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May 15, 2010



I had a similar experience in a newspaper booth. Had to buy Philosophie just to remember the amazement I felt.

Roger Ariew

I didn't read Faye's book carefully; it's a large tome and it has nothing to do with my work. But I think you may be misrepresenting him a bit -- not misrepresenting him as much as other things I've read about his work, but still worthy of being indicated. His argument, as far as I recall, is that Heidegger's stuff should be moved to a separate part of the library as long as the Heidegger family controls all the mss and expurgates the published work. I think his argument is that we cannot fully understand Heidegger's Nazism with these fetters placed upon scholarship and that this aspect of Heidegger interpretation should be emphasized.

There's a sense in which you're also agreeing with Faye that we should have access to all Heidegger documents in order to be able to study Heidegger. I don't think anyone is holding back anything of Descartes, Hume, or Leibniz for political reasons.


"what does it say not about French philosophy but about France that its main current of philosophy was forged as an ontologized apologia for national socialism"

That's cute, but Being and Time was published in 1927.


>> If I were going to study Heidegger, I would want to study him as a Nazi, because that's what he was, and so that's what would give me the richest picture of what he was doing when he was doing what he thought of as philosophy...<<

You describe a reasonable and laudable approach, Justin. The author's particulars—such as identify, culture, and circumstance—should never be divorced from our reading of the author's work. Isaiah Berlin once wrote about the discipline of history, ‘What the historian says will, however careful he may be to use purely descriptive language, sooner or later convey his attitude. Detachment is itself a moral position. The use of neutral language ('Himmler caused many persons to be asphyxiated') conveys its own ethical tone.’ There's no impartial and omniscient chronicler of events, no 'scientific' history. Authors operate in a social context, and such a critical attitude is good for us to adopt as readers towards the work of all authors.

However, the mileage we get out of such a stance varies depending on just what we are studying. For e.g., the evaluation of a scientific theory will not benefit as much from our knowledge of the author than, say, the evaluation of a political theory. Likewise for a highly technical philosophy-of-science paper vs. one on the ethics of affirmative action. Same with a work on historical paleontology vs. a work on postcolonial feminism.

My point is that the author's background does not help us in judging the worth of a scientific theory (or, the theory is not likely to be a leading indicator of the social values held by the author). The scientist may or may not have been a monster — this detail matters to our estimate of the man but not for his scientific work to be insightful or right (think James Watson or Graham Bell), nor does it necessarily bias later scientists to put his theory to specific ends.

I see Heidegger's major work on ontology in a similar way, that it delivers highly technical "first principles" insights into Being and its relation to the world, and it depends much less on the author's values in order to be broadly insightful. Nor does it bias the readers towards the author's social views. What else can explain that Heidegger's work, in France and beyond, has shaped a wide range of post-war progressive movements, disciplines, and individuals, especially in the liberal arts and the humanities—precisely the disciplines we think of as being antithetical to the project of National Socialism? Thoughts?


Decades ago one used to find Philosophical Forum at good newstands…

As for the history of philosophy, disciplines and subdisciplines differ greatly with respect to their permeability. An “internal” history of mathematics makes sense intellectually, because mathematicians qua mathematicians are responding primarily to other mathematicans (I should say in their problem-solving capacity, because the choice of problems, the relative prominence of the various branches, etc. cannot be explained on mathematical grounds alone; nor can such features as the styles of presentation and methods of proof characteristic of various schools). Ontology, even Heidegger-style, lies somewhere in between.

If you’re doing so-and-so’s philosophy (rather than, say, the history of a particular question, like that question of divine foreknowledge and free will), it’s reasonable to suppose that much of what so-and-so writes in philosophy will be explicable only by reference to the “non-philosophical” (whatever that would mean for someone like Leibniz). The threads that connect all the bits of so-and-so’s thought will, even in the case of a systematic thinker like Kant, most likely be “external”.

That’s in part because “so-and-so’s thought” isn’t a very interesting unit from the standpoint of intellectual history (that’s what Foucault was arguing in his treatment of “the author”). A history of concepts or problems can with more plausibility proceed internally. The question is what you take the authors to be responding to. (One of my guides in these matters is Michael Baxandall’s Patterns of Intention: his Picasso and Braque are responding partly to formal issues raised by each other’s and their own work, partly to the market. Or T. J. Clark—as contrasted with Fried—on Courbet.)




Studying Heidegger “as a Nazi” wouldn’t be worth doing. As a Nazi, he’s a bore. You could fit him into a history of the professoriat under Hitler, or of intellectuals in the 30s, or something like that; but by himself he is interesting only by virtue of having written Being and Time, the Introduction to Metaphysics, and so forth. On the other hand, those works cannot now—and no doubt should never have been—studied historically apart from his political opinions and activities.

