Schwerpunktbeitrag: The border as an interface – ethical-political perspectives after Auschwitz

Jürgen Manemann

It all started with the borders opening

4 September 2015: The refugee situation in Budapest worsens dramatically. The government holds talks. The photographs of the lifeless three-year-old boy on a Turkish beach on 2 September, and the 71 bodies on the A4 motorway in Austria, sway the public perception of the situation.

5 September 2015: Shortly after midnight, the border to Germany is opened to refugees. Every day, almost 10,000 refugees arrive at the main station in Munich alone. The numbers are rising. Germany and the European Union are overwhelmed by the situation. Thousands of Germans provide spontaneous support. Within a few days, a civil-society movement has arisen to help the refugees.[1] The Christian churches offer emergency aid and accommodation.

In the autumn, the political dispute escalates. The Bavarian state premier Horst Seehofer is no longer prepared to tolerate the uncontrolled influx and urgently demands a cap on refugees. He goes as far as accusing Chancellor Angela Merkel of breaching the constitution, and commissions a report to that effect. Josef Schuster, president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany (ZdJ), also calls for a limit as he explains “Many of the refugees are fleeing the terror of the Islamic State and want to live in peace and freedom, but at the same time they come from cultures in which anti-Jewish hate and intolerance are firmly rooted”[2].

On New Year’s Eve, women at the main station in Cologne are robbed and sexually harassed: “The number of reports rose to 652, the public prosecutor’s office announced, with 331 sexual offences being reported. According to public prosecutor Ulrich Bremer, at that point 739 victims had reported being attacked, pestered or robbed. Sometimes several people filed a joint report, hence the higher number of victims than reports. So far, the regional police have identified 23 suspects by name. According to media reports, the largest group – eight suspects – are Moroccan nationals. Federal police have identified 32 suspects so far. Of these, most (22) are said by the media to be Tunisian, Moroccan and Iraqi nationals. According to the police, 22 suspects are asylum seekers. However, they are not being investigated regarding sexual offences. Three suspects are German nationals. A special ‘New Year Investigation Team’ has been set up to work on the cases.”[3]

That night shook many German citizens to their core and sparked a national debate which resulted in a widening divide in the country on the so-called Flüchtlingsfrage – the “refugee issue” – in the new year. Ever since, the focus of political confrontation has been on what borders mean. Hardly surprising, considering that in many politicians’ and German citizens’ minds, it all started with the borders opening. Thus, no-one discussing the “refugee issue” can stay silent on the meaning of borders, either in general or in this case in particular. Above all, the discourse on refugee and migration policy is a discourse about borders.


Safe borders to guarantee collective self-determination

In the context of this discussion, the philosopher and former Federal Government Commissioner for Culture (as a member of the SPD) Julian Nida-Rümelin published an essay which drew great interest. In it, he speaks against the idea of open borders. Without secure borders, according to Nida-Rümelin, the “human right to collective self-determination” cannot be guaranteed. Furthermore, he believes, a migration policy which favours open borders is unjust, in that it makes the poor even poorer due to “innovative potential haemorrhaging from the qualified immigrants’ countries of origin (brain drain) […].”[4] He thus reasons that “taking in economic refugees from the global South in the rich countries of the global North, i.e. North America and Europe, […] is not a sensible way to fight global poverty and distress.”[5]

Moreover, he proposes, a liberal constitutional state has to treat new arrivals according to the principle of equal treatment, but, “In this case, equal treatment demands a level of support to match that of their neediness. The special attention paid to those who have made their way to Europe or North America or Australia violates that principle of equal treatment; whatever their needs, they are given strongly preferential treatment over those who have stayed behind in the crisis regions. However, treating migrants the same way as those who stay behind would lead to them being treated dramatically differently to people already living in the receiving country. The two principles of equal treatment cannot both be fulfilled at once. Whatever we do, we violate one or the other and thus cannot do justice to a central ethical requirement.”[6]

In addition to this, Nida-Rümelin calls for migration policy to distinguish between migration caused by wars or civil war and economic migration.

Finally, he puts forward the following postulates for an ethic of migration[7]:

First postulate: “Shape migration policy such that it helps make the world juster and more humane.” This postulate, Nida-Rümelin proposes, comprises the duty “to create a fair balance of interests, to promote migration wherever it helps make the world fairer and reduce poverty and need”.

Second postulate: “Shape internal migration policy, i.e. that in the receiving societies, such that immigration is seen as enriching, not threatening.” Nida-Rümelin posits that the following measures need to be ensured: “Opportunities for locals and immigrants to meet, early integration into the labour market and a culture of equal recognition based on mutual respect, without seeing individual people merely as representatives of cultural groups.”

