Crazy Terry and Anti-Marxism By Gerry Downing
06/12/2013 by socialistfight
Crazy Terry and Anti-Marxism
By Gerry Downing 2013
The exchange on philosophy began on the question of Terry Eagleton’s Marxism, on which I poured some scorn. I had read Crazy John and the Bishop (on John Toland and Bishop Berkley) many years ago and I profoundly disagreed with him there. I have not read his current craze, Why Marx was Right but have ordered it from Amazon. An extract from a review might suggest problems:
Eagleton acknowledged in The Illusions of Postmodernism (1996) that Marxism “is no longer a living political reality and that prospects for socialism are currently remote.” However, in The Gatekeeper (2001), he argues that socialism has been defeated rather than invalidated, and that its very powerlessness shows that “the system it opposes is dangerously out of control.”
Why Marx Was Right by Terry Eagleton, Roger Caldwell is unconvinced by Terry Eagleton’s loyal support for Marx. http://philosophynow.org/issues/96/Why_Marx_Was_Right_by_Terry_Eagleton
I have not tackled the question of philosophy for some time but was quite shocked that some were suggesting that Friedrich Nietzsche was progressive in some way, that Adolph Hitler’s choice of him as his favourite philosopher was a big mistake and that he had some fundamental thing to teach us. He comes in a long line of philosophers who began life as a reaction to the Enlightenment.
“The irrationalists divided over whether religion is true—Schleiermacher and Kierkegaard being theists, and Schopenhauer and Nietzsche being atheists—but all shared a contempt for reason. All condemned reason as a totally artificial and limiting faculty, one that must be abandoned in the bold quest to embrace reality. Perhaps Kant had prohibited access to reality—but he had shown only that reason could not get us there. That left other options open to us: faith, feeling, and instinct.”
Stephen Hicks, Ph.D., Philosopher, http://www.stephenhicks.org/2010/02/16/irrationalism-from-kierkegaard-to-nietzsche-ep/
The list of irrationalists, fundamentally reactionary idealists and anti-Marxists include: Arthur Schopenhauer (“You can do what you will, but in any given moment of your life you can will only one definite thing and absolutely nothing other than that one thing.”), Friedrich Schelling and Henri Bergson, Friedrich Nietzsche, and, via Søren Kierkegaard and Martin Heidegger, Walter Benjamin and the existentialists Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus.
We might speculate on the basis of much modern philosophy and its anti-Marxist bias if we look at Heidegger’s lover (physical and philosophical), Hannah Arendt (before and after the Holocaust), the famous author of The Banality of Evil (on Adolf Eichmann), Troubling new revelations about Arendt and Heidegger, By Ron Rosenbaum, Hannah Arendt:
“Will we ever be able to think of Hannah Arendt in the same way again? Two new and damning critiques, one of Arendt and one of her longtime Nazi-sycophant lover, the philosopher Martin Heidegger, were published within 10 days of each other last month.” http://www.slate.com/articles/life/the_spectator/2009/10/the_evil_of_banality.html
Here is the Heidegger quote:
“To the man of this unprecendented will, to our Führer Adolph Hitler – a threefold Sieg Heil!” Heidegger and the Nazis, Jeff Collins, Icon Books, 2000.p.23
Finally let us look at Friedrich Nietzsche again. Here is the 21 year old Trotsky’s view of him, a fitting ideology for any fascist regime:
“The social axis of his system (if it is permitted to offend Nietzsche’s writings with a term as vulgar in the eyes of their author as that of “system”) is the recognition of the privilege granted a few “chosen” to freely enjoy all the goods of existence. These happy chosen are not only exempted from productive labor, but also from the “labor” of domination. “It is for you to believe and serve (Dienstbarkeit)! Such is the destiny Zarathustra offers ordinary mortals in his ideal society, whose number is too great”(den Vielvuzielen). Above them is the caste of those who give orders, of guardians of the law, of warriors. At the summit is the king, “the highest image of the warrior, judge, and guardian of the law.” Compared to the “supermen” all of them are auxiliaries, they are employed in the “rude tasks of domination: they serve to transmit to the mass of slaves “the will of the legislators.” Finally, the highest caste is that of “masters, of “creators of values,” of “legislators,” of “supermen.” They inspire the activity of the entire social organism. They will play on earth the same role that God, according to the Christian faith, plays in the universe.Thus even the “labor” of leadership falls not on superior beings, but only on the most elevated among the inferior. As concerns the “chosen,” the supermen,” freed of all social and moral obligations they lead a life full of adventure, happiness, and joy: “Given that I live, “ says Nietzsche, “ I want life to overflow, that it be in me and outside me as prodigal, as luxurious as possible.”It is a question, above, of the cult of suffering – meaning physical suffering – which no devotion on the part of the slaves can spare the superman. As concerns the suffering tied to social disturbances, the superman, of course, must be absolutely freed from them. If there remains one mandatory task for the superman, (and this only for the superman im Werden – in the process of becoming) it is that of perfecting himself, which means the elimination of all that might resemble pity. The superman “falls if he allows himself to be dominated by feelings of pity, regret, and sympathy.” According to the former “table of values” pity is a virtue; Nietzsche considers it the greatest temptation and the most frightful danger. The “gravest sin” according to Zarathustra, the most horrible of misfortunes, is pity. If he feels anything for the unfortunate, if he is touched at the sight of sorrow, his destiny has come to an end: he is vanquished, his name must be crossed from the list of the caste of “masters.” “Everywhere, Zarathustra says, “there resounds the voice of those to whom it is indispensable that death be preached, or eternal life, [he says with an honest cynicism]; which of them is if of no importance to me as long as they disappear (dahinfahren) as quickly as possible.”
Leon Trotsky 1900, On the Philosophy of the Superman, http://www.cddc.vt.edu/marxists/archive/trotsky/1900/12/nietzsche.htm
Why Marx Was Right by Terry Eagleton
Roger Caldwell is unconvinced by Terry Eagleton’s loyal support for Marx.
When British literary theorist Professor Terry Eagleton’s Criticism and Ideology appeared in 1976, the intellectual scene in Europe was dominated by the New Left, and Marx was seen as the indisputable reference-point. In France the likes of Sartre and Lévi-Strauss had declared themselves Marxists, and Althusser had developed his own brand of structural Marxism. Figures like Benjamin and Brecht, Lukács and Adorno, with their varying and sometimes esoteric takes on Marxism, were required reading in continental philosophy. The memories and hopes of 1968 had not yet been extinguished, and the New (or by now Newish) Left was triumphant, confident that it had, as Eagleton puts it, ‘History in its pocket’.
