Heidegger the Nazi: Reply to John Minahane

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07/03/2016 by socialistfight

Heidegger1

By Gerry Downing

This is the second in the series on Marxist Philosophy in Socialist Fight. The first, in issue 19, finished thus:

“Heidegger’s philosophical outlook found its logical expression in the death camps. His ‘philosophy’ contributed to human understanding of its relationship to itself and to nature in general what the Holocaust contributed to human progress. It poisoned European leftism with bourgeois individualism, the reactionary outlook of ‘existentialism’ so beloved by Jean-Paul Sartre and others ever since.”

This brought a response from the Editor of the Heidegger Review:

JOHN MINAHANE, To GERALD DOWNING

To the Editor.

Gerry Downing misrepresents the philosophy of Martin Heidegger by saying that it “found its logical expression in the death camps” (SF 19). I have shown that this idea is a misrepresentation in Heidegger Review No. 1. What found its logical expression in the death camps was high technology linked to the modern ideology of conquest, exemplified by Great Britain, which was Hitler’s model. (See Mein Kampf, where he repeatedly makes clear his desire for an agreed division of spoils between the two great predators, Germany in the Euro-Russian zone and Britain in India/China/Africa etc.)

Heidegger’s thinking did not cultivate aggression. There is no logic in connecting him with death camps. It would be more logical to make that connection with John Locke, whom Downing cites favourably, since he was an important ideologist of colonial plunder.

John Minahane, Editor, Heidegger Review.

Heidegger as a Nazi

It is first necessary to establish that Heidegger was a Nazi, a full-blown enthusiast for Hitlerism. He remained a member of the Nazi party from 1933 to 1945 and never disowned (but did falsely downplay) his Nazism and never apologised for it. And he lied copiously about his involvement to the post-war de-Nazification Commission saying, for instance, that he never used the ‘Sieg Heil’ salutation. This is just one instance of him using it in an address to 600 unemployed workers drafted into the ‘National Socialist Labour Service’, i.e. slave labour work camps, in January 1934:

“This will… must be our innermost certainty and never-faltering faith. For in what this will wills, we are only following the towering will of our Führer. To be his loyal followers means: to will that the German people shall find again, as a people of labour, its organic unity, its simple dignity, and its true strength; and that, as a state of labour, it shall secure for itself permanence and greatness. To the man of this unprecedented will, to our Führer Adolf Hitler-a three-fold ‘Sieg Heil!” [1]

Since the publication of his personal Black Notebooks over a year ago his anti-Semitism is beyond dispute. But it was well known by the late 1980s and despite that he has legions of academic and political defenders who poo-hoo the evidence, seeking to play it down by saying it was simply a youthful aberration and that his philosophy is, in any case, a totally different thing, even if he was a Nazi for a short period. The oft repeated claim is that he was the greatest philosopher of the 20th century. That a Nazi can be hailed thus reflects on the ‘philosophy’ of those who make this outrageous claim rather than conferring any authenticity on Heidegger. Alex Steiner reveals that Heidegger said in a lecture on 1 December 1949:

“Agriculture is now a motorized food-industry—in essence, the same as the manufacturing of corpses in the gas chambers and the extermination camps, the same as the blockade and starvation of the countryside, the same as the production of the hydrogen bombs.” [2]

This shows an appalling contempt for the victims of Hitler’s death camps. Steiner then goes on to show that his differences with Hitler were on the question of the use of technology, as if we could all retreat back to the Bavarian Alps or the Sliabh Luachra mountains in north Cork:

‘A decisive question for me today is: how can a political system accommodate itself to the technological age, and which political system would this be? I have no answer to this question. I am not convinced that it is democracy.’[3]

Having set up an ahistorical notion of technology as an absolute bane to the existence of mankind, Heidegger then explains how he conceived of the Nazi solution to this problem:

