Martin Heidegger didn’t accomodate the Nazis; he embraced them.
Feb 8, 2010, Vol. 15, No. 20 • By MARK BLITZ
It is also true that, despite Faye’s claims, many of Heidegger’s arguments and analyses remain forceful and arguably correct. That he could assimilate his analyses, or the language of his analyses, to the Nazis does not make them wrong. Faye does not succeed in showing that Heidegger’s discussions in, say, Being and Time, are mistaken, nor does he attempt seriously to do this. He correctly sees the importance of Heidegger’s discussions of the people and destiny there, as many scholars still do not, but he then downplays the status of individual anxiety, guilt, and the anticipation of death. He attacks Heidegger’s attacks on Cartesian subjectivity, but offers little convincing in reply. He acts incorrectly as if Heidegger’s discussions of being and essence are only attempts to fill these terms with Nazi offal, and he apparently thinks that Heidegger’s discussions of other thinkers are nothing but strategies to dismiss them altogether when they cannot be made useful politically.
Yet, if this is so, why are Heidegger’s discussions of them so dense and detailed? Faye tellingly uncovers the connection between Heidegger’s first delivery of what became a famous address on art and the Nazi’s 1935 Nuremberg laws. But he then seems to reduce Heidegger’s thought on art to this connection. In general, Faye discounts too much of what one learns from Heidegger about man, being, temporality, art, nature, theoretical and practical understanding, truth, guilt, death, and technology.
Intelligent young men and women will come upon these questions and phenomena, and will want to examine them. They will also come upon the apparent confines of our own liberalism, the flattening of our aspirations, the vulgarization of our arts and education, the dominance of technological and economic ways of thinking. These difficulties are brought out in Heidegger’s works, among others. We must learn to elevate ourselves even if only to preserve ourselves. Heidegger should still be read, and his arguments pondered; but the reading should be prefaced with a reminder of his political actions, and of the horrors perpetrated by the Leader he glorified. Attention should always be paid to the question of the link between action and thought, the central question of political philosophy. So we are indebted to Faye’s book, and to the passion for justice with which it is written.
Mark Blitz, the Fletcher Jones professor of political philosophy at Claremont McKenna College, is the author, most recently, of Duty Bound: Responsibility and American Public Life.