Third postulate: “Migration policy decisions must be compatible with each group of citizens’ rights to collective self-determination.”

Fourth postulate: “Migration policy should be shaped such that it does not increase social inequality in the receiving country, it does not endanger the structures for social balance (the welfare state) and it meets with (well-founded) acceptance across all social classes.” Nida-Rümelin posits that resistance to a migration policy of open borders is often caused not by racism and lack of enlightenment but by burdens being shared unequally and unjustly in the receiving societies.

Fifth postulate: “Migration policy in general, but especially policies aimed at economic and labour migration, must fully compensate for the disadvantages caused to the regions of origin.”

Sixth postulate: “All available data tells us that migration is largely ineffective compared with other means of tackling world poverty and lessening the imbalance between the global North and the global South, between economically developed and less well developed regions; indeed, that it is actually counter-productive in most cases. Accordingly, the global society’s supply of solidarity should not mainly be tied up in transcontinental migration; instead, it should be used to make generous transfer payments to crisis regions and, above all, to develop a juster global economic system.”

Seventh postulate: “Demand nothing of migration policy that you would not also accept in your immediate social surroundings, and pursue the practices in your immediate social surroundings that you expect of migration policy.”

Without borders, Nida-Rümelin believes, different forms of life would all morph into one. For this reason, he calls for a “deontology of borders”[8], including “individuals’ rights to defend themselves against interventions not only on the part of the state, but also on the part of other people; in other words the constitutive conditions of collective authorship in the shape of political institutions, states, cultural associations and other constituted communities. Without structure, without legitimate, accepted borders there can be no authorship, no accountability, no responsibility, no respect and no dignity.”[9] He concludes that, “On closer inspection, the attractive case in favour of borderlessness – the theory that borders are fundamentally illegitimate as they maintain differences – cannot be ethically justified.”[10] Nida-Rümelin instead argues for “establishing the right to universal hospitality as demanded by Kant in his 1795 essay Perpetual Peace.”[11] This, he explains, guarantees the right to emigrate, but not the right to immigrate.[12]


The task of an ethic of politics after Auschwitz

What shape does this ethic of migration take from the point of view of an ethic of politics after Auschwitz? Ethics after Auschwitz close the door on abstract moralising. They are guided by an active interest in fighting injustice. Theodor W. Adorno formulates the maxims of such ethics as follows: “One should, if it is at all possible, live how one believes life should be lived in a liberated world; in one’s own way of existing one should, so to speak, try to anticipate the truly right way of existing, with all the inevitable contradictions and conflicts that entails. The attempt is necessarily doomed to failure and contradiction, but there is no alternative but to endure that contradiction to the bitter end. The most important form which that takes today is resistance.”[13] To Adorno, resistance means not taking part.[14]

After Auschwitz, political ethicists can no longer content themselves with simply reflecting on and explaining political norms. Political ethicists would be acting like parasites if, in politically explosive situations of the kind we are experiencing today, they felt no need to play an active role in a politics of conviviality. For this reason, political ethicists for whom political ethics are a duty must advance to the position of ethicists of politics. This would, however, mean a change in the position of political philosophers. Political ethics is based on normativism, ethics of politics on prescriptivism. The philosopher Avishai Margalit clearly highlighted the differences: a normative theory aims to do the best, a prescriptive theory aims to do it better. A normative, ideal theory says what is best, e.g. in a just society, while a prescriptive theory says “how we can make things better”.[15] That making things better is based on one hand on knowledge of what we do not want, and on the other hand on the knowledge that we are always part of what we are criticising and rejecting. People who take part in this manner, and that is the salient point, are taking part in a very different manner to people “who put all their heart into it”[16].

An ethic of politics after Auschwitz attempts to resist any kind of assimilation. It aims to save individuals, with their unique nature. This perspective both dynamically modifies and deconstructs the precept of non-discrimination which Nida-Rümelin so vehemently demands. It makes us aware that the issue of justice, understood in the liberal sense as an issue of equality, must not be reduced to the question of how things are shared. This kind of ethic of politics is based on the knowledge that, as Adorno put it, the true medium of justice is always, in part, injustice. For politics to take individual people into account, our understanding of justice, in the sense of equality, must always be taken apart with the aim of doing justice to a specific Other. An ethic of politics thus has its roots in doing individual justice.[17] This leads to an imperative of recognition which requires the theory and practice of justice (equality) in a liberal society to constantly explain how specific people, with their inherent dignity, are treated. And this in turn means that the individual’s perspective needs to be taken into account. When others’ complaints about accustomed practices of equal treatment can actually be heard, justice becomes ever more just.[18] Here, too, it is the case that “injustice is the medium of true justice”.[19]