The “main current of philosophy [in France] was forged as an ontologized apologia for national socialism”: this is somewhat misleading as a description of the French fortuna of Heidegger. First of all, Being and Time can be construed thus only in hindsight if at all. And the later works were, to my knowledge, not influential *because* they were apologias for national socialism. (Frege’s work wasn’t influential *because* he was an anti-Semite, but rather, as Dummett ruefully observes, in spite of that once it became known.) There were acolytes like Beaufret who knew about Heidegger’s politics and who no doubt appreciated the philosophy in part because it was consonant with their own; but I would guess that many others did not. Otherwise Farias’s (and now E. Faye’s) books wouldn’t be getting headlines.

Is the philosophy “objectively” an apologia for national socialism? I myself would be hard pressed to find any such message in “The question concerning technology”, “The origin of the work of art”. Heidegger’s discursive strategies (for which see the elder Faye and Bourdieu) obscure the political meaning of those texts so effectively that you could probably quite happily read them, or misread them, as a libertarian green. Historians must attend context; readers can happily ignore it.

Justin Smith

@enowning: Where did I say anything about Being and Time?

@Roger: Thanks for the clarification. I've only read about 40 pgs. of the book, and I'm not going to continue, also for reasons of irrelevance. I had been under the impression, from much of the surrounding debate, in both English and French, that reshelving Heidegger was in fact one of Faye's unconditional demands. If it is just that he would like to bring about conditions that permit unfettered study of Heidegger's Nazism, then it is all the more astounding to me that any Heidegger scholars could find Faye's proposals controversial. This looks to me very much like complicity in a cover-up.


Here's a pitch from the sidelines. The association of Heidegger with Nazism seems to display our penchant for theologizing recent history. Faye's impact is not as much about French nationalism as it is about a global intellectual ur-dogma. Thus it can and should be broken out into religious terms. Let's try transforming it syllogistically to:

Nazism was and is purely evil
Heidegger was essentially a nazi
Heidegger's words are Heidegger's essence
Heidegger's words are purely evil

Since today nazism replaces satanism in a new implicit moral structure, we are in a position somewhat like that of an honest christian who has stumbled upon an intriguing work of Alistair Crowley's.

As an aside, I have often been struck by the insistence of other christians to obstruct the reading (and viewing) ventures of their co-religionists. Crowley might be of interest to me if I wanted to study human nature's sinful side more deeply than I have already in, say, Dostoevsky. For that matter, there's a good bit of nastiness to ponder in the bible. But the underlying excuse for such an overt power play is that somehow by reading words that glorify sinfulness, without an embedded apostrophe, I will be more attracted than repelled by it.

So what is at stake in the extended Heidegger-was-nazi debate is the perceived danger of slipping into nazistic tendencies and thought patterns without the antidote of utter horror with which it has been assiduously cloaked. After all, why would a man of such Promethean intellectual prowess be so attracted by its early stage form, if it was as bad as we've all been told?


Martin Heidegger on trial again? After "The Heidegger Controversy" of the 1980s? After the "exposures" of "Heidegger's Nazism" in the Post-WWI denazification trials? Where will this all end? When is enough enough?

If we start putting philosophers on trial & purging the libraries of their works (or just "marking" them with tags, like "Dangerous! Do Not Read!"), where would we stop? The French intellectual establishment of the 1940s collaborated with Nazism (Petain, Vichy France etc.). Sartre was a card-carrying communist during the Stalinist era (after being told by Koestler & Camus et. al. about the Gulag). Wittgenstein fought on the German/Austrian side in WWI. Nietzsche, of course, was revered by the Nazis as a political (& racial) theorist. GWF Hegel was a big fan (at least for a few days...) of Napoleon (as "the world-spirit on horseback"). And so it goes... Back to the Roman empire & the Greek city-states. (Plato & Dionysius of Syracuse. Seneca & Nero etc. etc.) Should we throw out "Western civ." & burn the Library of Alexandria & just start over again from barbarism? (Which is just what the Nazis would have wanted us to do...).

On the other hand, philosophers & intellectuals have always been persecuted & exiled (put on trial, tortured, killed etc.) for not supporting tyrants & dictators. "The Trial of Socrates" is the paradigm for Western Civ.'s treatment of political dissidents & free thinkers. And the Roman emperors adopted it as a protocol for crucifying Christians & making philosophers (like Seneca, see above) commit suicide. The Catholic Church burnt Bruno & Gallileo. 17th & 18th century scientists were persecuted by flat-earthers. And both the Bolsheviks & the Nazis made no bones about establishing an official Weltanschauung (for propaganda purposes) & ruthlessly prosecuting & murdering anybody who disagreed. Stalin's Great Purge of the 1930s even exceeded anything the Nazis pulled off in exiling or killing political dissidents & enforcing intellectual conformity on a whole nation... And with the world-wide web & the internet system, the possibilities for a world-wide totalitarian state & its enforcement of political & intellectual conformity are greater than ever before. (What would Stalin & Hitler have done with "the internet"?...)

