A note from Tracy Strong on the post Mirrors: the cave, Heidegger’s Platonic National Socialism and Leo Strauss here reveals an important issue. After World War II, both Heidegger and Strauss hid their views. Heidegger makes a few Delphic comments about what his views, as an active and well-regarded Nazi, were. Even these comments are, as Tracy points out, a) against democracy (Der Spiegel interview, August 24, 1966 – see here)[1a] and b) for some obscure form of national socialism which is against the triumph of “planetary technology.”
I would like to underline three points about the discussion. First, there is no doubt that Heidegger was a devoted Nazi activist, in good odor, throughout the Hitler regime. His later “delphicness” has more to do with the fact that the Nazis lost than with any deep or philosophical insight. Put differently, whatever impact Heidegger could imagine himself to have, it was within “actually existing” National Socialism and the genocide, not as an enemy of it. According to Loewith, he spoke of “Jew Bolsheviks” in 1936 and that is an integral part of his vision.
Second, he in no way stopped being a philosopher, the man who wrote Being and Time, and worked, lectured and travelled steadily throughout the war (those who were not "useful" were chased out, jailed or gassed). If Heidegger’s style of questioning revolutionized the teaching of philosophy in Germany and Europe, as Arendt here and Strauss eloquently testify, he didn’t stop being that person in his politics. His politics is an extension of his philosophy. There is no difference between the two. But to find out how this is true requires study (not grandiose assertions that he must be excluded from philosophy like Faye – who is the “philosopher” Faye to exclude anyone from philosophy? - nor cursory references to a few things he thought – Strauss or Harvey Mansfield on “resoluteness” which is at most surface and misleading).
In turn, all references to Heidegger being “subordinate” to Nazi “ideology” (Kirsch) are silly; Heidegger had his own profound reasons for supporting National Socialism and the genocide, and one must take in Heidegger at some depth to see those reasons, understand the particular path he took to become a monster.
Third, the main point of my posts (I will put up the second one this week) is that Heidegger saw Platonism, from 1926 on (his first published lectures on Ancient Philosophy) as the key to fascism – the dominion of philosopher-guardians who determine all social and political rules – and that this culminated in his lectures on the cave-metaphor in 1943. This is far better evidence about what Heidegger thought – how he saw the nature of philosopher-rule – than any of the patchy or surface allusions later. A review of Emmanuel Faye’s book in the Sunday New York Times by Adam Kirsch last weekend rightly argues that Faye’s attempt to rule out Heidegger as a philosopher because he is a Nazi and still dangerous, is false. What Kirsch does not note is that Faye manages to produce a several hundred page book which discusses lectures without considering any of Heidegger’s actual philosophical arguments: Faye isn’t up to dealing with Heidegger.
Yet these documents, as Faye suggests, are sometimes damning. But Kirsch makes the point that Heidegger’s affection for Hitler was most directly expressed in courses in 1933-35 and that Faye’s argument then becomes implausibly circumstantial.
“Faye, an authority on Descartes, is driven to this pitch of accusation by his study of the seminars, till now untranslated or unpublished, that Heidegger taught during 1933-35 in the first flush of his Nazi enthusiasm [sic – he had long been pro-Nazi]. In these classes, Faye proves beyond doubt, we do witness ‘the introduction of Nazism into philosophy,’ the outright transformation of Heidegger’s thought into a tool of Nazi ideology. The more familiar a reader is with Heidegger’s work, the more shocking it will be to see him employ his key terms – being, existence, decision – as euphemisms for nationalism and Fuehrer-worship. Thus we find him, in the winter of 1933-34, declaring ‘that the question of the awareness of the will of the community is a problem that is posed in all democracies, but one that of course can become fruitful only when the will of the Fuehrer and the will of the people are identified in their essence.’ At the same time, Heidegger tells his students – ‘many of whom,’ Faye points out, ‘were to become combatants at the beginning of the following decade on the Eastern Front’ – that ‘to a Semitic nomad,’ the ‘nature of our German space’ is inherently foreign.”
Note that the last reference (I haven’t studied the notes) is plainly genocidal in intent, with regard to Germany. Hitler was not foreign to Heidegger’s thinking (as Kirsch tries to suggest, we may want then to question what it is that is fascinating about Heidegger – but actually there are many moves, many paths through the woods rather than a lone path to the technology of genocide – a particularly ironic point about Heidegger – that one could take).
