Friday, October 23, 2009
A book review in the Chronicle of Higher Ed concerning the U.S. release of a French work on Heidegger's rather healthy "flirtation" with National Socialism.
Faye, whose book stirred France's red and blue Heidegger départements into direct battle a few years back, follows in the investigative footsteps of Chilean-Jewish philosopher Victor Farias (Heidegger et le Nazisme, 1987), historian Hugo Ott (Martin Heidegger: Unterwegs zu Zeiner Biographie, 1988) and others. Aim? To expose the oafish metaphysician's vulgar, often vicious 1930s attempt to become Hitler's chief academic tribune, and his post-World War II contortions to escape proper judgment for his sins. "We now know," reports Faye, "that [Heidegger's] attempt at self-justification of 1945 is nothing but a string of falsehoods."
The Heidegger exposés, like Annie Leibovitz's tasteless photos of partner Susan Sontag in the latter's final battle against cancer, force even refined, sophisticated observers of intellectuals to gape. See "Professor Being and Time" wear his swastika like a frat pin while meeting German-Jewish philosopher Karl Löwith! Recoil at the hearty "Heil Hitlers" with which Martin closed his missives! Wince as he covertly maneuvers another Jewish colleague or student out of a job with a nasty, duplicitous "recommendation" letter!
Unfortunately, Faye's scrupulously documented study, like Jytte Klausen's controversial The Cartoons That Shook the World, about depictions of Muhammad, lacks the satirical illustrations that might have given it knockdown force. In the case of Heidegger, it may be that only ridicule—not further proof of his sordid 1930s acts—can save us.
It would seem that Heidegger, likewise, will continue to flourish until even "Continental" philosophers mock him to the hilt. His influence will end only when they, and the broader world of intellectuals, recognize that scholarly evidence fingers the scowling proprietor of Heidegger's hut as a buffoon produced by German philosophy's mystical tradition. He should be the butt of jokes, not the subject of dissertations.
What's all the fuss about? Well, check these out:
That is a stamp that Heidegger used to mark his correspondence, and other documents while he held the position of Rector of Freiburg, more or less, university Prez.
The guy in the circle? Schwarzwald Marty of course..
And here is text of his infamous stump speech to the Faculty/Staff and students at Freiburg. This apparently took place at an election rally held by German university professors in Leipzig in support of the election of November 12, 1933. The vote was called by Hitler to sanction Germany’s withdrawal from The League of Nations, something already done. Compiled by Richard Wolin and translated by William S. Lewis. Published in New German Critique, 45, Fall 1988.
11th of November 1933.
German teachers and comrades!
German Volksgenossen and Volksgenossinnen!
The German people has been summoned by the Führer to vote; the Führer, however, is asking nothing from the people. Rather, he is giving the people the possibility of making, directly, the highest free decision of all: whether the entire people wants its own existence (Dasein) or whether it does not want it.
Tomorrow the people will choose nothing less than its future.
This election remains absolutely incomparable with all previous elections. What is unique about this election is the simple greatness of the decision that is to be executed. The inexorability of what is simple and ultimate (des Einfachen und Letzten) tolerates no vacillation and no hesitation. This ultimate decision reaches to the outermost limit of our people’s existence. And what is this limit? It consists in the most basic demand of all Being (Sein), that it keep and save its own essence. A barrier is thereby erected between what can be reasonably expected of people and what cannot. It is by virtue of this basic law of honor that the German people retain the dignity and resoluteness of its life. However, the will to self-responsibility is not only the basic law of our people’s existence; it is also the fundamental event in the bringing about of the people’s National Socialist State. From this will to self-responsibility, every effort, be it humble or grand, of each social and occupational group (Stand) assumes its necessary and predestined place in the social order (in den Standort und Rang ihrer gleich notwendigen Bestimmung). The labor of the various groups (Stände) supports and strengthens the living framework of the State; labor recovers for the people its rootedness; labor places the State, as the reality of the people, into the field of action of all essential forces of human Being.
