The Magazine Litteraire had a nice dossier about Heidegger last month, heralding, I suppose, the translation of Heidegger’s Black Notebook into French. Those who keep up with those things will remember that the notebook is full of pro-Nazi, anti-semitic remarks, and continues in that vein even after WWII. Heidegger never learned anything.
Which of course leaves a problem for those who think Heidegger’s philosophy is important. Is it all, as Emmanuel Faye has maintained for decade, a coded philosophy of fascism? The argument here is pretty much one of critical integrity: it is disingenuous to leave out what we know about Heidegger’s naziism when explicating his texts. Faye, though, goes further, and relates Heidegger’s biggest text, Being and Time, to his naziism as a master explanation of what is going on. Bourdieu did the same thing. One takes a term like Sorge, care, and shows how it it is primarily a political, and not as Heidegger pretends, an existential signifier. In this way, by looking at Sorge in Nazi texts and in Being and Time, one pierces through to the true meaning of Heidegger’s text.
This claim would be more convincing, however, if there were control texts – if we also went through Communist texts, or those in the journalistic world. Without doing this, we are pre-determining the orientation towards Naziism.
My own view is that the question of what to make of Heidegger’s Naziism throws into relief the larger question of how we do philosophical history. For my money, I’d say we do it badly. It is about great heads, marble busts lined up one after the other, all engaged only with each other. I think that philosophy, like any discourse, is less personal than that. Reading Heidegger, Rosenzweig, Bloch and Benjamin, who were all writing in the 20s, gives one a sense that each writer is playing a variation of a code that was shared among a certain spectrum of German intellectuals who were trying to find an escape from the liberal paradigm that broke down in WWI. Looked at in this way, Heidegger represents the far right part of that spectrum, whereas people like Lukacs (whose Weber influenced essays, even before the war, could be read as though they were influenced by a much later book, Being and Time) represent its changing far left. But Heidegger’s philosophy in almost all its major moments was easy to capture by leftists as well as rightists. It shows a misunderstanding, I think, of how philosophy operates – how the special terms and arguments are affordances that can be radically shifted in various systems without being negated – to pretend that Heidegger was writing merely for the cryptofascist crowd. He did, obviously, have the freedom to do so when he was loose in Hitler’s Germany, but he notoriously failed as the third Reich’s pet philosopher. The reason for that failure is that the Hitlerians suspected that vocabulary – they sensed something indelibly Weimarish in it. And they were right.
There’s a famous story – so I’ve been told – about Michael Dummett. He was completing a book about Frege’s mathematical philosophy when he read Frege’s own “black notebook”, his diaries, and found that he was a raving anti-semite. For a while, supposedly, he laid his work on Frege aside, not knowing if he should continue it. He finally did continue it.
I like the attacks on Heidegger for his naziism. I would love to see some more attacking on Locke and Hume for their racism. In Locke’s case, this wasn’t just a matter of condoning slavery – Locke, as a member of the board of Trade and Plantations, which supervised Virginia, was instrumental in coming up with slave codes. This is mentioned in Intro classes to Philosophy about zero times, in my experience, whereas Heidegger’s Naziism is always mentioned when he is explained. I would love to see a philosophy magazine dedicate a dossier to Locke and slavery, but I am pretty sure that is not on anybody’s agenda.