The Heidegger controversy

Emmanuel Faye’s newly translated book on Heidegger has sparked yet another round of controversy about the relationship of his philosophy to Nazism. This time the accusations are so broad and over the top that not even Richard Wolin is completely on board. I haven’t read the book, yet it seems that every 20 years or so there is a sudden recollection among the liberal-ish ‘New Republic’ kind of crowd that Heidegger was in fact a member of the party and never renounced his affiliations after the war. This mini-hysteria over the ‘dangerous’ flirtation of American academia with Heidegger is as amusing to watch for its blatant misunderstanding of his work it is infuriating for its redundancy. For an example of the worst of this, see the horrendous Carlin Romano piece, banally titled ‘Heil Heidegger!’

My own stance: Yes, Heidegger was at one point an ideological Nazi. Yes, he likely was an anti-Semite, as evidenced by his snubbing of Husserl. Yes, even after the war he remained convinced of the dead-end that liberalism and communism had led to. Still, acting as if Heidegger was a devious architect of Nazi philosophy is intellectual disingenuous. Consider that Being and Time was published in 1927, when Nazism was still largely a fringe movement. Or that Heidegger was viewed with suspicion because he was not doctrinaire enough for the party. Or that Heidegger’s supposed exaltation of the state over the individual does not even conform with Nazi ideology, which was far more race than state-oriented, unlike Italian Fascism. The latter claim in fact makes even less sense when properly contextualized: Heidegger saw the volk community as the historical horizon or limit for Dasein. In other words, individuals can never entirely transcend the history and circumstances they inherit. Is this arguable? Of course. Is there anything particularly Nazi about it, especially taking into account Heidegger’s disavowal of Nazi racial ‘science’? Not really.

Here’s looking forward to when this wave of hysteria dies down.


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