20th Century philosophers in Western & Eastern Europe carried on their work "between Auschwitz & the Gulag": between communism & fascism. And they were frequently compelled (as was Martin Heidegger during the Rektorate), to take a public position & choose between two equally bad alternatives. There were no "right" choices. If they made mistakes, maybe it's because there was no other choice than to collaborate or resist... And be sent to the camps. Which is a noble gesture & eminently admirable, but solves nothing. It's hard to write philosophy or criticize the regime when you're dead.

Martin Heidgger (like many others) was under enormous pressure to collaborate with the Nazi regime. And he didn't always resist. He made big mistakes. And he later admitted it (even if he sometimes backslided & refused to admit his complicity to his post-war interrogators.) But he also did resist... In his own "metaphysical" way. I read Martin Heidegger's "Uberwindung der Metaphysik" (Overcoming Metaphysics) as a wholesale repudiation of the Martin Heidegger's 1930s "metaphysics" texts & a scathing critique of the Nazi Weltanschauung from within its own turf (more insightful, in many ways, than Adorno & Horkheimer). And I find Martin Heidegger's post-Kehre (postwar) texts ("The Question Concerning Technology") a strong moral statement, not only against German "fascism" & Russian "communism," but also against the whole technological military-industrial complex that brought about the German holocaust & Jewish Shoah. (And which still exists, in different forms, under different names...)

This doesn't mean I make excuses for Martin Heidegger's "mistakes." As Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe says, Martin Heidegger's "scandalous" silence on the holocaust is "inexcusable." But that doesn't mean I dismiss Martin Heidegger's philosophy tout court because of it's objectionable passages (as Faye suggests I should). And I strongly resist the "inquisitorial" impulse (as Pr. Fried's response to Faye in Philosophy Today calls it) to put Martin Heidegger on a permanent show-trial & condemn his philosophy or burn his texts based on his horrible "mistakes" & his subsequent failures to "purge" himself adequately for them. As Jean-Francois Lyotard says in Heidegger & "the jews": any attempt to derive Heidegger's philsophy from his Nazism succumbs to as sinister an antic as the Moscow show trials.

And, after all: Who are we to judge? Have we spoken out about the crimes & injustices of our own government? Of our own time? We, who live in a "democracy" that celebrates "free speech" & allows considerable freedom of political dissent. Do we know what it was like in Germany under Nazism? Or Russia under Bolshevism? Do we have the right to judge Martin Heidegger?

Finally, I remember The Post-World War II "Trial" of the American poet, Ezra Pound. Pound, of course, made some objectionable comments on Italian fascist radio, although he also defended the American Constitution & claimed he never entertained treasonous opinions. After the war, he was put in a cage in Pisa (where he wrote "The Pisan Cantos) & put on trial for treason. His lawyers got him off by claiming an insanity defense. As a result, Pound was shut up in St. Elizabeth's mental hospital for most of the rest of his life & never wrote "great" poetry again. And still, most "literary critics" would admit that Ezra Pound was one of the "great poets" of the 20th Century.

The Case of Ezra Pound shows the dangers of political censorship and intellectual conformism (not to say: McCarthyism..) in "democratic" nations. Martin Heidegger's case makes the same point about "totalitarian" political systems. Why make the whole situation worse by continuing the purges & terrors of the past century? Isn't it time to close the case, draw up the morals, & just move on?

Chrisius Imperator Maximus Omnipotensque

The obsession with Heidegger's membership in the NSDAP (like that of various other famous people's participation/endorsement/etc. of Disliked Movement X) is really largely an attempt to distract attention from the 70-80% of the rest of the population that was doing the same thing. If you can focus emphasis on a few individuals that can be labled as deviant, you don't need to deal with the fact that Nazism was a mass, popular movement that appealed to many people. It is difficult to recognize that fact due to still-powerful Enlightenment equations of human nature = goodness = democratic values = what most people believe.

Chrisius Imperator Maximus Omnipotensque

BTW, wouldn't an ontologized apologia for National Socialism likely include the main concepts of National Socialist ideology, such as biologism, which Heidegger's work does not contain, and in fact against which he wrote quite a bit? (I can't believe people are still writing abouyt this after Besinnung.) You would think that if Nazism has any distinguishing characteristics, that is it.

The early Heidegger was basically a fascist of the Italian sort (romantic quasi-Hegelian nationalism with people seen as bearers of an Idea, view of life as struggle etc.), not a Nazi, assuming one has to believe Nazi ideology in order to be one, which is a generally accepted way of considering if somebody is a something-or-other.


I agree. It's quite easy to demonstrate that Heidegger wasn't nazi at all and fought intellectualy against Hitler, no need to write a pensum like Faye, just find the good quotes:

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