Who was Robert Jungk?

Presentation of the autobiography “Trotzdem. Mein Leben für die Zukunft” at the Earth Day 1992 (photo: Delmar Mavignier, JBZ archive)

An explorer of the future, a visionary planner, a proponent of peace, a grassroots activist, a rebel and a motivator for freedom, the figurehead of the anti-nuclear movement, a true cosmopolite, and an extraordinary speaker – that is how Robert Jungk is characterized in contemporary sources.

What does his work mean in the 21st century?

Robert Jungk can be considered a co-founder of the critical and innovative science of exploring the future, or so-called Futurology. At the same time, Robert Jungk is a representative of what we nowadays call Civil Society. He was among the pioneers of the international anti-nuclear and environmental movement in the early 1970s. If he were still alive today, he would most likely take part in the global protests against excesses of the financial sector.

Robert Jungk coined the term Nuclear State and published a book by the same name in 1977. From 1980 on, he was an activist in the peace movement. He participated in non-violent sit-down blockades at designated stationing sites for U.S. cruise missiles such as Mutlangen, Greenham Common and Comiso. Jungk spoke at a peace rally in Bonn (seat of the German government until 1999) that drew a crowd of 300,000 and was a protestor at various sites of nuclear power plants in Central and Eastern Europe.

In 1986, he was awarded the Right Livelihood Award, in Europe commonly referred to as the Alterative Nobel Prize. After Leopold Kohr – the author of The Breakdown of Nations and inspiration for the Small is beautiful-movement, who was honored in 1983 – Jungk was the second citizen of the state of Salzburg to receive this distinction.

Jakob von Uexküll, initiator of the Right Livelihood Award, visits laureate Robert Jungk at “his” Internationale Bibliothek für Zukunftsfragen that opened in 1986.

In the early 1970s, Robert Jungk established his permanent residence in the city of Salzburg, where he died on July 14, 1994. Both his wife Ruth (née Suschitzky), who passed away eight months later, and he are laid to rest in an honorary grave at Salzburg’s Jewish cemetery in Aigen.

This text aims to give an introduction into the life and work of Robert Jungk, a brief documentation of his writings and personal beliefs, all of which continue to be highly relevant until today.

Walter Spielmann, the former head of the International Futures Library [Bibliothek für Zukunftsfragen] and Jungk’s long-time assistant and colleague, says about the eminent futuro­lo­gist: “’Turning the affected into the involved’– no other claim fits his concerns better than this one. A co-founder of a social and emancipatory futurology, Robert Jungk built on the creativity and power of people who are willing to choose new paths into the future”.

Jungk’s extensive private book collection, comprising at the time approximately 3,500 volumes, became available to the public in 1986. At the same time, it created a base for the discussion of future issues. Conceived in 1985 as a stu­dy center for developments in futurology and a site for dialogue about “possib­le futures,” the Robert-Jungk-Bibliothek für Zukunfts­fragen publishes the quarterly review magazine proZukunft, as well as a series of wor­king papers. It builds on Jungk’s focus and spirit. Among others, it conducts Future Workshops, provides consulting and in-depth information. It’s activities includes hosting numerous talks and presentations, organizing, and contributing to discussions, and other local as well as trans-regional and international events.

With all the examples of a different, a better world that he relentlessly collected, Robert Jungk brought together all the eminent pioneers of alternate futures, a long time before the term social networking was even heard of. This points out the sustainability and relevance of Jungk’s thinking – today, tomorrow, and beyond.  After all the wars and catastrophes of the 20th century, shaping the future – Robert Jungk’s credo ­– remains a challenge and a chance which is not to be left to the lone individual. Future is no fate – it can be created by all of us!

Information on all current – as well as past – events at the Salzburg-based Robert-Jungk-Bibliothek für Zukunftsfragen, on recent publications, as well as a database containing every issue of our proZukunft magazine, published since 1987, is available on the internet at https://jungk-bibliothek.org/

Reinhard Geiger
based on a text by
Hans Holzinger and Blake Giragos

More about Robert Jungk and …
… his life
… his main writings
… his stand against nuclear energy
… key theses of his work
… his engagement with the new social movements
… Future Workshops