January 28, 2015
One of the most influential and ground-breaking European Philosophers of the 20th Century, Martin Heidegger, has all the more recently become the ostensibly controversial focal point of some fully-fledged philosophical debates. The publication of his Black Notebooks, constituting writings between 1931-1941, reveal what some call ‘startling’ Anti-Semitic statements that seemingly lie at the core and in the context of Heidegger’s philosophy, which have provoked the debate between: those in favour of the dismissal of Heideggerian philosophy as a whole, those in pursuit of never-ending attempts to separate the man from his politics and various views in-between. Our contentions must be throughout, not to downplay his political folly, yet not to dismiss his impeccable insights on the nature of being. Some of Heidegger’s previously unpublished, specified Anti-Semitic, more extreme statements on Judaism amount to five passages within the Black Notebooks- named so after their cover and adding to the gloomy shadow currently being cast of Heidegger’s legacy. Heidegger writes to the disgust of some in the notebooks on World Jewry: That it is “ungraspable everywhere and doesn’t need to get involved in military action while continuing to unfurl its influence, whereas we are left to sacrifice the best blood of the best of our people”. In another instance, the philosopher inscribes that the Jewish people, with their “talent for calculation”, were so fervently opposed to the Nazi’s racial theories because they themselves have lived according to the race principle for longest.
Now, statements such as these and others certainly are at first glance upsetting, disturbing, unsettling and to the certain revulsion of Jews and Universal Human Rights activists as we know it today. Necessarily thus, any attempt to analyse the extent to which his philosophy of ontology might be contaminated by Nazism, or to even consider the extraction of his work from Continental Philosophy as a whole, must be done with care, yet simultaneously for our purposes proceed in the light of the fundamental purpose of philosophy: the ongoing search for meaning in being. Let us firstly consider the core of the famous Heideggerian philosophy in pursuit of this task.
His most noted work, Being and Time, chronicles the human being as a unified Dasein: Being-In-the-World, capable of progressing from inauthenticity to authenticity. For Heidegger, our manner of being is not to be found within the realms of the mind/our thinking nature, however in our existing within the world. The three main aspects of this existing state are referred to as ‘projection’, ‘throwness’, and ‘fallenness’. Projection results in the understanding of our existence and future potentiality. ‘Throwness’ results in our state of mind of ‘Facticity’ – that’s the actual fact of our finitude. ‘Fallenness’ shows however we are delineated solely by things that are either Dasein or not Dasein, and thus we have an affinity to perceive our ‘falling in Time’ and authenticity towards others- ‘the They’. These three aspects combined amount to the very ‘anxiety’ of our existence, since we have an affinity to perceive that we are beings moving towards Death. This realization causes each human a sense of guilt, further as provocative of a certain consciousness out of the necessity to seek out an answer. The answer, according to Heidegger, is to own the ‘anticipatory resoluteness’ towards our looming death. His conclusion is that the character of being is barely attainable to grasp through means of ‘Temporality’, meaning that all Being is established on Time and that all beings have an expiry date which is death. Being depends on Time and vice versa.
As the above excursus on his main philosophy shows, Heidegger had undoubtedly made some tremendous and even revolutionary contributions to the ways we may view ourselves as is the philosophy of reality and being. Influencing numerous philosophers such as Jean-Paul Sartre, he had transformed the face of metaphysics and epistemology by positing that we as humans are not separate from the world, but in fact part of it and thus act accordingly. So what’s all this to do with Nazism and how are we to assimilate these highly influential and liberal theories on the nature of being with the crude and ‘shocking’ Anti-Semitic statements as written in the Black Notebooks? The problem lies in the very overlapping of the evidence of National Socialism and World Jewry as found in the Notebooks and the History of Being as posited by Heidegger. We must appropriate a not-yet-existing middle way in order to possibly solve the juggernaut about Heidegger’s intentions. Let us first and briefly review his professed bonds with the Nazis, foregoing.
Heidegger’s connections with the Nazis are undoubtedly far-reaching and have been well documented, spanning the duration of his career. Long known as a National Socialist coincidentally sharing the same birthday as Hitler, Heidegger went from Catholic school boy to joining the Nazi party in 1933 – again on par with Hitler’s appointment as German Chancellor. Heidegger was elected rector and taught students on the ‘inner truth and greatness’ of National Socialism as embodied by the Nazi movement, with the aims of advancing Gleichschaltung– collaboration, to align the University with the Third Reich. Although he alleviated some of their cruder aspects, some of his later comments were unapologetic: comparing the Holocaust to means of factory farming as a symptom of the modern condition rather than a German crime or murder. After only one year of rectorship, Heidegger found himself in a crisis of sorts, growing disenchanted with the Nazi movement and resigned as result of what could be said- the Nazis’ incapability of realizing his vision for the German Volk. He had no further political involvement yet remained a Nazi until his death in 1976. What a convenient Nazi, we might comment?
