Monday, November 21, 2005

Ideal Types and Ideologues

My post on Heidegger's relationship with Nazism garnered some interesting responses. Enowning (of enowning) insists that the philosophical works show no signs of Nazism, and cannot be approached as if they did. I disagree with his position, but it is one that cannot be dismissed out of hand. Brandon of Siris (in comments here and here) tacked hard in the other direction, claiming that the distinction between philosophy and politics is artificial, and that good analysis of Being and Time shows clear influence of Nazism. In his own post, Brandon questions Heidegger's defenders: his innocence can only be shown by "gerrymandering" the boundaries of his philosophy. Shulamite (of the tastefully named Vomit the Lukewark) takes a moderate approach that is open to both interpretations, underlining the compatibility of Heidegger's philosophy and Nazi ideology.

In my gut I know that Brandon is most likely right. Heidegger's work, especially Sein und Zeit, was a conversation in part with Nazi ideology, and to obtain a usable Heidegger, one must construct a double that bears no relationship with Nazism.

But to echo the other opinions, the philosopher plus the Nazi does not, in itself, make the Nazi philosopher. It was all too common for German intellectuals to construct a ideal version of the movement and its beliefs rather than know it sui generis.

Click here to read more.

Few regarded Hitler as an intellectual giant, but they stood behind his anti-Bolshevism, his nationalism, his imperialism, and his restoration of order. An interesting example were the judges, who found it difficult to apply the Nuremburg Laws, even though they willingly swore oaths to the F├╝hrer. The regime's racism did not accord with the judges' belief in an orderly state run by laws (Rechtstaat.) Where the regime wanted the courts to rule on the basis of race, it found the judges engaged in too many 'legalism' that watered down the impact of Nuremburg.

The German intellectuals did to Nazism what one must do to Heidegger: they madesanitizedd copies of Nazism that, unfortunately, deluded them to the reality of the regime. It's possible (and I am in no position to judge this) that Heidegger did just that--created an ideal rather than engaged the ideology. Reading back from his philosophy would probably not give us an accurate image of the Third Reich and its principles.

A more complete approach would consider 'the social history' of Heidegger's thought: his relationships with people in academia and politics, his reactions to social movements, and how he fit into the milieu.

[ETA]Peter Gay, in his classic Weimar Culture, described how Heidegger's though played into the malaise felt by Germans:
What Heidegger did was to give philosophical seriousness, professorial respectability to the love affair with unreason and death that dominated so many Germans in this hard time. Thus [he] aroused in his readers feelings of assent, of rightness ... Whatever the precise philosophical import of Sein und Zeit and of the writings that surrounded it, Heidegger's work amounted to a denigration of Weimar, that creature of reason, and an exaltation of movements like that of the Nazis, who thought with their blood, worshipped the charismatic leader, praised and practiced murder, and hoped to stamp out reason--forever--in the drunken embrace of that life which is death ... Heidegger gave no one reasons not to be a Nazi, and good reasons to become one.
For what its worth, I find Gay's analysis of Weimar is weakened by an idealization of what republicanism is and what it can do. He equates it too closely with the Enlightenment.


At 12:51 AM, Blogger Robert Schwartz said...

I don't let Heidigger off the hook, nor any of the others. "Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back." German Philosophy is the record of a tobogan ride to hell, and is part of a continental tradition of strewing rose petals beneath the feet of tyrants. Heidigger's words should only be read by men wearing lead aprons, steel toe boots, fire proof gloves and a welder's helmet. Heidigger is guilty, as are all the rest. Consign him to the fires.

At 5:05 PM, Blogger Clark Goble said...

While I'm not about to say there are no influences, as I said before. I think Enowning is right in that it behooves those arguing the connection to point where in the philosophy the Nazism appears.

It's one thing to point out connections. It's an other to point out significant problems.

I've suggested that perhaps places like his present-at-hand account of justice or his accounts of the volk. There may be others.

I prefer to see those who suggest that one always has to keep the totalitarian instinct at bay. I think that if there is some aspect of this to Heidegger's thought, it is in opposition to other elements of his thought that mediate against it. Further, I'm not sure Heidegger is alone in all this. I think the more traditional Enlightenment philosophies likewise have their totalitarianizing tendencies. Often due to the way they conduct inquiry, in a more dramatic fashion.

One should note, for instance that secular humanism in the United States had a manifesto that was eerily like Nazism prior to WWII. The eugenetics movement was a worldwide movement and not just a Nazi movement.

I think that by narrowing the question of this totalitarian instinct in philosophy to just one political party at one particular time we actually allow for the danger more than by looking for this Nazism in all places and at all times.