Justice which emerges from this kind of “lively sense of injustice” (Burkhard Liebsch) is based on sensitivity to suffering. This lively sense of injustice raises the question of “whether, how and by whom there is, or is not, any perception and articulation of entitlement”[20]. It also sparks a search for a kind of injustice “which may be found within the very search for injustice”[21], for example if invisible others’ voices, or even those others’ existence, do not play any role. This is not simply about balancing conflicting interests; such interests come about, after all, as a result of previously articulated entitlements.[22] When we talk about a lively sense of injustice, that does not mean empirically identifying pre-existing instances of injustice. That lively sense of injustice is what actually reveals the injustice in the first place.[23]


The road to pathic cosmopolitanism

What we require is a pathic form of cosmopolitanism; one based on the idea of “analogia passionis”[24]. This type of cosmopolitanism is aware of how similar our experiences of suffering are while simultaneously being aware that their dissimilarities are even greater. This protects against miscommunication.[25] Pathic cosmopolitanism starts out from the example of suffering as a shared feeling. Every human being suffers. Every one of us can be made to suffer, and every one of us can be affected by others’ suffering. Sufferers may accuse others of not wanting to face their suffering, and thus rejecting it. The social ethicist Peter Rottländer takes this idea and derives the principle, “There is no suffering that does not affect us.”[26] This is deliberately formulated in the negative to make it clear that no-one can be responsible for everyone, but that there is nonetheless a “universal feeling of responsibility”[27]. The principle that “there is no suffering that does not affect us” opens our eyes to the fact that there is no justification for excluding certain groups of people right from the outset from our planned solidarity. It means “excluding exclusions”[28]. This type of cosmopolitanism that is sensitive to suffering is based above all on a sensitivity to others’ suffering. Following the political theologian Johann Baptist Metz, this thus leads to the following imperative: respecting others’ suffering is a prerequisite for any kind of ethics of politics.[29]

Considering the existence of large numbers of refugees who have no part to play in society, from the point of view of pathic cosmopolitanism the question of what need there is for representation in modern constitutional state democracies needs to be rephrased and re-asked – not just in the sense of representative democracy but also with regard to political powerlessness. Metz asks:

“For modern constitutional state democracy, is there not also a form of “authority” which is excluded from the process of democratic discourse – or which is the prerequisite thereof – and which also affects the legal understanding of democratic government, if that is not viewed purely from the angle of legal positivism? After all, our modern Western democracies – […] are founded on an emphatic definition of equality among all people that is not simply limited to the usual democratic understanding of “equality of opportunity”. The moral aspect of this idea of all people being equal makes the emphasis on this phrase clear: for modern parliamentary democracies there is no form of suffering in the world that threatens human dignity yet is entirely beyond their concern, even if those democracies are not guided by the utopian dream of a global society that is entirely without suffering.”[30]


Human rights without borders

Though human rights are recognised in many constitutions today, there are still limits on the extent to which they apply. In Germany, it was only during the 1970s that legal protection for guest workers and foreign nationals was extended, leaving them today “on an equal footing with German nationals when it comes to fundamental duties of protection by the state”[31]. Ever since, foreign nationals have enjoyed legal protection on federal territory. It was actors within civil society that enabled this protection to be extended.[32] They gave the judiciary the opportunity to review government actions, with the result that foreign people can today rely upon “being guaranteed basic human rights in Western European countries”[33]. However, this strengthening of foreigners’ rights on national territory led to “Western liberal governments transferring their politics to extraterritorial areas to avoid violating their duty to protect human rights”[34]. Accordingly, governmental powers spread out into “unlegislated areas”: “While governments remain responsible for their own citizens wherever they are in the world […], they only commit to protecting the individual rights of non-citizens within their own sovereign territory. […] Beyond their national borders, they do not feel bound to protect the human rights of migrants, refugees or terrorism suspects – or at least not to the same extent as within their own countries. ”[35] It is only recently that courts and commissioned experts – again thanks to the involvement of actors within civil society – have “formulated extraterritorial governmental duties based on two principles: firstly, that of effective control over a certain area (spatial principle), and secondly that of effective control over an individual (personal principle)”[36]. As a result, “the authorities and military forces are always bound to protect human rights if they exercise effective control over people or territories, either de facto or de jure. In other words, human rights can also be binding when governments take action outside their national territory.”[37] This extension of the area in which human rights apply was made possible by dissociating human rights from national territory.[38] For this reason, contemporary politics is aimed at transferring migration controls to African coastal states: “Governments are thus continuing to assert their restrictive migration policies, and increase those efforts even further whenever their governmental practices are fenced in.”[39]