Bertolt Brecht once wrote of a German mass murderer during German defeat and the devastating inflation of 1923 who prepared the flesh of his victims to be sold on the black market as “fancy potted meat.” They shouldn’t have executed him Brecht said, for he showed German conscientious, discipline, resoluteness and entrepeneurship. Instead, they should have given him a Ph.d. Heidegger’s critique of technology named what Heidegger became. His lovers, students and friends were (often) jews. He advocated their murder. About Heidegger’s and the national socialist technology of genocide, Brecht was prescient.
Will Altman has suggested to me that Heidegger’s own ambiguity about fighting in World War I – he was a medic, who could have sacrificed himself but did not, could have killed and run a high risk of dying, and was at a deliberate remove from the “the beauty of it hot” of which he became forever a guilt-ridden celebrant. During World War II, he wrote a letter to a mother of a student killed in Russia. He intended his students to be willing to die for the Fatherland, thought this was genuine compared to the “emptiness” of mainsteam discourse – was right about the latter, which is a venial sin, and wrong, profoundly, an advocate and accomplice of genocide, about the former. One had best be careful, with Heidegger, in asserting too loudly “ethics does not exist” because other humans are so hideous. Martin Heidegger sets so negative an example that it underlines the virtue of ethics, for instance, that every human life is of infinite value. Still, Faye has the angry insight because it was Heidegger’s intention to engage his students in war for Hitler, what he did.
Faye’s point on the 1933-35 lectures is a good one. Tracy and I also note here and elsewhere, Heidegger used terms like “Sturm” or “authenticity” with a direct political significance: storm troopers, Germans realizing their being, their historicity, their ambition to die authentically or self-consciously in serving the will of the Fuehrer.
But Faye and the reviewer Kirsch are, once again, wrong in the way they see it. There was no “transformation of Heidegger’s thought into a tool of Nazi ideology.” Heidegger’s views, though as I insist in the posts different turnings are possible from his arguments, are straightforwardly national socialist, call forth national socialism, and in so far as they are serious philosophical arguments (they often are spell-binding philosophical arguments), have a national socialist upshot. Both want to ban this feature from Heidegger’s philosophy, to make it something else - something awful and “ideological” that can be easily set aside - or a brief turning to ideology, motivated by a “flush of enthusiasm.” It is, as Strauss recognized, nothing of the kind.
But more importantly, what the 1943 Essence of Truth shows is that Heidegger’s national socialism came directly from reflection on the cave in Plato’s Republic and that it represented the subtle pinnacle of at least 20 years of reflection on ancient thought. Heidegger’s original Nazism, being Platonic, is not outside of his “philosophy” or just in some lectures “in the first flush” of his enthusiasm for Hitler, but entirely integrated into his Platonic/existential way of questioning, of seeking Being.
Kirsch debunks a silly inference of Faye’s only in order to suggest misguidedly that Heidegger returned to, as it were, the “airy realm” of philosophy. This is the ideology (the Arendtian apologetic turn; she at least had been his lover…). No, he was a philosopher whose thinking led to national socialism in the 1920s, throughout the war, and as he repeatedly hinted, until his death. The need to divide his career into great philosophical achievement, “brief ideology” (sic - there were at minimum 17 years of Nazi activism, 1928 at Locarno to 1945), return to philosophy was what Kirsch was trying to struggle against (the Arendt view on his 80th birthday in 1973), and what, like a fly caught in ideological gelatin, he does not escape:
“Faye’s achievement is to demonstrate in these texts, the very fusion of man and thinker that Heidegger was later so concerned to deny. Yet the seminars and the speeches Faye analyzes date mainly from the period 1933-35 – that is, the year of Heidegger’s rectorship and just afterward, when his Nazism was flagrant. To show that he remained a Nazi until 1945, or even for the rest of his life, would require finding similar forms of propaganda in Heidegger’ work throughout these years.”
But the categories were not Nazi “propaganda”; they were Heidegger thinking, on the basis of his philosophy, about what it led to politically. The thinking sometimes is bizarrely stupid, giving a poetic formulation to some Nazi practices, and murderous. But on some level, that is what Heidegger’s whole philosophy is about, what his Platonic politics amounts to. He makes a striking move to discuss being in the world and being toward death. He elaborates it with linguistic subtlety and artistry. He is the fascinating riddler or the “little magician of Messkirch” as his students called him, according to Karl Jaspers (a leading student). He relies on metaphors, not on political thinking, to approach and support whatever the Nazis were doing. He was an agent, not a “prisoner.”