Put an other way, what is Nazism? Did the German party create Nazism? Or did it merely announce what was already present in German thought? And who was the author of this Nazism?

It seems to me that there are preparatory questions that must be asked before the question of H's Nazism can make much sense. Once again this is not to downplay the importance of the question, but quite the opposite, to place focus on the problem of what was in Nazism that we find so distasteful and dangerous. To limit it to Nazism rather than this aspect seems to make one loose focus. To look to a man rather than a dangerous idea.

At 7:54 PM, Blogger Brandon said...

Great post again. I think I would express my point slightly more weakly (although not much), in that to get the problem I don't think it's necessary for all parts of Heidegger's philosophy to show the influence of Nazism. Even if Being and Time, for instance, turned out to be utterly inconsistent with Nazism in every way, I don't think it would change things much, because Nazism has a role in another part of his philosophy -- certainly his rectoral address and and post-rectoral lectures seem to show that it's there at some point. One of my frustrations with many of the defenders of Heidegger is the tendency to gerrymander his thought arbitrarily just to seal the Nazism in a completely separate compartment.

I think Clark is right in that this is a recurrent problem at some level. I've argued elsewhere that Hume's racism is a serious problem that needs to be faced, not because every part of Hume is racist, but because very little of Hume prevents one from being a racist, even though some parts clearly should, and some parts definitely are racist. The two cases are actually somewhat similar. Just as Marcuse points out to Heidegger that he really had no excuse for his illusions, Hume can't be excused on the basis of historical context -- yes, people of the time often had similar views, but egalitarianism was big in Scotland, and there were plenty of people pointing out the reasons why we should regard all human beings as fundamentally equal. And just as there is something disturbing about the fact that Heidegger kept evading direct confrontation with the issue, there is something disturbing about the fact that Hume was explicitly and brilliantly criticized on this point by Beattie, and the only thing Hume did in response was to make a sentence or two less committal, while keeping the substance of what was being criticized. In both cases this failure is a clear sign that something needs to be reworked. It might require just a slight fix or a major one; but either way the issue needs to be met squarely, and insofar as Hume's philosophy is even congenial for racism, whether Hume himself explicitly drew a racist conclusion from that particular congenial point, it needs to be reworked. Being congenial for racism is a falsification of the system as a whole; exactly what's wrong with Hume's approach (big or small) is a matter for debate, but we all need to agree that it is a genuine falsification. Ditto for Heidegger, but even more urgently because Heidegger's Nazism was not as vague and limited as Hume's racism.

I confess, that while I see why Clark and enowning try to throw the presumption on others, I have no patience for it. Nazism is too serious a thing for us to be casual about the matter. Heidegger was a Nazi; those who find that they are suspicious of his philosophy as a result are being entirely reasonable, and should not be dismissed. I don't see that it is reasonable to demand, in response to them, that they make a case; the worry is reasonable on its own. Instead, the defenders of Heidegger need to show point by point that there is no connection, no congeniality, and no consistency between Nazism and Heidegger's philosophy (the full philosophy, not the gerrymandered kind that ignores Heidegger's explicit linkings of his support for Nazism with his philosophical interests); and if at any point they fail to do so, it behooves them to face it head on, and recognize it as a problematic point for the approach as we find it in Heidegger himself. Otherwise I think it is clear that they are downplaying the issue. If we take the issue with the seriousness it deserves, reasonable and moral presumption is entirely on the side of those who are doubtful about the philosophy of a known Nazi and anti-Semite; I don't see how one could possibly be taking the issue seriously by telling people that they should accept the Nazi's philosophy as pristine unless they can prove otherwise. On its own it's a minor issue whether Heidegger was too Nazi or not; the problem is that it's no longer a minor issue when we are considering Heidegger's influence. What scandalizes me most is not that Heidegger was a Nazi but that I don't see his inheritors taking that seriously enough.

I think you are right that we do need to keep in mind that Heidegger's complicity was by way of an idealization that didn't entirely fit the facts of the actual regime (Heidegger plays it up that way, later, and there's reason to think that he wasn't lying on this point). I think we perhaps need to distinguish two questions that tend to get conflated:

(1) Was there a disturbing complicity at the philosophical level that needs to be directly addressed, without evasion?


(2) How easy to repair is this problem of complicity?

