He is wrong about Ukraine, but still wants to be right

What could have been an admission of one’s fallibility became an arrogant omniscient.

His forehead is often wrinkled: Richard David Precht in October at a performance in Cologne.


Rewert Hoffer, editor of the Berlin office of NZZ.

Rewert Hoffer, editor of the Berlin office of NZZ.

You are reading an excerpt from the weekly newsletter “The Other View”, today by Rewert Hoffer, editor of the NZZ’s Berlin office. Subscribe to the newsletter for free. Do you not live in Germany? Profit here.

It was a sign of unyielding resistance: This Monday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy visited the liberated city of Kherson. On the same day, there was a visit to Düsseldorf that also touched on the war in Ukraine: Richard David Precht spoke at an event organized by the «Rheinische Post». The sign he gave was unwavering self-belief.

The 57-year-old Prechtová is one of those German personalities who, in an open letter to Chancellor Olaf Scholz at the end of June, asked if the supply of weapons to Ukraine was the right way, and immediately replied: “Cease fire now! ” Shortly after the outbreak of war, Precht was convinced of a quick Russian victory and criticized “the persevering slogans of a president who is sending his people into a war they must lose”.

It’s not just the pictures of the same president from Kherson that illustrate how wrong Precht was from the start. Ukraine’s success was only possible thanks to the constant influx of Western weapons. Precht therefore felt compelled to reevaluate his assessment of the Ukrainian war, at least to some extent. What could have been an admission of one’s own fallibility, however, became an arrogant omniscient.

Precht’s casual arrogance

“Only now do we know how incredibly strong the Ukrainian military was from the beginning, before the arms shipments came,” Precht said in Düsseldorf. “In this regard, I naturally proceeded from the mistaken assumption that there was no point in defending when the war was lost in a week or two. One can see how one can deceive.’

Thus, the Ukrainian military was already “incredibly strong” before the arrival of arms deliveries – as if Himar’s rocket launchers, for example, did not change the area gained, and as if Precht’s skepticism about arms deliveries remained undeniably valid. Moreover: If there is safe knowledge “only now”, Precht should have dropped his verbal maximalism and demands for a chancellor in the past.

The rest of the statement also shows arrogance. It’s definitely not worth getting in a bad mood because of a red light. But there is no doubt that defending Ukraine is “worth it” to spare people even a day in Buch or Irpin’s hell.

Finally, a careless choice of words: «how to deceive». Sorry, dear Ukrainians, that as a media personality with a wide reach I wanted to cancel your life insurance – unfortunately I was wrong.

Calculated backtracking

For years, Precht has been stumbling around the talk show with a themed salesman tray. Optionally, the doctor of German studies is an expert on animal ethics, digitalization, vaccination campaign, unconditional basic income or even on arms supplies and geopolitics. Precht has mastered the art of showing his compatriots the way with a frown and a raised index finger – without doubt and always with loud theses.

His contribution to the Ukrainian war would be negligible as an isolated opinion of a non-specialized television philosopher. But Precht is a representative of a number of prominent Germans who, based on an elitist understanding of popular education, use their reach for foreign policy aberrations.

One suspects that Precht’s statement was calculated: He backpedaled a bit so as not to make himself completely ridiculous given the course of the war. At the same time, he still wants to be right on the whole. So he hopes to remain capable of satisfaction, at least for talk show editors. It is to be feared that further invitations to television will surely follow.

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