This ideology about Heidegger broadly parallels the ideology about Leo Strauss. Strauss has a few sentences saying he is a “constitutional democrat” in the midst of lengthy denunciations of it just as Heidegger avers, post-War, he really cooperated with national socialism while “resisting” it. Both affirm surface writing or speech, warn Platonically of a different meaning available to those who can hear them. With Arendt and many French and American followers, Heidegger is simply the great philosopher and teacher who strayed into Nazism (betrayed by the awful Hitler, not himself a stalwart or even original nurturer among his students of Hitlerism). It is a bit much that he never straightfordly criticizes the genocide but even if one were to denounce him, this foolish ideology separates the goodness of his philosophy (which actually is way smart and interesting) from his "ideological dalliances."
Similarly, with the Zuckerts, Nathan Tarcov and many other followers, Strauss is a “constitutional democrat.” He may have been a reactionary, a fascist in the 1930s, but he is really a supporter of the constitution in America. Heinrich Meier, in the lineage of Carl Schmitt at Munich and favoring the “Marian-like conquistadors,” those who commited genocide against indigenous people, eyes to heaven, under the banner of the Mother of Christ, progenitor of the myth that Strauss “became Strauss” because of his study of Plato (and Xenophon), follows in Strauss’s footsteps of esoterica. The others may (though perhaps do not) actually believe the surface slogan.
Again, what Heidegger’s twenty year meditations on the cave metaphor show is that his own defense of National Socialism passed through a modern (hence, different in context or worse in practical consequence) reflection on Plato’s authoritarianism, on philosopher rule. Strauss did not “become Strauss” against his previous Reactionary politics by going back to the Greeks. Instead, Strauss was mesmerized by Heidegger in the 1920s, went back to Aristotle and then Plato with Heidegger, understood and followed Heidegger’s national socialism, and recycled Heidegger's vision of Plato when he “became Strauss.” The only originality, as I say in the other posts, is his naming more directly the surface writing/hidden meaning distinction, a Platonic distinction which Heidegger also follows even in his 1943 commentary on Plato (see here - note also this is the originality that Leo and his daughter Jenny Strauss Clay both claim for him).
Having mislabeled Heideggers 1933-35 lectures “propaganda,” Kirsch both defends the prevailing ideology about Heidegger later on (he rises again into the clouds of philosophy), and as we will see, insightfully directs the reader’s attention to an error of Faye.
“But unlike the seminars Faye has unearthed, Heidegger’s writing from that later period is well known, and aside from a few notorious instances, overt Nazi rhetoric simply isn’t there.
Again, the Essence of Truth is just point-blank counter-evidence to this assertion. No one who reads it with attention could possibly say something so bizarre (it is a problem to ask an editor of the New Republic to write on Heidegger, the kind of thing that Heidegger mocked repeatedly – see "Mirrors," part 1 here). Thus, Heidegger’s Platonic exposition of how the philosopher-guardians, through their “freely thinking inquiry,” set all the rules for the society is like an elephant in the room. Faye and Kirsch, though both making interesting points, join with Arendt in being enablers, staggering slightly drunkenly around the roaring Nazi Heidegger. "No, no," they shout, "he is a 'nice philosopher.'" He was smart and calculated and there wasn’t a sliver of naivete to him. Neither Faye nor Kirsch actually look at what he argued, that is, the philosophy.
To put it another way, both assert, without reading (Heidegger mocked this ordinary “intellectual” practice for a reason). Thus, Kirsch looks for evidence of an external ‘ideology’ or “propaganda,” and misses the Platonic Nazism, yawning before him. It is the purpose of my posts to underline the subtlety and originality of Heidegger’s reading of Plato and how this led him to be for the Nazis at Stalingrad (just then) and the gas chambers (just then). I suspect (most people don’t read arguments straight up), many will turn away from this dazzling, if frightening insight. Still, elephants are, one might think, hard to miss.
But Kirsch then knocks over Faye’s argument, pointing out rightly that he does not get it from the texts before 1933 or after 1935:
“In order to bolster his case then, Faye must resort to some dubious methods. Quoting a memorandum written by Hitler in December, 1932, Faye suggests that its language and ideas resemble Heidegger’s. Since it appears materially impossible that the Fuehrer could have written entirely by himself all his speeches and memos, Faye goes on, and since ‘we do not know precisely what Heidegger’s activities were from July 1932 to April 1933’ – and Faye doesn’t quite spell it out, but he is certainly implying that Heidegger was functioning as Hitler’s ghost writer.”