I think the idealization issues are useful considerations in answering (2); idealization is relevant to how major the fix would be. Likewise, I think some of Clark's questions are useful for getting clear on the answers to (2) and questions like it. I don't see that they shed any light on the answer to (1), and that's the really important one. I think defenders of Heidegger tend to think it's enough if they can claim that it's only a minor repair required; but it's not unless they are also showing that [1] they have taken the issue seriously enough in coming to that conclusion in the first place; and [2] they are taking the concern raised by question (1) above seriously enough that they are not being casual about the repair, however minor. It's very difficult to find examples of either.

At 1:39 AM, Blogger Clark Goble said...

Brandon, while I'm sympathetic to your perspective, I'm afraid if someone were to say there was Nazism in Being and Time I'd have a really, really hard time figuring out where it is. There's no doubt that Heidegger wasn't a nice guy - in numerous ways in my opinion. But it isn't at all clear that arises out of his philosophy.

I guess while I understand why some put the burden of proof on those reading Heidegger due to the very nature of Nazism, it just isn't clear to me how to find what is or isn't Nazi sympathetic. For that matter, as I said, surely one doesn't want to take Nazi connections to such an extreme that one rejects any belief simply because a Nazi held it. Somewhere else someone made a joke about Hitler loving children therefore loving children becomes untrustworthy.

I think the problem is that it just isn't clear to me how to go about understanding your (1).

At 1:44 AM, Blogger Clark Goble said...

Just to add, I think one other problem is that Heidegger's thought arises largely out of an engagement with Husserl. It seems that those who (to me) end up with an Heideggarian perspective tend to also arrive at it first through an engagement with Husserl. Certainly that's the case with Derrida and Levinas. As I said, where there are differences (perhaps due to the emphasis on Aristotle in Heidegger) it isn't clear to me that they arrive at something that different.

Given at least the un-mistaken similarities of these post-Heideggarian phenomenologists, (and the fact so many are Jewish), I'm just not sure that those following a Heideggarian phenomenology do have the burden of proof.

Condemn Heidegger if you will. I tend to think he (and frankly many notable philosophers) are not necessarily people to be emulated. But then I tend to think that of many famous physicists. One could tell stories about Schrodenger, Feynman or Einstein and how they treated people, especially women.

It just isn't clear to me that this means their philosophical views ought to be analyzed the way one would analyze the Marquis de Sade.

At 1:46 PM, Blogger Nathanael said...

Clark, I respect that you and enowning think that there should be a more concrete standard for judging Heidegger. I have hesitated pinning the Hackenkreuz on his lapelle. I think that there is a question of Heidegger's broader affiliation and his willingness to assist in the reception of Nazi ideology. Even if he saw Nazism as the lesser of two evils and something that could be tamed, it does not absolve him or his philosophy (just as von Pappen was not absolved.)

Unfortunately, I don't think that my blog is really a place that the issue can be resolved (as much as I enjoy the attention it gets.) I suggest that the problem, as well as the solution, is extremely messy and would require much more than a direct analysis of Heidegger's philosophy. Simple solution are elusive -- even Heidegger's references to the Volk need not condemn him since democrats and socialists addressed it in their political thought as well as nationalists and Nazis. Moreover, I find that his treatment of Heimat, another favorite contested ground of German extremists, closely resembles Carl Zuckmayer's take in his drama.

Perhaps a different question should be asked: does how Heidegger confronted and handled Nazism say something about the strengths and weaknesses of his philosophy?

At 2:12 PM, Blogger Nathanael said...

Let me add that the problem is handicapped by the absence of a post-war debate in Germany about collaboration, resistance and acceptance such as went on in France and that characterized the tension between Camus and Sartre in the French intellectual world.

At 8:14 PM, Blogger Clark Goble said...

Perhaps a preliminary question is in order Nathanael.

When we say, "Heidegger's philosophy" what do we mean?

It seems that somehow the answer to that question is being pre-determined in a fashion I'm not sure is helpful. Indeed I'm not sure how to draw the boundaries over Heidegger's philosophy. I think that perhaps a more useful standard is how we read Heidegger's texts. Not that this is without its problems and ambiguities. But it seems at least more doable.

At 3:09 PM, Blogger Brandon said...