In fact this intellectual hubris was to be short-lived. If Marx had declared that religion was the opium of the masses, others declared that Marxism was the opium of the intellectuals. The unanticipated triumph of the New Right in England and America made the promises of Scientific Socialism seem like so much posturing. There were still states officially adhering to the Marxist line, including China and a sclerotic Soviet Union, but they could not offer political hope to any except the most hardened fundamentalists. The Left retreated into what has since become known as postmodernism: Lyotard declared that the era of grand narratives (such as Marxism) was over, and a macropolitics was fractured into micropolitics – that is, instead of aiming to change the world as a whole, the Left fought on small particular patches for small particular causes. The glory days of revolution were over.
Upon the demise of the Soviet Union, finding no option but to come to an accommodation with capitalism while trying to temper its excesses, some of the former Left mutated into what looked suspiciously like liberals (still a hate-term for Eagleton). Thus the advent of the Third Way, poised precariously beyond the old divisions of Left and Right, and supposedly smoothing out a harmonious path to general happiness. However, in practice, right-wing governments, led by Thatcher’s Britain and Reagan’s United States, gave capitalism the green light in the name of the free market, and all controls were off, leading to what has been called ‘casino capitalism’. It is in the havoc caused by casino capitalism that we are currently living.
At the start of his career Eagleton was in with the Marxist swim, trying to map out the parameters for Marxist criticism, hoping to establish literary theory on a supposedly ‘scientific’ basis. However, as the Marxist tide receded with unparalleled rapidity, within a few years he was left in an exposed, rather lonely, position. While he stuck stubbornly to his Marxist guns, his former comrades handed them in and moved elsewhere. A book defiantly entitled Why Marx Was Right (2011) might therefore seem a brave but quixotic attempt to raise Marx from the dead – especially as Eagleton acknowledged in The Illusions of Postmodernism (1996) that Marxism “is no longer a living political reality and that prospects for socialism are currently remote.” However, in The Gatekeeper (2001), he argues that socialism has been defeated rather than invalidated, and that its very powerlessness shows that “the system it opposes is dangerously out of control.”
Why Marx Was Right is strangely lacking in contemporeity: why, one wonders, is there no reference to the financial crisis and its continuing aftermath? Speculations by finance-capitalists have threatened to bring the system to the point of collapse, as if capitalism were on its (long-deferred) death-throes at last. This situation is ripe for a Marxist critique. Certainly, in a world where resources are more unequally distributed than ever, where the gap between rich and poor – and the poor and the starving – continues to widen, and when the ecology of the planet is under threat, capitalism surely has a lot to answer for. However, as Eagleton is well aware, the sit-ins, protests and demonstrations against its evils in Wall Street, the City of London, and elsewhere, did not take place in the name of Marx – the protesters do want capitalism to be replaced, but are unsure by what: only, as one of the slogans has it, by something nicer.
Occupy Wall Street protesters, 2010
With most philosophers the backdrop of world events is something of an irrelevance to their theorising, but Marx proved to be a special case. Unlike Hume or Kant, he is a thinker over whom not only has much ink been spilled, but in whose name much blood has been spilled also. As a philosopher he is also an anti-philosopher, declaring in the Theses on Feuerbach (1845) that “the philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it.” Certainly he has succeeded in changing the world – if in ways that he could not have anticipated, or would not have wished, by those who claimed to be acting under his aegis. But the question remains: Did Marx understand the world correctly to begin with?
In answering this question, one has to separate Marx from those who have claimed to follow him – even from his fellow-revolutionist Engels, who sometimes generalized the results of Marx’s historical studies into universal laws, and of course, added some ideas of his own, including the notorious ‘dialectics of nature’. (For Marx himself, the dialectic applied only to human history.) Dismayed by some of the teachings of his supposed followers even in his lifetime, Marx famously declared that he was not a Marxist.
However, the central tenets of Marx’s thinking are clear. Marx’s vision of history is one of class-struggle and exploitation – whether of slaves in ancient society, serfs under feudalism, or workers under capitalism. Throughout history essential needs have been denied to the majority because of the economic systems they have been forced to endure. Moreover, in the age of capitalism the worker lives in a state of alienation, having become a mere commodity in the labour market. With the ever-inventive technological advances which capitalism stimulates, the age of scarcity could potentially come to an end, but although the system produces goods that could bring prosperity to all, the wealth is amassed in the hands of the few. And since the profit-motive reigns supreme, the result of ever more aggressive competition and tighter profit margins can only be the increasing misery of the workers. Only when the workers, their heads no longer clouded by the propaganda of their masters’ ideology, take the means of production into their own hands, can a classless society come about, where mankind is delivered from the distortions caused by the division of labour. This just new society will operate on the maxim “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.” (from Critique of the Gotha Programme, 1875.)
Yet if we look a little more closely at humankind’s final act (so far), significant gaps appear. Firstly, there is Marx’s assertion of the inevitable breakdown of capitalism due to its supposed internal contradictions. As with the End of the World, we have had many advance notices, but the World, and capitalism, are still with us. In fact, although Marx is confident that the inner contradictions of capitalism are such that it will eventually implode of its own accord, he is notoriously unspecific as to the processes that will bring about its death-throes. Then there is the revolution that is to follow capitalism’s demise: what guarantees do we have that power will end up in the hands of the proletariat, as opposed to, say, a militarised elite who will enforce a new authoritarian form of feudalism on the population? If so, the transition to Marx’s goal of a truly classless society might be indefinitely deferred.
In this context a major contention arises: to what degree was Marx a historical determinist, holding that the large-scale course of history is already determined to yield the global revolution into communism? For if determinism prevails, revolutionaries can do no more than ease the birth-pangs of communism – that is, they can do no more than bring into being earlier what will anyway come to pass eventually.
The prophetic aspect of Marx’s theory was attacked by Karl Popper in The Poverty of Historicism (1957). Popper argued that there can be no historical predictability: amongst other things, history is influenced by knowledge – for example, by scientific discoveries and subsequent technological innovations – but we cannot know what these discoveries will be in advance of discovering them, so we can never be in the position to predict the path that history will take. We may well be able to detect trends; but these trends may be negated by unanticipated events.
