Günther Anders (born Günther Siegmund Stern; Breslau, 12 July 1902 – Vienna, 17 December 1992) was a German journalist, philosopher and anti-nuclear activist who developed a philosophical anthropology for the age of technology, focusing on such themes as the effects of mass media on our emotional and ethical existence, the illogic of religion, the nuclear threat, the Shoah, and the question of being a philosopher. In 1992, shortly before his death, he was awarded the Sigmund Freud Prize.
At the time of his birth his native Breslau (now Wrocław in Poland) had become the 6th largest city in the German Empire, with a Jewish population of about 20,000, 4% of the city's population. He was the son of founders of child psychology Clara and William Stern as well as a cousin of Walter Benjamin. Anders was married three times, to the German philosopher and political scientist Hannah Arendt from 1929 to 1937, to the Austrian writer Elisabeth Freundlich from 1945 to 1955, and to American pianist Charlotte Lois Zelka in 1957. Zelka was born in California in 1930, toured Europe for two decades, and died of lung cancer in 2001.
In 1923 Anders obtained a PhD in philosophy; Edmund Husserl was his dissertation advisor. Anders' sister Hilde Stern was at one time married to the German philosopher Rudolf Schottlaender, who was also a student of Husserl. However Anders' own father was arguably the most significant intellectual influence in his life.
While he was working as a journalist in Berlin, an editor did not want so many Jewish-sounding bylines in his paper, so Stern chose the name "Anders" (meaning other or different). He used that nom-de-plume for the rest of his life.
In the late 1920s Anders studied with the philosopher Martin Heidegger in Freiburg. He married fellow Heidegger student Hannah Arendt, who had engaged in an affair with their common mentor. Anders fled Nazi Germany in 1933, first to France (where he and Arendt divorced amicably in 1937), and later to the United States.
Anders returned to Europe in 1950 with his second wife Elisabeth Freundlich (1906-2001), whom he had met in New York, to live in her native Vienna. There Anders wrote his main philosophical work, whose title translates as The Obsolescence of Humankind (1956), became a leading figure in the anti-nuclear movement, and published numerous essays and expanded versions of his diaries, including one of a trip to Breslau and Auschwitz with his wife. Anders' papers are held by the University of Vienna, and his literary executor is former FORVM editor Gerhard Oberschlick.
Anders was an atheist.
Günther Anders was an early critic of the role of technology in modern life and in this context was a trenchant critic of the role of television. His essay "The Phantom World of TV," written in the late 1950s, was published in an edition of Bernard Rosenberg and David Manning White's influential anthology Mass Culture as "The Phantom World of Television." In it he details how the televisual experience substitutes images for experience, leading people to eschew first-hand experiences in the world and instead become "voyeurs," His dominant metaphor in this essay centers on how television interposes itself between family members "at the dinner table." See "Die Welt als Phantom und Matrize. Philosophische Betrachtungen über Rundfunk und Fernsehen" (The World as Phantom and Matrix. Philosophical Observations on Radio and Television) (1956).
The Obsolescence of Humankind
His major work, never translated into English, is acknowledged to be Die Antiquiertheit des Menschen (literally "The Outdatedness of the Human Species," 1956; vol. 2 1980), which argues that a gap has developed between humanity's technologically enhanced capacity to create and destroy, and our ability to imagine that destruction. Anders devoted a great deal of attention to the nuclear threat, making him an early critic of this technology as well.
The two volume work is made up of a string of philosophical essays that start with an observation often found in Anders' diary entries dating back to his exile in the U.S. in the 1940s.
To provide an example from the first chapter of volume one: “First Encounter with Promethean Shame – Today’s Prometheus asks: ‘Who am I anyway?’”; 11 March 1942. “Shame about the ‘embarrassingly’ high quality of manufactured goods.” What are we embarrassed about? Anders’ answer to this question is simply “that we were born and not manufactured.”
Open Letter to Klaus Eichmann.
Just as Arendt in her "Eichmann in Jerusalem" elucidated the Banality of Evil by declaring that horrendous crimes can be committed by quite ordinary people, Anders explores the moral and ethical ramifications of the facts brought to light in the 1960-61 trial of Adolf Eichmann in We Sons of Eichmann: Open Letter to Klaus Eichmann (the son of the noted Nazi bureaucrat and genocidaire). He suggests that the appellation "Eichmann" properly designates any person who actively participated in, ignored or failed to learn about, or even knew about but took no action against the Nazis' mass murder campaigns against Jews and others. He explained to his audience in Austria and Germany, among them young writers searching for ways to empathize with their parents' generation, that "there was but one viable alternative not only for Eichmann's son Klaus but all 'Eichmann sons,' namely to repudiate their fathers since mourning them was not an option."
Foreword. "Outdatedness of Human Beings 1", 5th edition
"The three main theses: that we are no match for the perfection of our products; that we produce more than we can visualize and take responsibility for; and that we believe, that, what we can do, are allowed to do, no: should do, no: must do – these three basic theses, in light of the environmental threats emerging over the last quarter century, have become more prevailing and urgent than they were then."
Changing the world
"It does not suffice to change the world. We do that anyway. And to a large extent that happens even without our involvement. In addition we have to interpret this change. Precisely because to change it. That therefore the world does not change without us. And ultimately into a world without us."
Introduction. "Outdatedness of Human Beings 2"
This volume is "...a philosophical anthropology in the age of technocracy". With "technocracy" I do not mean the rule of technocrats (as if they were a group of specialists, who dominate today's politics), but the fact, that the world, in which we live and which determines us, is a technological one – which extends so far, that we are not allowed to say, that in our historical situation there is among other things technology, rather do we have to say: within the world's status called "technology" history happens, in other words technology has become the subject of history, in which we are only "co-historical".
Dedication. "Outdatedness of Human Beings 1", 5th edition
Exactly half a century ago, in nineteen hundred and six, my father William Stern published, then twenty years younger and generations more confident than his son today, the first volume of his work "Person and Thing." His hope, to rehabilitate the "Person" through his struggle against an impersonal Psychology, he only unwillingly would have seen dashed. His very own kindness and the optimism of the times, to which he belonged, prevented him for many years, to understand that what makes a "Person" a "Thing", is not its scientific treatment; but the actual treatment of one human being by another. When overnight he was dishonored and chased away by the spurners of humanity, he was not spared the grief that comes from a better understanding into a world worse off.
In memory of him, who indelibly implanted the idea of human dignity in his son, these mournful pages on the devastation of human beings were written.
Love Yesterday. Notes on the History of Feelings. 1986.
Without knights no chivalry, without court no courtliness, without salon no charm, without material support no deference will last indefinitely, not even as make-believe. In the same manner what shrinks in a world that cheats us out of leisure and other preconditions of our privacy, are the subtleties of our emotional private lives.
Jewish Origins. In: Paul van Dijk, Anthropology in the Age of Technology.
"His Jewish self-consciousness reveals itself in the acknowledgment that he is never more ashamed than when meeting a Jew who is ashamed to be a Jew. The Judaism that Anders represents with the fierceness and decisiveness that is so characteristic of him is, however, a modern, secular, and humanistic Judaism."