“But the weakness of this inference only underscores the problems with Faye’s overall case.” Kirsch rightly says, ”he wants us to stop thinking about Heidegger by expelling him from the ranks of philosophers.” But Kirsch, by accepting Faye’s interpretation of the evidence and not reading or questioning further, misses the centrality of philosopher-Nazism emerging from and then “liberating” the cave.
For the 1943 version of the Essence of Truth: Plato’s ‘cave-metaphor” and the Theaetetus is much more directly and self-consciously national socialist – once again a Platonically inspired National Socialism – than these 1933-35 lectures.
Tracy put me onto the central quote from Essence of Truth which aligns with my interpretation of Plato: what Plato taught his students was that philosophers counsel a certain kind of tyrant to become wise and rule without laws (or rule by siccing some guardians to prune out or thought-control the rest of us). In his letter, Tracy indicates wonderfully how Heidegger’s notion of authoritarian decision or leadership plays a role even in Heidegger’s affectations at Freiburg, for instance, Heidegger naming himself in 1933 “Rektor-Fuehrer” in place of the now again common “Magnificenz”, an identification with “der Fuehrer,” and an amazing act of “naivete and arrogance.”
But I wonder if “naivete” isn’t too kind. He just seems to have been a Nazi, and that was the straightforward application he gave to his thinking. “Naivete” is part of the rhetoric of excuse for Heidegger, started by Arendt and unintentionally echoed by Kirsch. There was nothing naïve here; he would have generated a national socialism of his own perhaps without genocide against Jews, though he seems pretty toxic about Jews, pretty straightfordly a philosophical bigot. Nonetheless, genocide against the slaves, the Roma, homosexuals, union leaders, etc. was on. Consider Loewith’s report of his views in 1936 when they met in Italy (Loewith, a Jew, had been Heidegger’s research assistant and, unlike Strauss, was always pretty sarcastic about the philosophical argument; he, unlike Klein and Strauss, was a reactionary but never a Jewish sympathizer with the national revolution): Heidegger spoke of the dangers of “Jew-Bolsheviks.”
And “arrogance” is not tough enough. Perhaps “evil” is the right word.
Even vis-à-vis Tracy’s comment on my post, however, what The Essence of Truth (1943) shows is that Heidegger was, in his enduring thinking, a creative Platonist, a Platonic existentialist, an inter-linker of the cave metaphor, the Sophist and the Seventh Letter with the outlook of Being and Time. Through taking in one’s “ownmost” mortality, one’s being toward death, one moves out of the realm of alienation, of the “one” into which one is fallen, and becomes capable of authentic decision, of responding to the destiny of one’s time, of joining the mit-sein of the German people, of realizing oneself in dying for the Fatherland, for the Fuehrer. Starting from existence and mortality, these ideas are strikingly original and useful (in certain places). One could describe the authenticity in one’s life, of grasping that one is not here forever, that one had better make the time count, do what one came for. “What I do is me, for that I came” – Gerard Manley Hopkins. Or Thoreau, see here. Connecting this with racist collectivism and Nazism is a move Heidegger makes; his initial insight by no means requires any one else to make the same dumb, but not inconsistent move.
Heidegger thought the modern age, the age of the last men, of technology, of comfortable, superficial academia, a horror. A collective problem, he wanted to transform it collectively. The leaders talk of peace, as Brecht said, and send millions to their graves. This has to be transformed by authentic individuals joining a collective to obey to the death the words of Adolf Hitler, to put Germany on top. With only some distortion of Nietzsche's depiction of the slave revolt in morals, he identified the Jews with the modern world and technology. What was necessary to this destiny Heidegger would do or support. If I may defy Socrates here, Heidegger was “authentically” or even philosophically (plenty of deep thought) evil.
Heidegger’s argument is not anecdotes from a Der Spiegel interview (1966) or the Delphic origin to Introduction to Metaphysics (1953). It is elaborated deeply over twenty years (and all the material about technology and metaphysics after the War is consistent with it). It is not just some plainly Nazi-referring, supposedly giddy lecture notes in 1933-35 (valuable to understand Heidegger’s thinking as these may be). Instead, it is the quality of his deepest reflection – which is real enough as even Kirsch suggests – which gets him to Nazism.