For Eagleton this is not to the point. For him Marx (at least in his better moments) was not a determinist. Eagleton concedes that Marx “occasionally writes as though the political is simply a reflex of the economic” but he argues that, if this were the case, it would be “a recipe for political quietism” – that is, rather than easing the birth-pangs of communism, a revolutionary could sit back with a (more or less) good conscience and wait for the revolution to happen. This for Eagleton is simply unrealistic: the economic base creates the conditions under which revolutionary change comes about, but the revolution will not take place by itself. Men have the freedom to take matters into their own hands. Ultimately, it is human beings who make history.
Marx saw Das Kapital (1867) as a scientific work, and as Eagleton admits, speaks there of historical laws working towards inevitable results. Yet in other writings Marx does not deny that a measure of contingency is built into history. In fact, there is room in Marx for both determinism and contingency: I know that I will eventually die because of my material (ie biological) conditions; but I can certainly shorten my life by my own actions, such as by stepping out in front of a bus. But Eagleton is so eager to get Marx off the deterministic hook that he goes in for some special pleading: “To claim that the triumph of justice is inevitable,” he writes, “may not mean that it is bound to happen. It may be more of a moral or political imperative, meaning that the alternative is too dreadful to contemplate.” The problem with this interpretation is that if the claim Marx is making about economic justice is not a matter of fact, then it is not a claim about inevitability. The clarion-call to seek justice is obviously a worthy one, but is irrelevant to the question of historical determinism.
Marx’s philosophy of history has often been taken as inherently progressive, as was that of his philosophical forebear Hegel’s – except that for the idealist Hegel it is seen as the progressive unfolding of the Geist [the Spirit or Idea expressed through human culture], whereas for the materialist Marx it is seen in economic terms, as the progressive evolution of the forces and relations of production of goods and services. Both thinkers are optimists: the path of history is towards human freedom.
In fact, Marx is often seen as a utopian promising heaven on earth, and Marxism as a secularised messianism; but utopianism is not the more convincing for being secularised. Marx says almost nothing of the economics of the system that is to replace capitalism, and Eagleton admits that “there is no flawless model currently on view.” Marx said that he was reluctant to write “recipes for the kitchens of the future,” but nonetheless it remains a major lacuna. And whereas in Christianity all can potentially be saved, for Marx the state of blessedness is reserved only for those who are lucky enough to come at the end of history (or for Marx, the end of pre-history, since all human life up to then will have been a bloody prelude to an era of true flourishing).
Eagleton is eager to point out that, whatever the Marxists may have promised, Marx himself is not a utopian in a very strong sense: even in the classless communist state there will be conflicts, problems of personal life, and the inevitability of death. However, what will have ended is the exploitation of man by man, of oppression, of class-struggle. What is on offer is the opportunity for human beings to at last realise their potential as human beings.
Yet even this vision can be seen as utopian. For Marx assumes natural resources sufficient to ensure plenty for all, whereas in fact the earth’s resources are arguably insufficient to provide plenty for all as its human population keeps rising beyond the seven billion mark. Although in the relatively privileged West there is prosperity for the majority, and despite the economic successes of India and China, globally, and in absolute terms, more people are in want, or starving, and more die of disease and malnutrition, than when Marx was alive. In this new age of austerity many of us will have to tighten our belts; others have no belts to tighten. It is no doubt true that, as Eagleton writes, “inequality is as natural to capitalism as narcissism and megalomania are to Hollywood” and that “leisure is something you have to work for,” but in the global context, as he is well aware, it is not inequality or leisure that is the issue, but life or death.
Why Marxism Is Wrong
Concerning historical Marxist regimes, so often marked by tyranny and terror, Eagleton refers us to Communist East Germany, which “could boast of one of the finest child-care systems in the world.” This is rather like praising Enver Hoxha’s Albania for raising the literacy rate, even if the only books you were allowed to read were those by Enver Hoxha. The truth is that the German Democratic Republic was a nightmare of surveillance, spies and informers. And when Eagleton tells us that “one of the first decrees of the Bolsheviks when they came to power in Russia was the abolition of the death penalty,” one can only gasp in disbelief: weren’t many fewer executed under the Tsarist regime which did have the death penalty than under the Bolshevik regime which supposedly didn’t? In the end, Eagleton has the grace to admit that in practice “the gains of Communism scarcely outweigh the losses.”
What, then, is still alive and kicking in Marx? Marxist economics in general as much needs special pleading as does his philosophy of history. Concepts like that of the dictatorship of the proletariat or the withering away of the state are now only met with cynicism. Marx’s concept of the good life – owing much to Aristotle – has much to recommend it, but it is the way of achieving this life that is in contention. The Marxist concept of ideology surely has some mileage. In an earlier book, On Evil (2010) (dedicated to Henry Kissinger), Eagleton gives a simple illustration of this concept. He instances the “high-flown rhetoric” of American politics and religion, which coexists “with that meaningless flow of matter known as consumer capitalism.” “The role of the former,” he goes on to tell us, “is to provide some legitimation for the latter.”
Well, maybe so. But if Marx was in many ways an excellent diagnostician – the account he gives of the capitalism of his day is unrivalled in its acuity and breadth – he was a poor prophet. Few – not even Eagleton – still believe that the Revolution is just around the corner, and least of all that it is inevitable. We may agree with Eagleton that “the demise of the working class… has been much exaggerated,” but its revolutionary potential now seems much in doubt. At the book’s conclusion Eagleton tells us that “if we do not act now, it seems that capitalism will be the death of us.” What he fails to tell us is quite what we should do, and who this ‘we’ comprises. Perhaps the slogan should be: Literary Critics of the world unite!
Despite its wit and panache, there is a certain valedictory quality about this book. In the final analysis, the name of Marx is invoked only to keep alive the memory of a future that once could have been radically different from how it turned out.
© Roger Caldwell 2013
Roger Caldwell is a writer living in Essex. His book of philosophical poetry This Being Eden (2001) is published by Peterloo Poets.
• Why Marx Was Right, Terry Eagleton, Yale U.P., 2011, 258 pp, £16.99, ISBN 978-0300169430
The Evil of Banality
Troubling new revelations about Arendt and Heidegger.