When one examines the problems related to migration from this point of view, it becomes clear that the main problem is not only open borders, as Nida-Rümelin believes, but also closed borders. Controls on immigration are by no means subject to the principle of equal treatment. Their purpose is to prevent unwanted immigration. Reflection on borders from the perspective of an ethic of politics starts out with the question not of “who human rights apply to but of where they apply.”[40] The aim is to ensure that every human being has rights, and that every human being should be safe in the knowledge that these are guaranteed wherever they go.[41]


Plea for open borders

From this perspective, the ethical question must be asked of “what right governments have to decide who can enter and stay in their territory and who cannot”[42]. The Swiss philosopher Andreas Cassee asks whether “in the long term we should strive for a world in which all people are free to choose what part of the Earth’s surface they want to live on, without having to ask the government in question for permission”. To this day, it is up to individual states to decide how they will deal with immigration. There is just one exception: “the principle of non-refoulement under international law on asylum”: “No-one may be expelled to a country ‘where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion’.”[43] Otherwise, the dominant belief is that “states are allowed to restrict immigration unilaterally depending on their citizens’ interests and preferences”[44]. Cassee does not hold this view to be morally tenable. He describes states as frequently being seen as clubs whose members can decide who else can join.[45] However, Cassee argues, for states, “other moral principles apply than for private associations”[46]: “The purpose of private clubs is for us to pursue more or less whatever personal project we want, with people of our own choice. State institutions such as courts, by contrast, are there to maintain a fair setting in which people can go about their different personal projects.”[47] Cassee also argues that the territory cannot be claimed under collective property rights, as “territorial access is not an asset from which we can exclude others without their losing out; the territory itself was not created by members of the state in question.”[48] Moreover, he continues, other people cannot be prevented from immigrating with reference to a “right to cultural self-determination”. After all, surely those who consider cultural diversity valuable for instrumental reasons have equally “strong reason to consider restrictions on immigration to be problematic, as they prevent individuals from making the most of cultural opportunities which are of value to them, and benefiting from humanity’s wealth of cultural experience”[49]. Cultural reasoning is based on stories, but what stories do we tell? “The narrative could be about the deaths in the Mediterranean, about the desperation felt by detainees pending deportation, about sans-papiers being deprived of their rights or about people who work on production lines for the Western market, having promises of European and American prosperity paraded in front of them on a daily basis, without ever having the chance to visit the scene of those promises.”[50] With regard to culturalist arguments, Cassee writes, “It was at the time of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, at the latest, that we declared our support for the principle that there are some things we owe all people, however alien they may appear to us. And tactics of cultural separation have often, in retrospect, proven more readily open to change than they might appear from a contemporary perspective.”[51] Drawing upon various studies, Cassee also refutes Nida-Rümelin’s theory that migration has damaging effects on the countries of origin: “On the whole, international migration is also of benefit to the few people in poor countries who do not migrate themselves.”[52] It is clear to Cassee that although there is a right to freedom of movement, it is not an absolute right. What this means is that “freedom of movement between states cannot be restricted at will”[53]. To further support this insight, he draws upon John Rawls, asking what migration looks like from a global original position. “What principles would we agree upon for how to deal with international migration if we did not know what nationality we had, what social class we belonged to or what model of a successful life we were following?”[54] From a contractarianist point of view, the parties to the contract would surely prefer a conditional right to exclusion over an absolute right: “They would thus restrict a potential right to exclusion by adding special rules for refugees.”[55] For migration policy, this can be understood as meaning that refugees should not just be protected against removal, but also allowed legal entry into a safe country. Moreover, victims of political persecution should not be the only ones recognised as refugees, but also people denied safe access to basic human rights in their country of origin for other reasons. However, Cassee also adds the following insight: “Conversely, the parties to the contract would also reject an absolute right to global freedom of movement in favour of a conditional right. For example, they would hardly require states to allow unlimited immigration if that led to the state’s total collapse, with no benefit, in the end, even to those wanting to immigrate.”[56] With regard to a policy of secure borders, Cassee warns: “Anyone who describes a restrictive policy as just, simply because they are themselves privileged and lucky enough to have been born in a safe country, is misusing the language of justice.”[57]


