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Thursday, August 19, 2010

Hugo Bergmann and Frithjof Schuon

In a recent article, Paul Fenton tells the story of the relations between Samuel Hugo Bergmann and Frithjof Schuon.

Bergmann was a Jewish philosopher who was born in Prague, a friend of Kafka and Max Brod. He moved to Israel in 1920 and taught philosophy at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, of which he was rector from 1935 to 1938. He became friends with Gershom Scholem and, especially, Martin Buber, with whom he founded Brit Shalom (covenant of peace), a small but important Zionist organization that pursued the forlorn hope of a bi-national state in which Jews and Arabs would live together in peace.

Bergmann worked on symbolic logic, which he attempted to reconcile with transcendental logic (Kant etc). He was also interested in the work of Rudolf Steiner, and by 1954 was interested in the work of Schuon, to which he had been introduced by Agi Lamm, a Jewish follower of Schuon from Argentina.

In 1957, on a trip to Europe, Bergmann met Schuon twice, meetings which he described as the high point of his trip. These meetings were a success on an intellectual level, but not on a personal level: Bergmann described the first encounter as “painful,” as Schuon seemed to him “stilted” and “affected,” dressed “as a prophet.” Despite this, the two men continued corresponding until 1970.

On his return to Israel, Bergmann wrote an article on Guénon for the Festschrift for Scholem which may be the most important piece on Traditionalism to have appeared in Hebrew.

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