By RON ROSENBAUMOCT 30, 200912:37 PM
Will we ever be able to think of Hannah Arendt in the same way again? Two new and damning critiques, one of Arendt and one of her longtime Nazi-sycophant lover, the philosopher Martin Heidegger, were published within 10 days of each other last month. The pieces cast further doubt on the overinflated, underexamined reputations of both figures and shed new light on their intellectually toxic relationship.
My hope is that these revelations will encourage a further discrediting of the most overused, misused, abused pseudo-intellectual phrase in our language: the banality of evil. The banality of the banality of evil, the fatuousness of it, has long been fathomless, but perhaps now it will be consigned to the realm of the deceitful and disingenuous as well.
The first of the two new reports—and the one most overlooked here in America, perhaps because it’s not online—appeared in the sober pages of London’s Times Literary Supplement on Oct. 9. It was titled “Blame the Victim—Hannah Arendt Among the Nazis: the Historian and Her Sources.” Arendt—the German-born refugee intellectual, author of the influential The Origins of Totalitarianism and the controversial Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil—has come under fire before for “blaming the victim” in her Eichmann trial book, but the author of the TLS piece, the distinguished British scholar Bernard Wasserstein, breaks new ground here with material I found shocking.
In a long, carefully documented essay, Wasserstein (who’s now at the University of Chicago), cites Arendt’s scandalous use of quotes from anti-Semitic and Nazi “authorities” on Jews in her Totalitarianism book.
Wasserstein concludes that her use of these sources was “more than a methodological error: it was symptomatic of a perverse world-view contaminated by over-exposure to the discourse of collective contempt and stigmatization that formed the object of her study”—that object being anti-Semitism. In other words, he contends, Arendt internalized the values of the anti-Semitic literature she read in her study of anti-Semitism, at least to a certain extent. Wasserstein’s conjecture will reignite the debate over Arendt’s contemptuous remarks on certain Jews who were victims of Hitler in her Eichmann book and in her letters.
Could these revelations help banish the robotic reiteration of the phrase the banality of evil as an explanation for everything bad that human beings do? Arendt may not have intended that the phrase be used this way, but one of its pernicious effects has been to make it seem as though the search for an explanation of the mystery of evil done by “ordinary men” is over. As though by naming it somehow explains it and even solves the problem. It’s a phrase that sounds meaningful and lets us off the hook, allows us to avoid facing the difficult question.
It was the banality phrase—and the purported profundity of it in the popular mind—that elevated Arendt above the ranks of her fellow exile intellectuals in America and made her a proto-Sontag figure, a cerebral star of sorts and a revered icon in cultural-studies departments throughout America. It was the phrase that launched a thousand theses.
To my mind, the use of the phrase banality of evil is an almost infallible sign of shallow thinkers attempting to seem intellectually sophisticated. Come on, people: It’s a bankrupt phrase, a subprime phrase, a Dr. Phil-level phrase masquerading as a profound contrarianism. Oooh, so daring! Evil comes not only in the form of mustache-twirling Snidely Whiplash types, but in the form of paper pushers who followed evil orders. And when applied—as she originally did to Adolf Eichmann, Hitler’s eager executioner, responsible for the logistics of the Final Solution—the phrase was utterly fraudulent.
Adolf Eichmann was, of course, in no way a banal bureaucrat: He just portrayed himself as one while on trial for his life. Eichmann was a vicious and loathsome Jew-hater and -hunter who, among other things, personally intervened after the war was effectively lost, to insist on and ensure the mass murder of the last intact Jewish group in Europe, those of Hungary. So the phrase was wrong in its origin, as applied to Eichmann, and wrong in almost all subsequent cases when applied generally. Wrong and self-contradictory, linguistically, philosophically, and metaphorically. Either one knows what one is doing is evil or one does not. If one knows and does it anyway, one is evil, not some special subcategory of evil. If one doesn’t know, one is ignorant, and not evil. But genuine ignorance is rare when evil is going on.
Arendt should have stuck with her original formulation for the Nazi crimes, “radical evil.” Not an easy concept to define, but, you might say, you know it when you see it. Certainly one with more validity than banality. (Wasserstein dryly notes that “her epigones have tried valiantly to reconcile the two positions, she herself recognized the inconsistency”—between radical and banal evil—”but never satisfactorily resolved the fundamental self-contradiction.”) But Arendt fled from radical evil into banality in more ways than one.
Where the Wasserstein article breaks new ground is in his citation of some of the anti-Semitic sources Arendt used for what is considered her major work, The Origins of Totalitarianism. Of course, Arendt has been called hostile to Jews, particularly those who lack the Germanic acculturation she was so proud of.
But The Origins of Totalitarianism has not, until now, come under fire on these grounds. And I must say that even though it’s a book massively bloated by irrelevant show-your-work history, it serves as ballast for an important theoretical insight: that the similarities among police-state surveillance regimes are more important than the differences, that the similarities can be summed up by a single word—totalitarianism—that applies to dictatorships of the left and right, of any ideology and by extension any theocratic regime or movement.
It’s a concept that has great relevance right now because there are still those who don’t understand how theocratic police states can be called “fascist.” Duh! It’s because they’re totalitarian. Whatever religion they profess, what they share with past fascist regimes is greater—in terms of denial of human rights—than what separates them. Just as political regimes adopt religious-type totalist worship of the state or the leader to enforce their oppression, religious or theocratic regimes adopt political oppression to enforce their orthodoxies.
But Wasserstein (who ironically delivered his conclusions originally at “the Hannah Arendt Lecture” at Holland’s Radboud Universiteit, Nijmegen in December 2008—probably not what they expected) has found some problems in her historical analysis of anti-Semitism.
He introduces his findings with a curt nod to the Arendt defenders: “In The New York Review of Books in 2007 Jeremy Waldron reproved the historian Walter Laqueur for having speculated that Arendt ‘had read too much anti-Semitic literature for her own good.’ ” Waldron, Wasserstein observed, “considered the conjecture ‘offensive.’ “
“Actually,” Wasserstein continues, “it merits serious consideration, as emerges if we examine the use of sources in her work. Consider, for example, Arendt’s discussion, in the second section of Origins, of the role of Jews in the gold and diamond rushes in South Africa at the turn of the twentieth century. She relies here on the account by the British economist J.A. Hobson in which he referred to Jewish financiers ‘leaving their economic fangs in the carcasses of their prey. They fastened on the Rand … as they are prepared to fasten upon any other spot on the globe’—part of a passage that Arendt quotes with explicit and unironic approval, commending it as ‘very reliable in observation and very honest in analysis.’ “
“Fangs”? You say this sounds like pure Hitlerite rhetoric that could have been lifted from Mein Kampf? Well, yes, it does, doesn’t it?