There is a vagueness to the politics itself which is creepy and becomes monstrous (this is similar to the political followers of Strauss). But Heidegger’s thinking is interesting and not – or not simply – twisted (I pointed to other ways through the woods - paths not to the gas chambers - for instance the prefiguring of deep ecology from Heidegger’s starting point).
Once again, Leo Strauss in America supposedly “became Strauss” through his studying of the ancients. As he would have known, mesmerized by Heidegger in Germany, Heidegger’s line of argument about the Republic, rooted in the Seventh Letter, is that philosophers need to counsel tyrants. See my "Do philosophers counsel tyrants?" Constellations, March 2009 on Plato and Strauss here.
Tracy’s final point is striking. At the end of his On Tyranny or Xenephon’s Hiero, his first publication in the United States (1948), Strauss comments obliquely on Heidegger. What he says is accurate enough – that Heidegger was an authoritarian personality who did the Hitler salute up, and used his Rektor-Fuehrer power to harm his own students and others who were skeptical of or against Nazism. Heidegger was not a friend (Aristotle) to anyone; he had mere friendships of “use.” Arendt was wrong about him (in this way, Strauss is a far more admirable person).
But Strauss also alludes to being concerned enough with tyranny – as he and Kojeve were - and not just “talking about Being.” As I have emphasized, see the video of the 2007 APSA debate on Strauss’s 1933 letter to Loewith here and "Do Philosophers Counsel tyrants?" here, On Tyranny begins with Xenophon’s dialogue of the wise man Simonides with the Syracusan tyrant Hiero. Hiero is dejected about tyranny; Simonides tells him how he can be a popular or beneficent tyrant ruling without laws (see Aristotle’s discussion of this in book 5 of the Politics - see here). 10 years later, in Thoughts on Machiavelli (pp. 291, 293), Strauss names this the best defense of tyranny by a classical author. Kojeve’s response, the second part of On Tyranny, blurts out in its initial title “the political conduct of philosophers (“La conduite politique des philosophes”) precisely what Strauss is doing on and just beneath the surface. The English title, slightly more Delphic, is “Tyranny and Wisdom.”
But Strauss pretends to study ancient tyranny as a revelation of the dangers of the Soviet Union, of the need for determined enmity (Schmitt; a self-deceptive cliché of Strauss students like Shulsky in the Pentagon). Tim Fuller offers that defense at length and eloquently in the APSA debate here. But he makes even the criticism of Heidegger adumbrated – without naming him – at the end of On Tyranny, as Tracy suggests, in the context of being a philosopher-tyrant or serving a tyrant who listens to “a reasonable man.” Strauss wanted Heidegger to become the philosopher-tyrant, criticizes him for chickening out. Heidegger’s relation to Hitler – he wanted to go on doing philosophy; he had no toughness in inner Party conflict (probably lucky for him; the night of the long knives in 1934 took out Rohm, gays, and many others – is the same as his relation to soldiering in World War I. He avoided the death to which he sent his most devoted and gullible students.
Strauss tried with Charles Percy – see here - but otherwise sent his political students - "gentlemen," those not so with it philosophically (not that many in academia get the esoteric Strauss) - to bring on, gradually American tyranny.
In a late letter to Gershom Scholem, December 6, 1962 (Gesammelte Schriften 3:748), Strauss noted that Hobbes spoke out more vehemently on an issue when he was “one foot in the grave”:
"When studying Hobbes, I observed that what he said and did not say was a function of the heresy laws obtaining at the time of publication of his various works. But then I saw that in one of his works published at a time of considerable restriction he was more outspoken than ever before. I was baffled until I noted that this book was published when he was already very old, with one foot in the grave, and I learned that this is conducive to courage. As for me I have had my first two heart attacks, Ergo."
“An Introduction to Heideggerian Existentialism” which Strauss published posthumously and might thus be taken as canonical, reveals that he stood in awe of Heidegger as the “great thinker of our era.” He aligned himself with Heidegger against the “soapy” collectivism of American advertising and the “iron” collectivism of the Soviet Union (Pangle ed, The Restoration of Classical Political Rationalism, p. 42; he had also done so, long before, in On Tyranny, 1948, p. 27). He looked to a kind of national socialism which differed from Hitler. There he ends by explaining being in a way which, though Delphic, is plainly in sympathy with Heidegger:
"The deepest root of the West is a specific understanding of Being, a specific experience of Being. The specifically Western experience of Being led to the consequence that the ground of grounds was forgotten, and the primary experience of Being was useful only for the investigation of beings. The East has experienced Being in a way which prevented the investigation of beings and therewith the concern for the mastery of beings.”