I don't want to fill up the comment section here too much, but the issue as I see it is not burden of proof; in fact, my problem is in part that the defenders of Heidegger keep trying to force the other side to accept burden of proof, without giving them any good reason. The issue as I see it, from the side of those suspicious of Heidegger, is reasonable presumption: are those who are suspicious of Heidegger's philosophy in any way unreasonable for being so? As far as I can see, no. Is Nazism a minor issue that can be casually dismissed? No. Are people being unreasonable if they refuse to countenance any part of Heidegger's philosophy until it is shown that that part can be part of a philosophical approach that is actively and explicitly opposed to Nazism? No. Whether the defenders of Heidegger take up this presumption themselves as a burden of proof is their own business; but because of my answers to the above question, I don't think anyone would be unreasonable if they regarded any refusal to take it up as an evasion and trivialization of a serious issue. In other words, people are being entirely reasonable if they protest that it isn't enough simply to say that the philosophy and the Nazism aren't clearly connected; what needs to be established in the context, to answer the worry, is that they clearly aren't connected. At the very least defenders of Heidegger need to realize that the worry will never go away as long as they don't set out to establish this.

There isn't any problem with a slippery slope here, as far as I can see; loving children can be defended on its own right, as good in itself, regardless of whether Nazis did it. Heidegger's defenders have done very little defense along these lines for Heidegger; and their failure to come up with answers that don't sound like an evasion or a weak excuse is the reason the problem continues.

I like Nathanael's suggestion for the question to ask, by the way.

At 3:43 PM, Blogger Clark Goble said...

I think I'd take exception to that claim that Heidegger scholars haven't addressed the Nazi issue. Derrida has a whole book that largely deals with the topic (On Spirit). The Nietzshe volumes by Heidegger have an extended essay on the subject (since I think arguably they do crop up in those texts moreso than most others) Likewise almost every Heidegger commentary styled book I have addresses the topic. So the claim that the topic is being avoided and that the burden of proof is being put purely on others seems false.

Having said that though, at a certain point it becomes like proving a negative. When somoeone makes the claim that Being and Time is sympathetic to Nazism and I can't see it, how am I to respond. Is it possible to even answer their charge? I don'y see how. At best one can respond to the charges of those claiming influence. But anything one writes could always just be said to be avoiding the subjet.

As to the claim that merely finding a philosophy opposed to Nazism, hasn't that been done? There are a lot of anti-totalitarian writings in the neo-phenomenologist tradition. Does that count? Or are those not Heidegger's philosophy? Which returns us to my question. How do we delimit what is or isn't Heidegger's philosophy? What do we mean?

With regards to Nathanael's question of Heidegger's acts and his philosophy . One again unless we are clear by what we mean by his philosophy, can that question be raised?

Also, why can't we ask if Heidegger followed his philosphy? Don't most philosoophers, at least those whose philosphy has practical implications, somewhat hypocrits? That is, does espousing a philosophy entail that ones life is how one judges the philosophy?

At 11:39 AM, Blogger Brandon said...

Clark, I didn't say that they haven't addressed the issues (in fact, what I did say presupposed that they have, just evasively). I don't see what problem you're having here. I haven't claimed that Being and Time is sympathetic to Nazism; but Being and Time is not the whole of Heidegger's philosophy. Heidegger gave philosophy lectures on Logic that involve brief philosophical discussions of Hitler, Mussolini, and Blitzkrieg from a positive light; are Heidegger's defenders going to gerrymander that out of the philosophy, the way they do Heidegger's rectoral address, his post-rectoral comments on the 'inner truth and greatness of Nazism', his explicit linking throughout his career of Nazism with a particular solution to the philosophical problem of technology that he found attractive? And why are we constantly facing discussions of the issue that uncritically propagate the official story given by Heidegger, despite the fact that Heidegger was known to be a habitual liar?

Again, I don't see that there is any problem even when someone claims Being and Time is sympathetic to Nazism; just show that it isn't.

On the neo-phenomenological tradition, it's entirely possible that people have already been doing what I recommended people do with Heidegger; if so, that's great, and it needs to be better known.

And I don't understand the point of your final questions. Of course we can ask them; they change nothing. What we are facing in the case of Heidegger is not just a disparity of life, but a case in which the philosopher himself made explicit philosophical links, however occasionally.

At 1:55 PM, Blogger Clark Goble said...

Someone else mentioned B&T, but I was more using it as an illustration. If someone says X has Nazi aspects to it without having to say where or how, it seems impossible to respond. The point is that showing something isn't sympathetic to Nazism is difficult if the other person doesn't at least point to something that is Nazi like.

The point of the final paragraph is simply that the lived life of authors is not necessarily a good guide to the meaning and correctness of their writings. Put simply, even bad people can come to correct conclusions and good people can make egregious assertions.

At 4:46 PM, Blogger Brandon said...