And then there’s this: “One of her authorities on South African Jews,” Wasserstein reports, is an article by Ernst Schultze, “a longstanding Nazi propagandist, that appeared in … a German publication founded and directed by the prominent Nazi ideologist Alfred Rosenberg.”
And then “in a new preface [to The Origins of Totalitarianism] written in 1967, Arendt commends the work of the leading Nazi historian Walter Frank … whose ‘contributions,’ ” Wasserstein quotes Arendt, ” ‘can still be consulted with profit.’ “
Wasserstein wonders about her motives here: “Was she bending over backwards not to be totally dismissive of ideological opponents who despised her on categorical (i.e. racial) grounds?” he asks.
“But there must have been more to it than that,” he answers, “because modern Jewish history was the only subject where she repeatedly relied on Nazi historians as external authorities, that is, other than as evidence of what the Nazis themselves thought or did. Moreover she internalized much of what the Nazi historians had to say about Jews, from the ‘parasitism’ of Jewish high finance to the ‘internationalism’ of [Walther] Rathenau [the Weimar German minister assassinated by anti-Semites.]”
Of course, there have always been Jewish critiques of Jews. But Arendt’s “aversion clearly ran much deeper” than has been supposed, Wasserstein asserts. He concludes his piece by wondering, “Why?”
I believe the new Heidegger revelations may shed some light on that question. It’s always been controversial to discuss Arendt’s lifelong romantic infatuation with the Nazi-sympathizing professor and how it might have shaped her intellectual positions. Arendt’s defenders dismiss these as “tabloid” concerns, irrelevant to the purported transcendental purity of her thought.
But leaving Heidegger out of the equation is becoming ever more difficult. Not only did Arendt have an affair with him when she was an 18-year-old student about half his age, before Hitler took over, but despite his public exaltation of the Fuhrer, despite his firing Jews once he became rector of Freiburg University. We now know that she later resumed some kind of warm relationship with the brownshirt philosopher (yes, it turns out he often wore one to his lectures). Arendt helped usher Heidegger back into the intellectual version of polite society, indeed assisted in preventing his ostracism as a Hitlerite, at least by those who considered his notoriously opaque use of philosophical language to offer something of value beneath it—apart from further opacity.
The new Heidegger material offers further evidence of his slavish devotion to the Fuhrer, not merely in his public speeches but also in his desire to find a philosophical grounding for Hitlerism in the elevated realms of his thought.
Consider this quotation from a delightfully acerbic review essay by Carlin Romano in the Oct. 18 Chronicle of Higher Education,which discusses new revelations about Heidegger’s shameless adoption of Nazism.
Next month Yale University Press will issue an English-language translation of Heidegger: The Introduction of Nazism Into Philosophy, by Emmanuel Faye, an associate professor at the University of Paris at Nanterre. It’s the latest, most comprehensive archival assault on the ostensibly magisterial thinker who informed Freiburg students in his infamous 1933 rectoral address of Nazism’s “inner truth and greatness,” declaring that “the Führer, and he alone, is the present and future of German reality, and its law.”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.”
Romano’s Chronicle piece generated an often-furious comments thread, a spectacle of postmodernists in temper tantrum mode.
I can understand the splenetic attacks on Romano for not taking Heidegger seriously, although the angry Heideggerian academics never explained exactly why we should.
In general, I’m in favor of separating the man (or woman) from the work, but it was Heidegger himself,his defenders don’t seem to recognize, who claimed Nazism for his own. He didn’t make the separation between man and philosophy that they conveniently claim to excuse his personal racism.
The debate about Heidegger reminded me of a conversation I had with philosopher Berel Lang on “the evolution of evil,” an exchange I wrote about in Explaining Hitler. We discussed whether Hitler represented a new depth of evil and what the next step down into the abyss might be. Were there degrees of evil—that led to Hitler? And would Hitler lead to degrees of evil beyond his own? I had suggested Holocaust denial was such a next step, in the sense that it added insult to injury, but Lang disagreed, arguing that Heidegger’s postwar silence on Nazism exemplified the next step in the evolution of evil. After the war, this purportedly great and comprehensive philosopher never published anything that addressed the fact of the Holocaust that his party perpetrated. It just didn’t impinge on his worldview. He had time to write polemics against mechanized agriculture but not industrialized murder. Lang thought Heidegger’s indifference was a whole new kind of evil. (He even wrote a book called Heidegger’s Silence.)
Which brings us back to Arendt again. As the extent of Heidegger’s enthusiastic embrace of Nazism becomes more apparent, and as it becomes ever clearer that the allegiance was not merely opportunistic and careerist but derived from a philosophical affinity with his Fuhrer’s effusions, it becomes impossible not to reexamine certain questions. Such as: How much did Arendt know about the depth of Heidegger’s allegiance? Did Heidegger lie to her? Did she believe him the way she believed Eichmann? Did she assume his complicity with the genocidaires was something careerist and banal? Or worse, did she know? And did she disingenuously (or self-deceptively) construct her false banal Eichmann from her false banal Heidegger?
Writer Paul Roazen once speculated on this question:
If Eichmann was simply following orders, and his conduct was certifiably normal within the context of Nazi Germany, her own defense of Heidegger can reflect the way a social thinker such as herself might be conditioned by circumstances and advantage to curry favor in the midst of the most vile forms of evil. Having as a Jew escaped from Germany in 1933, Arendt remained for the rest of her life loyal to the whole philosophic tradition that had helped lead to Hitlerism. …
It may forever remain a mystery, even more so now. Wasserstein believes she internalized anti-Semitic literature; I would perhaps modify this to say she internalized the purported universalism of Germanic high culture with its disdain for parochialism. A parochialism she identified with, in her own case, her Jewishness, something she felt ashamed of on intellectual grounds, so primitive, this tribal allegiance in the presence of intellects who supposedly transcended tribalism (or at least all tribes except the Teutonic).
One can still hear this Arendtian shame about ethnicity these days. So parochial! One can hear the echo of Arendt’s fear of being judged as “merely Jewish” in some, not all, of those Jews so eager to dissociate themselves from the parochial concerns of other Jews for Israel. The desire for universalist approval makes them so disdainful of any “ethnic” fellow feeling. After all, to such unfettered spirits, it’s so banal.