The East therefore escaped the dominion of technology, though under assault by the West, it experienced, in Heidegger’s phrase, “planetary technology.” Strauss continues:
“But the Western experience of Being makes possible in principle, coherent speech about Being. By opening ourselves to Being and the problematic character of the Western understanding of Being, we may gain access to the deepest root of the East.”
In Heidegger, Strauss, and one should note in Plato’s story of the cave, the light and the idea of the good, there is a common allusion here to forms of Buddhism; perhaps true national socialism had more to learn from something perversely linked to Japanese fascism than the Hitler alliance, Nazis predominant, made clear. Strauss concludes the paragraph:
“The ground of grounds which is indicated by the word ‘Being’ will be the ground not only of the religion but even of any possible gods. From here one can begin to understand the possibility of a world religion.” (Strauss, Introduction to Heideggerian Existentialism” in Pangle, ed., The Restoration of Classical Political Rationalism, 44.[i])
As Heidegger put it delphically in the title of the Der Spiegel interview, “only a god can save us.” ("Nur noch ein Gott kann uns retten"). Some boldness after death. The interview was given August 24, 1966, published by Heidegger's request only on May 31,1976, five days after Heidegger died. The reporters are almost "in the know" (they knew they had something significant; they might not quite have known what). Strauss had died three years earlier. But that Strauss and Heidegger did not have corresponding views, that Strauss, before he wrote the essay, had not read or absorbed Heidegger with the deepest attention, did not know what the moves were, is false. If one shuts one’s eyes and cover’s one’s ears about what they both detected in Plato, about what Strauss says about Heidegger’s influence on him, about both Strauss’s practice and what Strauss says about hidden writing, one can miss these points. The path will be obscured.
But if one notices the path, if one takes the first steps as I did some years ago, a superhighway, brightly lighted – the “light” - opens, revealing surprising tyrannical facet after facet, of Plato, Heidegger, Strauss, of philosophical or imitation (Strauss) reaction.
Lest one find Strauss’s comments on Heidegger here too ambiguous, the essay earlier states the vision of Nietzsche:
“No one questioned this communistic vision with greater energy than Nietzsche. He identified the man of the communist world society as the last man, that is to say, as the extreme degradation of man. This did not mean, however, that Nietzsche accepted the noncommunist society of the nineteenth century or its future. Like all continental European conservatives, he saw in communism only the consistent completion of democratic egalitarianism and the liberalist demand which was not a freedom for but only a freedom from.”
Note that Strauss, like Nietzsche and Heidegger, never understood or sympathized with the idea of equal freedom or equal basic rights on which a democratic regime rests. Many heroes like my friend Andy Goodman or Martin Luther King gave their lives to fight for those rights. This was equal freedom for decency; in contrast, what Nietzsche prefigures and Heidegger and Strauss advocate is the rule of the national socialist leader, everyone’s duty to realize their being “authentically” in the decision of some Hitler, or in Strauss’s case, some less “insane tyrant.”
Strauss continues to elaborate this mad, somewhat-Nietzschean vision (of which Heidegger proposed a variant):
“But in contradistinction to the European conservatives, he saw that conservatism as such is doomed.”
Recall that Strauss often said of himself “I am not a conservative.”
“For all merely defensive positions are doomed. The future was with democracy and with nationalism. And both were regarded by Nietzsche as incompatible with what he saw to be the task of the twentieth century. [Recall Heidegger’s antipathy to democracy in the Der Spiegel interview] He saw the twentieth century to be the age of world wars, leading up to planetary rule. If man were to have a future, this rule would have to be exercised by a united Europe. And the enormous task of such an iron age could not possibly be discharged, he thought, by weak and unstable governments dependent upon democratic public opinion.”
Nietzsche’s goal, Strauss formulates at the very end of his life, was racist Euopean domination of nonwhite peoples through world war (it should be said: Nietzsche did not publish this material; it was published out of notes compiled later by Elizabeth Foerster-Nietzsche). This domination reflected a hatred of democracy and “democratic public opinion.” Nietzsche recommends the rule of a few, perhaps Heidegger’s later Platonic philosopher-guardians, ruling tyrannically.
