Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Heidegger and the Nazis

Martin Heidegger, author of Being and Time along with other philosophical works, was deeply compromised by his associations with the Nazis, particularly when he was elevated to the rectorship of Freiburg University, not the most successful period of his career. After the war he wrote The Rectorate 1933-34: Facts and Thoughts, his personal memoir of the period, a work of self-justification, which disguises as much as it reveals.

His rectorship at Freiburg collapsed for of a variety of reasons, including good old-fashioned departmental politics, vicious and treacherous as always, no matter what regime they operate under! Beyond that, one has to take into consideration Heidegger's own political naïveté and his gross over-estimation of his importance, both in the Nazi academic world and the broader scheme of things. One also has to take into account the nature of the Nazi system itself, and its underlying theory and practice. No matter what stress was placed upon the sublime, Nazism was shaped by mediocrity, not excellence. It was the world not of the Superman, but the Supermouse.

In his memoir, Heidegger maintains that his position at Freiburg was undermined by a conspiracy, involving his academic rivals and the district student leader, Dr Gustav Scheel, who later became Reich leader of students and university lecturers, and Gauleiter of Salzburg. Heidegger certainly had opponents at Freiburg, especially in the Law Faculty, though not all were doctrinaire Nazis. The matter, though, went far beyond the confines of the University.

In November 1933 the Nazis created their own structure of leadership within the whole university system, elevating Party mediocrities and time-servers to important positions in the Reich Association of German Universities. It was a clear declaration that Heidegger's bid for leadership of the German university system had failed, and that the Nazis had no real use for him, no matter his international stature. Abandoned by many of his more important colleagues at Freiburg, and snubbed by the government, Heidegger was in a personal, professional and political limbo.

There were also those in the Nazi movement, led by Erich Jaensch, his former colleague at the University of Marburg, who made every attempt to ensure that Heidegger would not be offered a leading position in Prussia or the Reich, because they did not wish him to be seen as 'the philosopher of National Socialism.' Jaensch compiled a memorandum arguing against a proposal that Heidegger be appointed head of the Prussian Academy of University Lecturers. It would be against all reason, he wrote;

...if what is possibly the most important post in the intellectual life of the nation in the weeks and months ahead were to be filled by one of the biggest scatterbrains and most eccentric cranks we have in our university system: a man about whom men who are perfectly rational, intelligent and loyal to the new state argue among themselves as to which side of the dividing line between sanity and mental illness he is on.

And this on one of the best philosophical minds Germany produced in the whole of the twentieth century! Against this background it is no great surprise that his rectorship failed. He finally resigned in April 1934, not February, as he says in Facts and Thoughts.


  1. This is sort of the trump card in all arguments that aim to minimize the legacy of Heidegger and his thinking. On the surface, it seems like an ad hominem attack. (After all, is his affiliation with the Nazis any reason to discount the importance of his work?) But at the same time, it carries some weight; it seems like there must have been some 'insidious something' in his philosophy in light of which his affiliation with the Nazis made sense to him. I'm curious: do you see such an 'insidious' aspect to his philosophy? (It's an honest question. I've read Being and Time, and I don't get how it could have been used to support the Nazi agenda. Is it something in his later work?) Or is this 'trump card' merely an ad hominem attack?

    1. Hi, Jon. It's a good question. I doubt if anyone in the Nazi Party read Heidegger and, if they did, I doubt that they understood him. The point is really that he had an international reputation, one he chose to sell to the Nazis in a Faust-like bargain. He compromised himself in a morally abject fashion.

    2. Ana, in your usual pellucid and succinct manner you're nailed the main issue "He compromised himself in a morally abject fashion." The personal betrayals involved, quite apart from the philosophical and political issues around his turn to Nazism are extremely painful to contemplate, including his students Hannah Arendt (also his lover who after the War was able to forgive him), Marcuse, and a generation of assimilated German Jewish students whom he sold down the river. Jasper's very different position is instructive, and Hans Jonas another brilliant member of the circle, albeit slightly to one side, writes movingly of his own reunion with his intellectual mentor the famous theologian Bultmann after the War. All so different from Heidegger, and all examples which show Heidegger's repugnant and treacherous behaviour for what it was.

