Martin Heidegger: Nazi Philosopher?
In a recent article for The New York Times (April 29, 2010), "The Jewish Question: Martin Heidegger" (perhaps better titled "The Nazi Question"), senior editor for The New Republic, Adam Kirsch, reviews two recent books on this tarnished German philosopher, who joined the Nazi Party, served as rector of Freiburg University from 1933-34, and told the student body, in a November 1933 speech, that "the Führer and he alone is the present and future German reality and its law."
The more interesting of the two books would appear to be the one originally in French by Emmanuel Faye, The Introduction of Nazism Into Philosophy in Light of the Unpublished Seminars of 1933-1935 (translated by Michael B. Smith), for Kirsch writes that Faye argues not just that that Heidegger was a philosopher who happened to join the Nazi Party, nor that Heidegger was a Nazi who just happened to be a philosopher, but that Heidegger was, crucially, a "Nazi philosopher":
Faye, an authority on Descartes, is driven to this pitch of accusation by his study of the seminars, till now untranslated or unpublished, that Heidegger taught during 1933-35, in the first flush of his Nazi enthusiasm. In these classes, Faye proves beyond doubt, we do witness "the introduction of Nazism into philosophy," the outright transformation of Heidegger's thought into a tool of Nazi indoctrination. The more familiar a reader is with Heidegger's work, the more shocking it will be to see him employ his key terms -- being, existence, decision -- as euphemisms for nationalism and Führer-worship. Thus we find him, in the winter of 1933-34, declaring that "the question of the awareness of the will of the community is a problem that is posed in all democracies, but one that of course can become fruitful only when the will of the Führer and the will of the people are identified in their essence." At the same time, Heidegger tells his students -- "many of whom," Faye points out, "were to become combatants at the beginning of the following decade on the Eastern front" -- that "to a Semitic nomad," the "nature of our German space" is inherently foreign.This is complex material, for a proper critique demands that one deal not merely with nationalist ideas, ideologies of blood, and the concept of the leader, but that one engage in philosophical thinking and its distortion, not an easy labor. At the conclusion of his article, Kirsch suggests a similar task:
[W]hat makes Heidegger's Nazism a challenge -- as opposed to merely a scandal -- is the fact that he did not drift into evil, but thought his way into it. And once we acknowledge the powerful attraction of his work, we are morally and intellectually bound to explore what part of that attraction is owed to ideas with a potential for evil . . . . [T]hat more difficult questioning . . . asks us to confront not just Heidegger but ourselves.I'd be interested to know what my philosopher friend Bill Vallicella thinks about this matter, for I can mostly just direct attention to a matter outside my expertise. Heidegger's personal culpability is beyond question, but the question concerning the culpability of his philosophy remains, and I think it an important one, intellectually, for Heidegger the philosopher is considered a major thinker of the 20th century, and his ideas have influenced the intellectual left, continental philosophy, literary criticism, theology, and many other fields.
As noted, I can mostly just call attention to this matter of culpability, but I'm still willing to hazard a guess. In a statement quoted above, Kirsch observes:
The more familiar a reader is with Heidegger's work, the more shocking it will be to see him employ his key terms -- being, existence, decision -- as euphemisms for nationalism and Führer-worship.Kirsch isn't being very precise here in reporting on Faye's evidence, for he offers three different Heideggerian terms used for two different fascist characteristics, but none of the former seems to correspond with either of the latter. Perhaps Kirsch means "euphemisms associated with nationalism and Führer-worship"? But even if "being, existence, decision" are used by Heidegger in his seminars from 1933 to 1935 as euphemisms for Nazi concepts, Kirsch's term "euphemism" suggests that Heidegger is employing some intellectual sleight of hand, using more innocuous terms to hide something less reputable, a form of equivocation. If Heidegger is equivocating in his use of key terms from his philosophy, then his core concepts might not be essentially evil but merely corruptible.
But I haven't read Faye's book, and I would be in deep waters even if I had, so I leave this intellectual sea for better, more experienced sailors to navigate and chart . . .
UPDATE: My friend Bill Vallicella has offered his view of the matter.