Rethinking borders: the principle of the border as an interface

From the point of view of a lively sense of injustice, however, borders must be contemplated in yet another way. In his work “Crowds and Power” (begun in 1922 and published in German in 1960), the author Elias Canetti describes how life in the modern world is characterised by a particular sensitivity to touch. In modern times, people distance themselves from one another out of a fear of being touched, e.g. locking themselves away in houses. A fear of touch also affects the way people act in one another’s company. Taking the example of an elevator, everyone knows the situation. When standing in an elevator, everyone does their best not to touch anyone else. If they do touch, this is followed by an immediate apology; one that is also expected. In the modern world, people are afraid of closeness. When they are relieved of this fear of touching, modern people are thus thrown all the more off balance. One obvious example of this is the mass movements which have appeared in modern times. In his famous 1945 essay “Die deutsche Katastrophe” (“The German Catastrophe”), the historian Friedrich Meinecke blamed “massification” for that catastrophe.[58] Canetti points to the danger that an extreme sensitivity to touch entails: the formation of uncontrollable crowds.[59] In a crowd, people suddenly feel safe. It is a transpersonal feeling that breaks down the distances which usually separate people and make them fear being touched. It is easy to imagine the relief that a crowd gives to people suffering from an almost pathological fear of being touched. In crowds, people pull down barriers. They cannot tolerate closed doors. They feel threatened by borders, wanting to eliminate them. The crowd tears down anything that creates a distance.[60]

Practices of exclusion and separation run the risk of sparking pathological sensitivities to touch: people build houses, lock themselves in, demarcate their territory. The author Hans Magnus Enzensberger captured our habits of separation, our constant everyday boundary work, in the following scene in his book “The Great Migration”:

“Two passengers in a railway compartment. We know nothing about them, their origin or their destination. They have commandeered the little tables, clothes-hooks and baggage-racks: made themselves at home. Newspapers, coats and handbags lie around on the empty seats. The door opens, and two new travellers enter. Their arrival is not welcomed. There is a distinct reluctance to clear the free seats and let the newcomers share them. The original passengers, even if they do not know one another at all, behave with a remarkable degree of solidarity. They display a united front against the new arrivals. The compartment has become their territory to make available, and they regard each new person who comes in as an intruder. Their consciousness is that of natives claiming the whole space for themselves. This view cannot be rationally justified; it is more deeply rooted.

However, matters virtually never get to the point of open conflict. That is because the passengers are subject to a system of rules; their territorial instinct is curbed by the institutional code of the railroad as well as by other unwritten norms of behaviour: like that of courtesy. Looks are exchanged, and formulaic apologies are muttered through clenched teeth, but the new passengers are tolerated. One gets used to them. Yet they remain, even if to a decreasing degree, stigmatized.

This harmless model is not without its absurd features. The railway compartment is itself a transitory domicile, a location which serves only to change locations. Fluctuation is its destiny. The passenger is the negation of the sedentary person. He has traded a real territory for a virtual one. Despite this, he defends his transient abode with sullen resentment.”[61]

Later, Enzensberger continues:

“Two new passengers open the compartment door. From this instant, the status of those who entered earlier changes. Only a moment ago, they were the intruders; now they are natives. They belong to the clan of compartment-occupants and claim all the privileges due to them. The defence of such an ‘ancestral’ territory, that was only recently occupied, appears paradoxical; noteworthy is the absence of any empathy with the newcomers, who have to struggle against the same opposition, face the same difficult initiation, to which their predecessors were subjected. Curious, the rapidity with which one’s own origin is concealed and denied.”[62]


Politics at the interface

As a place of betweenness, politics lives from borders; from borders between different groups, each with different world views. The clash between opposites that this entails is what initiates and constantly drives politics. Politics is an interface, initially in the form of two bordering sides in the contact area of friction. The life force behind democracy is not consensus, but dissent. Democracy is a thing of the future in the sense that it is based on a promise to take the real population seriously as “the ensemble of conflicting individuals” (P. Flores d’Arcais). That is the challenge of democracy. Politics comes about when different views suddenly collide. That collision creates friction; friction creates heat. Once the heat reaches a certain temperature – once the argument reaches a certain level of intensity – fronts and groups start to develop. However, the argument is only political as long as the opponents on either side of the border refuse to denounce one another as enemies. That is only guaranteed if the groups are not separated by a border, but are instead linked by an interface, allowing them to connect with one another’s deeper concerns.