      And what about Jon's challenge to connect Heidegger's thought with Nazism?

      Nazism is of course a primitive and empty mess of shibboleths promoted by the inferior minds of brutal sensibilities.

      However, its roots can be traced with the German fascination, and authentic insight into, the Greek Hero and the Homeric Weltanshauung, a process which began with Winckelmann. Germany was effectively the first post-Christian country to engage with the Greek Classical tradition, and cultured Germans were enchanted with what they found, and within a few generations had gone a long way towards substituting Homeric values for Christian values. The Hero is a cruel, pitiless killer, sacker and plunderer of cities and communities, and a serial rapist. Homer's glamourous creation fused with the Social Darwinism of Haeckel and others, and the low-brow result was Nazism.

      Meanwhile, Heidegger was rejecting Christianity and its ethical traditions, as had Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, and into the brew of Classical and pre-Socratic reinterpretation--which he did brilliantly--Heidegger secretly added East Asian thought, esp. Zen Buddhism and Taoism. Essentially his concept of Being is a grand plagariasm, an ununacknowledged filtching and adaptation of East Asian thought. So what? The issue is that Taoism and Buddhism had evolved their own ethics of compassion, love, gentleness etc. which looked very much like the Jewish-Christian synthesis as it had evolved over several thousand years.

      Heidegger's project was to transport Being as a primordial concept like Schopenhauer and Nietzsche's Will or Will to Power, and offer it to Europeans as a substitute for Christianity's ethics. In fact, the East Asian tradition plundered by Heidegger had a very similar set of ethics to the Christian set being rejected by Heidegger.

      And that ethics-free, transvaluation of all values which Heidegger perpetuated in a culture fascinated by the cruel glamour of the Homeric hero, is who Heidegger, from the top of the German cultural food chain, intersected with the muck of the Nazis being exuded from the fetid swamp at the bottom of the German cultural food chain.

      Interestingly, at the heart of Heidegger's philosophical project of Being is the lie that he intuited it in an oracular fashion, when its source is really just basic plagariasm. Heidegger is deeply, profoundly mendacious, and as Mary McCarthy said about a book by Lillian Hellman, every word of Heidegger's book FACTS AND THOUGHTS is a lie, including "und" and "aber".

  2. Chris, how absolutely fascinating. There are dimensions here that I've never considered.

    1. Ana, aren’t you tired of the same old broken record when it comes to Heidegger and Nazism. The thing is that Heidegger was fooled by the Nazi platform the way we are about them today, thanks to the Zionist controlled commercial and academic media. It wasn’t about hateful Germans against Jews but hateful Jews against Germans/Christians. Nazi = NAtional ZIonism. Heidegger realised his error (by 1934) wanted out, and paid the price. The price?... no longer allowed to publish books. Heidegger was the best of the gentiles and had to be reckoned with. They pushed him to publish, gave him the chair, and eventually the rectorship. Can you imagine having a Heidegger espouse your shite. But at the same time a close eye was to be kept on him, since for Heidegger, Being dethrones God. Godless, the Germans/Christians may no longer find the immoral financial practices of the Zionist bankers repugnant. They wouldn’t want that. Remember, the Germans were desperate then.
      Heidegger should be admired for his rejection of Nazism, but it’s been spun oppositely by the Jewish academics who’ve monopolized Heideggeriana for ages. Nazism was invented by the Jews financed by the Jews and run by the Jews but concealed and meant to look otherwise. They get their Israel, make a wholesome nation look evil, and they come out as victims. Just look at their most recent deception: 9/11.
      So, yes, there is a connection between BT and Nazism, and that’s concerning the nature of concealment and unconcealment… which is a manipulative and destructive tool for the Nazis (Jews) but a natural and authentic phenomena for Heidegger. Profoundly mendacious is that commentator above.
      Haven’t you ever wondered why we get Heidegger only in lectures?

    2. Thank you, Al Etheia, that's a fascinating view. I have mixed views about Heidegger, I have to say. In so many respects he was extraordinarily naïve politically. Only a fool would fail to understand the character of the Nazi movement; only a fool would see it as a way of advancing his career. In this regard he reminds me of the central character in Mephisto, the novel by Klaus Mann.