I'm not so sure that it's difficult to show that something is not sympathetic to Nazism, given that the problem is with the moral aspects of Nazism; one would just have to show that the basic approach and principles exclude Nazism (with its anti-Semitism and violation of human rights, which are, after all, the primary reasons we regard Nazism as morally perverse) as a moral position. Thus, if Catholic theology were accused of being congenial to Nazism, the Catholic could point out that Catholic doctrine can fairly easily be shown to rule out doing the morally suspect sorts of things the Nazis did. (If it turned out that the criticism focused on anti-Semitism, it would have to be admitted that at least one strand of Catholic doctrine has been such that it is consistent with or even at times congenial to a form of anti-Semitism; but it could be pointed out that this isn't entailed by the fundamental principles of Catholic doctrine, that even the strongest anti-Semitism that can be made consistent with those principles is very weak compared to Nazi anti-Semitism, and still rules out Auschwitz and the like.) The worry isn't a vague worry that there might be some resemblance of some sort between the philosophy and Nazism on some point or other; it's a morally precise worry that the philosophical approach does nothing, or does too little, to rule out an Auschwitz, or perhaps even makes a policy leading to an Auschwitz more palatable. And if it doesn't do enough to rule out Auschwitz, it seems a reasonable moral question to ask whether those making use of it are compensating for that failure, and how.

At 5:51 PM, Blogger Clark Goble said...

Perhaps. But with most of Heidegger's writings, I'm not sure it's possible to derive clear morality without adding to it or retracing the concepts in a new fashion as I believe Levinas did. So while I think that the ethics of the Other as spoken of by Levinas and Derrida are quite Heideggerian, I'd have a hard time identifying them in most of the texts. (Which is not to say all, which is why I limited things to B&T)

For instance some might tie authenticity and inauthenticity to ethics. And I think it could be done, but I think Heidegger doesn't do this in B&T. Indeed a serious error of initial readings of B&T is, I think, to read those terms with too much ethical baggage.

So perhaps the error is not that it is Nazistic but that it doesn't resist Nazism? But is that akin to being Nazistic? If so, then aren't the physicists also in trouble given that their work also doesn't resist the Nazi instinct?

Certainly things would be easy if there were the positive statements you suggest. But it seems that you are presupposing that the texts are either positive or negative and never neutral. If they are neutral then the parallel to attempting to prove a negative seems rather pronounced.

At 4:19 AM, Blogger Brandon said...

But it seems that you are presupposing that the texts are either positive or negative and never neutral. If they are neutral then the parallel to attempting to prove a negative seems rather pronounced.

That may be; I'm not sure what it would mean for a position to be neutral with regard to Nazism, unless we just meant that there was no overlap in actual subject-matter at all.

At 11:26 AM, Blogger enowning said...

Brandon said earlier:
Heidegger gave philosophy lectures on Logic that involve brief philosophical discussions of Hitler, Mussolini, and Blitzkrieg from a positive light.

Could you provide a more specific reference?

A search of for those terms and author Heidegger turned nothing for blitzkrieg, one reference to Hitler and Mussolini and their appropriation of Nietzsche in the lectures on Schelling and freedom, a couple references to Hitler and his cult in the Nietzsche lectures, and two more asides after the war.

Of course google hasn't scanned every book, yet. Are you referring to the 1934 lecture course on logic and the nature of language? I was wondering why it hadn't been translated yet...but it seems a bit early to be going on about blitzkrieg.

I think Clark's pretty much made the points that need to be put on the table. After hearing all the commentary on Heidegger and Nazism, and knowing that he was a dues paying party member, as keen on Sieg Heils as any other March Violet, it comes as a surprise when first reading Heidegger that he's going on almost exclusively about Aristotle and Kant and the usual suspects. In the 100+ volumes of his complete works there are only a handful of remarks on what was going on outside lecture hall. So, after reading several dozen of his lectures, and the essentially complete absence of contemporary politics in them, my reaction to charge that his philosophy is related to Nazism is: show me.

At 11:30 PM, Blogger Clark Goble said...

Just to add, while I believe Levinas is basically doing Heidegger, only focusing more on Husserl's notion of intersubjectivity and the other (much as Merleau-Ponty is basically doing Heidegger only focusing in on Husserl's notion of the body as the "here" or the origin) a common criticism of Levinas' ethics is the "so what" factor. That is, even if Levinas (and Derrida) despite trying hard to move from meta-ethics to practical ethics are unable to do so. That is, they can talk of what grounds ethics but can't tell what we ought do. (Much like Kant is sometimes taken to define ethics as what anyone ought do but can't say what that actually is)

Given that failure which I think is widely acknowledged, I think there is a compelling case to argue that Heidegger's texts are neutral. Indeed Derrida argues that we have a strong sense responsibility precisely because we can't say what is right or wrong.


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