Even though America’s intelligentsia is rushing to the barricades to protect the nation against Steven Bannon, it has spent three decades defending Martin Heidegger against charges that he was anti-Semitic, and also a Nazi.
What could be more incoherent than teaching your students to think like Nazis, while leading the march against alt-right anti-Semitism?
While Breitbart has been resolutely pro-Israeli, Martin Heidegger was a Nazi in Germany in the 1930s, back when it meant something. After the war, when the horrors of the Third Reich could not be denied, the great philosopher had no remorse and could never bring himself to apologize.
But, why all the effort to defend Heidegger? You see, the Nazi philosopher was the founding father of the practice of deconstruction. Students at American universities are taught to deconstruct texts, an activity that seems to be perfectly anodyne and unobjectionable. After all, what could be wrong with scouring a text—and not just texts—in order to find evidence of the vast conspiracy called Western Civilization, that would be Judeo-Christian civilization.
Strangely, no one seems to have noticed that when you set out to deconstruct Western Civilization you are going to show a marked animus to the religion and the people who are most responsible for founding it.
When you deconstruct a text you look for offending texts, identify them and neutralize them.
When the SS and the SA did the same thing in Jewish neighborhoods it was called a pogrom. When the Red Guards did it to Confucian texts and artifacts in China it was called a cultural revolution. In truth, the Heideggerian practice of deconstruction teaches students a bad habit, one that they share with some decidedly unsavory characters.
Since radical deconstructionists tend to be holier than thou, they forcefully reject the notion that thee practice that they have often spent their lives mastering derives from Nazism. They have contorted their minds in order to exculpate Heidegger, or better, to show that his Nazi practices had nothing to do with his philosophy. Obviously, you need to be especially bright in order to believe such a thing.
After World War II, Heidegger was banned from teaching for several years. The authorities believed that his thinking was dangerous. Then, thanks to certain French philosophers, the ban was lifted and everyone forgot about Heidegger’s Nazism.
They did until a Venezuelan scholar named Victor Farias published a book called Heidegger and Nazism in 1987. Many of those who were practicing deconstruction at the time were horrified. They morphed into anti-colonialists. And yet, Heidegger’s minions rushed out to defend him, led especially by one Jacques Derrida. Someone as brilliant as Derrida should certainly have known what he was dealing with. Whether he was most horrified by the attempts to discredit his deconstructive project or by his failure to understand a point that was staring him in the face… we do not know.
Many years after Farias, there were Heidegger’s Black Notebooks. When people started scouring them, they found that they were chock-a-block with anti-Semitic thoughts and feelings. Many people decided that they showed Heidegger’s true face. His defenders insisted that they were philosophical musings.
Now the German texts of Heidegger’s letters to his brother have put another nail in the coffin of Heidegger’s reputation. The Los Angeles Review of Books has translated a review by Adam Soboczynski from Die Zeit.
Soboczynski opens thusly:
Inside these pages one finds an unvarnished picture of the philosopher’s political disposition. In the Black Notebooks, a kind of diary of thoughts, Heidegger approached anti-Semitism from a philosophical remove, but these personal letters published expose him as a bona fide, unrepentant anti-Semite. They also show that — in contrast to prevailing beliefs — the Freiburg professor was politically well informed, and was an early and passionate supporter of National Socialism.
Heidegger was an early admirer of Hitler. He offered his brother a Christmas gift of Mein Kampf. Obviously, the philosopher was not put off by the book’s anti-Semitism:
As early as the tail end of 1931, the 43-year-old Heidegger sent his brother a copy of Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf for Christmas, praising the future dictator’s “extraordinary and unwavering political instincts.” Heidegger interprets the right-wing conservative minority cabinet under Reich Chancellor Franz von Papen — which governed with the help of President Hindenburg between June and December 1932 — as a Jewish conspiracy.
In Heidegger’s own words:
On April 13, 1933, Heidegger writes enthusiastically:
It can be seen from one day to the next how great a statesman Hitler is becoming. The world of our people and the Reich finds itself in a process of transformation, and all those who have eyes to see, ears to hear, and a heart for action will be swept along and put in a state of extreme excitement.
Heidegger did not just get caught up in the spirit of the times. He firmly believed in National Socialism. Soboczynski explains:
Heidegger’s commitment to Hitler’s state and his membership in the NSDAP turn out to be based, quite logically, in his long-standing questionable convictions. As the letters now show beyond doubt, this was in no way the decision of an opportunistic careerist or the oblivious aberration of a political ignorant — as has been argued for decades in the philosopher’s defense. The familiar apologetic assumption that Heidegger adhered to a private, idiosyncratic notion of National Socialism, allegedly free from any form of racism, should be laid to rest.
He then shares a few of Heidegger’s anti-Semitic rants:
The opprobrium Martin Heidegger directs at Jews in the letters may have been typical of the widespread anti-Semitic discourse and conspiracy theories of the time. As early as 1916, he complained to his future wife of the “Jewification of our culture and universities,” against which the “German race” must “summon inner strength” to “rise up.” Still, in the case of Heidegger, such baseness is particularly abhorrent; not only were his famous academic instructor Edmund Husserl and his student and lover Hannah Arendt Jewish, but so were many other students that sat with him in his classes, including Karl Löwith, Herbert Marcuse, Leo Strauss, Jacob Klein, Elisabeth Blochmann, Hans Jonas, and Werner Brock, his last assistant prior to 1933. Complaining about his growing workload on April 13, 1933, Heidegger explains coldly: “three Jews are disappearing from my department.”
As you doubtless know, Heidegger declared himself to be equally an enemy of Bolshevism and Americanism. Might it be because he saw Bolshevism as the product of a Jewish mind and because he saw Americanism as a capitalist plot led by Jewish bankers?
Just like National Socialism itself, the war was, for Heidegger, a battle in defense of the “Occident” and “German-ness” against the “great threat” posed by “Bolshevism” and “Americanism” (Jan. 29, 1943). On June 7, 1942, the philosopher still wonders why “our propaganda” doesn’t reveal “Americanism in all of its excesses.” Ultimately, he was left befuddled: “What the Weltgeist (world spirit) has in store for the Germans is a mystery. Just as murky is why it is using the Americans and Bolsheviks as its servants” (Jan. 18, 1945).