Heidegger and the Nazis

Heidegger et le nazisme

by Victor Farias, translated from Spanish and German into French by Myriam Benarroch, by Jean-Baptiste Grasset, preface by Christian Jambet
Editions Verdier, 332 pp., Fr125 (to be published in the US by Temple University Press in 1989) (paper)

The spiritual strength of the West fails, its structure crumbles, this moribund semblance of a culture caves in and drags all powers into confusion, suffocating them in madness….

Whether or not this will happen depends on one thing: whether we [Germans], as a historical-spiritual people, will ourselves again.”

—Martin Heidegger
May 1933

Two facts about Martin Heidegger (1889–1976) are as incontestable as they are complicated: first, that he remains one of the century’s most influential philosophers and, second, that he was a Nazi.

On the one hand there is Heidegger the philosopher, whose monumental Sein und Zeit (Being and Time), published in 1927, sought to change the course of philosophy by transforming the age-old question about the meaning of reality. Heidegger thought that with the collapse of theism in the nineteenth century (the “death of God”) the West had entered the age of nihilism. His goal was to overcome the metaphysical speculations that he believed had helped bring on that collapse and to awaken the modern world to a new sense of what he called “the mystery of Being.” His philosophy, which fills over seventy volumes in his posthumous Gesamtausgabe (Frankfurt: Klostermann), has had a profound effect on French philosophy from Jean-Paul Sartre through Jacques Derrida, on Protestant and Catholic theologians like Rudolf Bultmann and Karl Rahner, and on two decades of literary criticism in Europe and America. His works have been translated into all major languages, including Chinese and Japanese.

Then there is Heidegger the Nazi, that is: the dues-paying member of the NSDAP from 1933 to 1945 (card number 312589, Gau Baden); the outspoken propagandist for Hitler and the Nazi revolution who went on national radio to urge ratification of Hitler’s withdrawal of Germany from the League of Nations; the rector of Freiburg University (April 1933 to April 1934), who told his students, “Let not theories and ‘ideas’ be the rules of your being. The Führer himself and he alone is German reality and its law, today and for the future,” and who wrote to a colleague: “The individual, wherever he stands, counts for nothing. The fate of our people in their State is everything.”

This is the Heidegger who, even after the Nazis allegedly began viewing him with disfavor, continued to defend what he called “the inner truth and greatness of National Socialism.” It is the same Heidegger who despised the party system of the Weimar Republic, who liked to cite Homer (Iliad II, 204): “The rule of the many is not good; let there be one ruler, one king,” and who apparently got his wish. Years after the Nazi debacle had ended he excoriated the “democratized decay” of Germany’s political institutions and said he was not convinced that democracy was the best political system for the modern age. In 1974 he wrote his friend Heinrich Petzet: “Our Europe is being ruined from below with ‘democracy’….”

Heidegger’s support for the Nazi movement has dogged his philosophy for over fifty years …

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