Irrationalism from Kierkegaard to Nietzsche [EP]
Stephen Hicks 4 CommentsAbraham and Isaac, Arthur Schopenhauer, Counter-Enlightenment, Dialectical Spirit, Fear and Trembling, Friedrich Nietzsche, Friedrich Schleiermacher, German philosophy, Hamann, Irrationalism, On Religion, Post-Kantian, Richard Niebuhr, Søren Kierkegaard, Speeches to its Cultural Despisers
[This excerpt is from Chapter 2 of Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault]
Epistemological solutions to Kant: Irrationalism from Kierkegaard to Nietzsche
The Kantians and the Hegelians represent the pro-reason contingent in nineteenth-century German philosophy.
While the Hegelians pursued metaphysical solutions to Kant’s unbridgeable gap between subject and object, in the process altering reason into something unrecognizable to the Enlightenment, they had competition from the explicitly irrationalist wing of German philosophy. This line of development included major figures such as Friedrich Schleiermacher, Arthur Schopenhauer, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Denmark’s lonely contribution to the history of modern philosophy, Søren Kierkegaard.
The irrationalists divided over whether religion is true—Schleiermacher and Kierkegaard being theists, and Schopenhauer and Nietzsche being atheists—but all shared a contempt for reason. All condemned reason as a totally artificial and limiting faculty, one that must be abandoned in the bold quest to embrace reality. Perhaps Kant had prohibited access to reality—but he had shown only that reason could not get us there. That left other options open to us: faith, feeling, and instinct.
Schleiermacher (1768-1834) came of age in a Kant-dominated intellectual scene, and he took Kant’s cue for how religion could respond to the threat of the Enlightenment. Intellectually most active from 1799, with the publication of On Religion, Speeches to its Cultural Despisers, Schleiermacher more than anyone made happen the revival of Pietism and orthodox Protestantism over the course of the next generation. So great was Schleiermacher’s influence that, as theologian Richard Niebuhr put it, he “may justifiably be called the Kant of modern Protestantism.”
As someone who came of age in the 1790s in Germany, Schleiermacher was broadly Kantian in his approach and embraced whole-heartedly the Kantian rejection of reason’s access to reality. Schleiermacher, like Kant, was deeply offended by the assault that reason, science, and naturalism had made on the true faith. Following Hamann, Schleiermacher held that feeling, especially religious feeling, is a mode of cognition, one that gives us access to noumenal reality. Except, argued Schleiermacher, these feelings are not so much directed outward as inward. One cannot grasp noumena directly, but one can phenomenologically inspect oneself, one’s deepest feelings, and therein find indirect senses of the divine ultimate. As Hamann had stated, directly confronted religious feeling reveals one’s essential nature.
When one discovers one’s essential nature, the core self-feeling that one is forced to accept is that of absolute dependence. In Schleiermacher’s words, “The essence of religion is the feeling of absolute dependence. I repudiated rational thought in favour of a theology of feeling.” One should strive to realize oneself by exploring and embracing this feeling of absolute dependence. This requires attacking reason, for reason gives one a feeling of independence and confidence. Limiting reason is thus the essence of religious piety—for it makes possible a fully-entered-into feeling of dependence and orientation toward that being upon which one is absolutely dependent. That being is of course God.
In the next generation, Kierkegaard (“Hamann’s most brilliant and profound disciple”) gave irrationality an activist twist. Educated in Germany, Kierkegaard was, like Kant, deeply worried by the beating religion had taken during the Enlightenment. So he was cheered—or at least as cheered as Kierkegaard could ever be—to learn from Kant that reason cannot reach the noumena.
The Enlightenment thinkers had said that individuals relate to reality as knowers. On the basis of their acquired knowledge, individuals then act to better themselves and their world. “Knowledge is power,” wrote Bacon. But after Kant we know that knowledge of reality is impossible. So while we still must act in the real world, we do not and cannot have the necessary knowledge upon which to base our choices. And since our entire destinies are at stake in the choices we make, we cannot choose dispassionately between options. We must choose, and choose passionately, all the while knowing that we are choosing in ignorance.
For Kierkegaard, the core lesson from Kant was that one must not try to relate to reality cognitively—what is needed is action, commitment, a leap into that which one cannot know but which one feels is essential to give meaning to one’s life. In accordance with Kierkegaard’s felt religious needs, what is needed is an irrational leap of faith. It must be a leap because after the Enlightenment it is clear that the existence of God cannot be justified rationally, and it must be irrational because the God that Kierkegaard finds compelling is absurd.
But such a leap into the absurd puts one in a crisis. It flies in the face of everything sensible, rational, and moral. So how should one deal with this crisis of both wanting and not wanting to leap into absurdity? In Fear and Trembling we find Kierkegaard’s panegyric to Abraham, a hero of the Hebrew Scriptures who in defiance of all reason and morality was willing turn off his mind and kill his son Isaac. Why? Because God ordered him too. How could that be—would a good God make such a demand of a man? That makes God incomprehensibly cruel. What about God’s promise that through Isaac the future generations of Israel would be born? The demand makes God a promise-breaker. What about the fact that it is killing an innocent? That makes God immoral. What about the immense pain that the loss of their son would cause in Abraham and Sarah? That makes God a sadist. Does Abraham rebel? No. Does he even question? No. He shuts down his mind and obeys. That, said Kierkegaard, is the essence of our cognitive relation to reality. Like Abraham, each of us must learn “to relinquish his understanding and his thinking, and to keep his soul fixed upon the absurd.”
Like Abraham, we do not know and we cannot know. What we must do is jump blindly into the unknown. Kierkegaard revered Abraham as a “knight of faith” for his willingness to “crucify reason” and leap into absurdity.
Schopenhauer, also of the generation after Kant and a contemporary of Hegel, disagreed violently with the cowardly attempts to return to religion after the rejection of Enlightenment reason. While Hegel populated Kant’s noumenal realm with Dialectical Spirit and Schleiermacher and Kierkegaard felt or hoped desperately that God was out there, Schopenhauer’s feelings had revealed to him that reality is Will—a deeply irrational and conflictual Will, striving always and blindly toward nothing. No wonder then that reason had no chance of comprehending it: Reason’s rigid categories and neat organizational schemes are wholly inadequate for a reality that is the opposite of that. Only like can know like. Only via our own wills, our passionate feelings—especially those evoked in us by music—can we grasp the essence of reality.