“The new situation required the emergence of a new aristocracy. It had to be a new nobility, a nobility formed by a new ideal. This is the most obvious meaning, and for this reason also the most superficial meaning of his notion of the superman; all previous notions of human greatness would not enable man to face the infinitely increased responsibility of the planetary age.”
Recall again, Heidegger on national socialism and “planetary technology.” Strauss warns the subtle reader that an “obvious meaning” of superman is the “most superficial meaning.” He then tells the reader openly who will rule this grotesque racist tyranny in secret:
“The invisible rulers of that possible future would be the philosophers of the future.”
In case the reader does not get that this is the same political message as Heidegger’s in 1943 about the philosopher-guardians, Strauss drums it home:
“It is certainly not an overstatement to say that no one has ever spoken so greatly and so nobly of what a philosopher is than Nietzsche.”
Whether or not Strauss ever read the 1943 version of The Essence of Truth, between hearing Heidegger lecture, studying Being and Time, thinking about Plato and exoteric/esoteric writing, he got the message exactly and profoundly. What Strauss calls “greatness” and “nobility” is, of course, the mass murder and domination of millions of nonwhite people, the smashing of democracies (and communism) through world wars, and the rule of “invisible philosophers” – a secret, Heideggerian society of Platonist national socialists – over the rest of the deluded. The latter are gulled by stories of “the god who saves us”. (Plato, Laws,708-711, Strauss, Action and Argument of Plato’s Laws). Fascists and national socialists – notably Strauss - make words into their opposites. Many of Heidegger's words, for instance "liberate" the cave have nothing to do with human freedom, and are empty (Similarly, Strauss's Liberalism Ancient and Modern defines liberalism for neither age and is a relentless enemy of modern liberalism, See here and here). Here unending horror and villainy as an alternative to nuclear war and Strauss’s idealized return to the spring of humanity, the cave age (given his contempt for the last men, he neither understood nor feared nuclear extinction). See the end of On Tyranny and my discussion of this here.
Strauss identified with and wished for genocides and racism; that is who he is in relation to Heidegger. Listen to the sinister, slightly crazed and sublime, obsequious babbling:
“This is not to deny that the philosophers of the future as Nietzsche described them remind one much more than Nietzsche himself seems to have thought of Plato’s philosopher."
The exact thought of Heidegger’s 1943 Essence of Truth is brought forward here of Nietzsche who was “in tendency a fascist” (Pangle ed, p. 31). In this posthumous essay, Strauss whistles his allegiance to Heidegger, gets the tune, a genuine, philosophical “Horst Wessel Lied,” perfectly.
“For while Plato had seen the features in question as clearly as Nietzsche, and perhaps more clearly than Nietzsche [Strauss, like Heidegger is a Platonic National socialist] he had intimated rather than stated his deepest insights.”
“But there is one decisive difference between Nietzsche’s philosophy of the future and Plato’s. Nietzsche’s philosopher of the future is an heir to the Bible.”
Note Heidegger and Strauss are Nietzschean philosophers of the future, heirs to or transformers of the Bible (the root of the East in the West, says Strauss at p. 41).
“He is an heir to the deepening of the soul that is effected by the Biblical belief in a God that is holy.”
“Only a God can save us,” Heidegger entitles his posthumous Der Spiegel interview. He seeks the Platonic use of religion:
SPIEGEL: Fine. But now the question of course poses itself: Can the individual still influence this network of inevitabilities at all [planetary technology], or can philosophy influence it, or can they both influence it together in that philosophy leads one individual or several individuals to a certain action?
HEIDEGGER: Those questions bring us back to the beginning of our conversation. If I may answer quickly and perhaps somewhat vehemently, but from long reflection: Philosophy will not be able to bring about a direct change of the present state of the world. This is true not only of philosophy but of all merely human meditations and endeavors. Only a god can still save us. I think the only possibility of salvation left to us is to prepare readiness, through thinking and poetry, for the appearance of the god or for the absence of the god during the decline; so that we do not, simply put, die meaningless deaths, but that when we decline, we decline in the face of the absent god."
Strauss's essay means to conjure Heidegger.
“The philosopher of the future as distinct from the classical philosopher, will be concerned with the holy.” (Pangle, ed., pp. 40-41).