From the above said, it is to be contended that the ‘revelations’ as pertaining to Jewry in the context of Heidegger’s philosophy, contained within the Black Notebooks, should hardly come as a surprise to anyone who have been paying attention to the details. It only openly affirms the affinities between his own philosophy and that of the Nazi’s and is clearly evident in statements such as “The metaphysics of Dasein must deepen itself in a manner consistent with its inner structures and extend to the Metapolitics of the Historical Volk.” Upon another occasion he condemns World Jewry as a driving force in the dehumanisation of the modernised world and situates this within the realm of the ‘historical-being’ framework of reality: “The Jews, with their marked talent for calculation, ‘live’ longer than anyone by the principle of race, which is why they are resisting its consistent application with utmost violence. The establishment of racial breeding (eugenics) does not stem from ‘life’ itself, but from the overpowering of life through the machination (technology). What it pushes forward with such a plan is the complete racialization of all peoples by clamping them into a uniformly constructed and tailored establishment (Einrichtung) of all beings. At one with de-racialization is the self-alienation of peoples – the loss of history – i.e., the decision regions of ‘Be-ing.’”
Let us consider the terminology used in the seemingly startling above quotation as translated in English from the Schwarze Hefte (Black Notebooks). “Decision regions” and “Be-ing” neatly fits Heidegger’s ‘historical-being’ framework that was mentioned formerly, which tries to escape the metaphysical tradition. This is done by grasping the conversion of hegemonic explanations of Being down through history, eventuating in the modern technological elucidation of Being, as obvious to human understanding and accessible for manipulation- which Heidegger calls here “calculation” and “machination” or Machenschaft. Heidegger’s descriptions of world Jewry is reliable on what could be called his overall “Anti-Humanism.” (Humanism being the idea that human consciousness is behind history.) Thus for Heidegger, the foundation of modernity is ultimately a dependent event (Ereignis). Important to note is that Heidegger does not wholly deny that human thought and action plays vital roles in history, but well that they are not the ultimate forces. Followingly, Heidegger does not deny that the worldwide Jewish community dynamically pursues its perceived collective interests, but more importantly for our purposes, he does not believe that Jewish policies are the sole cause or justification of modernity- rather that modernity and the problems it causes ascends from more profound and ultimately unfathomable powers.
Heidegger furthermore views the magnification of Jewish power as a product of the Jews’ unique adaptation to the spirit of modernity: the age of rootlessness and calculation. Jews, therefore, appear to be primarily objects in the machination process, since history is ultimately outside of human control as mentioned above. If we are at liberty to infer that we are all then objects in the processes driving us towards destiny, let us continue the argument. According to Heidegger then, since world Jewry is already characterized by rootlessness and calculation, it is skilful and readily equipped in accommodating the “world-historical task” of driving modernism toward its consummation: a rootless, homogeneous, technological mass society, which he reckons will ultimately entrap and destroy the Jews themselves. The racialization of all peoples as performed by the Jews as Heidegger posits then, is a threat to humankind and the Germans in particular, but this is not to say that any prevention of this (deracialization) must commence by means of mass murder as was the case with the Holocaust. As briefly mentioned earlier and here again for the purpose of illuminating our contentions: the Holocaust too was for Heidegger a symptom of the modern condition, rather than the ideal solution. After all, it was Hitler who failed Heidegger and not the other way around.
Let us return to the issue at hand here, again, which is thus not for us to judge whether he was a racist or morally defective philosopher- but to what extent we must now believe his whole philosophy of being to be grounded around these very Anti-Semitic statements. This to me is not problematic as much as the precise aim of philosophy itself. This is to emphasise the fact that despite Heidegger’s Nazism and Anti-Semitic beliefs seemingly at the core of his ‘historical-being’ framework of thought, his main concern was always with the nature of being. Heidegger was German and rightly serves him the liberty to formulate his philosophy for the benefit of the German people. That he saw the Jews as a driving force of machination and that he had not once uttered a moral condemnation for the Nazi’s crimes is similarly true. However, he does not say that ALL Jews are modernizers, that Jews or reformers are bad people, nor exclusively that they should be eradicated or excluded in any way. Heidegger’s thought in terms of his ontological philosophy and critique of modernity seemingly does inevitably overlap with his Nazism- and this is unfortunate in the context of the horrible atrocities of the war- but this is not to say that we can insist that the question of being indubitably points to Nazism. Rather, the Black Notebooks may help us understand how a philosopher disbursed with such questions of being of “is-ness” could come to see a realization of his own utopia.
All of the foregoing should lead us to conclude that the revelations found in the Black Notebooks do not amount to a smoking gun of Anti-Semitism and should not amount to a dismissal even if they did. Furthermore, on one side, the strenuous task of loyal Heideggerians to separate the philosophy from his political views, has become redundant, on the other, these Black Notebooks prompt us to continue to constructively engage with Heidegger in the ongoing pursuit of what it means to be human. And need we remind ourselves that philosophers too are human who make mistakes. These discussions ideally also lead us to conclude that Heidegger was a ‘different kind’ of Nazi (whom not-so-ironically had a lifelong affair with Jewish student Hannah Arendt.) whose intellectual legacy must not be eclipsed, but remain to serve the aim of Heideggerian philosophy to its real core- the question of our own being. His philosophy needs not be seen in the light of his political folly and this bears witness to possibly advancing these discussions in the future to one that surrounds the very meaning of philosophy itself. And so it all begins anew. Heidegger’s legacy is unmistakable and reactionaries will surely continue to discuss his life and work. Perhaps he wanted to defy the finality of death by being read and discussed after his demise. Yes. This is the view that I wish to promote in the place of what some coin ‘philosophical betrayal’. Heidegger remains one of the greatest thinkers in the history of Western philosophy, despite his morally and politically deplorable views as given testament to in the Black Notebooks.