It is not ambition, not desire for glory, not blind obstinacy, and not hunger for power that demands from the Fuhrer that Germany withdraw from the League of Nations. It is only the clear will to unconditional self-responsibility in suffering and mastering the fate of our people. That is not a turning away from the community of peoples. On the contrary: with this step, our people is submitting to that essential law of human Being to which every people must first give allegiance if it is still to be a people.
It is only out of the parallel observance by all peoples of this unconditional demand of self-responsibility that there emerges the possibility of taking each other seriously so that a community can also be affirmed. The will to a true national community (Volksgemeinschaft) is equally far removed both from an unrestrained, vague desire for world brotherhood and from blind tyranny. Existing beyond this opposition, this will allows peoples and states to stand by one another in an open and manly fashion as self-reliant entities (das offene und mannhafte Aufsich und Zueinanderstehen der Volker und Staaten). What is it that such a will brings about? Is it reversion into barbarism? No! It is the averting of all empty negotiation and hidden deal-making through the simple, great demand of self-responsible action. Is it the eruption of lawlessness? No! It is the clear acknowledgement of each people’s inviolable independence. Is it the denial of the creative genius of a spiritual (geistig) people and the smashing of its historical traditions? No! It is the awakening of the young who have been purified and are growing back to their roots. Their will to the State will make this people hard towards itself and reverent towards each genuine deed.
What sort of event is this then? The nation is winning back the truth of its will to existence, for truth is the revelation of that which makes a people confident, lucid, and strong in its actions and knowledge. The genuine will to know arises from such truth. And this will to know circumscribes the right to know. And from there, finally, the limits are measured out within which genuine questioning and research must legitimize and prove themselves. Such is the origin of Wissenschaft, which is constrained by the necessity of self-responsible volkisch existence. Wissenschaft is thus the passion to educate that has been restrained by this necessity, the passion to want to know in order to make knowing. To be knowing, however, means: to be master of things in clarity and to be resolved to action.
We have declared our independence from the idol of thought that is without foundation and power. We see the end of the philosophy that serves such thought. We are certain that the clear hardness and the sure, steady competence (werkgerechte Sicherheit) of unyielding, simple questioning about the essence of Being are returning. For a volkische Wissenschaft, the courage either to grow or to be destroyed in confrontation with what is (dem Seienden), which is the first form of courage, is the innermost motive for questioning. For courage lures one forward; courage frees itself from what has been up to now; courage risks the unaccustomed and the incalculable. For us, questioning is not the unconstrained play of curiosity. Nor is questioning the stubborn insistence on doubt at any price. For us, questioning means: exposing oneself to the sublimity of things and their laws, it means: not dosing oneself off to the terror of the untamed and to the confusion of darkness. To be sure, it is for the sake of this questioning that we question, and not to serve those who have grown tired and their complacent yearning for comfortable answers. We know: the courage to question, to experience the abysses of existence and to endure the abysses of existence, is in itself already a higher answer than any of the all-too-cheap answers afforded by artificial systems of thought.
And so we, to whom the preservation of our people’s will to know shall in the future be entrusted, declare: The National Socialist revolution is not merely the assumption of power as it exists presently in the State by another party, a party grown sufficiently large in numbers to be able to do so. Rather, this revolution is bringing about the total transformation of our German existence (Dasein). From now, on each and every thing demands decision, and every deed demands responsibility. Of this we are certain; If the will to self-responsibility becomes the law that governs the coexistence of nations, then each people can and must be the master who instructs every other people in the richness and strength of all the great deeds and works of human Being (Sein).
The choice that the German people must now make is, simply as an event in itself, quite independent of the outcome, the strongest expression of the new German reality embodied in he National Socialist State. Our will to national (volfdsch) self-responsibility desires that each people find and preserve the greatness and truth of its destiny (Bestimmung). This will is the highest guarantee of peace among nations, for it binds itself to the basic law of manly respect and unconditional honor. The Fuhrer has awakened this will in the entire people and has welded it into one single resolve. No one can remain away from the polls on the day when this will is manifested.
