HEIDEGGER: Transcendental Nazi or Contingent Nazi?

On the question of Heidegger’s relation to Nazism there are two main research programmes. One, Heidegger Contingent Nazi, that of coddling, laundering, and hagiographic interpretation has been in its degenerating phase for some time. It’s basic thesis, that there is only a historically accidental connection between Heidegger’s philosophy and Nazi ideology and politics, leads to the predictive hypothesis that further research will not uncover more evidence of the extent, depth and persistence over time of Heidegger’s Nazi engagements, but rather proof of its extremely limited, superficial, and short-termed nature. This hypothesis has been consistently falsified by more extended studies of the historical record. The stronger thesis of Heidegger the spiritual resistance-fighter combating the Nazi régime from within has been totally demolished.

The other research programme, Heidegger Transcendental Nazi, consisting in affirming an intrinsic link between Heidegger’s thought and Nazism, and thus leading to inquiring into the evidence for Heidegger’s Nazi affiliations and affinities, and finding ties with the rest of his thought, is still progressing. Its predictive hypothesis that more such evidence will be uncovered leading to the discovery of more such ties has been confirmed.

Heidegger has been coddled too much, so it is good to have stubborn people who did not just let things drop, and by persisting found things covered up or interpreted away. Richard Wolin, Victor Farias, Emmanuel Faye, whatever their philosophical shortcomings may be, are the proof that the principle of tenacity can uncover new evidence when the more sophisticated commenters just produce whitewashing and denialism. The research programme Heidegger as transcendental Nazi is still progressing, while the Heidegger as contingent Nazi programme has been degenerating for some time. The deniers and the contingentists have been led to ever more implausible ad hoc explanatory and hermeneutic hypotheses to explain and interpret away the prima facie proofs of Heidegger’s Nazi engagement.

The  proponents of the Heidegger Transcendental Nazi research programme have been predicting increasing evidence of Heidegger’s Nazi engagement, and the real world keeps providing new confirmations. This is the principal point for me. If one wants to focus on the deficiencies of Wolin’s, Farias’s and Faye’s books or in their ideas on other thinkers and on general tendencies in modern thought, that is a side issue for me. Even when they are wrong Wolin, Farias, and Faye are often onto something important. While it is not true that the deconstruction of the humanist subject is in itself totalitarian, it is ambiguous: pointing towards individuation beyond and outside of that constraining form, or blocking the path to such individuation. Highlighting the ethical vacancy of Heidegger’s thought is quite crucial for understanding that his Nazi engagements are not merely contingent. Derrida himself was obliged to effectuate an “ethical turn” and then to redescribe his past with such self-serving slogans as “deconstruction is justice” trying to protect himself from criticism and accusations of relativism by the power of redefinition. Wolin may be very unreliable philosophically, but he is not entirely useless. (NOTE: I much prefer Michel Onfray on Hannah Arendt and her discussion of the “banality of evil” in EICHMANN IN JERUSALEM, as he goes through the various misunderstandings of her book, and demonstrates their inadequacy).

So, when Wolin or Faye would have us believe that any deconstruction of the humanist subject is totalitarian, they are clearly wrong. But they may in inadequate terms be highlighting a real difficulty. Given the ethical vacancy at the heart of Heidegger’s thought one is justified in finding the deconstruction of the subject coupled with the primacy of Being and the valorisation of destiny, folk, blood, and soil as transcendentally orienting that thought in a direction not just compatible, but having a high degree of affinity with Nazi ideology.

To protect Heidegger from such analyses there is a war of definitions being conducted by the contingentist and denialist programme’s adherents. When Gérard Guest declares that there is no Nazi thought because thinking and Nazism are, by definition, mutually exclusive, we are entitled to be worried and to anticipate the seemingly reassuring but ultimately absurd consequence that when Heidegger is thinking he cannot be being a Nazi. Such piety demonstrates how the sophisticated reasonings of hyperconceptuality can be guided by more primitive adhesions and fidelities.

 

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5 Responses to HEIDEGGER: Transcendental Nazi or Contingent Nazi?

  1. I appreciate this and glad you are continuing to pursue it. I agree that Heidegger is being revealed more and more as not merely “being” antisemitic, but actually having antisemitism at the core of his philosophy (was actually just reading Wolin’s scathing review of more recent Black Notebooks material at https://jewishreviewofbooks.com/articles/993/national-socialism-world-jewry-and-the-history-of-being-heideggers-black-notebooks/).

    I am a little bit of a partisan in this direction, but I actually think that Derrida’s writings on Heidegger–both the Geschlecht series and especially Of Spirit–get this very clearly. He sees the transcendental Nazism and wants us to ask whether the critique of metaphysics is even possible at all, given the incredibly deep roots of racial hatred on which its most thorough exponent grew. As with most of Derrida at his best, I think he is more interested in exposing and deepening that question than he is in providing any easy answers to it.

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  2. terenceblake says:

    Yes, I’ve just been reading the Peter Trawny book “Heidegger et l’antisémitisme”, and was struck by the confirmation he gives to the thesis that there was nothing empirical about Heidegger’s antisemitism: “This is why one must begin from the principle that Heidegger never neede to make any “exceptions” in his concrete relations to Jews. It was clear to him that “International Jewry” had no face” (my translation).

    Should one say that as a real object it withdraws, and that the empirical instances one encounters can never exhaust it?

    I am not as lenient with Derrida as you, because he recognised many things that he did not wish to be made too public, and he was quite harsh with Bourdieu on that account. But like Lyotard and Foucault he eventually realised the danger of Heidegger’s influence on his own thought, and the need for an ethical turn.

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    • “it” might be the prototypical Heideggerian “object,” which is at the very least interesting to reflect on.

      your comments about Bourdieu have driven me back to Part III, Chapter 2 of Benoit Peters’s Derrida, where some of this is recounted in detail (as well as information about the de Man affair)–don’t know if you have other references about that part of the story, but there is a lot of good information (some of it unique) there. at the very least, in favor of your position, Derrida did react to Farias at first in a very defensive way that he seems later to have modified.

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  3. terenceblake says:

    I remember reading many years ago a sort of “pre-Farias” furor in CRITIQUE, from the 1960s. I cannot recall the exact wording of Derrida’s contribution, but he reminded Bourdieu that they had done a seminar together and that Bourdieu had had the opportunity to see the redoubtable polemical powers that he Derrida detained. So unless Bourdieu wanted to undergo the same treatment he should lay off the Heidegger and Nazism theme. I no longer have the exact reference, but I would be grateful to find it again. We also know about Derrida’s “silence’ over Althusser and the Althusserians, so he is no paragon of probity for me;

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  4. Luther Blissett says:

    “Richard Wolin, Victor Farias, Emmanuel Faye, whatever their philosophical shortcomings may be, are the proof that the principle of tenacity can uncover new evidence when the more sophisticated commenters just produce whitewashing and denialism.”

    The problem I find with this is that the sophisticated commenters are doing philosophy, examining Heidegger’s contributions to the overall philosophical project (e.g. does Heidegger have an original, worthy insight into Aristotle’s Metaphysics, or not), while his critics fail to show how Heidegger’s politics affect his contributions. Several of the sophisticated commenters have uncovered some of the nefarious comments and been critical. But they haven’t had the publicists Wolin/Farias/Faye had.

    One of the first books on Heidegger in English (1965) had a swastika on the cover and articles he’d written on 1933-34 praising Hitler. His critics mainly stir the pot, interpret the available texts in their peculiar ways, and find a ready audience with the prejudiced.

    If someone were proposing to put Heidegger on a postage stamp or that he should be a role model for young people, then his critics would have a point, and I would agree that we shouldn’t celebrate a Nazi. But towards the task of assaying Heidegger’s contributions, if any, Wolin/Farias/Faye have contributed nothing.

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