Does Heidegger’s Association with Nazism/National Socialism Really Matter?

I ask this question knowing full well that it is loaded, particularly with the publication of “The Black Notebooks.” Not only is this a loaded question–if Heidegger’s association with Nazism really matters?–but, in order to pose the question in the manner that I have, I suggest that this is not an easy question to ask. It is a tricky, problematic question. It is a question that is unsettling, uncomfortable, and deconstructive. Sure, it is unavoidable, now with “The Black Notebooks” ushering a new (third) wave in the Heidegger debate, after Victor Farias in 1987, and Emmanuel Faye in 2001.

What makes this debate so troublesome is partly because we have all known that “The Black Notebooks” were out there. After all, Farias and Faye certainly relied on these unpublished documents as much as they did on other damnable texts that blur the lines between Heidegger’s philosophy and Heidegger’s Nazism. In fact, for Farias and Faye–though there are subtle caveats to their two arguments–there is no separating Heidegger’s philosophy from his Nazism. So, for Farias and Faye, the question about if Heidegger’s association with Nazism really matters is at the heart of their argumentation.

However, this question is also at the heart of my argumentation. I ask this question because it must be asked–the necessity of this question rests not just in what it means to Heideggerian studies as a discipline itself, but what it might mean to any subsidiary disciplines directly or indirectly influenced by Heideggerian thought, as having origins in Being and Time. On one hand, we must confront how we read Being and Time, and the extent to which that reading cannot be mutually exclusive from reading Heidegger’s “Nazism,” even if Being and Time is published in 1927 and Heidegger’s public alignment with Nazism does not occur until his 1933 inaugural speech as the new Rector of Freiburg. Aside from Being and Time, we must confront, to a greater extent, everything that Heideggerian thought has influenced: critical theory, theology, sociology, psychology, hermeneutics, political theory, and many other fields. Each of these fields and its various representative philosophers and thinkers have a great deal at stake. For the sake of how Heideggerian thought is the framework upon which Heideggerian systems are built, the question of if Heidegger’s association with Nazism really matters holds special weight. To say “really matters” means suggesting that Nazi ethics are at the core of Heideggerian thought and, as a result, these racialized ethics greatly contaminate any Heideggerian-influenced ethical systems across the spectrum. So, “really matters” denotes that Heidegger the man cannot be divorced from Heidegger the philosopher, and the implications trickle down not just into how we read Heidegger but if we should read him at all.

More importantly, when I say “really matters,” I am proposing that Heidegger’s association matters in a general sense, but also with certain registers of specificity. Generally, if Heidegger is one of the most important and influential philosophers of modernity, then, yes, any elbow-rubbing on his part with Nazism and National Socialism is noteworthy. Heidegger is controversial because of what he was willing to and unwilling to say about his Nazi alignment–being sentenced as a “Nazi follower” by the post-World War II Denazification Hearing certainly dealt Heidegger’s overall legacy a significant blow. And, of course, Heidegger’s lack of contrition following World War II did him no favors, even after returning to teaching in 1955 after being banned. Perhaps, Heidegger’s unwillingness to address his “Nazism” was merely  a result of deep-seeded stubbornness, the likes of which make it possible for him to be coy about the failure of Being and Time and why he was unable to complete it. Perhaps, in some other sense, Heidegger himself questioned if “Nazism” was something that “really matters” to his thought, especially if we thread the needle between arguing if Heidegger’s philosophy  became the groundwork of National Socialism or if National Socialism served as the grundlage for Heidegger supposedly die kehre or “turn.”

In asking if Heidegger’s association with Nazism “really matters,” we must approach this question as Heidegger himself would–that is, we must ask about the meaning of the question itself. The meaning, of course, is relatively clear: what does Heidegger’s association with the Nazi regime have to do with his philosophy? Perhaps, another way to ask this is to pose: can Heidegger the man ever be divorced from Heidegger’s philosophy? Are these two things even remotely mutually exclusive–do we know more about the man from his philosophy and can we know more about his philosophy by knowing about the man? These questions are not simple ones. These questions undoubtedly take our inquiry along “pathmarks”–lines of thought that, as Heidegger uses the term, take us either in hermeneutical circles or lead us so far down the beaten path that we discover more questions than answers. So, if we are to ask the meaning of the question of Heidegger’s nazism–in a manner similar to Heidegger’s question into the meaning of being in Being and Time–then we must first confront what Heidegger’s association means for Heideggerian philosophy. We must, therefore, trace something in that association that fills in the philosophical gaps, especially if Heidegger does not address ethics in Being and Time. Can we say, then, that the ethics of Nazism–if we can call it “ethics” in the loosest sense of the word–is the ethical gap that Being and Time is missing? Or, can we say that the lack of ethics in Being and Time naturally leads Heidegger in the direction of Nazism–which has been argued, to some extent, by Slavoj Zizek, even if Zizek assumes Heidegger takes a “wrong direction”?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s