Wow. And if that isn't enough, here is the link to the source. It includes 4 more such pieces from Schwarzwald Marty with such inspiring titles as "National Socialist Education"
Stories of Blackwoods Marty's less than inspirational treatment of Jews, friends and mentors during this time period are also common knowledge amongst academics. An example, he removed the dedication to Edmund Husserl from his best known work Being and Time . In addition, he did use racial laws to remove several Jews from their positions at the university. This included Werner Brock, his assistant.
The aforementioned Karl Löwith writes of Heidegger:
[I] told him that I did not agree either with the way in which Karl Barth was attacking him or in the way [Emil] Staiger was defending him, because my opinion was that his taking the side of National Socialism was in agreement with the essence of his philosophy. Heidegger told me unreservedly that I was right and developed his idea by saying that his idea of historicity [Geschichtlichkeit] was the foundation for his political involvement.
In response to my remark that I could understand many things about his attitude, with one exception, which was that he would permit himself to be seated at the same table with a figure such as Julius Streicher (at the German Academy of Law), he was silent at first. At last he uttered this well-known rationalisation (which Karl Barth saw so clearly), which amounted to saying that "it all would have been much worse if some men of knowledge had not been involved." And with a bitter resentment towards people of culture, he concluded his statement: "If these gentlemen had not considered themselves too refined to become involved, things would have been different, but I had to stay in there alone." To my reply that one did not have to be very refined to refuse to work with a Streicher, he answered that it was useless to discuss Streicher; the Stürmer was nothing more than "pornography." Why didn't Hitler get rid of this sinister individual? He didn't understand it.
All of this can be found hither and yon on the intertubes, but what is as fascinating as Heidegger's 'flirtation' with Nazi ideology, and apparent attempts at providing philosophical grounding for it, is the lengths to which some folks go to minimize the episode. Contortionists, no doubt are envious. I recommend a reading of the comments to the Chronicle book review. It's a fascinating world you peer into. Fascinating in the same sort of way a trainwreck is fascinating. You don't think you should be watching but you cannot resist. You'll feel a bit like Augustine at the Gladiatorial games. The Academic Coloseum! Pull up your barca-lounger and indulge your guilty pleasure. Here are some selections to give you a taste of the dozens of comments: A bit of ad hominum, and dash of vitriol, with a side order of the withering sarcasm:
This first competitor is Pro Marty, and contends the reviewer, Romano is full of beans:
This is terrible! Romano seems totally ignorant about Heidegger massive influence in continental philosophy, and about how critical much of that philosophy already is of Heidegger! It took Faye's supporters a long time to get this book published in English, because it was rejected by unbiased scholars as the irresponsible hatchet job that it is. (It has been almost universally panned in France.) Faye's book concludes by calling for the criminalization of the teaching of Heidegger -- not exactly a resounding defense of freedom of discussion! (Dare we say, closer to the fascism Faye confidently denounces?!) Faye's book begins, worse, by quoting from my book (Heidegger on Ontotheology: Technology and the Politics of Education), in a totally reductive and misleading way. I'm embarrassed to be mentioned in it. The whole thing is a tissue of mostly already well-known details plus tendentious guilt-by-association attacks. This is the opposite of "meticulous scholarship": by constantly ignoring the context, Faye takes places where Heidegger is criticizing something as if he were instead asserting it in his own voice, again and again. The one bit Romano quotes, that "The unpublished seminar of 1933-34 identifies the people with a 'community of biological stock and race'" is a good example. I can't find that exact line, but if you look at the recently translated book this refers to, Heidegger's Logic as the Question Concerning the Essence of Language, pp. 52-8, Heidegger -- collecting different understandings of the people (Volk), mentions the "racial movement that wants to bring the Volk back to the purity of their racial breed" (p. 53, scary, right?), but then subtly dismisses this way of conceiving of the "people" as "biological" (p. 55), a reduction of human being to the "body" (p. 57). Thus he also dismissed the eugenicist pseudo-science involving "skull measurements" as "a ridiculous effort" (on p. 48) and says that "perhaps citizenship" can be decided on the basis of "descent" but "belongingness to a Volk never" can! (pp. 52-3). Heidegger then proposes (in a move reminiscent of Fichte's speeches to the German nation) that belonging to the Volk is a matter of affirming certain "decisions" -- that is another Nazi buzzword, but if one looks at these decisions, they are clearly attempts to transform Nazism by yoking it to Heidegger's philosophy, rather than the reverse. It is true, as I say in my book, following Derrida, that a certain contamination takes place when one engages in this sort of strategy. It's as if I were to say, during the Bush years: "We must all support the war on terror!" But then I went on to suggest that by "war" I mean polemos, the underlying tension of opposites that shapes our sense of all things, and by "terror" I mean "aidos," the awesome and terrible feeling one has when confronted with a reality too large for the mind to grasp conceptually. Finally, I could say, "on" means that we have to understand the former in terms of the latter.... This is the rhetorical strategy Heidegger generally employs in his Nazi works: appropriating Nazi buzzwords and reinterpreting them in terms of his own philosophy. The goal is to transform Nazism (to change it into something very different than what it was) but the risk is that to a superficial reading (like Faye's) Heidegger just seems to be mouthing Nazi buzzwords, as if he were yoking his philosophy to Nazism, rather than the reverse.
