My post on Heidegger’s relationship with Nazism garnered some interesting responses. Enowning (of enowning) insists that the philosophical works show no signs of Nazism, and cannot be approached as if they did. I disagree with his position, but it is one that cannot be dismissed out of hand. Brandon of Siris (in comments here and here) tacked hard in the other direction, claiming that the distinction between philosophy and politics is artificial, and that good analysis of Being and Time shows clear influence of Nazism. In his own post, Brandon questions Heidegger’s defenders: his innocence can only be shown by “gerrymandering” the boundaries of his philosophy. Shulamite (of the tastefully named Vomit the Lukewark) takes a moderate approach that is open to both interpretations, underlining the compatibility of Heidegger’s philosophy and Nazi ideology.

In my gut I know that Brandon is most likely right. Heidegger’s work, especially Sein und Zeit, was a conversation in part with Nazi ideology, and to obtain a usable Heidegger, one must construct a double that bears no relationship with Nazism.

But to echo the other opinions, the philosopher plus the Nazi does not, in itself, make the Nazi philosopher. It was all too common for German intellectuals to construct a ideal version of the movement and its beliefs rather than know it sui generis.

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Few regarded Hitler as an intellectual giant, but they stood behind his anti-Bolshevism, his nationalism, his imperialism, and his restoration of order. An interesting example were the judges, who found it difficult to apply the Nuremburg Laws, even though they willingly swore oaths to the Führer. The regime’s racism did not accord with the judges’ belief in an orderly state run by laws (Rechtstaat.) Where the regime wanted the courts to rule on the basis of race, it found the judges engaged in too many ‘legalism’ that watered down the impact of Nuremburg.

The German intellectuals did to Nazism what one must do to Heidegger: they madesanitizedd copies of Nazism that, unfortunately, deluded them to the reality of the regime. It’s possible (and I am in no position to judge this) that Heidegger did just that–created an ideal rather than engaged the ideology. Reading back from his philosophy would probably not give us an accurate image of the Third Reich and its principles.

A more complete approach would consider ‘the social history’ of Heidegger’s thought: his relationships with people in academia and politics, his reactions to social movements, and how he fit into the milieu.

[ETA]Peter Gay, in his classic Weimar Culture, described how Heidegger’s though played into the malaise felt by Germans:

What Heidegger did was to give philosophical seriousness, professorial respectability to the love affair with unreason and death that dominated so many Germans in this hard time. Thus [he] aroused in his readers feelings of assent, of rightness … Whatever the precise philosophical import of Sein und Zeit and of the writings that surrounded it, Heidegger’s work amounted to a denigration of Weimar, that creature of reason, and an exaltation of movements like that of the Nazis, who thought with their blood, worshipped the charismatic leader, praised and practiced murder, and hoped to stamp out reason–forever–in the drunken embrace of that life which is death … Heidegger gave no one reasons not to be a Nazi, and good reasons to become one.

For what its worth, I find Gay’s analysis of Weimar is weakened by an idealization of what republicanism is and what it can do. He equates it too closely with the Enlightenment.

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