The Nazi (and?) Philosopher

ExpectantlyIronic

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#1
A debate has resurfaced recently over the philosopher Martin Heidegger, who was as much a Hitler-loving Nazi as he was (and still is) an influential 20th-century thinker. Some pointed salvos have been fired by those who consider that an issue:

[The writer of Heidegger: The Introduction of Nazism Into Philosophy, Emmanuel 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.'"
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And some Heidegger fans (or admirers of some his work, rather...) have fired back:

This may be letting a Nazi off with a tut-tut. But what are we to make of, not simply a campaign to educate readers as to Heidegger's infamies, but to make sure no one—I mean "make sure" and "no one"—even discusses his work? Karl Popper once said "I appeal to the philosophers of all countries to unite and never again mention Heidegger or talk to another philosopher who defends Heidegger"; and I am told that the volume Romano is reviewing (I haven't read it but plan to) ends with an appeal to criminalize the teaching of Heidegger in France.

A turn of thought was taken; man repudiated his own essence; and we have lived henceforth as fallen beings. Many thinkers, from Jesus to Blake to the free market utopians, have believed this. Man in his search for mastery is a kind of fool. Many writers, from Marcus Aurelius to Montaigne to Melville, have believed this. Is there something about Heidegger's formulation, with its longing for a return to a premodern way of being, that necessarily sets us on the road to Treblinka?

I don't know the answer. But I never thought the answer to illiberalism was more illiberalism. That the essence of philosophy was that, if a question is thorny or unpleasant, don't ask it, cutting off dissent at the pass with a code of silence, a legal injunction, or if all else fails, a volley of snotty jibes.
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But I don't know much about Heidegger either way, having never read him, or much about his philosophy (beyond that I should read him to get a better grasp on Sartre, who I am somewhat interested in). What I really want to discuss is the extent to which we can separate a man's character and politics from his writing. Should the fact Heidegger was a Nazi deter us from reading his work, or lead us to take it with a grain of salt? Should we be concerned it might turn people into Nazis?

I mean, Heidegger sounds like a neo-Luddite to me, and I have nothing good to say about them (Nazi or no); and am inclined to think anti-progressive modes of thought like that are part-an-parcel to a Nazi ideology. What was their ideology about, with its militarism and radical notions of cultural purity, beyond a move towards a mindlessly self-perpetuating Volk? But I also have to take issue with the scathing attacks on Heidegger's work on the grounds of his being a Nazi, as opposed to the content per se. That seems weak, and if his philosophy was garbage, it should be easy enough to attack it without resorting to ad hominems.

Maybe it will turn folks towards a Nazi ideology--though many have read it and liked it and walked away thinking the opposite of the Nazis--but it is mere laziness on our part to dissuade thought and study, in order to prevent people from being exposed to dangerous ideas (and ideas are probably the most dangerous things of all), as opposed to encouraging it by challenging those ideas. Should people read Heidegger? People should probably read Mein Kamph.
 
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CaptainObvious

Son of Liberty
V.I.P.
#2
I agree with you that the argument against reading Heidegger is that he was a Nazi is silly and lazy. We should encourage study instead of discouraging it by labeling.

I've never read Heidegger and don't know much about him, but I think to be as well rounded as possible people should read from a variety of different philosophies.
 

Wade8813

Registered Member
#3
If Heidegger's wrong, then demonstrate why he's wrong. Anyone reading philosophy of any sort tend to be more analytical in nature, and it's such a controversial stance, I'm sure people reading it would take the time to look at opposing viewpoints.

But what if he's right? I doubt that he is, but one of the things I strive for is being willing to look for the truth no matter how much we might not want to hear it.
 

Sim

Registered Member
#4
I've not read Heidegger, but considering that Hannah Arendt did read him carefully and allegedly admired much of his work -- yet later writing the harshest and most careful statements against National Socialism and totalitarianism I have ever read ("Elements and Origins of Totalitarianism"), not just as a counter-stance against Heidegger, makes me think there is more to Heidegger's work than just the parts which can easily be used for totalitarianism.

