Hubertus Buchstein on the Heuss Professorship and Otto Kirchheimer

RM: Back in the fall, Daniel Bessner came to campus and gave a lecture on Hans Speier, who was also part of the University in Exile and who was a key leader at the RAND Corporation. It sounds like Kirchheimer went from academia to government and then back to academia, whereas Speier went from academia to government and never really came back. Did you find anything about a relationship between the two?

HB: Speier edited two books here at The New School in the 1950s on the transformation of Western Europe foreign policy, and he hired Kirchheimer to write a long article about the view of the trade unions in West Germany on foreign policy. Speier also got him two or three other grants, one for the Political Justice book.

When Speier got this job with the RAND Corporation, one of the first things he did was send a long letter to Herbert Marcuse and Kirchheimer. They had been his closest colleagues at the OSS. He mentioned to Kirchheimer:, “Here they treat me like I’m a little king – but you were always aggressive and critical of me and my work and I have to say that I miss this very much” Speier had a lot of respect for Kirchheimer.  But on the other hand, Kirchheimer did not like Speier much; Speier was too right-wing for him and too much, later on, supportive of the Vietnam War. Speier

RM: You also gave a lecture earlier this year on Carl Schmitt and Kirchheimer. Can you sum that up briefly?

HB: Kirchheimer is often called a ‘Left-Schmittian’ in the literature about this topic. In my view, this is totally wrong.So in my talk I reconstructed the very complex relationship between the two, both on the theoretical and on the biographical level. What I learned in my research was that in the 1930s, when Kirchheimer thought that he still had a good relationship with his former teacher, that Schmitt in his diaries was already saying “ugly Jew” whenever they disagreed, which was quqite often at the end of the Weimar Republic.

There is no doubt: Schmitt was already quite anti-Semitic. When Kirchheimer fled Germany, he lived in Paris and there he illegally printed and produced a brochure critical to the Nazi regime which looked on its cover like a Schmitt book so that it could be legally distributed in Germany in 1935. Schmitt, however, figured out that it was done by his former student and then ran to the Gestapo. I also get into how their relationship evolved after 1945, when Kirchheimer visited him in Germany, the letters they exchanged, how the relationship broke again. In his later work, Kirchheimer really took to criticizing Schmitt and Schmittianism. On the theoretical level I reconstructed the way Kirchheimer became such an outspoken critique of Schmitt.

After giving the talk and experiencing the lively discussion at the New School I decided that my next book will be on this topic, written in English.

RM: What’s next for you after The New School?

HB: Back home, I just got a huge grant for doing research on East German people who wanted to leave the former GDR (German Democratic Republic) when the wall was still there. In our project we are interested in those people who tried to escape the GDR between 1961 and 1989 through the Baltic Sea – swimming, diving, on little boats, with self-made submarines or other technical inventions. More than 5,000 people tried to leave the country through the Baltic Sea, but less than 200 successfully made it. Most of them got caught by the East German border control and were jailed. The exact number of those who died in the waters is still unknown. , There are still a few hundred people missing from East Germany. Even today, fishermen in Sweden find bones in their nets from former refugees and save them for DNA analysis.

RM: Any final thoughts as you leave The New School amid our centennial celebration?

HB: Well, I had a great time here and I realized that The New School still is very much devoted to its history. You know, the image of The New School is so high in Europe. The students, they come to you for the atmosphere, the setting, the community, then they come back and they are very loyal. Most Heuss professors that I’ve met are in some way are still supportive of it. The New School is able to create a sense of solidarity and community abroad that I don’t see in other places. The collegaues were very open to me. I also had the chance to go to so many events! The Radical Democracy conference, the Liberalism and Democracy Conference, talks by Dick Bernstein, Agnes Heller and others. Besides teaching my own classes I was sitting in in other classes, like on the Muppet Show you know those old people in the back?

RM: Statler and Waldorf?

HB: Yeah! I did this in the class of Andreas Kalyvas and Carlos Forment in their class post-democracy. The three of us and the students have a lot of fun. I’m was also working with the Global Dialogue Fellows project. So I’ve been much more involved in The New School than I thought in the beginning.  I already look forward coming back for 10 days to the New School in the fall.