Heidegger, Paganism, Nazism, Debates

The NY Times has a review of Faye’s book on Heidegger (which I still haven’t read, but made some comments about Romano’s review of Faye’s book here):

Faye’s achievement is to demonstrate, in these texts, the very fusion of man and thinker that Heidegger was later so concerned to deny. Yet the seminars and speeches Faye analyzes date mainly from the period 1933-35 — that is, the year of Heidegger’s rectorship and just afterward, when his Nazism was flagrant. To show that he remained a Nazi until 1945, or even for the rest of his life, would require finding similar kinds of propaganda in Heidegger’s work throughout those years. But unlike the seminars Faye has unearthed, Heidegger’s writing from that later period is well known; and aside from a few notorious instances, overt Nazi rhetoric simply isn’t there.

In order to bolster his case, then, Faye must resort to some dubious methods. Quoting a memorandum written by Hitler in December 1932, Faye suggests that its language and ideas resemble Heidegger’s. Since “it appears materially impossible that the Führer could have written entirely by himself” all his speeches and memos, Faye goes on, and since “we do not know precisely what Heidegger’s activities were from July 1932 to April 1933” — well, Faye doesn’t quite spell it out, but he is clearly implying that Heidegger was functioning as Hitler’s ghostwriter.

But the weakness of this inference only underscores the problems with Faye’s overall case. What Faye really wants is not to make us think about Heidegger differently, but to excuse us from having to think about him at all, by expelling him from the ranks of the philosophers into the cesspool where Nazi ideologues like Alfred Rosenberg dwell. “In the work of Martin Heidegger,” Faye concludes, “the very principles of philosophy are abolished.”

Read the whole review (and a review of a new book about Arendt)  here.  Anyway, for some reason this reminded me of a debate between Heidegger, Hans Jonas and William Richardson.  In a paper entitled “Heidegger and Theology,” Jonas argued rather forcefully that Heidegger’s thought was “profoundly pagan.” The paper was a version of a talk Jonas gave during a conference on hermeneutics at Drew University in 1964.  Heidegger couldn’t attend, but sent his talk by post.  The paper was later published as “The Problem of a Non-Objectifying Thinking and Speaking in Today’s Theology–Some Pointers to its Major Aspects,” and can be found in The Piety of Thinking.  Jonas’s paper convened the conference and was a response to Heidegger’s letter (which was read at the conference by someone else).  Later that year (or month) William Richardson responded to Jonas’s paper ata talk at Fordham University in which he defended Christian readings of Heidegger. This paper was later published as “Heidegger and God–and Professor Jonas.”  Anyhow, at the conclusion of his response to Jonas, Richardson mentions a “gentlemen” who, at a party or reception in 1962, reminded Richardson that Heidegger’s “prolific year” of 1943 (as Richardson himself had referred to it in his book on Heidegger) was also the year that person had been in a Jewish POW camp.  This person, although unnamed, was most likely Levinas.  Richardson notes, in the paper, that someone else–with the same experience–asked him later on: “What can you hope for as a Christian from the thought of that God-less man?” Richardson’s reply is something like this: there is truth in Heidegger and wherever there is truth there is God.  Richardson closes the article by arguing that whether Heidegger sees it or not, in the clearing in which Heidegger awaits language the voice of God, wholly transcendent, can make itself heard.  It is this that Jonas (and Levinas) disagree with; one cannot hear the voice of God in the clearing and should instead answer the call of the human beyond being.  Anyway, an interesting dispute to follow through the three thinkers.

8 thoughts on “Heidegger, Paganism, Nazism, Debates

  1. Its amusing to me how anti-Heideggerians need to go full bore and paint him as deeply as they can AS a “Nazi” and Heideggerians want to paint him as having little or nothing to do with Nazism, when in fact the guilt of his conscience likely lies somewhere right in between, as it does with many people of institutional power in that era.

    The more interesting question isn’t the question of his guilt, but rather that of the incrimination of his philosophy itself. How fascist was it, as a point of logic. I like your reference to the debate, but it seems to imagine that positions of God and truth are antithetical to Fascism, when in fact they are often braided.

    • Marc, Great! Thanks for the reference. It really is an extradorindary interaction between the three, isn’t it. I’ve had Newton’s book on my “to read” list for quite some time. I’ll have to take a look at it.

  2. I agree, Kvond. It seems to me in these instances it’s important to distinguish two tracks biographical/contextual reading of a thinker can take. For the first, the question is whether the paratexts can help us to understand better what the author meant, in part by blocking our own projections into the text. For the second, the objective is to find the stain that ruins the whole cloth, so to speak, as if rigorous consistency were not just a formal ideal but a fact.

    Of course it’s a good idea to look at any object from a variety of perspectives, through a variety of lenses, pick your metaphor.

  3. Kvond/Carl, I think you are both right about this. As far as I can tell, Faye’s argument might be strong (better?) on the historical side, but at best, rather weak on the philosophical one. I mean, “Martin Heidegger 1933-35” as the “authentic” or “real” Heidegger allows him to insist the B&T is Hitlerism dressed up in a fancy costume. However, this seems to mistakenly read Hitlerism/National Socialism back into Heidegger’s philosophy which of course is somewhat problematic. Traditionally, there’s been a few ways people have appeared to deal with the issue of Heidegger/Nazi. One move has been to simply separate/sever Heidegger’s thought from his biography. However, this seems kind of er..yucky. Even worse (or er.. more yucky) is that there are still a good many Heideggerians who, time after time, simply refuse to acknowledge the rudimentary historical facts. When Faye’s book came out in France there were some who even insisted it was part of some sort of anti-Heideggerian ideology. Faye’s thesis is the strongest, e.g. Heidegger’s Nazism is the linchpin of his philosophy, while the other end of the spectrum is that Heidegger was simply not a Nazi (and that his political position was actually in stark contrast to NS). Add to this latter end of the spectrum those who chalk it up to being a private affair or blame it on Heidegger’s provincialism.

    I think that there are concepts in Heidegger that may shed light on his political views, but I don’t have enough context to make any sort of real claim one way or the other. I’m often left with the utterly facile comparison between Heidegger’s mitsein and Levinas’s face, that is, an army vs two friends. Jonas, if I recall, finds Heidegger’s anonymous being tantamout to immoralism. I’ll have to dig that essay, as well as the other two essays by Richardson and Heidegger up and re-read them in order. INteresting stuff, but really, none of this will be resovled. It will keep going around every so often, new books and articles will be published, conferences attended, and so on. However, what’s so fascinating about Heidegger and Naziism is that one of the most influential thinkers of the 20th century is implicated–and not just a little, he’s pretty much up to his neck in Nazi shit– in one of the most horrific political campaigns of history.

  4. It seems to me that whether or not (and I rather think “not”) Heidegger’s early work is already nazi, it is certainly construable as “pagan” (or “gnostic, as Jonas read it). But his late work is undoubtledly implicated in a different way, precisely by his refusal to deeply acknowledge his entanglement. This makes for a very troubling subtext in all his meditations on “silence” and the “open”, not to mention the painful explicit evasions. I don’t say it is the most interesting thread, but it strikes me as indisputable that whatever B&T or earlier material says or doesn’t say about naziism, his late work says too little. (I say this, however, as an occasional Heideggerian. At least, a fellow-traveller). Still, I wonder what he said in private. I still hope some letter to Celan or Arendt or someone will surface where he says, “Ach, how wrong I was.” But I’m not holding my breath unto death.

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