann nichts wissen,
Ich hass’ ihn, ich verachte seinen Stolz
Und Uebermuth-Nach allem Köstlichen
Streckt er begehrlich seine Haende aus;
Was seinem Sinn gefaellt, will er besitzen.
Hat die Natur mit Reizen mich geschmückt,
Mit Geist begabt-warum ist’s denn das Loos
Des Edeln in der Welt, dass es allein
Des Jaegers wilde Jagd nur reizt, wenn das Gemeine
In seinem Unwerth ruhig sich verbirgt?
Muss denn die Schoenheit eine Beute sein
Fuer Einen? Sie ist frei, so wie die Sonne,
Die allbeglueckend herrliche, am Himmel,
Der Quell des Lichts, die Freude aller Augen,
Doch Keines Sklavin und Leibeigenthum.
And even the English version still offers a glimpse:
Young prince, I clearly recognise your worth.
Be wise in time. Relinquish your attempt.
Too arduous is the trial. Do not tempt
The Fates. I am not cruel, as they say,
But shun the yoke of Man’s despotic sway.
In virgin freedom would I live and die;
The meanest hind may claim this boon,–shall I,
The daughter of an emperor, not have
That birthright which belongs to all? Be slave
To brutish force, that makes your sex our lord?
Why does my hand such tempting bait afford?
The gods have made me beauteous, rich, and wise,
Presumptuous man considers me his prize.
If nature dowered me with bounteous treasure
You tyrants think ‘twas all to serve your pleasure.
Why should my person, throne, and wealth be booty
To one harsh, jealous master? No, all beauty
Is heaven’s gift, and like the sun, should shine
To glad earth’s children, and their souls refine.
I hate proud man, and like to make him feel
He may not crush free woman ‘neath his heel.

Intelligence intellectuals and other people

I was rather interested in my fellow-prisoners, who seemed to me in no way morally inferior to the rest of the population, though they were on the whole slightly below the usual level of intelligence , as was shown by the their having been caught.

(Russels: Autobiography: 256)

I had supposed that intellectuals frequently loved truth, but I found here again that not ten per cent of them prefer truth to popularity

(Russels: Autobiography: 240)

Of course, after having read today an article in the German Die Zeit, I am wondering if only the latter is true, and the first should read today: Intellectuals and the rest of the population tend increasingly to lock themselves up in virtual worlds of numeric and algorithmic truth:

Nun, die leise peinliche Antwort lautet, dass ein System scheinbar raffinierter Anreize die Gefühlswelt der Wissenschaften neu codiert hat. An die Stelle des Zorns über die Verhältnisse in der Welt und an die Stelle des interpretativen Abenteuers mit offenem Ausgang ist die Sorge getreten, ob man genug Drittmittel eingeworben und ausreichend Aufsätze in internationalen Zeitschriften publiziert hat. Die Höhe der eigenen Drittmittel und für eine breitere Öffentlichkeit zumeist nahezu unzugängliche Fachaufsätze gelten im Wettlauf um Evaluationspokale inzwischen als der zentrale Ausweis von Kompetenz.

Indeed, as I read recently:

Un mondo dove non serve farsi domande, cercare risposte, pensare, provare a fare bene e costruire.

Thus, they are easily losing increasingly the ground under their feet


The are different sides and it is crucial to recognise where one stands.

  • You see the car driving, tainted window, not allowing you to look into it — let alone to throw stones …
  • You are sitting in the car, tainted windows, not enabling you to see what is going on outside — if there is a need, others may throw stones or come with tanks …
  • You are on both sides, at different times, and at no time really being on either side … — definitely, really sitting in the glasshouse, just don’t throw stones, they will definitely hit back …
  • Walking – no tainted windows …, no side …, just the one: and we may throw stones … — but why should we?

Domine Quo Vadis?

It seems to be a simple question that recently had been put forward here

But what are people coming to Rome want to buy? What is the special pleasure, the experience they are looking for when doing to the so-called eternal city?

And it seems so simple that at the beginning, near those times of the very beginning at which we find the word,[1] a man supposedly had been asked

Domine Quo Vadis?

found an immediate answer. At least this is what had been handed down to us: he promptly replied to the Apostle who thus asked:

Romam vado iterum crucifigi.

But seen in the light of the answer the question takes a different form – and is surely not simple at all, especially not if we accept that an answer is it had been given is by no means self evident, will surely not given by most of us.

Sure, the danger of being crucified is today marginal – though one wonders about some things happening in this world, at this stage, in this place called Europe: enlightened and shining bright, claiming to be idol for the rest of the world. Sure, the danger of being crucified is marginal as cases where people are fixed to a bench with needles in their arm for death penalty are called execution of justice in the name of the USNA-law.

Anyway, though we wanted to go originally to Gandolpho, I changed plans after looking at the map – looked too complicated, too much hassle.

“OK to change plan?” – “OK. We can go to the Via Appia Antica – perhaps there you find an answer on yesterday’s question!?”

After briefly checking the map, I started the engine and …

“Ready?” – “Ready!”

The first, though tiny Quo Vadis? experience occurred somewhere near to the city walls at the other side of the city, the Appian mountains already in sight. There are about four lanes – the traffic light had been read and I stopped – to my right a van, I only saw relatively late that it had been police. No bother, the usual “Roman kick start”, moving on when the traffic light just starts t6o think about changing to green would not be wrong … – no sign of traffic on the left side – until a car just flew along, bypassing me, the police car and ignoring the traffic light, still “deep red”. I had been a bit puzzled to see the police car still standing there … – not for long: the traffic light changed, the car on my right started and stopped the other car on the next junction – two cars now blocking the traffic, giving just enough space to pass with the scooter.

