Who Was Constantin Brunner?

Constantin Brunner was a German Jewish Philosopher. He was born in 1862 as Leo Wertheimer in Altona, a village close to Hamburg in Northern Germany. Brunner was the son of a prominent German Jewish family and his grandfather (Akiba Wertheimer) had been chief rabbi of Schleswig-Holstein.

He was brought up in line with traditional orthodox Jewish practices and completed his studies in Cologne, at the Jewish Teacher’s College. When the young Constantin had turned twenty years of age, he abandoned his traditional religious background to study other religions in pursuit of the “perfect religion”.

He wasn’t looking for rituals and dogmas, things he later on described as “superstitious”, but he rather explored the philosophical essence of both Christian and Jewish religions. In his view, these essentials involve not the relation of man to some transcendent being but the capacity of man for spiritual reflection. In other words, man’s consciousness to be able to connect to the Absolute.

From 1884, at the age of 22, Brunner studied history and philosophy in the German cities of Berlin and Freiburg. He was educated by teachers like Alois Riehl (an expert on Eduard Zelle and Kant), Paul Deussen (Schopenhauer expert), the renown philosophers Julius Ebbinghaus and Wilhelm Dilthey, and August Weismann, the world-famous German zoologist.

Later in his studies, Brunner was influenced by Spinoza. This philosopher’s ability to apply practical and real philosophy to everyday work and life was actually one of the main reasons that Brunner respected this Dutch free-thinking genius among the other great thinkers of the world like e Socrates, Christ, Moses, and Buddha despite some pretty evident Christian Moral Hypocrisy through the ages.

From 1891 on, Constantin Brunner established himself professionally as a literary critic and a free-lance writer while publicizing texts for companies and magazines, writing poems and essays, and giving lectures. In those days, he became friends with poets like Detlev von Liliencron, Richard Dehmel, and Gustav Falke.

Together with Leo Berg, and later on with Otto Ernst, Brunner published the high-profile “The Spectator” (“Der Zuschauer”), a literary magazine that published literary-critical, political, and philosophical essays, some of which came from Brunner’s hand self. In that time, he also changed his name officially to that of the pseudonym he had been using for a while, Constantin Brunner.

In 1895, some decisive turns occurred in Brunner’s personal and spiritual life as he married a divorced woman, Rosalie Müller (Leoni), which brought him also his stepdaughter Elise Charlotte, or Lotte with whom he used to discuss some literary implications resulting from his philosophical and ethical thoughts.

Lotte later published several works (mostly under her pseudonym E.C. Werthenau) including a work reflecting on the relation between Brunner and Nietzsche. In the years 1903-1932, Lotte was keeping a detailed diary where she paid special attention to her stepfather’s statements which has helped researchers considerably to learn more about his way of life and his thinking.

The year 1895 also marked an important spiritual change in Brunner’s thinking. While visiting London’s British Museum, he was impressed by the Greek “Fates” which was a sculpture group from the façade of the Parthenon in Athens. Brunner experienced a moment of enlightenment and mystical insight and what dawned upon him were the outlines of the Brunner philosophical doctrine.

Brunner dedicated all of his subsequent life to elaborating his philosophy without changing its essential framework at all. In that same year, he stopped working on his publishing and literary activities and relocated to Berlin where he later retired.

In Brunner’s 2-volume book “The Doctrine of the Spiritual Élite & the Multitude”, (“Die Lehre von den Geistigen & vom Volk”) that was published in 1908, he explained the principal philosophical aspects of his doctrine. Brunner identifies three so-called “faculties” of thinking: the ‘spiritual’, the ‘analogical’, and the ‘practical’.

Brunner explains how he because our everyday practical reasoning is either based on the fictitious, analogical “faculty” or the true, spiritual “faculty”, comes to his thesis about conflicts between the ‘spiritual’ and the ‘superstitious’ thoughts. These conflicts are found throughout mankind’s history.

Brunner describes the idea of ‘practical understanding’ as one of our natural egoism dimensions that, when properly confined, play a key role in our daily lives. Brunner tries to demonstrate that all thinking about and of things, all experiences, is based upon one fundamental law, or order, of universal motion. Inequality and Violence are apparent and recurring universal elements.

Later on in his life, after a serious health crisis, Brunner began to write about his political views. He examined the nature and development of anti-Semitism, predominantly in Germany, and came up with his historical and political theory even before WW I. In 1914, his work “Jew-hatred & the Jews” (“Der Judenhaß & die Juden”) was completed and it was published in 1918. The book impressed Walther Rathenau (the then-German Foreign Affairs Minister) deeply and consequently, Rathenau and Brunner became close friends.

During the interwar years, the popularity of Brunner as a philosopher was expanding. His books “Der Judenhaß & die Juden” and “Die Lehre“ celebrated second printings and other Brunner works were intensively discussed and cited, not only among Jews but as well by many Christians. See also this article about the International Constantin Brunner Foundation.

In 1933, Brunner left Germany for The Hague in the Netherlands. His anti-fascism statements had turned him into a declared Nazi regime enemy. In 1937, on August 27, on his 75th birthday, Brunner died of heart-disease and later, during the occupation of the Netherlands by the Germans, Leoni, his wife, and Lotte, his beloved stepdaughter, were killed in one of the horrible German concentration camps, a fate that also was shared by a lot of Brunner’s pupils and friends.