The Preventable Demise of Mr. HeideggerJean-Luc Nancy recently asked,
why are Heidegger and Freud subjected to the return of operations of denunciation and demolition? (Le Monde, November 4, 2005)With regard to Martin Heidegger, the problem is his association with Nazism. Becoming involved with the party, supporting its programs within the context of the university, and (purportedly) compromising his writings to the ideology of the party, Heidegger has become a poster child for the relationship of the intellectual to the authoritarian state. Nancy counters that Heidegger's concern for existence (l'être) is not anchored in ideology. The philosophy of Dasein belongs to the modern discourse on the human condition. Read more!
Heidegger could be seen like the “grays”: the intelligentsia of the Eastern Bloc who joined communist parties to practice their professions. They became defenders of democracy after the communist regimes fell. Pierre Bordieu wrote that a standard reading of Heidegger’s philosophical works reveals no footprints of Nazi ideology or politics.
Not even the most ruthless investigators into the author of Sein und Zeit's murky compromises with Nazism have looked into the texts themselves for indices, admissions, or hints liable to reveal or elucidate the political commitment of its author.With the exception of a few compromises, Heidegger insulated his texts from politics. The obscurity of language, the inclination towards pure academia, the separation of philosophy from Fascist discourse -- taken at face value, his writings show no commitment to Nazism and no desire to spread it. Any evidence that he was a Nazi thinker must come from outside his philosophy. (Bourdieu characterizes this as avoidance, and Heidegger enclosed himself intellectually without realizing his own conservatism.)
Heidegger suffered from the disease that plagued German intellectuals of his era: the pretension to political disengagement under which lies a preference for nationalism (after Hegel: a state without parties is a state without conflict.) Claiming to be apolitical, they distrusted the chaotic partisanship of Weimar. Under the Third Reich they could pretend to be disengaged and after 1945, they could claim that they were not involved in the Nazi state. Even some who did resist did so because they felt that the Nazi revolution made apathy impossible.
Some intellectuals dressed their scholarship to address ideology, hoping to find favor with the party. Ethnologist Hans Naumann happily spoke the praises of Nazism as Jewish books burned in the middle of Berlin. But he fooled himself into thinking that he could become a leading scholar of the Third Reich: he tried to equate his cultural aristocracy with the Führerprinzip, but his assertion that the common people were not creative, but rather the consumers and perverters of culture produced by the elite, was out of step with Nazism's celebration the völkisch nation. The party, needless to say, ignored him.
I find Heidegger’s indifference to politics within his philosophy difficult to swallow. According to Rene Schickele’s diaries, Heidegger was deeply involved with Nazi groups at the university by mid-1932 ... before the seizure of power. Around the same time, he positioned himself in his lectures (represented in The Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics) as a critique of movements that like Nazism, interpreted personal malaise as historical conflict:
These world-historical diagnoses and prognoses of culture do not involve us, they do not attack us. On the contrary, they release us from ourselves and present us to ourselves in a world-historical situation and role ... at best [this philosophy of culture] sees what is contemporary, yet a contemporaneity which is entirely without us, which is nothing other than what belongs to the eternal yesterday ... it unties us from ourselves in imparting us a role in world history. Our flight and disorientation, the illusion and our lostness become more acute ...Heidegger spoke specifically of the thought of Oswald Spengler, Ludwig Klages, Max Scheler, and Leopold Ziegler. His critique could be applied to so many systems of belief, but in context these were movements that dealt with degeneration (Entartung.) Nazism borrowed strongly from that discourse, explaining misfortune as international and racial hostility.
We do not ultimately need any diagnoses or prognoses of culture in order to make sure of our situation, because they merely provide us with a role and untie us from ourselves, instead of helping us to want to find ourselves ... We may not, therefore, flee from ourselves in some convoluted idle talk about culture, nor pursue ourselves in a psychology motivated by curiosity.
Heidegger’s thought may not be tainted, but it is enfeebled, by his early involvement with Nazism. He cautioned against involvement in similar movements, engaging them, but was also willing to join.