The Magazine

Natural Reich

Martin Heidegger didn’t accomodate the Nazis; he embraced them.

Feb 8, 2010, Vol. 15, No. 20 • By MARK BLITZ
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The Introduction of Nazism into Philosophy in Light of the Unpublished Seminars
of 1933-1935
by Emmauel Faye,
translated by Michael B. Smith
Yale, 464 pp., $40

This book, which appeared in 2005 in France and is newly translated into English, has caused a stir, and rightly so. Emmanuel Faye argues that Martin Heidegger’s work is so closely connected to the Nazis that it should be shelved with books from the Third Reich and not permitted to share space with Aristotle, Descartes,
and Kant. Heidegger’s works are artifacts of darkness, not paths toward Enlightenment. By design, they perpetuate Nazism long after its battlefield defeat. His effect on philosophy is pernicious.

Faye’s study differs in several respects from others that show the connection between Heidegger and the Nazis. He claims that Heidegger’s writing and teaching was (and is) primarily a defense of Nazism and Hitlerism, not something independent of them that discovered an ugly affinity and use. He uses notes and summaries from unpublished courses from 1933-35 that demonstrate Heidegger’s racial teaching. And he compares Heidegger at length to contemporaries and followers who worked with the Nazis, such as Carl Schmitt and Erik Wolf, to show the deep similarities among their arguments. Only the willfully ignorant could deny the connections Faye draws between Heidegger and Hitler. 

Much of what Faye argues is based on what is already well known. In 1933 the Nazis made Heidegger rector of the university in Freiburg. During his rectorate he attempted to set scholarship and administration on the Nazi path, appointing sympathetic deans, and leading or organizing reeducation retreats. He enthusiastically worked for the Nazification, the “coordination,” of academic institutions. He made speeches and wrote messages that urged support for Hitler and his policies.

“To the man of this unprecedented will, to our Führer Adolf Hitler,” he concluded one Freiburg address, “a threefold ‘Sieg Heil.’ ” Who, upon hearing such a statement, would not know where things stood? After the war, authorities banned him from the classroom for several years; figures such as Heidegger’s erstwhile friend Karl Jaspers were among those who urged the prohibition.

The attention that scholars paid to these facts varied with the ebb and flow of Heidegger’s influence. Heidegger resigned the rectorate after a year in office. This made it easier for the credulous to believe the excuses and explanations that he and his supporters offered for his outrageous behavior. Others correctly saw his explanations primarily as lies and half-truths. For the past 15 or 20 years, however, largely because of the publication of a biography by Heinrich Ott filled with damning facts about Heidegger, no fair-minded person has been able to deny the seriousness of Heidegger’s collaboration. Although the peak of Heidegger’s active political support for the Nazis may have been the Freiburg rectorate, denunciations of Jewish colleagues, encouragement of teachers who supported the Nazis, and involvement in Nazi efforts such as the Academy for German Law preceded the rectorate and continued after it. There is no evidence at any point of active political opposition. 

The issue of Heidegger’s association with the Nazis has, for scholars, as much to do with the link between his thought and actions as it does with his actions themselves. Here, too, awareness of the link ebbs and flows. Because the tie is less obvious, or easier to deny, than the political facts of the rectorate, and because it more clearly impugns his followers’ judgment, many academics have tried to ignore or obfuscate it. Nonetheless, several among Heidegger’s first group of students, such as Karl Lowith, recognized it quickly, and wrote about it during and just after World War II. There have been other works available for decades that also make the link visible. Not until the fascist connections of the leading literary deconstructionist, Paul de Man, became obvious 20 years ago, however, did it become impossible for Heidegger scholars to ignore the subject. The attempts to explain away any link between Heidegger’s thought and action took on new levels of sophistication, but the effort to explain the link honestly proceeded nonetheless. 

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