But most of us are too cowardly to try, for reality is cruel and frightening. This is why we cling to reason so desperately—reason allows us to tidy things up, to make ourselves feel safe and secure, to escape from the swirling horror that, in our honest moments, we sense reality to be. Only the bravest few have the courage to pierce through the illusions of reason to the irrationality of reality. Only a few individuals of special sensitivity are willing to pierce reason’s veil and intuit passionately the seething flow.
Of course, having intuited the cruel horror of the seething flow, Schopenhauer wished for self-annihilation. This was the weakness that his disciple, Nietzsche urged us to overcome.
Nietzsche began epistemologically by agreeing with Kant: “When Kant says: ‘reason does not derive its laws from nature but prescribes them to nature,’ this is, in regard to the concept of nature, completely true.” All of the problems of philosophy, from the decadent Socrates to that “catastrophic spider” Kant, are caused by their emphasis on reason. The rise of the philosophers meant the fall of man, for once reason took over, men no longer possessed their former guides, their regulating, unconscious and infallible drives: they were reduced to thinking, inferring, reckoning, co-ordinating cause and effect, these unfortunate creatures; they were reduced to their ‘consciousness,’ their weakest and most fallible organ!
And: “how pitiful, how shadowy and fleeting, how aimless and capricious the human intellect is.” Being merely a surface phenomenon and dependent upon underlying instinctual drives, the intellect certainly is not autonomous or in control of anything.
What Nietzsche meant, then, with his passionate exhortations to be true to oneself, is to break out of the artificial and constricting categories of reason. Reason is a tool of weaklings who are afraid to be naked in the face of a cruel and conflictual reality and who therefore build fantasy intellectual structures to hide in. What we need to bring out the best possible in us is “the perfect functioning of the regulating unconscious instincts.” The yea-sayer—the man of the future—will not be tempted to play word-games but will embrace conflict. He will tap into his deepest drives, his will to power, and channel all of his instinctual energies in a vital new direction.
 Niebuhr, in Schleiermacher 1963, ix.
 Schleiermacher 1799, 18.
 Schleiermacher 1821-22, Section 4.
 Schleiermacher 1821-22, 12.
 Berlin 1980, 19.
 Kierkegaard 1843, 31.
 Reality, Schopenhauer wrote, is a “world of constantly needy creatures who continue for a time merely by devouring one another, pass their existence in anxiety and want, and often endure terrible affliction, until they fall at last into the arms of death” (1819/1966, 349).
 Schopenhauer: “we have not to be pleased but rather sorry about the existence of the world, that its non-existence would be preferable to its existence” (1819/1966, Vol. 2, 576). As for mankind: “nothing else can be stated as the aim of our existence except the knowledge that it would be better for us not to exist” (1819/1966, Vol. 2, 605).
 Nietzsche, Ecce Homo, “Why I Am So Wise,” 1.
 Nietzsche, The Antichrist, 11.
 Nietzsche, Genealogy of Morals, II:16.
 Nietzsche, The Will to Power, 478.
 Nietzsche, Genealogy of Morals, I:7.
 In Beyond Good and Evil (252), Nietzsche shares the view that the deepest battle is the Enlightenment, with its roots in English philosophy, against the Counter-Enlightenment, with its roots in German philosophy: “They are no philosophical race, these Englishmen: Bacon signifies an attack on the philosophical spirit; Hobbes, Hume, and Locke a debasement and lowering of the value of the concept of ‘philosophy’ for more than a century. It was against Hume that Kant arose, and rose; it was Locke of whom Schelling said, understandably, je méprise Locke [I despise Locke]; in their fight against the English-mechanistic doltification of the world, Hegel and Schopenhauer were of one mind (with Goethe)—these two hostile brother geniuses in philosophy who strove apart toward opposite poles of the German spirit and in the process wronged each other as only brothers wrong each other.” See also Daybreak: “The whole great tendency of the Germans ran counter to the Enlightenment” (Section 197).
[This is an excerpt from Stephen Hicks’s Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault (Scholargy Publishing, 2004, 2011). The full book is available in hardcover or e-book at Amazon.com. See also the Explaining Postmodernism page.]
By Carlin Romano OCTOBER 18, 2009
How many scholarly stakes in the heart will we need before Martin Heidegger (1889-1976), still regarded by some as Germany’s greatest 20th-century philosopher, reaches his final resting place as a prolific, provincial Nazi hack? Overrated in his prime, bizarrely venerated by acolytes even now, the pretentious old Black Forest babbler makes one wonder whether there’s a university-press equivalent of wolfsbane, guaranteed to keep philosophical frauds at a distance.
To be sure, every philosophy reference book credits Heidegger with one or another headscratcher achievement. One lauds him for his “revival of ontology.” (Would we not think about things that exist without this ponderous, existentialist Teuton?) Another cites his helpful boost to phenomenology by directing our focus to that well-known entity, Dasein, or “Human Being.” (For a reified phenomenon, “Human Being,” like the Yeti, has managed to elude all on-camera confirmation.) A third praises his opposition to nihilism, an odd compliment for a conservative, nationalist thinker whose antihumanistic apotheosis of ruler over ruled helped grease the path of Adolf Hitler in the 1930s.
Next month Yale University Press will issue an English-language translation of Heidegger: The Introduction of Nazism Into Philosophy, by Emmanuel Faye, an associate professor at the University of Paris at Nanterre. It’s the latest, most comprehensive archival assault on the ostensibly magisterial thinker who informed Freiburg students in his infamous 1933 rectoral address of Nazism’s “inner truth and greatness,” declaring that “the Führer, and he alone, is the present and future of German reality, and its law.”
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.
To his credit, Faye takes the usually avoided logical step of articulating that goal. He essentially calls on publishers to stop churning out Heidegger volumes as they would sensibly desist from hate speech. Similarly, he hopes librarians will not stock Heidegger’s continuing Gesamtausgabe (collected edition), shepherded by the Heidegger family, a project that Faye rightly attacks as sanitized and incomplete.
