What the Swiss Miss (Review of Friedrich Durrenmatt, Selected Writings)
The Wall Street Journal, Pursuits, "Writer's Block," p. 8, Saturday-Sunday, October 21-22, 2006
3 Pages Posted: 24 Oct 2006
The Swiss playwright and novelist Friedrich Durrenmatt (1921-90) is remembered among English-language audiences primarily as the author of the 1956 play, The Visit of the Old Lady. He is, however, a leading playwright and novelist, primarily of detective fiction, of Europe and the German language in the post-war period. This review from the Wall Street Journal examines the full body of his work in a three volume selection of his writings published by the University of Chicago. One important consideration is Durrenmatt's place as a German language writer, yet Swiss, rather than German, following the horrors of the Second World War. Durrenmatt spent the war as a neutral in Switzerland, looking on rather than participating; his writing, however, is centrally about justice. The review briefly argues that neutrality has moral limits, and that even neutrality in the service of humanitarianism - of the kind exemplified by the heroism of the International Committee of the Red Cross, headquartered in Switzerland and long the moral pride of Switzerland - has its limits. If everyone wants to be the neutral humanitarian, then evil will inevitably triumph; you cannot have the ICRC without also having Churchill, and neutrality is therefore always a derivative moral virtue.
Keywords: Durrenmatt, Switzerland, International Committee of the Red Cross, Gunter Grass, Heinrich Boll, World War II, neutrality, humanitarianism, ICRC
JEL Classification: K10, K30, K39
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation