Encyclopedia entry on
Günther Anders

by Prof. Harold Marcuse
Dept. of History, UC Santa Barbara

written May 1997, posted Feb. 2000.

part of my Günther Anders website

originally for Routledge's
Encyclopedia of Contemporary German History
(bold words are cross-references there; $35 at amazon.com)

Günther Anders, Philosopher and essayist
born 12 July 1902 in Breslau, died 17 December 1992 in Vienna

Anders, born Günther Stern, attained notoriety since the early 1960s as an activist and philosopher of the antinuclear movement. An assimilated German Jew, he studied under Martin Heidegger and Edmund Husserl, completing his dissertation in 1923. After the University of Frankfurt rejected his habilitation, he began work as a cultural critic. When a Berlin editor with too many writers named Stern on his staff suggested he name himself "something different," he responded "then call me 'different'" ("anders"). The name is characteristic of Anders' unsparing bluntness. He emigrated to Paris in 1933 and the United States in 1936, divorcing Hannah Arendt, who found his pessimism "hard to bear," as he later put it.

In the United States Anders worked at menial jobs, but also wrote for Der Aufbau and later lectured at the New School for Social Research. His first book of philosophical reflexions, The Writing on the Wall: Diaries 1941-1966 (1967), begins with his musings as a laborer in a Hollywood warehouse of historical costumes. Auschwitz and Hiroshima mark turning points in his consciousness. He returned to Europe in 1950 and began work on Die Antiquiertheit des Menschen (The Outdatedness of Human Beings, 1956). In addition to analyzing human feelings of inadequacy in comparison with machines, and to a philosophical settling of accounts with Heidegger, Anders lays out the principles of 'blindness to the apocalypse,' the hallmark of his later work. Pressured to categorize his ideas, he later coined the term Diskrepanzphilosophie (philosophy of discrepancy) to describe his focus on the increasing divergence between what has become technically feasible (e.g. the atomic holocaust of the entire globe), and what the human mind is capable of imagining.

With Robert Jungk, Anders co-founded the antinuclear movement in 1954. He published his philosophical diary of an international conference in Hiroshima (Der Mann auf der Brücke, The Mann on the Bridge, 1959) and his correspondence with a pilot in the Hiroshima squadron (Burning Conscience, 1962). His politically acerbic books from the 1960s include an open letter to the son of Adolf Eichmann, a speech about the victims of the three world wars, and a primer of American warspeak in Vietnam. In 1967 he served as a juror on the Russell tribunal publicizing atrocities in Vietnam. Anders' oeuvre encompasses numerous literary and philosophical works, including books on Kafka (1951, English 1960) and Brecht (1962), essays on the atomic age (Endzeit und Zeitenende, Die atomare Drohung, 1972, 1981), reflections from his diaries (among others Ketzereien, Heresies, 1982), and a second volume of Die Antiquiertheit des Menschen (1980).

Anders won numerous awards and honors for his work from 1936 to the Adorno Prize in 1983, some of which he rejected for political reasons. His unsparingly critical pessimism may explain why his pathbreaking works have seldom sparked sustained public discussion, with the major exception of his Theses on Violence during the peace movement of the 1980s. The renaissance of interest in his works in the 1990s indicates that his uncompromising moralism may have been ahead of its time.

K. Liessmann, "Moralist und Ketzer: Zu Günther Anders und seiner Philosophie des Monströsen," Text und Kritik 115(July 1992): 3-19. Introduction to a special issue devoted to Anders and his work.

J. Strümpel, "Vita, Bibliographie," Text und Kritik 115(July 1992), 86-101. Exhaustive bibliography includes secondary works. (scans of vita)

page written by H. Marcuse, May 1997, posted Feb. 2000, formatting updated Feb. 2005.
back to top, to G. Anders main page, to H. Marcuse homepage