Why should anyone be bothered by the fact that Martin Heidegger, whose political philosophy was very much admired by the French after the post-war period , did neither admitted nor regretted his early political engagement with Nazism especially during his rectorship at the University of Freinberg (Farias, 1989; Steiner, 2000)?
Given the facts that Heidegger is both a philosopher and polemically, an ardent supporter of the Fuhrer, it is just appropriate to admire his intellectual gigantism and then still study his political dispositions during the 1930s up to the 1950s. Although it became evident later on that since Nazism was defeated and there was the deNazification, it was only fitting for Heidegger to ‘dispose’ of in obliviousness those unfortunate Nazi episodes in his life. As such, Heidegger’s Nazism should not be totally equated with his philosophy because Heidegger’s political mistake “has told little” about his “philosophy or character” .
As stated above, I believe that we should discuss his Nazism because we can cull out from it an understanding concerning Heidegger’s attitude and workings of his mind as a philosopher when it comes to Final Solution or Holocaust. It is for our posterity to analyze the moral weight of his decision. Although, Heidegger has great ideas for the type of philosophy that he endorses, it should still show to the world that we have a balanced perspective concerning his Nazism and not just philosophy. If our study of Heidegger and Nazism will lead us to the truth; then, we could either then impute the proper commendation or disapproval to the specific side of a person’s being. Hence, we should study the whole person (Heidegger) and then, for the most part, concentrate only on his major contributions.
Although Heidegger’s apologists asserted that Heidegger simply attempted to secure the autonomy of the universities against the totalitarian regime, the records do not lie. Ironically, Heidegger will do anything to safeguard his philosophy even if it meant subservience to the Fuhrer. For instance, Heidegger would rather approve of the deletion of Husserl’s dedication in his book rather than having it gone out of print. However, Heidegger’s political tactics had proven practically ineffective because of the presence of his the Nazi functionaries who were against him; thus, his political obscurity starting 1934 . This only shows that a great philosopher such as Heidegger has Nazism as his Achilles’ heel.
Again, considering the numerous proofs of Heidegger’s participation in addressing the Fuhrer’s rise to power, it is no wonder that Heidegger directly or indirectly tried hard, or even harder, to ‘outmaneuver’ the course of political events. Heidegger’s real intent may have been his philosophical diversions of “big idea of university study of hiking, camping” as opposed to the purification of the Aryan race with the use of “concentration camps.” However, a philosopher’s mind may be entirely different from the perspective of the Fuhrer who sees his totalitarian cause as indifferent to the type of philosophy that only the like of Heidegger would wish for. I think Heidegger knew this fully well, because again, as mentioned above, he tried to save his book from going out of print . He even ‘designated’ himself to be the stoolpigeons for the Nazis.
Again, concerning Heidegger’s decision not to admit or even show regret for his involvement with the National Socialist Party, evidences show that he may have just joined the cause – or, euphemistically, jumped on the bandwagon to feign allegiance to the Nazi ideals. But this is hard either prove or disprove because we are already talking about the ‘inner being’ in Heidegger’s personality or totality as a person. He may have acted against Hermann Staudinger, Eduard Baumgarten, and other “sub-humans,” but only while Hitler was fanatically embracing his ideal of purifying the Aryan race. Even if history has all the records that Heidegger cannot gainsay, because of the fatal blow stroke on him, he would rather save face. He would rather keep his silence for having done those outlandish decisions for the Nazi cause so that everything else would simply fall into their proper places – so to speak. Further, although Heidegger’s silence would mean that he had truly embraced Nazism (as the record shows), what has been hidden from view is the inner valuation of the person who actually committed the acts, which we simply cannot do without proofs beyond reasonable doubts.
There are, thus, instances that Heidegger did not deny the documents, lectures and records for his Nazi involvement and for being Hitler’s ally . But there are also instances wherein, instead of referring the statements he delivered in a meeting to the Fuhrer, those were actually for him and “future leaders and protectors of the German people” . Thus, whatever Heidegger’s motives, he alone had known it fully well from the very start, but not the whole outcomes. Heidegger may have not succeeding with his politicking, but his philosophy has proven to be much more contagious than the political regime he once ‘championed.’
For my part, if we really would like to know the philosopher Heidegger, we should focus on his philosophy. If we want to know more about Heidegger’s Nazism, we should stick with the records. Since Heidegger has been considered as “the most widely influential philosopher of the twentieth century” , we should then understand more his philosophical contributions. He might had committed that “temporary aberration to reject totally his indirect participation in the killing of six million Jews during the Holocaust, but the Heidegger that we know is still the philosopher whose engagement with Nazism tells us little about his “philosophy or character” . Again, for me, Heidegger was not the type of a blatantly black propagandist of Nazism – but, was more of a political turncoat for his philosophy’s sake. Just think of how he would later spend his considerable time complaining for harassment from the Nazis after his political obscurity. This shows that Heidegger failed with his Nazism and it is better the leave the records of his participation as ‘matters of records only’ or for ‘record purposes.’
“He may neither had the full reservation of allegiance to the initial Nazi episode and even tried hard to become the ‘Official Philosopher of National Socialism of the Aryan Race,’ in reiteration, for the sake of his own philosophy (such as Heidegger’s book to “go out of print”) . So, whether fortunately or unfortunately for Heidegger, because his rivals found ammunitions for his fussing, Heidegger’s “dream was simply dreamt out (italicsmine)” .
In recap, Heidegger has greatly shared with us his philosophy and we should instead focus on that when we reflect deeply on his contributions in philosophy. Although the political “mistake” Heidegger had will become part of the chronological accounts of event, it is always our choice to either study more in-depth either his philosophy or Nazism. Since we cannot fully grasp the long-term impact of his philosophy – and so is Heidegger’s silence concerning Nazism. And, since Heidegger is no longer physically with us, scholars who study him should let the records speak for him keeping in mind that the great philosophical contributions Heidegger left for us should not be equated with the mistakes he have had. People are responsible and should be made accountable for their own actions, but we cannot simply go beyond the point where Heidegger even has the ‘courage’ to speak of.
Cohn, H. (2002). Heidegger and the Roots of Existential Therapy. New York: Continuum.
Sheehan, T. (1988). Heidegger and the Nazis. The New York Review of Books, 15(10), 38-47.
Wolff, R. P. (2011). About Philosophy Plus MyPhilosophyLab with eText. New Jersey: Pearson Education, Inc.