An ethic of politics after Auschwitz aims to understand borders as interfaces. Interfaces are a basic principle at the root of all forms of life. Without interfaces, there is no liveliness (Lebendigkeit). After all, interfaces stand not for separation, like borders, but for interchange, and interchange is what makes life possible. The principle of the interface is inherent in liveliness; that is true of all physiological processes.[63] Artificial systems are different: in the economic system, for example, we can disconnect a subsystem for a period of time, put it on pause and then reactivate it again. That is not possible in the case of life. “No liveliness without interchange” – that principle applies not only to every biological dimension of human (co-)existence but also to all social and cultural dimensions. Looking at the issues around borders with the principle of the interface in mind, it is clear that interfaces do not mean greater independence from others, but instead greater dependence on them. Every interchange that takes place at an interface has a goal; that of enabling activity.[64]

Liveliness does not only stand for an interchange which makes it possible to function; liveliness also stands for emergence. This requires an interchange that makes the unknown possible. Liveliness means the possible being unyoked from what we believe to be impossible. Liveliness means new possibilities (impossibilities) coming about – though only if people grasp (or are grasped by) those opportunities. Thinking in terms of an interface, this thus always means being in a subjective frame of mind in which one intuits or recognises new opportunities, or at least considers them possible. The native populace intuitively see refugees as a provocative challenge; they are a reminder that the social system is to some extent artificial, as it could easily be totally different. That realisation is initially painful for the native populace. Refugees “herald new orders” (Vilém Flusser). It is for precisely this reason that they are excluded by locals, who are not prepared to countenance new social systems. To avoid doing so, they turn refugees into foreigners. Labelling them “foreigners” means that, for the native populace, all is right with the world once again. Locals and foreigners face one another almost as beings inhabiting different spheres. The unknown is thus turned into the foreign in a bid to save the existing system. Drawing clear-cut lines is intended to protect their supposed identity: by identifying refugees as foreigners, locals believe that they know who they “are”.

An ethic of politics after Auschwitz sees the border not as a dividing line but as an interface. The purpose of that interface is not to segregate, but to enable interchange. The interface is a contact point. It thus presupposes the existence of a difference. In other words, it distinguishes between national citizens on one hand and immigrants on the other, but in drawing a line between them, it also connects one with the other. If we saw borders as a contact point, we would not be able to distance ourselves entirely from others’ suffering. And it would protect us against any temptation to construct a fictional inner homogeneity. People have the right to migrate; at the same time, they must take responsibility for the wellbeing of those already living in immigration societies. We are at the start of some exciting learning processes. A universal hospitality of the kind imagined by Nida-Rümelin falls short of its task as it does not see hospitality as a gift. In other words, hospitality must appear “inviting” to migrants, however alien they are, as repeatedly demanded by Burkhard Liebsch. And that is not all: it is others who make hospitality possible. The radical nature of the challenges we face becomes clear when we realise that we cannot choose to give hospitality at our discretion: hospitality is a form of human subjectivity “that has no other choice but to be ‘open’ to others’ opinions.”[65] Interfaces are a way to resist the indifference of borders that, as dividing lines, turn others’ status into something radically foreign. This discourse on borders must be interrupted and checked, as “By radically distinguishing between the inside and the outside, between those who are inside and those who are outside, they get us used to the idea that we do not know one another.”[66]

Talking about open borders in the sense of an interface does not mean arguing in favour of a world without borders. It means calling for a world whose borders do not primarily isolate people but instead connect them, by allowing others’ suffering to permeate through. In this spirit, an ethic of politics after Auschwitz reminds us of the words of Elie Wiesel:

“We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men or women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must – at that moment – become the center of the universe”.[67]

© Jürgen Manemann

Prof. Dr. Jürgen Manemann is director of the Forschungsinstitut für Philosophie Hannover.