I could go on; the issue is complicated, obviously. I plan to teach this book next semester in my Heidegger course, assuming Faye hasn't succeeded in making such efforts illegal by then!
This second gladiator is Anti Marty and/or contends that the reviewer is not full of beans. He begins the two portions of his post by quoting other posts earlier on. That explains the two chunks of quoted material. He quotes and responds:
"Nothing new here but the occasion to once again haul out the tedious whining about how Heidegger's whole philosophy is derived from Nazism. Anyone who knows Heidegger's work knows that this is a complicated claim..."
Of course its a complicated claim and Romano does not deny that. The question is whether the claim is true and as far as I can see instead of showing ( or at least hinting ) how a refutation of Romano's claim would go you resort to ad hominem insults. Why is that ? Romano is glossing Faye's ideas on this topic ( he is a messenger really ) so should you not give some indication why Faye in your opinion is wrong ?
"Romano flounders in trying to explain it, and then turns to ridicule, of all things, as if we can take as axiomatic that his philosophical insights are bunk and so the Nazism is reason to ignore it."
Well, not axiomatic but Romano is only echoing a very longstanding & widespread view in Anglo-American philosophy which says that Heidegger's work is indeed rubbish . This goes back as far as Russell and has been the received view in analytic philosophy ever since( for the latest version of this assessment see Simon Blackburn who is one of the leaders in phil. of mind and language ) . Of course this view may be wrong ( I dont think that it is wrong but that is beside the point ) but that is not the issue . The issue is that Romano's view about the merits of Heidegger's philosophy is not off the wall at all and that it reflects a received view in analytic phil. and that is why he does not have to defend it in any elaborate way, especially given the fact that his piece is an opinion / review .
"The real issue here is that someone is afraid of philosophy. Question the centrality of human being, claim that "man" is not the starting point of reflection on what is, submit the ethical to the ontological, question the "self" or morality or think differently about the world and community than the pedestrian heroes of the stultifying Anglo-American academy, and you're a dangerous cretin. ."
I think this is a red herring because people's problem with Heidegger has nothing to do with the questions he asks and everything to do with his approach to doing philosophy which is unconcerned with stuff like trying to be intelligible ( he actually says stupid stuff like that “Making itself intelligible is suicide for philosophy.” ) , making arguments to back up claims and proposals, reading people you criticize with charity and so on. Put these things together and its easy to see that H's approach involves a type of dogmatic, a prioristic , armchair speculation that is hard to treat as philosophy. And his later work is even worse in this respect. This is the issue and not the questions he asks.
And in case you are wondering what this guy is on about, Schwarzwald Marty didn't reserve his deep but unintelligible stuff for philosophical topics. Consider this gem concerning America's entry into WWII:
"The entry of America into this planetary war is not an entry into history. No, it is already the last American act of America's history-lessness and self-destruction. This act is the renunciation of the Origin. It is a decision for lack-of-Origin."
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot?
Blackwoods Mysticism (c) indeed!
May the feud continue.
A life of Heidegger, BBC Production: