Heidegger and Nazism, again.


Not to be dismissive about Heidegger’s Nazism or anything, but the dialogue has begun (yet) again.  I bookmarked an article entitled “Heil Heidegger,”  for myself (and others, of course) on Twitter last week.  The article discusses a recently translated book revolving around  Heidegger’s Nazism and I just had a chance to look closely at it.  It’s um…rather polemical.    Consider the first paragraph:

How many scholarly stakes in the heart will we need before Martin Heidegger (1889-1976), still regarded by some as Germany’s greatest 20th-century philosopher, reaches his final resting place as a prolific, provincial Nazi hack? Overrated in his prime, bizarrely venerated by acolytes even now, the pretentious old Black Forest babbler makes one wonder whether there’s a university-press equivalent of wolfsbane, guaranteed to keep philosophical frauds at a distance.

Whoa.  Nothing like a little ad hominem attack to get things going.  Sure, Heidegger’s rhetoric is a bit bloated much of the time, but in fact, this paragraph kind of de-legitimizes anything else the author, Carlin Romano, writes afterward.  The connection (identity, really) between Heidegger and Nazism has been picked over and I’m not so sure that Romano is correct to say that there’s been some sort of deliberate systematic disavowal of it on the part of academics.  Anyhow, Romano’s polemic is centered around the forthcoming translation of Emmanuel Faye’s Heidegger: The Introduction of Nazism into Philosophy in Light of the Unpublished Seminars of 1933-1935. Faye’s claim, as far as I can tell, is that Heidegger wasn’t “caught up” or “flirting” with Nazism, but instead, was a theorist or philosopher of Nazism.  Hmm.  Baby.  Bathwater.  I don’t think it’s particular helfpul (or accurate) to  reduce the whole corpus of Heidegger’s work to mere “hate speech.” Both Faye and Romano almost sound like those screaming health care protesters by insisting that publishers (er..Indiana UP and Continuum) stop publishing Heidegger and all of those librarian sympathizers need to cut it out with all this stocking up of Heidegger’s Gesamtausgabe in order to prevent Nazism from encroaching into the public realm and poisoning the minds of the unexpected.  I hardly think Heidegger’s Nazism or minimally, Heidgger’s connection with Nazism should escape serious and legitimate scrutiny, nor should it be defended, but if Faye’s book is half the hatchet job I’ve heard it to be, then it’s not very helpful.  That said, I will read the book with a good deal of interest.

Anyway, after picking on a couple of recent books by Heidegger scholars, Romano writes:

For Faye, new material about Heidegger’s 1930s teaching and administrative work turns a crucial point upside-down. While other thinkers, including Löwith and Maurice Blanchot, suggested that Heidegger’s Nazism stemmed directly from his philosophy, Faye counters that his philosophy grew out of his Nazism, forcing us to see it as a kind of philosophical propaganda for Nazism in a different key.Faye’s leitmotif throughout is that Heidegger, from his earliest writings, drew on reactionary ideas in early-20th-century Germany to absolutely exalt the state and the Volk over the individual, making Nazism and its Blut und Boden (“Blood and Soil”) rhetoric a perfect fit. Heidegger’s Nazism, he writes, “is much worse than has so far been known.” (Exactly how bad remains unclear because the Heidegger family still restricts access to his private papers.)

Faye pulls no punches: Heidegger “devoted himself to putting philosophy at the service of legitimizing and diffusing the very bases of Nazism,” and some of his 1930s texts surpass those of official philosophers of Nazism in “the virulence of their Hitlerism.” Lacking any respect for Heidegger as thinker, Faye writes that the philosopher Hannah Arendt so deeply admired “has done nothing but blend the characteristic opacity of his teaching with the darkness of the phenomenon. Far from furthering the progress of thought, Heidegger has helped to conceal the deeply destructive nature of the Hitlerian undertaking by exalting its ‘grandeur.'”

Faye agrees that it was possible, even in the wake of Farias’s and Ott’s work, “with a lot of self-delusion, to separate the man from the work.” He asserts it’s no longer possible, since scholars can now access “nearly all the courses” that Heidegger taught in the 1930s. According to Faye, “we witness, in the courses and seminars that are ostensibly presented as ‘philosophical,’ a progressive dissolving of the human being, whose individual worth is expressly denied, into a community of people rooted in the land and united by blood.” The unpublished seminar of 1933-34 identifies the people with a “community of biological stock and race. … Thus, through Heidegger’s teaching, the racial conceptions of Nazism enter philosophy.”

The “reality of Nazism,” asserts Faye, inspired Heidegger’s works “in their entirety and nourished them at the root level.” He provides evidence of Heidegger’s “intensity” of commitment to Hitler, his constant use of “the words most operative among the National Socialists,” such as “combat” (Kampf), “sacrifice” (Opfer) and völkisch (which Faye states has a strong anti-Semitic connotation). He also cites Heidegger’s use of epithets against professors such as the philologist Eduard Fraenkel (“the Jew Fraenkel”) and his fervid dislike for “the growing Jewification” that threatens “German spiritual life,” mirroring Hitler’s discourse in Mein Kampf about “Jewified universities.”