No, as we can see from the Laws, Plato’s tyrant invokes a God and so do Heidegger and Strauss. This statement is surface, a seeming appeal to holiness to dress the tyrant in the garb of a god. Plato's Laws, 708-711, and the Seventh Letter here reveal the secret that Strauss is gesturing at, not Nietzsche, and except indirectly or delphically, not Heidegger.
Strauss’s chance at influence at Chicago got the best of him. He could have been silent politically and taught creatively – and there would have been no such influence. Instead, he set in motion the sect. The ideas the sect mobilized around were authoritarian “executive power” and “prerogative” refitted to an American context, by Herbert Storing and Robert Goldwin. “Et humiliter serviebant et superbe dominabantur“ - Strauss might look in the mirror of what he said in 1948 about Heidegger. This influence culminated in a foolish and lying American neoconservative aggression in Iraq which Strauss might well have opposed. See John Mearsheimer on the Germanic formation of Leo Strauss here and here. One should be careful of letting loose a sect – the Sorcerer’s Apprentice here is not just a political tale.
The 1943 Essence of Truth makes it plain that the origins of this idea were in Platonic advice to tyrants, Heideggerian visions of philosopher-guardians creating national socialist rules, being the carriers out of genocide. Later, these same philosophers might recover an authochthonic Greece-Germany, save the planet from technology. Seeing, in Heidegger’s words, eyes high, hard and clear…
Heidegger was not Rosenberg or Eichmann or Mengele. But Heidegger’s philosophizing descended until he deported the same victims. That is the secret of The Essence of Truth.
“Dear Alan -- I am in England and can't print this out (I am so old fashioned still) and can't completely follow on my tiny screen. A couple of thoughts though: I think the Heidegger matter is in some ways better and worse than what I read from you.
1. the 1953 "inner truth and greatness" is not an espousal of Nazism but (worse or better?) a declaration that what happened to the NSDAP had "nothing to do" with the "inner truth and greatness" of the movement. (Ie there is something else that should have happened.)
2. In the Spiegel interview he is clear and explicit that he does not think democracy adequate to the times.
3. His assumption of the title of Fuehrer (rather than the traditional and still used "Magnifisenz") should probably be read as an attempt to take over then current and bell-ringing terms and give them (he wanted) deeper philosophical significance. There is a naivete and arrogance in this that stuns.
Finally, Strauss concludes his “restatement” to Kojève with this:
Both of us appear to turn our attention away from Being and toward tyranny because we saw that those who lacked the courage to face the consequences of tyranny, who therefore et humiliter serviebant et superbe dominabantur, were at the same time forced to escape the consequences of Being precisely because they did nothing but speak about Being.
The Latin quote is a slight paraphrase of Livy and means “themselves obsequiously subservient while arrogantly lording it over others.” (History of Rome, XXIV, 25: the context is a pair of villains taking over from a tyrant and using the power to their own interests and advantage). The target here is obviously Heidegger; Strauss is saying that it is precisely because Heidegger did not have the courage to face tyranny (and to be tyrannical) that he wound up in the disaster that he did. Strauss's point here is that tyranny may be necessary. Note that this is in 1948.
[ia] "HEIDEGGER: During the past thirty years, it should meanwhile have become clearer that the planetary movement of modern technology is a power whose great role in determining history can hardlybe overestimated. A decisive question for me today is how a political system can be assigned to today’s technological age at all, and which political system would that be? I have no answer to this question. I am not convinced that it is democracy.
SPIEGEL: Democracy is merely a collective term that can encompass very different conceptions. The question is whether a trans-formation of this political form is still possible. After 1945 you gave your opinions on the political aspirations of the Western world and in the process you also spoke about democracy, about the political expression of the Christian worldview, and also about the constitutional state – and you called all these aspirations 'halves.'
HEIDEGGER: Let me first ask you where I spoke about democracy and all the other things you mentioned. I would indeed describe them as halves because I don’t think they genuinely confront the technological world. I think that behind them there is an idea that technology is in its essence something human beings have under their control. In my opinion, that is not possible. Technology is in its essence something that human beings cannot master of their own accord."
[i] The word political in the title, The Restoration of Classical Political Rationalism, is carefully chosen by Thomas Pangle, a close and gifted student of Strauss. It refers delphically to the rule of a wise tyrant without laws. Strauss’s posthumous essays are, and are intended to be, inimical to democracy…