Mark Collins – Boden wenn nicht Blut: Horrible Heidegger, Nazism and Now

Martin Heidegger (more here) truly was a nasty piece of work–with nasty foretastes for today? At the London Review of Books:

Great Again
Malcolm Bull

Ponderings II-VI: Black Notebooks, 1931-38 by Martin Heidegger, translated by Richard Rojcewicz
Indiana, 388 pp, £50.00, June, ISBN 978 0 253 02067 3 [see here]

…the truly shocking question posed by the Black Notebooks is not: was Heidegger a Nazi? Or: was Heidegger an anti-Semite? But: would Germany’s greatest 20th-century philosopher have endorsed Donald Trump?

The first two questions have, after all, already been answered satisfactorily. Heidegger joined the Nazi Party in 1933, at a time when few other German philosophers had done so, and as rector of the University of Freiburg in 1933-34 actively sought to align the institution with the goals of the new National Socialist government. His initial enthusiasm waned, but he remained a party member until 1945 and after the Second World War was judged to be a Nazi sympathiser and banned from teaching. Although he was partially rehabilitated in 1951, subsequent scholarship has uncovered nothing that puts the basic facts in a more favourable light, and has served chiefly to highlight the evasiveness of Heidegger and his apologists.

As for anti-Semitism, in 1933 Heidegger wrote to Hannah Arendt that he was ‘as much an anti-Semite today as … ten years ago’; nothing personal of course, but given that, as he told Karl Jaspers, there really was ‘a dangerous international band of Jews’, it was obviously necessary to protect the integrity of German universities. Already worried about ‘Jewification’, he implemented Nazi racial policies in the university, and never expressed any concern about the treatment of the country’s Jewish population. After 1945, he barely referred to the Holocaust at all, save to note that the mechanisation of its production methods set a poor example for postwar German agriculture…

By the end of February 1934, Hitler has been chancellor for a year, and Heidegger is beginning to take stock. There is no self-doubt here: ‘For years I have known myself to be on the right path.’ But there is a nagging sense that the Nazis may not have fully appreciated the importance of his thinking…Nazism can be the vehicle of the coming transformation, but only if it accepts that it ‘can never be the principle of a philosophy but must always be placed under philosophy as the principle’. National Socialism is not a philosophy, it is ‘a barbaric principle. That is its essential character and its possible greatness.’..

…Heidegger sees in Nazism the potential to guide Germany ‘to its greatness’, towards the final goal of ‘the historical greatness of the people in the effectuation and configuration of the powers of being’. How can a barbaric principle like Nazism achieve this? Not directly, but the ultimate goal can only be approached by a series of stages. The greatness of the people assumes ‘the coming to themselves of the people … through the state’ [Holy Hegel!]…

Heidegger maintained that Oswald Spengler’s thesis The Decline of the West [see here], was mistaken not because there was any ground for optimism about the future of the West, but because true decline or ‘downgoing’ is the precondition of the other beginning, the experience of the abandonment of being, and the West as a whole lacks the strength for it [my unterganging posts here]. For the Germans, however, it is a possibility: ‘This people, as a historical people, must transpose itself … into the originary realm of the powers of Being,’ because the acceptance of ‘the distant injunction of the beginning awaits them alone.’ The greatness of the other beginning can only be realised by ‘a seizing of, and persevering in, the innermost and outermost mission of what is German’.

Seizing Germanness means becoming indigenous, becoming ‘the one who derives from native soil, is nourished by it, stands on it’…This may sound like the Nazi idyll of blood and soil, but for Heidegger race is a necessary but not a sufficient condition: the Germans may have a historical essence, but they may still ‘abandon it – organise it away’. He is therefore at pains to distance himself from those who preach race and indigenousness, while being themselves conspicuously ill-bred and deracinated. Indigenousness is something that has to be nurtured ‘from its own resources in poetry and thinking’.

Scientific racism proved to be the issue that forced Heidegger to distance himself from the Nazis – not because it was racist, but because it was scientific…he realised that he had misjudged ‘the type and magnitude of the greatness that belonged to it’. Nazism actually represented the culmination of modernity rather than a move beyond it. The technologism of modernity (scientific racism was only one manifestation) which he sometimes referred to as ‘machination’ or ‘gigantism’, was not the way to greatness but rather ‘the genuine antigod of what is great’.

Nazism, with its rigid scientific racism and unbridled appetite for technological development, may have proved a disappointment to Heidegger, but the more modest, ostensibly post-racial nationalisms of the early 21st century would have seemed to him far more promising…

There follows an analysis of Trumpism and globalization and its discontents, then at the end of the article:

…What makes the current moment unique is that the ontological decline of the West has fallen into step with the decline in income differentials, and attachment to place isn’t just a matter of becoming indigenous and making yourself at home in the world, but of stubborn attachment to a particular position in the global economic order. For anyone living in the West who is not in the highest 1 per cent of global income, there is an economic incentive to think in Heideggerian terms; to stand firm on native soil and claim citizenship rent.

When Heidegger realised that the Nazis were going to be less receptive to ‘spiritual National Socialism’ than he had hoped, he gradually retreated from the political fray. But he nevertheless vowed to ‘remain in the invisible front of the secret spiritual Germany’, one of ‘the future ones’ who would stand ‘simply, silently, relentlessly and deeply rooted’, preparing the transition to the other beginning. The future he anticipated is now…

What is to be done? Earlier at the New Yorker:

Is Heidegger Contaminated by Nazism?
By Joshua Rothman, April 28, 2014

…It’s impossible to disavow Heidegger’s thinking: it is too useful, and too influential, to be marginalized. (A few weeks ago, when I pulled “The Essence of Truth” down from my bookshelves, I found it as compelling as I had a decade ago.) But it’s also impossible to set aside Heidegger’s sins—and they cannot help but reduce the ardency with which his readers relate to him. Philosophers like to play it cool, but the truth is that intellectual life depends on passion. You don’t spend years working your way through “Being and Time” because you’re idly interested. You do it because you think that, by reading it, you might learn something precious and indispensable. The black notebooks, however seriously you take them, are a betrayal of that ardency. They make it harder to care about—and, therefore, to really know—Heidegger’s ideas. Even if his philosophy isn’t contaminated by Nazism, our relationship with him is…

Shame we have no magazines in Canada like those.

Mark Collins, a prolific Ottawa blogger, is a Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute; he tweets @Mark3Ds


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