Menno ter Braak

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Menno ter Braak
Menno ter Braak.jpg
Born(1902-01-26)January 26, 1902
DiedMay 14, 1940(1940-05-14) (aged 38)
The Hague
Nationality Dutch
Education University of Amsterdam

Menno ter Braak (26 January 1902 14 May 1940) was a Dutch modernist author.


Early career

Ter Braak was born in Eibergen and grew up in the town of Tiel where he was an exemplary student. He went on to the University of Amsterdam where he majored in Dutch and History. He was a regular contributor to the student magazine Propria Cures and involved himself in the study of film (then a very young discipline).

Together with Joris Ivens, Menno ter Braak was also a founder of the Filmliga (Movie League), an organisation for the study of animated film. He completed a Ph.D. dissertation on the medieval emperor Otto III and consecutively worked as a teacher in a number of secondary schools.

Forum movement

In 1932 ter Braak, together with Edgar du Perron and Maurice Roelants  [ nl ], started the literary magazine Forum which proved to be one of the most important literary periodicals in the Dutch-speaking world (it expressly involved Flemish intellectuals as well) in the nineteen-thirties. Forum is widely considered a bulwark of cultural elitism, advocating a high cultural level of discourse, a rational form of literary criticism, consequent individualism and a stern disapproval of all intellectual ornamentation. “Vent boven vorm” (loosely translated: ‘personality over form’) was the catchword of the Forum movement, and Multatuli was one of its most important paragons.

Political involvement

In 1933 ter Braak, then living in The Hague, joined the Dutch liberal daily Het Vaderland (the Fatherland) as a literary affairs editor and was one of the first Dutchmen to understand the looming threat of Nazism. It is in these years that he started het Comité van Waakzaamheid (the Committee for Vigilance). As a public intellectual, he is most famous for his essays, most of which deal with European culture, politics, or a mixture of the two. He is distinctly influenced by Nietzsche and his style is deliberately paradoxical.

Later writing

In his last, and best-known essays he chastises those who would subject themselves to "higher" and "spiritual" values, unmasking the hierarchies behind those values who are working to further their own agenda. Against this subjection to extraneous authorities and false values, ter Braak posits the individualist ideal of the honnête homme, the "Man of Integrity" who will not conform himself to other people's expectations and systems.

A born polemicist, he managed to find himself a diverse group of opponents and by the end of his life had entered into polemics, some of which were hostile with the self-proclaimed representatives of what he considered to be "nebulous collectivisms" such as Catholicism, liberal humanism, Marxism and fascism.


Towards the end of his life he became increasingly involved in the growing anti-fascist movement in the Netherlands. When the Second World War broke out in 1939 he fell into a deep depression. Four days after Nazi Germany had invaded the Netherlands, on 14 May 1940, after a failed attempt to flee to England, Menno ter Braak committed suicide in The Hague by using a sedative, combined with an injection (most likely administered by his brother Wim ter Braak, who was a doctor) of poison. [1] He died on the day the Luftwaffe carpet bombed his former hometown Rotterdam.

His influence remained fairly large and lasted well into the 1950s; during the fifties his influence began to wane but a number of literary periodicals, especially Libertinage and Tirade remained faithful to a number of ter Braak's ideas.


  1. Hanssen, Léon (2001). Sterven als een polemist. Menno ter Braak 1902-1940. Deel twee 1930-1940 (Digitale Bibliotheek der Nederlandse Letteren ed.). Amsterdam: Balans. p. 562. ISBN   9789050185288 . Retrieved 22 May 2020.

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