#17 – Bergrettung

Pascal Pein
Heidi Danzl
Mark Weiner

Mark S. Weiner is a professor emeritus of constitutional law at Rutgers University, a Fulbright alumni to Iceland, Sweden, and Austria, the author of four award-winning books, and a filmmaker. He has taught at various universities at home and internationally, including in Germany and Austria, on topics ranging from constitutional law to the history of law in American film. Fun fact: Mark is also a certified as wilderness and front-country emergency medical technician and loves to go hiking with his wife.

In this podcast, recorded on December 10, 2021, we discuss his latest film project, a philosophical documentary about the Austrian mountain rescue service, the Bergrettung, which has with the working title “A New Light in the Mountains.” The documentary is being produced by his non-profit video production company Hidden Cabinet Films, which aims at bringing fundamental concepts about law and society into cinematic form. Funding has been provided by the Botstiber Institute for Austrian-American Studies, which kickstarted the project, the Reid Hoffman Foundation, and over 125 individual donors. Weiner argues that the Bergrettung offers a “counter-cultural” Alpine ethics that can serve as the foundation for building a political theory for liberal democratic society “from the bottom up”—one that rests on the importance of place and local attachment. He thinks this issue has been insufficiently theorized because of controversies stemming from World War II and the Holocaust about demands for local, territorial self-governance, which are often dismissed as a part of right-wing consciousness. 

He asks the question: Where do large-scale solidaristic, voluntary commitments come from? Mark argues that sense of place is a central part of the human condition, and he thus sees the Bergrettung as an example for a humanistic institution. The scholar and film maker concludes: the altruistic energy within the Bergrettung community comes from a commitment to and love of a particular place, a village, a valley or a set of mountains, from the rootedness of local communities. He wonders if this aspect of the Bergrettung can show us how liberal-democratic society could be organized more effectively, and is convinced that it points us to a variety of other significant social and political insights. The film has been delayed due to corona but should be available by 2024. Updates about the film can be found under “News” on the website of Hidden Cabinet Films.

In this podcast about local collective consciousness, it’s perhaps worth mentioning that Mark has a part-Jewish heritage (the Weiners were Jews from western Ukraine), and his other family heritage is from Croatia and Serbia. We are posting this podcast in the midst of the war in Ukraine, which perhaps draws a new light on nationalistic sentiments and the need to have a more nuanced understanding of “sense of place.” 

Supplemental Links:

Mark writes in his feedback to the podcast: One of two issues I saw are in the margin of totally reasonable error in conversation, e.g., one time I say that there are about 13,000 members in the BRD and another time I say „about 12,000″—that’s OK, it’s fluctuated a bit (the statistics are here: https://bergrettung.at/medien/statistik/).  And then I refer to the existence of the Austrian Alpenverein before the war which was dissolved into the German branch, but  formally before the war it was the „German and Austrian Alpenverein“ and then the Austrian part was dissolved.