For Faye, Heidegger’s 1930s Nazi activism came from the heart. Pains takingly providing sources, Faye exhibits Heidegger’s devotion to “spreading the eros of the people for their Führer,” and the “communal destiny of a people united by blood.” We learn of Heidegger’s desire to be closer to Hitler in Munich, and his eagerness to lead the Gleichschaltung, or “bringing into line,” of the German universities with Nazi ideology. According to several witnesses, Heidegger would show up at class in a brown shirt and salute students with a “Heil Hitler!”

Tellingly, Faye also mines the internal papers of the Munich philosophy faculty, showing that the department’s professors considered Heidegger’s work “claptrap,” and saw him as so politicized that they believed “no philosophy could be offered the students” if he were appointed. They considered appointing Heidegger only because of his well-known status as a professor favored by the Nazis. Synthesizing details with the precision of a Simon Wiesenthal researcher, Faye further undermines Heidegger’s later lies that he was not involved with book burning or anti-Semitic legislation, withdrew from active support of the party after he resigned his rectorship, and became rector only to protect the independence of the universities.

“We must acknowledge,” Faye says in one fierce conclusion, “that an author who has espoused the foundations of Nazism cannot be considered a philosopher.” Finally, he reiterates his opposition to the Heidegger Industry: “If his writings continue to proliferate without our being able to stop this intrusion of Nazism into human education, how can we not expect them to lead to yet another translation into facts and acts, from which this time humanity might not be able to recover?”

Hmm…I can’t see how this witch hunting attitude is helpful, really.  Over the top? Yes.

8 thoughts on “Heidegger and Nazism, again.

  1. Pingback: spoonerized alliterations » Blog Archive » Heidegger – Jackass, Nazi, or Nazi Jackass?

  2. The debate unfolding in the comments to the Romano article has actually gotten pretty good, thanks to at least two smart interlocutors, “zmrzlina” (who has come out as the Heideggerian philosopher Richard Fried, after I prodded them to get out from behind their pseudonyms) and “oldude” (who hasn’t yet). I’m guessing “zdenekv”, who has dominated the discussion, is Romano himself, but the other two have shown that not all philosophical debate has to disintegrate into flame wars — even when the sides are so opposed and the original shot so overheated as Romano’s was.

  3. I read that thread, and I’d be *very* surprised if “zdenekv” turned out to be Romano. Based on the piece, Romano seems like someone overly impressed by the single work (Faye’s) he’s read about something, while zdenekv shows a lot more familiarity with it. But I could be wrong.

  4. I think the acid test – not applied by Faye et al – is a simple question: Can one be a “Heideggarian” (before or after “the turn”) without being a Nazi in one’s politics, or, retrospectively, a Nazi sympathizer?

    Obviously we can. Countless people have done so over a span of decades. IOW, there is no necessary connection between Heidegger’s thought and allegiance to Nazism. The connection is accidental. Heidegger chose to put his philosophy to work for the Nazis – but that is his bad choice – and we are not obligated to imitate it.

    If we are to stop reading Heidegger because of his bad choice, shall we stop reading TS Eliot for his virulent anti-semitism, Pound for his fascism, or Neruda for his Stalinist sympathies? Should we stop reading all Marxist philosophers because their philosophy is associated with of the horrors of Stalin’s Russia, Mao’s China and Pol Pot’s Cambodia?

    I think it’s time to stop the silly season . . .

  5. The silly season continues . . . Heidegger haters have not yet figured out that there is a distinction between a writer or any artists and his work. The fact that the writer is a poor specimen of humanity is ultimately irrelevant to judging the quality of his work. For example, nobody rejects the value of the transistor because Schockley was an outright racist. Nobody seeks to withdraw his 1956 Nobel Prize for the good reason that his work as a physicist was outstanding even though his views about race were morally filthy. LIstening to transistor radios never turned anyone into a racist and studying Heidegger has never turned anyone into a Nazi. Another example: nobody wants to pull Picasso’s out of museums even though Picasso was a misogynist of the worst sort who beat his mistresses shamelessly and threw at least one pregnant women down a stairwell. Viewing Picasso’s has never turned anyone into a rabid misogynist. Even if Heidegger had volunteered for Auschwitz, his work must be judged separately because a man is not the same as his writing. Genuine proof that Heidgger’s work is infected with Nazi ideas is simple to come by – we will see philosophy departments filling up with neo-proto-outright-semi-quasi Nazis – and there isn’t the slightest shred of evidence that this is happening.

    I don’t know why people keep trying this intellectually ridiculous line of thought. Perhaps they lack the maturity to understand that great works of philosophy or art can be created by highly flawed individuals? Perhaps they have nothing worthwhile to contribute to philosophy and are trying to make a name for themselves by shouting stupid ideas from the rooftops? Perhaps we should investigate their lives to see whether they live up to the standards they insist on with Heidegger. Of course, I would oppose that because the work isn’t the man – and besides their pecksniffian stance is so jejeune that it discredits itself as utterly irrational.

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