‘… I see the task in thought to consist in general, within the limits allotted to thought, to achieve an adequate relationship to the essence of technology. National Socialism, to be sure, moved in this direction. But those people were far too limited in their thinking to acquire an explicit relationship to what is really happening today and has been underway for three centuries.’[4]

It is thus beyond dispute that at the time of his death Heidegger thought of Nazism as a political movement that was moving in the right direction. If it failed then this was because its leaders did not think radically enough about the essence of technology. [5]

It seems to me that to fulfil Heidegger’s prescription for National Socialism a great deal more people would have to be offed than the Holocaust did because the whole of humanity cannot now be sustained in the countryside, as Pol Pot found out. I don’t know how John Minahane has squared that circle.

Steiner’s works in the WSWS of April and November 2000 supply a great deal more proof than this to leave the issue of Heidegger’s Nazism beyond doubt. But perhaps his defenders are correct and there is no connection between his politics, which developed from right wing Catholic populism to fascism, and his philosophy? These include the existentialist Jean Paul Sartre the structuralists, post-structuralist and deconstructionists, Claude Levi-Strauss, Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida. And the postmodernists Jean-Francois Lyotard and Jean Baudrillard. Not to mention his Jewish student lover Hannah Arendt before the war (she was dismissed from her post at the university of Freiburg where Heidegger was the Nazi-appointed Rector in 1933, and had to flee Germany with Husserl, his predecessor as Rector, and other Jewish academic associates of his with no protest Heidegger). She resumed her relationship with him after the war and wrote a sycophantic essay, Heidegger at Eighty, defending him and excusing his Nazism in 1971.

In 1987 a book Heidegger and Nazism, by Victor Farias, was published in France (one of the major sources of Steiner’s work), and the game of defending Heidegger was up for any serious scholar. Amazon’s review (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Heidegger-Nazism-Victor-Farias/dp/0877228302) claims:

“Farias’ evidence shows him to be the only major philosopher who freely embraced Nazism … “Heidegger and Nazism” transforms the setting in which Heidegger’s standing will henceforth be assessed. From his earliest intellectual and emotional influences to the last posthumously published interview with Der Spiegel, Heidegger’s connection to National Socialism is shown to be a matter of conviction rather than necessary compromise as apologists still contend.”

Of course Arendt was no Nazi herself and neither were/are the above mentioned, nor is John Minahane so why the defence of the Nazi monster’s philosophy? It is simply an attempt to find a substitute for Marxism from those petty bourgeois intellectuals who have lost faith in the working class to make revolution and so need to rationalise their own and humanity’s oppression by global finance capital and its agents throughout society. It must be galling for them to discover that their efforts are built on sand and Farias can demolish them so comprehensively in this great scholarly work.

So what was Heidegger’s philosophy?

Let me correct a false impression I may have given in the reference to René Descartes (1596-1650) in SF 19: “Spinoza opposed Descartes’s mind–body dualism and famously postulated the monist idea that thought and its extension (nature) are one substance”. Readers may think that Descartes’s philosophy was therefore a big mistake and wrongly conclude that his famous dictum ‘Cogito ergo sum’ (I think, therefore I am) is simply the ravings of a crude idealist philosopher. And many then and since have charged him with just this, and there is a grain of truth in the charge.

But the phrase does not mean that he exists because he thinks. It means that reason is the essence of humanity, a very bold and revolutionary postulate whilst the fires of the Inquisition still burned, impossible anywhere except in liberal Holland (and Ireland for very different reasons) and even there very dangerous. Descartes is correctly regarded as one of the great progressive philosophers of the Enlightenment, the individual who first began to drive out scholasticism and metaphysics from their stultifying position in Church-dominant Western thought. Alex Steiner defends the mechanical sciences thus:

“We must view the mechanical science launched by Copernicus, Galileo, Descartes and Newton as a necessary moment in the history of rational thought about the world. Heidegger views the advent of modern science merely as a negative, as a procedure that takes us away from the immediate certainty of the intuitive. Here once more is the heart of the problem with Heidegger’s intention of returning to the primordial. He identifies the certainty of immediate intuition with truth. But Hegel already pointed out a long time ago that there is no such thing as a purely immediate intuition, i.e., one that is uncontaminated with mediation: ‘The antithesis between an independent immediacy of the content or of knowing, and, on the other side, an equally independent mediation that is irreconcilable with it, must be put aside, first of all because it is a mere presupposition and an arbitrary assurance.’” [6]

We see here the irrationalism of Heideggerian thought, an essential feature of Nazism. He illustrates further this reactionary position with an attack on Galileo; Alex Steiner again quoting Heidegger:

“It becomes a decisive insight of Galileo that all bodies fall equally fast, and that the differences in the time of fall derive only from the resistance of the air, not from the different inner natures of the bodies or from their own corresponding relation to their particular place. Galileo did his experiment at the leaning tower in the town of Pisa, where he was professor of mathematics, in order to prove his statement. In it bodies of different weights did not arrive at precisely the same time after having fallen from the tower, but the difference in time was slight. In spite of these differences and therefore really against the evidence of experience, Galileo upheld his proposition. The witnesses to this experiment, however, became really perplexed by the experiment and Galileo’s upholding his views. They persisted the more obstinately in their former view. By reason of this experiment the opposition toward Galileo increased to such an extent that he had to give up his professorship and leave Pisa. Both Galileo and his opponents saw the same ‘fact.’ But they interpreted the same fact differently and made the same happening visible to themselves in different ways.” [7]

You will recall, John, that we had a science teacher in our secondary school, Farranferris in Cork, whom we affectionately dubbed ‘Picnic’. One day in the science lab during a Galileo lesson he conducted an experiment. He produced a glass vacuum tube about eighteen inches long with a feather at the bottom. He ran a little motor to evacuate the tube of its air and then sealed it. Then he inverted it and, to our amazement, the feather fell from top to bottom like a stone. Galileo was absolutely correct, even though our previous ‘intuition’ told us that a feather could not fall as fast as a stone, now our ‘intuition’ was graphically revealed to us to be a prejudice. I was pleased at the passing of that particular prejudice, Heidegger regrets it.

Heidegger2

The Night of the Long Knives, June 30 1934

Heidegger had a different view than Adolph of what Nazism should be, he was closer to Ernst Röhm, leader of the Sturm Abteilung (SA, ‘Storm Battalion’, the Brownshirt anti-Semitic, anti-communist street thugs), Ernst Jünger, Gregor and Otto Strasser, Joseph Goebbels, Gottfried Feder and Walther Darré, who were radical Nazis who wanted a second revolution to implement some of the ‘socialism’, in the Nazi name, for ‘their’ workers.

But Hitler now almost had the state in his grasp, President Hindenburg was dying and the second revolutionaries alienated the army (the Reichswehr) and also the big capitalists who definitely needed those who accepted order and acknowledged the primacy of the law of gravity and science to maintain a modern state. So Heidegger was attacking Hitler from the romantic and irrational right, he realised the danger of the coming confrontation with the second revolution radicals of the lumpen proletariat and resigned his post in April, just in time to escape assassination himself in the ‘Night of the Long Knives’, June 30 to July 2, 1934. Goebbels had already jumped ship and was present at the arrest of Röhm.

This is one more illustration of how reactionary was the mysticism of the famous ‘Dasein’ (being, self) [8], supposedly lodged in the distant past of pre-Socratic philosophy (Greece before the birth of Socrates in 470 BC), lost in the intervening centuries by false interpretation of the ‘self’ and what it is to be yourself as you lie dying, now rediscovered by himself alone. If that seems ridiculous it is because it is ridiculous.

