Thursday, May 22, 2014

Did Bonhoeffer say we should put “a spoke in the wheel” of the state?

Did Bonhoeffer say we should put “a spoke in the wheel” of the state in his famous political remark in 1933? Glen Stassen says he did not. That’s not what his German says. The German says the church should fall into the spokes of the wheel. The footnote in my son David’s translation of Tödt’s essay on the decisive years in Studies in Christian Ethics 18:3 says: The phrase, ‘Die Kierche dem Rad selbst in die Speichen zu fallen’, is regularly mistranslated as ‘to put a spoke in the wheel itself’. This makes no sense, since wheels already were supported in their function by the spokes in them that held them together. Wheels already have spokes in them. ‘To put a spoke in the wheel’ would hardly stop the wheel of the state; it would help the wheel roll on. It also does not translate the German, in which the object of the verb is the spokes, not the wheel. For the church to throw itself into the spokes of the wheel is a self-sacrificial effort to stop the state’s unjust momentum. The German phrase has been used in other contexts, such as ‘to throw oneself into the spokes of the wheel of fate’ in order to try to stop fate. H. E. Tödt has pointed out a use of the phrase in Bonhoeffer’s sense by A. Stoecker in 1882 and by Max Weber in 1919 in Politics as Vocation." 

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