Also, it is nothing new that philosophy can be abused. Some blame Plato or Rousseau for totalitarianism, some Nietzsche for National Socialism, yet there is obviously more to their works than just turning people into Nazis.

And one thing can be sure: By far most people who became Nazis later had not read either of those.
 

Bjarki

Registered Member
#5
But I don't know much about Heidegger either way, having never read him, or much about his philosophy (beyond that I should read him to get a better grasp on Sartre, who I am somewhat interested in). What I really want to discuss is the extent to which we can separate a man's character and politics from his writing. Should the fact Heidegger was a Nazi deter us from reading his work, or lead us to take it with a grain of salt? Should we be concerned it might turn people into Nazis?
I think Sim's right when he says Heidegger's work is so much more than just nazi-doctrine. In fact, it's pretty damn hard to find any elements in there that could prosper nazi beliefs.

There are only very few books that could possibly push people towards nazism. Mein kampf for example has been read by many people, but I don't think it converted anyone to nazi sympathies, rather the contrary. The only people who cite Mein Kampf as an inspiration were already die-hard nazi's who would applaud anything written by Fascist authors.

I mean, Heidegger sounds like a neo-Luddite to me, and I have nothing good to say about them (Nazi or no); and am inclined to think anti-progressive modes of thought like that are part-an-parcel to a Nazi ideology. What was their ideology about, with its militarism and radical notions of cultural purity, beyond a move towards a mindlessly self-perpetuating Volk?
I don't think Heidegger was a very conservative philosopher, on the contrary. I think to him, and many others, the fascist regime symboled the coming of a new order. Though based heavily on a notion of being rooted in tradition (of the Volk and it's Geschichte (history)), it did contain the notion of a new man, a new society and culture, a new meaning and a new future. For many National-socialism was the most modern political idea of the time, which perhaps, without the war, might have had a lasting influence on world history (and not just be limited to fascist regimes in Argentina and other non-western areas in the last decades of the century).

I think the main difference between Heidegger and Sartre is that Heidegger sees man in his historical circumstances. He refuses to admit that a human being is born as a totally independent being and from there on is absolutely free to develop his own attitude to life. In his notion of 'Dasein' (to-be-there) he signals that being born naturally implicates 'geworpenheid' as we say in Dutch: that he is 'thrown' into a particular environment and circumstance. This means that the individual is rooted within his culture, his Volk and its history. This still leaves him plenty of opportunities to shape his own existence (and that of his fellow man; and thereby carry the burden of responsibility), but he does so from a particular 'background'.. against a certain horizon (that of Western culture and tradition).


At least that's the impression I get from what I've read. But in all honesty, Heidegger is a stranger to me.. the above is nothing more than my own reading on some of his basic themes. It should in no way be mistaken for Heidegger's real teachings... (!)
 
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Sim

Registered Member
#6
What Bjarki has written above reminds me of a few excerpts of Heidegger which I've read back in high school (had forgotten about it). I just remember his language is very peculiar -- I have no idea how it could possibly properly translated (at least I don't have the slightest clue how to do it), and it sounds most weird, much of it even involuntarily funny, for German readers as well.

I remember that in this excerpt, Heidegger emphasized individual responsibility, and our teacher contrasted this with his vita and allegiance to National Socialism as an example how even many educated people, who held particular stances, could fall for an ideology that is based on the exact opposite.

That said, I have no idea about Heidegger's actual teachings, so I can't really comment on it. But obviously, his ideas had much influence beyond circles of Nazis, as thinkers influenced by his work (like the abovementioned Hannah Arendt or Jean-Paul Sarte) demonstrate. As far as I know, he is still considered one of the most important philosophers of the 20th century in Germany, despite multifold criticism (especially for his personal involvement in Nazism, not so much because his actual work is considered connected to Nazism) and as a source for good laughs at his language, which sounds like a folk poet on LSD for people who haven't bothered diving too deeply into his philosophy.