In the second half of the nineteenth century, a considerable number of important philosophers saw the light of day in the German-speaking countries. Among the most well-known names of this period we can mention, for example, Hermann Cohen (b. 1842), Fritz Mauthner (b. 1849), Paul Natorp (b. 1854), Georg Simmel (b. 1858), Edmund Husserl (b. 1859), Max Weber (b. 1864), Ernst Cassirer (b. 1874), Max Scheler (b. 1874), Martin Buber (b. 1878), and Martin Heidegger (b. 1889). Among the less well-known we find the philosopher Constantin Brunner (b. 1862), who was indeed one of the greatest thinkers of that age.
It was a remarkable time, in particular for the German lands, which were united in a single Germany in the glorious achievement of 1871. In retrospect, this period seems like a Golden Age, but later it was to collapse forever in the two greatest catastrophes and tragedies of all human history to date: World War I and World War II. Particularly World War II, accompanied as it was by the systematic and technological annihilation of minorities, brought about a huge-scale inhibition of all life of the spirit. True, the philosopher Constantin Brunner succeeded in escaping to Holland in time (1933); yet his life’s work, his writings, were proscribed and burned, The strong echo which Brunner’s writings had found when they were first published was entirely forgotten until recent times.

The philosopher himself chose the name Constantin Brunner when, at the turn of the century, he withdrew from his earlier literary activities in order to devote himself entirely to his philosophical work. Originally his name was Leo Wertheimer; he was born on 28 August 1862 in Altona, Hamburg. His first studies, at a seminar in Cologne, were concerned with comparative religion; later he spent years studying philosophy and history in Freiburg and Berlin. Among his teachers there were Zeller, Deussen, Simmel and Dilthey. In 1892, he was in Hamburg again, editing a literary periodical, Der Zuschauer (The Spectator), together with the poets Richard Dehmel, Detlev von Liliencron, and Otto Ernst. The year 1895 marks the decisive watershed in his life: he married, moved to Berlin, and abandoned his career in literary journalism, feeling a strong vocation to philosophy. At the same time he withdrew from all public activity. At a very early date—in 1884—Brunner became aware of the scourge of anti-Semitism in Germany. His reaction was public; and the fact that Brunner’s theory of the state and society is to be found largely in the writings he himself calls “my books on the Jews”—on the so-called Jewish question—tells us a great deal about those times. It is no accident that Karl Marx too, in 1843, developed the most important points of his theory of the state and society in the context of this topic, actually under the heading “On the Jewish Question” The reason is this: the so-called Jewish question is a paradigm of the whole issue of state and society—or at least it was in the historical situation in which both Marx and Brunner were writing.
Brunner came from a Jewish family; his grandfather was a rabbi in Altona, but he himsely professed no religion…. However, it was very important for him that, in his view, he was spiritually in the tradition of the Jewish prophets, of whom he reckoned Christ to be the greatest. Equally, he felt indebted to, and in tune with, German culture; how passionately he wrote about the German language and German art! This being so, in 1933 his destiny suffered a decisive, grievous blow, At the last minute he was able to flee with his wife and adopted daughter to Holland, the country of his great model, Spinoza, while his works, as we have already said, were destroyed. On 27 August 1937, the day before his seventy-fifth birthday, he died of chronic heart disease. In 1943, the German occupying forces in Holland sent his wife, then 81 years old, together with her daughter to Sobibor concentration camp, where they were murdered in the gas chambers the same year. (To live is to think: 1-5)