Bernhard Schlink

    is a German writer, former professor of public law and the philosophy of law at Berlin’s Humboldt University. He was a judge of the Constitutional Court of the federal state of North Rhine-Westphalia in Münster. He divides his time between New York and Berlin. In his writing he raises theoretical issues of justice, most frequently on the example of coming to terms with the guilt of the past. Apart from the international bestseller, Der Vorleser (1995, The Reader), adapted by Stephen Daldry into an Oscar-winning film, his many acclaimed works include the novels Liebesfluchten (2000, Flights of Love), Die Heimkehr (2006, Homecoming), Das Wochenende (2008, The Weekend), Sommerlügen (2010, Summer Lies), Dei Frau auf der Treppe (2014, The Woman on the Stairs). His latest novel is Olga (2018). “Trump has changed America not just superficially but profoundly – nothing has remained unaffected. I have two friends who voted for Trump. We are still friends, but the friendship is no longer the same. We avoid discussing politics, although under Trump almost everything is politics. Conversations with my liberal friends are always political and always depressed. Democrats in America are as helpless as social democrats in Europe. Here, too, I live with mixed feelings. […] We have a Chancellor and we had a Federal President from the East. But what matters is not the highest-ranking politicians but the fact that the country and the people feel left behind. For example, there are villages that no longer have a school, a priest, a shop, police or a doctor. I am pained by the decline of the SPD. Like other European social democrat parties, the SPD is in crisis because it doesn’t know what social democratic politics should look like these days vis à vis the globalisation of capital and the economy, the global migration currents, the vanishing of the working class and the growth of what Marx called the ‘lumpenproletariat’. How can we integrate these people? And the migrants? Can we become an immigration country that, unlike traditional immigration countries, will integrate migrants into our social systems instead of into the labour market? Does it make sense to set a rigid age threshold for retirement and pensions? Does it make sense to direct young people to universities instead of skilled crafts and trades that have a future? What will happen to Europe? These and many other issues require conceptual thinking, we need social democratic answers to these urgent questions. But the politicians have no time for this. It should be a task for he Friedrich Ebert Foundation, but they are into ‘business as usual’, are harmless, uninventive, weak. […] What is important for me is law and justice, in theory as well as in practice. I am happy to have written, jointly with a friend and colleague of mine, a textbook on fundamental rights, from which a generation of students have studied basic rights. I am glad to have served as a judge on the Constitutional Court in Münster and to have defended in constitutional courts cases relating to electoral issues, education issues and abortions, among other things. But in addition to this, I am happy to be a writer, and as the son of Protestant ministers I feel that I must earn my happiness by doing something that is undoubtedly useful. As for the role of the writer: he is responsible for society just like a teacher, a minister, a businessman, or an engineer. A writer doesn’t enjoy any higher authority than the others and should not unduly claim it either.”
    Photo: Gaby Gerster / Diogenes Verlag