The question remained unchanged – perhaps not for the driver of the car. But Via Appia Antiqua. I had been thinking about a friend who visited me a couple of weeks ago:

There is something here in Rome ….., hm, this feeling of walking where over two thousand years ago “these people” walked, talked, prosecuted and celebrated victories …

What could I reply?

Yes, but in some way one gets used to it: there you walk in the footsteps of Nero, there you sit down where Cesar had been sitting, and at the corner, it is the building much later erected under …. – and they are all present, not only the locals: xyz Raphael, Genteleschi (father and daughter [sic]!) and hundreds of others: Goethe, Stendhal, Keats, Shelley, Byron, Boromini, Bernini. All coming, leaving, asking, criticizing, agreeing ….. finding something new while permanently asking where they go – Well, you get used to it and at the same time you probably never get really used to it.

The engine switched off, the machine locked the real via is not passable with the scooter, at least it is not recommended (leaving aside that it is also prohibited). Quo vadis! – Perhaps it is just this question that brings so many people here: as the priest said during the sermon, it is about the father and redemption:

Io, io sono

– it is me that is

– and it had been added

By redemption it is that you can be – speranza: hope

After enlightenment this probably translates into esperienza: experience.

If we really can gain that experience we are expecting, or if it is another experience; if we are actually able to make any kind of such experience is another question, and looking for it is like walking on a tightrope. While we are walking further, I ask

Do you remember Jean-Paul Sartre, writing about hope?

Of course I new the answer:

– Sûrement, mais …

The reply comes with some hesitation from somebody who knows Sartre not as idol, not as writer, but as co-actor of those years in the late 60s, where he pleaded that intellectuals and workers belong together, where he ended one of his public speeches with the words like:

We (workers and intellectuals) will meet again: not because the intellectuals should tell the workers the truth; but to develop to something new

Seeing him in this way, his permanent questioning had been difficult to cope with: not because of the questions that he asked but because of the answers it evoked. And this had also been the permanent challenge: the freedom we are all striving for though we are apparently unable to deal with.

This is the similarity and difference if you want: The one had been asked Quo vadis and knew the way, which required much courage; the other asked himself and others permanently new questions and he did not know exactly the way – he only knew that we have to go it: Freedom had been for him action.

In any case, for both one question did not exist, had not even been possible to think:

Who sent you here?

Indeed, we can come back then to the question:

So what are people, coming to Rome, want to buy? What is the special pleasure, the experience they are looking for when doing to the so-called eternal city?

Perhaps they are just looking for the answer, although they know that the given answer remains unacceptable for them when they return. As Antonio Gramsci once wrote

To create a new culture does not only mean to make individually “original” discoveries, it also and especially means, to critically distribute discoveries that had been already made, in other words to “socialise” them and thus to establish them as foundation of vital actions, element of coordination and the intellectual and moral order.[2]

The crux is that people, facing the question Sartre posed, are easily referring to such new culture but do so only as long as somebody else makes the actual step, still saying for them

Romam vado iterum crucifigi.

Father, redemption and hope for eternity – not least as everything we do today has nolens volens, and if we know it or not eternal meaning.

And of course, as we all know that this kind of search, the huge numbers of tourists travelling from one country to another, moving between places is not without costs – not least for the environment – there is a new means at hand, allowing us following our sinful search, namely the modern way of selling indulgences: compensation in form of paying for charities that are active in the environmental area, a flight across the Atlantic is “charged” with about 60 Euro.

Of course, all this cannot be seen as rebuke – the challenge for us, who had been brought up in the tradition of the father, the redemption and the hope for eternity is nearly insurmountable, and possibly within this habitual way of thinking even logically impossible. We may remember Rosa Luxemburg’s words:

Freedom only for the members of the government, only for the members of the Party — though they are quite numerous — is no freedom at all. Freedom is always the freedom of dissenters. The essence of political freedom depends not on the fanatics of ‘justice’, but rather on all the invigorating, beneficial, and detergent effects of dissenters. If ‘freedom’ becomes ‘privilege’, the workings of political freedom are broken.[3]

This sounds simple but even Rosa, according to one biography, refused once to dance on a New Years Ball with [if I remember correctly] Kautsky, saying something like:

I cannot dance with you, while knowing that you will most likely attack me in the next parliamentary plenary.

This little episode sheds some light on the difficulties of welding general principles with individual behaviour – asking for redemption, unable to truly reconcile.



[1] Alluding to the Gospel according to St. John. Which begins with the words:

“{1:1} In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. {1:2} The same was in the beginning with God. {1:3} All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. {1:4} In him was life; and the life was the light of men. {1:5} And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.” (The King James Version of the Holy Bible; 611)

[2] Gramsci, Antonio, 1932-33: Gefängnishefte. Elftes Heft (XVIII) [Einführung ins Studium der Philosophie]; Antonio Gramsci. Gefängnishefte. Bd. 6: Philosophie der Praxis; herausgegeben von Wolfgang Fritz Haug; Hamburg/Berlin: Argument Verlag, 1994: 1365-1493; hier: 1377)

[3] Rosa Luxemburg – Gesammelte Werke Vol. 4; Dietz Verlag Berlin, 1983: : 359, Footnote 3