[1] On the individual events, see: Georg BlumeMarc BrostTina HildebrandtAlexej HockSybille KlormannAngela KöckritzMatthias Krupa, Mariam LauGero von RandowMerlind TheileMichael Thumann and Heinrich Wefing, Was geschah wirklich?, in: (accessed on 20 January 2018).
[2] Josef Schuster, cited in: (accessed on 20 January 2018).
[3] Ana Maria MichelValerie SchönianFrida Thurm and Tilman Steffen, Übergriffe an Silvester: Was geschah in Köln?, in: (accessed on 10 January 2018).
[4] Julian Nida-Rümelin, Über Grenzen denken. Eine Ethik der Migration (“Thoughts on Borders. An Ethics of Migration“), Hamburg 2017 (Edition Körber-Stiftung), p. 26.
[5] Ibid., p. 24.
[6] Ibid., p. 109.
[7] Ibid., pp. 144–156.
[8] Ibid., p. 165.
[9] Ibid.
[10] Ibid.
[11] Ibid., p. 186.
[12] Ibid.
[13] Theodor W. Adorno (unpublished lecture), cited in Gerhard Schweppenhäuser, Ethik nach Auschwitz. Adornos negative Moralphilosophie, Hamburg 1993 (Argument-Verlag), pp. 191/192.
[14] Cf. Gerhard Schweppenhäuser, ibid., p. 192.
[15] Cf. Avishai Margalit, in: Eike Bohlken, Jürgen Manemann, interview “Die politische Philosophie von Avishai Margalit”, in: (accessed on 10 January 2018).
[16] Theodor W. Adorno, cited in G. Schweppenhäuser, ibid., p. 192.
[17] Cf. Christoph Menke, Spiegelungen der Gleichheit, Berlin 2008 (Akademie-Verlag), p. 38.
[18] Cf. ibid., pp. 38 f.
[19] Adorno, Minima Moralia. Reflexionen aus dem beschädigten Leben (Reflections on a Damaged Life), Frankfurt 1987 (Suhrkamp Verlag), p. 95.
[20] Burkhard Liebsch, Der Sinn der Gerechtigkeit im Zeichen des Sinns für Ungerechtigkeit, in Ian Kaplow & Christoph Lienkamp (eds.), Sinn für Ungerechtigkeit. Ethische Argumentationen im globalen Kontext, Baden-Baden 2005, pp. 11–39, p. 23.
[21] Ibid., p. 23.
[22] Cf. ibid.
[23] Cf. ibid.
[24] Ibid.
[25] Peter Rottländer, Ethik in der Politischen Theologie. Johann Baptist Metz zum 65. Geburtstag, in: Orientierung”, in: Katholische Blätter für weltanschauliche Fragen (13/14/1993), pp. 152–158, p. 148.
[26] Ibid., p. 121. (phrased slightly differently here!)
[27] Ibid., Vom Eigeninteresse zur Moral? Überlegungen zur ethisch-normativen Grundlegung von Entwicklungspolitik, in: Andreas Habisch, Ulrich Pöner (eds.), Signale der Solidarität. Wege christlicher Nord-Süd-Ethik, Paderborn 1994 (Schöningh Verlag), pp. 153–180.
[28] Ibid., Ethische Rechtfertigung weltweiter Solidarität. Deskriptive, normative und methodische Aspekte, in: Norbert Brieskorn (ed.), Globale Solidarität. Die verschiedenen Kulturen und die Eine Welt, Stuttgart etc. 1997, pp. 117–142, p. 121.
[29] To paraphrase Metz (cf. ibid.).
[30] Johann Baptist Metz, “Bemerkungen zum ‚Katholischen Prinzip‘ der Repräsentation”, in: Jahrbuch Politische Theologie (1997), Vol. 2: Bilderverbot, Münster 1997 (Lit-Verlag), pp. 303−307, p. 304.
[31] Britta Leisering, Menschenrechte an den europäischen Außengrenzen. Das Ringen um Schutzstandards für Flüchtlinge, Frankfurt & New York 2016 (Campus Verlag), p. 197.
[32] Cf. ibid.
[33] Ibid., p. 43.
[34] Ibid., p. 197.
[35] Ibid., p. 48.
[36] Ibid., p. 120.
[37] Ibid., p. 132.
[38] Cf. ibid., p. 133.
[39] Ibid., p. 206.
[40] Ibid., p. 48.
[41] Ibid., p. 194.
[42] Andreas Cassee, Globale Bewegungsfreiheit. Ein philosophisches Plädoyer für offene Grenzen, Berlin 2016 (Suhrkamp Verlag),  p. 9.
[43] Ibid., p. 13.
[44] Ibid., p. 17.
[45] Cf. ibid., p. 38.
[46] Ibid., pp. 57/58.
[47] Ibid., p. 60.
[48] Ibid., p. 96.
[49] Ibid., p. 128.
[50] Ibid., p. 129.
[51] Ibid., p. 166.
[52] Ibid., p. 193.
[53] Ibid., p. 233.
[54] Ibid., p. 215.
[55] Ibid., p. 256.
[56] Ibid.
[57] Ibid., “Die Schweiz leidet definitiv nicht unter einem Asylchaos”, in: (accessed: 20 January 2018).
[58] Cf. F. Meinecke, Die deutsche Katastrophe. Betrachtungen und Erinnerungen, Wiesbaden 1946, p. 19.
[59] Cf. E. Canetti, Masse und Macht, Frankfurt 292003 (Fischer Verlag), pp. 14/15.
[60] Ibid., p. 19.
[61] Hans Magnus Enzensberger, Die Große Wanderung. 33 Markierungen, Frankfurt 22016 (Suhrkamp Verlag), pp. 11–13.
[62] Ibid., pp. 14–15.
[63] For a definition of the term “interface”, see Erwin-Josef Speckmann, Grenzflächen. Prinzip der Lebendigkeit im Lebenden, Münster 2013 (Daedalus Verlag).
[64] Ibid., p. 55.
[65] Burkhard Liebsch, Für eine Kultur der Gastlichkeit, Freiburg & Munich 2008 (Verlag Alber), p. 103.
[66] Edmond Jabès cited in Burkhard Liebsch, Gastlichkeit und Freiheit. Polemische Konturen europäischer Kultur, Weilerswist 2005 (Vellbrück Verlag), p. 53.
[67] Elie Wiesel, in: (accessed on 20 January 2018).

