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Carnap’s “Politische Rundbriefe” of 1918

When I was putting together my conception of Carnap’s early development, and the wellsprings of his later philosophy, in the first chapter of my book, I relied largely on his manifesto-like article on “Deutschlands Niederlage” (Germany’s Defeat), which was written in October 1918 but remained unpublished.  I knew from the original draft of his autobiography about his effort of earlier that year (February through August) to stimulate discussion among his Youth Movement friends with a series of commented excerpts from the foreign press and from more extended essays (including Kant’s “Vom ewigen Frieden”!), which he continued to circulate and to correspond with individual friends about until he was prohibited by his commander, in September 1918, from further activity; as he remarked in the original version of the autobiography, he was lucky that his superior was so lenient, and that he wasn’t prosecuted for Hochverrat (high treason), since some of those he’d circulated his Rundbriefe to were actually still in action on the western front.

I had also seen the large folders of these Politische Rundbriefe in the Pittsburgh archive, and leafed through them, reluctantly deciding that I simply couldn’t afford the time to study them in detail.  I was wrong.

They have now been discussed in a very informative larger context by Meike Werner in a new paper (brought to my attention by Christian Damböck) that is, however, unfortunately very inaccessible.  It’s published in this edited volume, but unless you are willing to order the whole book for $75 or so, or your library happens to have it (unlikely), there seems to be no way to get electronic access to her chapter, which is entitled “Freideutsche Jugend und Politik: Carnaps Politische Rundbriefe 1918″ and is on pp. 465 to 486 of the book.  Write me (or her, or Christian) if you want a copy.

It’s terrific.  It not only summarizes Carnap’s introductory statements and the contents of each Rundbrief, with generous quotations (including also quotations from Carnap’s correspondence with some of those he circulated the items to), but puts the whole effort into the larger context of the last year of the war and political developments in Germany.  It gives a little background on each of the more extended essays Carnap circulates.  It also makes the connection between Carnap’s private circulation of his own Politische Rundbriefe and his subsequent support of (and contributions to) Karl Bittel’s Politische Rundbriefe (for which “Deutschlands Niederlage” was written, though ultimately not published).  All in all, it is the perfect guide to these clunky large folders in the archive that so put me (and I’m sure many others) off.  These Politische Rundbriefe are a key document in Carnap’s development, and I shouldn’t have been so easily put off (as I now, thanks to Meike Werner, realize)!

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