But apparently in Nazi mysticism some traditions did preserve this ancient ‘self’ or being in a true form and one of these was the Cathars of the Languedoc in the south of France, who were apparently the keepers of the Holy Grail. The last of them perished in the mass fires of the Inquisition in 1244 at the end of the so-called Albigensian Crusade. So we are told:

“On March 16, 1944, on the 700th anniversary of the fall of Montségur (the Cathars’ last redoubt – GD), Nazi planes (or ‘a plane’ elsewhere – GD) are reported to have flown patterns over the ruins – either swastikas or Celtic crosses, depending upon the sources. The Nazi ideologist, Alfred Rosenberg was reported to be on board one of the airplanes.” [9]

The fact that other Nazis celebrated as inspirational the burning of the Cathar books, the massacres and destruction of a great progressive revolutionary civilisation (women were treated equally with men!) by Pope Innocent (!) III and the ‘northern French barbarians’ led by Simon de Montfort, the father of the progressive hero who fell at the Battle of Evesham in 1265, simply emphasises just what a world of reactionary fantasy in ideological and philosophical terms the Nazism was which Heidegger admired so much.

And that emphasises what a dead-end the ‘greatest philosopher of the twentieth century’ has led modern philosophy, existentialism, structuralism, post-structuralism, deconstructionism and postmodernism, all petty bourgeois opponents of Marxism and dialectical materialism, developed to keep the middle classes on the side of finance capital against the global working class in its revolutionary mission to overthrow capitalism and forge a communist future.

We will pursue this theme in future issues, beginning with an examination of the politics and philosophy of Jean-Paul Sartre.

Notes

[1] Quoted in Jeff Collins, Heidegger and the Nazis. Totem Books. 2000, p. 26.

[2] Victor Farias, Heidegger and Nazism, Temple University Press, 1989, p. 287

[3] Martin Heidegger, Only a God Can Save Us: Der Spiegel interview, Wolin, p. 104

[4] bid.

[5] The Case of Martin Heidegger, Philosopher and Nazi, Part 1: The Record By Alex Steiner, 3 April 2000

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2000/04/heid-a03.html

[6] Two letters and two replies on “The Case of Martin Heidegger, Philosopher and Nazi”, 1 November 2000, Alex Steiner. http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2000/11/heid-n01.html

[7] Martin Heidegger, Modern Science, Metaphysics and Mathematics, Basic Writings, Harper and Row, 1977, p. 266.

[8] Wiki, Dasein: Dasein is a German word which means “being there” or “presence” often translated in English with the word “existence”. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dasein

[9] Montségur And The Cathars, Mid-12th Century – Early 13th Century, Peter Vronsky, http://www.ironmaidencommentary.com/index.php/?rl=album13_dod/montsegur&lang=eng&link=albums.

3 thoughts on “Heidegger the Nazi: Reply to John Minahane

  1. Historically progressive forces have no monopoly on philosophical insight.

    Like

  2. caupo says:

    On this
    “And that emphasises what a dead-end the ‘greatest philosopher of the twentieth century’ has led modern philosophy, existentialism, structuralism, post-structuralism, deconstructionism and postmodernism, all petty bourgeois opponents of Marxism and dialectical materialism, developed to keep the middle classes on the side of finance capital against the global working class in its revolutionary mission to overthrow capitalism and forge a communist future.”
    Are these “philosophies” existentialism, struc., post-struct.,decons., and post-modernism “petty bourgeois opponents of marxism” or fully imperialist expressions of the rotten decay of philosophy?
    Of corse they are opponents of marxism and this is their main task, but I am for the second option and think that in that paragraphe there is a confusion. Petty bourgeois academic bastards defend those rotten imperialists philosophies, that is what is correct.
    Can the petty bourgeois have an independent philosophy of their own? As in the class fight they only can go from one historical class to the other.
    When the working class is on the rise and fighting they become “left” (god save our souls!) but when the working class receive blows they pass to the most reactionary forms of most reactionary thinking of the bourgeois class.

    Liked by 1 person

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