Even on this side of the Atlantic, one can share Faye’s distaste for the flow of reverent Heidegger volumes. In 2006, MIT Press brought us Adam Sharr’s Heidegger’s Hut, about the philosopher’s Black Forest hideaway in Todtnauberg. It began with Simon Sadler asking in a foreword, “Is the hut described in this text the smallest residence ever to merit a monograph? Might it be the most prosaic, too?” A couple of quick yeses would have stopped the project right there. We wouldn’t have had to read that while Heidegger’s “politics were an abomination,” the reader must “concede that any belief in something at Todtnauberg conducive to political crime would be essentialist.” Oh, really? Sounds bad. You wouldn’t want “essentialism” to make you think Heidegger’s mullings at home base for 50 years had any connection to his rancid politics.
MIT, in fact, gifted us that year with a doubleheader, also offering up Heidegger’s Topology: Being, Place, World. That came from Jeff Malpas, professor of philosophy at the University of Tasmania, which is about as far away from the camps as you can get. While conceding Heidegger’s true-believer behavior, Malpas wrote of “the addresses from the early 1930s in which Heidegger seems to align himself with elements of Nazi ideology,” as if there were any doubt. Malpas repeated a falsehood put into play by Heidegger himself after the war, that the philosopher had resigned his rectorship “after having apparently found it increasingly difficult to accommodate himself to the demands of the new regime.” For Malpas, “Heidegger’s own politics cannot be taken, in itself, to undermine his philosophy in any direct way.”
In that respect, Malpas revived an old standard view that Faye seeks to eliminate once and for all. For Faye, new material about Heidegger’s 1930s teaching and administrative work turns a crucial point upside-down. While other thinkers, including Löwith and Maurice Blanchot, suggested that Heidegger’s Nazism stemmed directly from his philosophy, Faye counters that his philosophy grew out of his Nazism, forcing us to see it as a kind of philosophical propaganda for Nazism in a different key.
Faye’s leitmotif throughout is that Heidegger, from his earliest writings, drew on reactionary ideas in early-20th-century Germany to absolutely exalt the state and the Volk over the individual, making Nazism and its Blut und Boden (“Blood and Soil”) rhetoric a perfect fit. Heidegger’s Nazism, he writes, “is much worse than has so far been known.” (Exactly how bad remains unclear because the Heidegger family still restricts access to his private papers.)
Faye pulls no punches: Heidegger “devoted himself to putting philosophy at the service of legitimizing and diffusing the very bases of Nazism,” and some of his 1930s texts surpass those of official philosophers of Nazism in “the virulence of their Hitlerism.” Lacking any respect for Heidegger as thinker, Faye writes that the philosopher Hannah Arendt so deeply admired “has done nothing but blend the characteristic opacity of his teaching with the darkness of the phenomenon. Far from furthering the progress of thought, Heidegger has helped to conceal the deeply destructive nature of the Hitlerian undertaking by exalting its ‘grandeur.'”
Faye agrees that it was possible, even in the wake of Farias’s and Ott’s work, “with a lot of self-delusion, to separate the man from the work.” He asserts it’s no longer possible, since scholars can now access “nearly all the courses” that Heidegger taught in the 1930s. According to Faye, “we witness, in the courses and seminars that are ostensibly presented as ‘philosophical,’ a progressive dissolving of the human being, whose individual worth is expressly denied, into a community of people rooted in the land and united by blood.” The unpublished seminar of 1933-34 identifies the people with a “community of biological stock and race. … Thus, through Heidegger’s teaching, the racial conceptions of Nazism enter philosophy.”
The “reality of Nazism,” asserts Faye, inspired Heidegger’s works “in their entirety and nourished them at the root level.” He provides evidence of Heidegger’s “intensity” of commitment to Hitler, his constant use of “the words most operative among the National Socialists,” such as “combat” (Kampf), “sacrifice” (Opfer) and völkisch (which Faye states has a strong anti-Semitic connotation). He also cites Heidegger’s use of epithets against professors such as the philologist Eduard Fraenkel (“the Jew Fraenkel”) and his fervid dislike for “the growing Jewification” that threatens “German spiritual life,” mirroring Hitler’s discourse in Mein Kampf about “Jewified universities.”
For Faye, Heidegger’s 1930s Nazi activism came from the heart. Pains takingly providing sources, Faye exhibits Heidegger’s devotion to “spreading the eros of the people for their Führer,” and the “communal destiny of a people united by blood.” We learn of Heidegger’s desire to be closer to Hitler in Munich, and his eagerness to lead the Gleichschaltung, or “bringing into line,” of the German universities with Nazi ideology. According to several witnesses, Heidegger would show up at class in a brown shirt and salute students with a “Heil Hitler!”
Tellingly, Faye also mines the internal papers of the Munich philosophy faculty, showing that the department’s professors considered Heidegger’s work “claptrap,” and saw him as so politicized that they believed “no philosophy could be offered the students” if he were appointed. They considered appointing Heidegger only because of his well-known status as a professor favored by the Nazis. Synthesizing details with the precision of a Simon Wiesenthal researcher, Faye further undermines Heidegger’s later lies that he was not involved with book burning or anti-Semitic legislation, withdrew from active support of the party after he resigned his rectorship, and became rector only to protect the independence of the universities.
“We must acknowledge,” Faye says in one fierce conclusion, “that an author who has espoused the foundations of Nazism cannot be considered a philosopher.” Finally, he reiterates his opposition to the Heidegger Industry: “If his writings continue to proliferate without our being able to stop this intrusion of Nazism into human education, how can we not expect them to lead to yet another translation into facts and acts, from which this time humanity might not be able to recover?”
Is it superficial to yoke wildly different cultural worlds (Daseins, if you will) together? Might much the same reasoning heard among a few Manhattan TV executives recently about David Letterman—like Heidegger, a would-be touchstone for the authenticity of his Volk—apply as well to the Meister from Messkirch? Well, Heidegger did think that Daseins intersect.
“Only the jokes can do him in,” opined one savvy network veteran in the group. All agreed that Letterman would survive or fall at the hands of fellow talk-show hosts and comics torn between instincts to eviscerate and guild solidarity. No sober column by, say, The New York Times’s Nicholas Kristof, analogizing Ball State University’s most famous alum to a Cambodian brothel owner, would pack the requisite resonance with key audiences.
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.
In the meantime, we can expect Heidegger’s Faux Tyrolean Wardrobe and the Specter of Carl Schmitt to roll off a university press before too long, sans cartoons or illustrative plates.
Carlin Romano, critic at large for The Chronicle Review, teaches philosophy and media theory at the University of Pennsylvania.