22 October 2009

Heil Heidegger!

Martin Heidegger in 1961: Twenty-eight years earlier, the
German philosopher told his students of Nazism’s "inner
truth and greatness," declaring that Hitler alone "is the
present and future of German reality, and its law."
Photograph © Imagno/Getty Images.

In the Chronicle of Higher Education this week Carlin Romano writes:
"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."
Romano becomes more derisive from there. Actually, his essay is entitled Heil Heidegger! - so he starts more derisively. His bottom line - which is that Heidegger and those people who sanitize and sidestep his explicit, enthusiastic Nazi politics deserve to be ridiculed not argued with - seems about right to me.

It will be interesting to see how the acolytes and devotees respond. Is it possible that we need to take Heidegger seriously despite his being a Nazi? That has been the response of political theorists who want us to take Carl Schmitt (a German legal and political theorist who also embraced the Nazis) seriously. I've never been entirely persuaded.
P.S.: For a somewhat less irreverent review of an earlier installment of anti-Heidegger inquiry see this essay in the NYRB. The author takes pretty much the same position as Romano:

"Some philosophers . . . (I include myself) would argue that despite the magnitude of Heidegger's intellectual achievement, major elements of his philosophy are deeply flawed by his notions of politics and history—and that this is so quite apart from the fact that he joined the Nazi party and, for whatever period of time, ardently supported Hitler. Heidegger's engagement with Nazism was a public enactment of some of his deepest, and most questionable, philosophical convictions. And those convictions did not change when, in the mid-Thirties, he became disappointed with the direction the party was taking."

That essay, published more than two decades ago, gives you some indication of why Romano might be a bit irritated by the continued willingness of acolytes to minimize the relationship between Heidegger's philosophical views and his politics.

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Blogger Aric Mayer said...

I would be curious to hear your thoughts on the interaction between the Wotan archetype and political science looking at Germany in the 20's and 30's.

There seem to be so many German intellectuals from that period whose ideas coalesce with or are compatible with the Wotan aesthetics of glory in battle, the triumph of a single race, purity of blood and lineage, and so on.

23 October, 2009 11:33  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I find the emergence of these increasingly damning revelations about Martin Heidegger distressing not because I doubt for one moment their truthfulness, but, rather, because I remain baffled as to what he, as a philosopher, could have found attractive and life affirming at all about the Nazi Party and its alleged philosophy. I knew 35 years ago, for example, that Heidegger had become affiliated with the Nazi Party. I was willing at the time to attribute his behavior to ambition and peer pressure but over the years I have come to learn that his affiliation was much deeper and profound. I don't think, for example, that there can be any doubts as to the depths of his anti-Semitism.

I don't think there can be any honest or useful severing of his philosophy from his Nazism. Doing so would require a degree of intellectual backflips that I have neither the heart or requisite degree of rationalization to pull off. What troubles me more, however, is trying to get a grip on Hannah Arendt's relationship with Heidegger and her efforts to defend him and restore his reputation. This sort of behavior seems so at odds with her character and her world views that I can only shake my head in sadness.

23 November, 2009 08:59  

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