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2 Gedanken zu „Schwerpunktbeitrag: The border as an interface – ethical-political perspectives after Auschwitz

  1. … vielen Dank für die wichtigen (An-)Fragen! Von seinem Ursprung her bezieht sich das Prinzip „Grenzfläche“ auf natürliche „activity“. Zu fragen wäre, ob dieses Prinzip auch auf politische Handlungen übertragen werden kann. Beide Aktivitäten basieren auf Austausch. Das Politische zu kennen heißt fühlen, was ungerecht ist. Wenn politisches Handeln diese Leid-Empfindlichkeit voraussetzt, dann sind Berührungsflächen eine notwendige Voraussetzung für politisches Handeln. Hier sind Berührungsflächen gemeint, die Pluralität (Andersheit + Anderheit) und Alteritätssensibilität generieren. Das Prinzip „Grenzfläche“ steht im Politischen nicht für abstraktes Leben. Es geht nicht um eine objektive Lebendigkeit. Es geht nicht um bloßes Leben, sondern um die Verwirklichung der Erkenntnis, dass „Leben mehr ist als am Leben zu bleiben“ (Spax). Dafür brauchen wir Grenzflächen, die nicht abschotten, sondern verbinden. Wir sollten m.E. nicht nur eine Grenze von der Grenzfläche her verstehen, sondern Politik überhaupt. Vom Prinzip der Grenzfläche aus gedacht, besteht der Sinn von Politik darin, ein gerechtes und gutes Zusammenleben zu ermöglichen, welches die Voraussetzung für die Anerkennung des Anderen in seiner Andersheit ist. Von diesem Prinzip ausgehend, wäre die politische Aufgabe darin zu sehen, Politik als die Verwirklichung des Ganzen in der Versöhnung der Differenz zu denken (Adorno/Lévinas). Wenn ich von offenen Grenzen im Sinne der Grenzfläche spreche, dann plädiere ich nicht für eine Welt ohne Grenzen, sondern für eine Welt, deren Grenzen Menschen in erster Linie nicht voneinander abschirmen, sondern sie durch ihre (Berührungs-)Fläche miteinander verbinden, da diese durchlässig sind für die Nöte der anderen. Grenzfläche verhindert Gleichgültigkeit. So viel für heute.

  2. Das Bild der Grenze als interface ermöglicht, darauf aufmerksam zu machen, dass vieles in der Begegnung von Verschiedenen (ob Einzelnen oder Gruppen) unwillkürlich und spontan und notwendiger Weise auch Spannungen bzw. Reibung (friction) entstehen, wenn ich die Ausführungen richtig verstanden habe. Mir haben sich beim Lesen aber auch einige Fragen gestellt: Wenn an den Grenzflächen Austausch (interchange) durch das Aufeinandertreffen zweier unterschiedlicher (Zell-)Körper ermöglicht wird: Ist das ein natürlicher, und damit zumindest meinem Verständnis nach: unbewusster, notwendiger, Vorgang? Was charakterisiert die „activity“, zu der durch den interchange an den interfaces befähigt werden soll, und was unterscheidet sie von „action“? Unter action würde ich etwa die politischen Bewegungen für Bleiberechte von irregulären Einwanderer*innen verstehen, weil hier Menschen als Handelnde, etwa durch Demonstrationen, öffentlich in Erscheinung treten – und zwar sowohl zivilgesellschaftliche Akteure als auch irregulär Eingewanderte selbst, die damit eine neue Form politischer Gemeinschaft antizipieren und praktizieren. Und welches Leben soll möglich werden – „zoe“ oder „bios“?
    Vielen Dank für Ihre Antwort und herzliche Grüße,
    Josef Becker

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