Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Hellish Heidegger

Selections from Heidegger in Black by reviewer Peter E. Gordon on the publication of the philospher's Black Notebooks (Schwarze Hefte 1931–1938; 1938/39; 1939–1941) 

...[Martin] Heidegger was one of the most influential thinkers of the modern era. He was also a convinced Nazi. During his brief term as rector at the University of Freiburg (1933–1934) he worked to advance the process of Gleichschaltung, or coordination, that brought the university into alignment with the official policies of the Third Reich...

...For Heidegger the “inner truth and greatness” of the Nazi movement lay in “the encounter between global technology and modern humanity” (a specification he secretly added to a 1935 lecture when it was published in 1953). These are not the words of a brutal realist; they belong to a philosopher whose “private National Socialism” proved ill-suited to the needs of the regime. But what is most disturbing in Heidegger’s case is not primarily what he did; it is what he thought about what he turns out that Heidegger did not awaken from his philosophical-political fantasies. They only grew more extreme.

...To be sure, after 1934 Heidegger grew disenchanted with the Nazi movement, and devoted himself with greater energy to new philosophical concerns. But this was only because he felt that Nazism had betrayed its own promise, and had succumbed to the technological fate that afflicted the modern age overall. Meanwhile, his anti-Semitism turns out to have been far more pronounced than one might have imagined...

...the black notebooks may nonetheless help us to understand how a philosopher consumed with a question of such generality could come to see in the Third Reich a realization of his own ideas...he writes that Being has a “groundplan” but it is “not Idea, but mission.” The ground plan “does not detach itself into pure Spirit, but rather first opens and binds Blood and Soil [Blut und Boden] to a readiness for action and a capacity for realization and work.”... In a notorious speech from November 3, 1933, he admonished students: “Let not propositions and ‘ideas’ be the rules of your Being [Sein]. The Führer alone is the present and future German reality and its law.”

...The notebooks bespeak a growing alarm at the course of modern civilization and an emergent concern that Nazism, too, was afflicted. He warns of a new phenomenon: “the gigantic” or, more typically, “machination” (Machenschaft).
Machination was his preferred name for the technological force that Heidegger saw as dominating the modern world...however, Machenschaft is embroidered with a more specific meaning: in an entry (circa 1939) he denounces liberalism, pacifism, and “the rising power of Jewry.” The ascendency of the Jews belonged to “the metaphysics of the West” that helped to spread both “empty rationality” and “a capacity for calculation.” Elsewhere he wrote that “one of the most hidden forms of the gigantic and perhaps the oldest is the tenacious aptitude for calculating and profiteering and intermingling, upon which the worldlessness of Jewry is founded.”

Regarding such passages two points should be made. First, they are clearly instances of anti-Semitism (and at first glance rather banal). The allusion to the Jews’ “worldlessness” taps into an old belief that, having rejected Christ’s divinity, the Jews are condemned to homeless wandering. Heidegger also recycled the rather more modern myth that the Jews are gifted in finance (itself a reconstructed variant of the medieval commonplace linking Jews with usury).

...on the final page of a notebook from 1941 Heidegger writes that “the question concerning the role of world Jewry is not a racial but a metaphysical question.” According to Peter Trawny, the editor of the notebooks, such passages show that Heidegger subscribed to a highly unusual species of “ontological-historical” (seinsgeschichtliche) anti-Semitism. Lacking “worldhood,” the Jews became a philosophical category: an antitype to the artisanal innocence of being-in-the-world.

...By the summer of 1941, when the German army began its assault on the Soviet Union, Heidegger descended into gruesome suggestions of world conspiracy:

World Jewry, spurred on by the emigrants who have been let out of Germany, is ungraspable everywhere and doesn’t need to get involved in military action while continuing to unfurl its influence, whereas we are left to sacrifice the best blood of the best of our people.

...Heidegger conflated any and all modes of technology, as would become clear in his notorious postwar remark that “the manufacture of corpses in the gas chambers and the death camps” and “the motorized food industry” are “in essence the same.”

...the notebooks written after 1934 show that many of the political beliefs that first drew him to Nazism remained unchanged. Worse still, those beliefs continued to contaminate his philosophy...

P.S.  And while we are on the letter H:-

Hemingway’s Yiddish

In response to:
Who Was Ernest Hemingway? from the August 14, 2014 issue
To the Editors:
In my article on Hemingway’s letters [NYR, August 14], I referred to “yencing” as his private slang for the sexual act. It is in fact a Yiddishism (“yentzing”) that had migrated into underworld slang. Hemingway used the word in letters to friends who shared, he said, his hatred of “Kikes,” and he was perhaps unaware of its origin.
Edward MendelsonNew York City


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