Self-Examination of One’s Guilt: A New Life Path that Overcomes the Past

Social Sciences in China (Chinese Edition)

No.9, 2015


Self-Examination of One’s Guilt: A New Life Path that Overcomes the Past



Jin Shoutie


After the Second World War, reflection upon the history of war and the attribution of war guilt became an important focal issue for world peace and stability. The Question of German Guilt (1946) by Karl Jaspers, the best postwar monograph on political and ethical philosophy, distinguishes between four kinds of guilt: criminal, political, moral and metaphysical, and systematically discusses their interconnections. On this basis, he rebuts the trend in public opinion of wholesale rejection of the German nation and its spiritual history, avoiding the total repudiation of an entire nation due to the attribution of war guilt. At the same time, he criticizes the German resentment, in the early postwar period, of “collective guilt,” animadverts on the traditional German political culture with its indifference to politics, lack of sense of responsibility and blind obedience to authority, and urges all Germans to reflect profoundly on their actions and accept common guilt as members of the community, thus laying a firm political-moral foundation for Germany to achieve a new political life. Jasper’s series of political-moral works, including The Question of German Guilt, not only provides a strong spiritual impetus for postwar Germany’s reflection on German guilt and its realization of a political-moral transformation, but also offers an example for other countries’ thinking about Nazi ideology, carrying out education on history and culture, and taking a developmental road of freedom, democracy and peace.