Clemens Heller

Clemens Heller — Founder of the "Marshall Plan of the Mind"

Austrian Press and Information Service, Washington, DC, Volume 55, September/October 2002 Reprinted with permission.

Born in Vienna on July 6, 1917, Clemens Heller was the son of Sigmund Freud’s publisher. His family emigrated to the United States in 1938, the year Hitler annexed Austria and Heller became a student at Harvard. It was there that he, along with two other students, created the Salzburg Seminar, often referred to as the "Marshall Plan of the Mind," which became a center for intellectual exchange in the heart of Europe. A meeting ground was created in which young Europeans from all countries, and of all political convictions, could work for a month under favorable living conditions.

In 1947, Helene Thimig, widow of the Austrian theatrical impresario, Max Reinhardt, offered Schloss Leopoldskron, an 18th century Rococo palace on the outskirts of Salzburg, as a permanent home for the Seminar. Heller was able to assemble an eminent faculty for the summer program. It included the anthropologist Margaret Mead, economist Wassily Leontief, and literary historian F.O. Matthiessen.

Over ninety students from eighteen European countries attended in 1947, but it was not an easy task to bridge the differences of such a diverse group. Many had been bitter enemies just two years before, and there was hardly one among their number who had not been affected or scarred by the war.

For the introductory lecture Matthiessen reassured the participants that "none of our group has come as imperialists of Pax Americana to impose our values on you." The Seminar considered not only the strengths of American democracy, but also its "“excesses and limitations." The Seminar was not attended without some scepticism, especially by participants from Eastern Europe. Some Americans had grown wary as well, after the U.S. Army’s intelligence service had attempted to infiltrate the session. In 1948 the American Legation in Vienna and the Department of State in Washington deliberated about the future of the Salzburg Seminar in American Studies. But the Seminar found an important ally in Martin Herz who claimed "Here, if left to develop in its own way, is a peculiar and unique instrument for the effective projection of American democracy."

After some ten years of "General Sessions," the Seminar began organizing separate sessions, each dealing with particular aspects of American Studies. In order to staff these sessions, the Seminar recruited some of the most eminent figures in American political, economic and cultural life.

In the mid 1960’s, the Salzburg Seminar moved to expand the thematic scope of its program by introducing issues of international concern and seeking again to bring East Europeans to its sessions. For much of the Cold War, the Salzburg Seminar represented one of the few forums in the world where large numbers of men and women from both sides of the Iron Curtain could gather to discuss issues of common concern. As East-West tensions grew, the number of Fellows from East and Central Europe dwindled but eventually resumed.

In time the Salzburg Seminar made efforts to further expand its program. As the Seminar began addressing issues of global concern, increasing numbers of participants began to come from the Middle East, Africa, Latin America and the Far East. Thus, it was transformed into a truly global forum.

The issues addressed included international trade relations, global security, international political cooperation, environmental concerns, and transnational and legal institutions. In the area of social issues it has paid attention to issues of health care, population control, and urban development. For its programs, the Seminar has brought to Salzburg leading international figures in virtually every realm of human endeavor.

Five decades later, Mr. Heller’s vision once considered bold if not frivolous, to bring together students from across the war-ravaged continent in an effort to renew intellectual dialogue among individuals divided by totalitarianism and war has become a reality. The Salzburg Seminar has become one of Europe’s foremost assemblies for the discussion of global issues, bringing together future leaders from around the world to work with distinguished faculty. "There are hundreds of seminars in the prestige-conscious firmament of academe," Newsweek magazine has written, "but few can rival the eminence of the Salzburg program."

Without the vision and spirit of Clemens Heller, this would never have happened. Although born an Austrian he introduced the American civilization, its culture, its politics, and its economy to the young generation of post-war Europe. Its successful growth into a world forum was due in part to the Seminar’s location in Austria, a neutral country in the heart of Europe.

Clemens Heller died on August 30, 2002 in Lausanne, Switzerland.