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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Faye’s argument is an extreme version of those that tie Heidegger’s thought to his Nazism. His claim is that Heidegger’s understanding of Being, essence, destiny, and people is at root nothing but a distortion of the central elements of philosophy, a distortion that is meant to serve the Nazis. He certainly believes that this was true during the early 1930s. He also believes it so, in whole or in part, for the late 1930s and ’40s when Heidegger lectured at length on Nietzsche. He further claims that Heidegger’s successful rehabilitation of his reputation after the 1950s was governed by his wish to continue insinuating Nazism into philosophy. Indeed, he thinks that Heidegger’s understanding of destiny, decision, and the “people” in Being and Time (1927) was similarly perverse. Although Faye does not, and could not, show that Heidegger’s work was Nazi ideology from beginning to end, this is the thrust of his claim, at least from the mid-1920s on.

Faye tries to prove his point in detail only for the lectures and speeches that Heidegger gave around the time that he was rector. Much that he discusses makes visible connections that others already have shown between some of Heidegger’s central terms and Nazi language. What Faye also makes evident, however—and in some cases newly evident—is Heidegger’s orientation not only to Nazism in general but to Hitler in particular, the totalizing standpoint of his view of politics and, especially, the place of racism in his understanding.

Heidegger or his friends may have sided with this or that refinement in racial teaching, denounced crude biologism in favor of something more spiritual, engaged in vague discussions of the “Asiatic” and not always in the crudest ethnic slanders, and talked endlessly of war, struggle, and confrontation, while leaving it a bit vague if they had in mind sports, academic back-stabbing, self-control, or the Luftwaffe. None of this confuses Faye, who understands that, whatever the talk, primacy is to belong to the Germans, the central enemies are the Jews, race and Volk are never separate from blood and soil, and war often meant just that. The destiny of the German people under the Leader’s direction, something that Heidegger affirmed on the basis of his understanding in Being and Time, had consequences that expanded from subjugation, to brutality, to terror, to annihilation. One need not lay at Heidegger’s feet encouragement for each of the Nazis’ criminal acts to wonder just where, in his mind, such deeds would corrupt his words, or show their unbearable meaning. 

Despite Faye’s evidence and discussion, however, it is not clear that the affinity between Heidegger and the Nazis is an identity, or that his primary intention was to distort philosophy for their sake. Authentic resolve within the people’s destiny, Heidegger’s standpoint for choice, can result in different actions in different times and circumstances. Heidegger’s active political support for the Nazis waned, for example, and during the 1960s his concerns about technology had something in common with the Greens. Heidegger’s views, moreover, can certainly be short-sighted, even in his own terms, because the difference between understanding things as they truly are and, instead, being mastered by public sentiments, is often difficult to discern and always difficult to sustain. One might even try to argue that Heidegger’s later praise of the Nazis for their “encounter with global technology” shows a difference between his goal in supporting them and their own goals for themselves.

Although the affinity between Heidegger and the Nazis is not an identity, one should recognize that Heidegger’s political standpoint is always profoundly illiberal. His situating of all activities within a people’s destiny eliminates the grounds on which to defend one’s own independence within the political order, or to understand properly activities whose soul transcends any political order. The distortion of the free and the cosmopolitan also leads to inordinate hopes for political action, when it is not fostering inordinate despair. Heidegger’s support of the Nazis is so far from an accident that Faye’s overstatement of its inevitability is much closer to the truth than the opposing view.

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