A Marginal Jew

Hans Jonas
Edited by Christian Wiese, Translated by Krishna Winston
Brandeis University Press, $35, 320 pp.

God Interrupted
Heresy and the European Imagination between the World Wars
Benjamin Lazier
Princeton University Press, $29.95, 270 pp.

Sometimes, pace the Lord, a prophet is honored only in his native land. So suggests the case of Hans Jonas, a philosopher whose prophetic warnings in the 1970s about dangers to the environment earned him fame in his native Germany and even played a part in inspiring a political movement there, the German Green Party. By contrast, Jonas is hardly a household name in the United States, where he lived from 1952 until his death in 1993, and even many professional philosophers here hardly know his work.

Jonas’s life story is a complicated one, and it is arguable that, when he came to fame in Germany toward the end of his life, the country of his youth no longer quite existed. That is proposed by Rachel Salamander in the foreword to Jonas’s Memoirs, edited by Christian Wiese from thirty-three tapes recording conversations Jonas had with Salamander and her partner Stephan Sattler. In his diction, Salamander writes, Jonas “had preserved a piece of Germany that one hardly encounters nowadays. It vanished along with the highly educated middle-class Jews who went into exile or were exterminated by the Nazis.” Born in 1903 in the city of Mönchengladbach, Jonas was one of these highly educated Jews, and in his youth a passionate Zionist. In 1933 he saw the writing on the wall and left Germany for Palestine by way of England. His father, a well-to-do textile manufacturer,...

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About the Author

Bernard G. Prusak is associate professor of philosophy and director of the McGowan Center for Ethics and Social Responsibility at King's College in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.