Saturday, June 18, 2011

Being and Time on historicity and Hitler, part 1

That Heidegger was an active Nazi until the defeat of Hitler (the Gestapo checked him out and gave him a clean bill of health in 1938), hoped for Nazi victory, and never gave up his affection for true National Socialism is no longer in doubt. Emmanuel Faye's Heidegger: The Introduction of Nazism into Philosophy in Light of the Unpublished Seminars of 1933-1935 and Charles Bambach, Heidegger's Roots,spell out his activity from the 1933 through the War. Further, Heidegger did an interview, which he only allowed to be published in Der Spiegel posthumously, saying that democracy was not the answer to the problem of planetary technology. He remained true to the goals of National Socialism against what he saw as technological domination, the Soviet Union, the United States and post-war Germany. Finally, the BBC movie on Heidegger, “Thinking the Unthinkable,” collects much of the ugly material which has accrued on his personal depravity over the last 20 years, and the fact that he never recanted it. See here (h/t Brian Leiter).

Some Heidegger scholars have been interested in separating his philosophy – or his role as a theorist – from his despicable political action. They imagine that he stumbled into Nazism, and quickly retreated – not just from the Rectorship at Freiburg, which he resigned after a year, but from a vision of imperial authoritarian rule - into the “clouds” (cf. Aristophanes, “The Clouds”). See here Others are misled by the abstractness of Being and Time (1927). It could not and did not have, they think, an obvious political point. He just somehow stumbled into Nazism on May Day, 1933, along with Carl Schmitt (two of the first three leading German intellectuals who joined the Party); it was not - it could not have been - prefigured in his great philosophical work.

But as his student, Hans-georg Gadamer put it acidly in an essay, one of his friends met him on the tram in Freiburg shortly after he resigned the Rectorship. “Back from Syracuse?” the friend asked. This is, of course, an allusion to Plato’s three year journey to advise the tyrant Dionysius the younger of Syracuse to become a philosopher-king (what Plato says he advised him in the Seventh Letter is, however, to rule by laws). That a central surprising – to American and French enthusiasts - strain in Heidegger’s Nazism and in Being and Time was a reactionary interpretation of Plato, founded in his continuing lectures on the Greeks from 1926 on, and culminating in his 1943 The Essence of Truth: on Plato’s Cave-Metaphor and the Theaetetus I have written on at length here, here, here and here. If one looks at post-War editions of The Essence of Truth, Plato is carved out, and the distinct Nazism – that the guardians of the king or tyrant (he who rules without laws, but “wisely”) will be philosophers and set all the regulations for society – paragraph 13 – is omitted. Heidegger was a cagier writer than many of his interpreters take in, especially those who have a need not to see the elements in his philosophy which are plainly pro-Nazi and which envisioned Nazism even in the 1920s.*

When Heidegger wrote Being and Time, he was up for Husserl’s professorship – the phenomenologist and Heidegger’s teacher/initial philosophical inspiration - at Freiburg.** Any faculty member known to be a Nazi was fired in Weimar universities until Hitler came to power. This is quite a motivation to keep one’s affections secret until the moment they could be expressed (May 1, 1933). That Heidegger was one of the first three major intellectuals to declare his love for Hitler has not been given adequate weight…In the BBC film, the point is rightly made that Heidegger took the lead in mobilizing philosophy students and young people generally to the Nazis, helped consolidate their power when it was still shaky. Though the interviewees in the film exaggerate Heidegger’s influence, it was real enough.

From Emmanuel Faye (pp. 19-20), one can learn that Elfrida Heidegger, Martin’s wife, a former student of economics, was already a Nazi in the early 1920s, and tried to recruit Heidegger’s students she (and probably he) imagined sympathetic (amusingly, she agitated Gunther Anders, a blond Jew, whom she mistook for a likely member of the master race; Anders reports that she and Heidegger referred to the Nazi slogan Blut und Boden - Blood and Soil - familiarly as "Blubo"). This is a political tactic, perhaps a shell game. As pro-Nazi, Heidegger would have had to have been crafty about, not to speak openly of, his affections.

Further, Heidegger was a student of Plato who, in the Seventh Letter (mentioned in the very passage of the 1943 work which involves Heidegger’s National Socialist interpretation of the Republic), says that he cannot reveal the truth about legislation in writing. One will have to divine it by careful reading and deciphering of clues; it will then light in the soul like a spark and never go out….

Heidegger would thus have but emulated Plato in not quite making the practical truth of his affections known. That Plato is much more complicated about democracy than Heidegger – a friend of democracy against tyranny, for example – escapes Heidegger entirely (see here, here, and here).***

The thesis of this post and a subsequent one is that Being and Time points straightforwardly toward Nazism. If one reads Heidegger trying to detect some practical stance, the whole section on Historicity (part v) opens up and can have little other meaning. As I have emphasized before, Heidegger’s argument – and its originality – consist in a number of steps. Some of these can easily be separated – though Heidegger does not do so – from the affection for Hitler (and the beauty of Hitler’s hands, see here) which is the upshot of what he argues. Further, it is Heidegger’s affection for the pre-reflective life - the Being-in-the-world - of the German farmer which helps generate his Nazism (the alternative of restoring or enlarging “German greatness” as opposed to going down the road of urbanism, communism, Jewishness). The philosophical creativity is real here – the sense that Heidegger stakes out a whole new and very creative direction in philosophy, shows that many problems or initial steps are badly stated, lead nowhere, and are perhaps even foolish (Descrates’s most notably, but even Husserl’s – is what is exhilarating in reading Being and Time and has influenced many people. But Leo Strauss’s phrase that Heidegger is in philosophy what Hilter was in politics is, sadly, more accurate than not.

For example, Heidegger begins from “Being there” – Dasein – in the midst of the world, involved practically in it. Things are vorhandene – before the hand, i.e., nature – or shaped to the hand (zuhandene). One is engaged in the world – has concerns or care (Sorge), very much as for Heidegger’s teacher Husserl, all consciousness is intentional, is consciousness of something, or, in Heidegger’s conception, a mood toward or about something. For Heidegger, this engagement in the world is paradigmatically, though unsaid in Being and Time, that of a farmer in the Schwarzwald (he himself kept a now famous hut in Todtnauberg - see below and the BBC movie - where he wrote and split wood, and spoke in a Swabian dialect which stood out among more urban professors). This culminates a powerful theme in German thought. For example, when Max Weber speaks of the “disenchantment of the world” of modern capitalism and formal rationality (calculating), he is talking about what Heidegger calls “falling into the one” (das Man) or Marx commodity fetishism. Weber is a Nietzschean, on the German imperial right (in “Science as a Vocation,” he speaks of waking in a thousand years and seeing German faces…see my Democratic Individuality, chs. 9-12).

Heidegger’s vision of engaged life takes Weber’s metaphor of “disenchantment” and works out a whole, novel direction in philosophy countering it. It is perhaps no wonder that Being and Time, obscure as it is, found a wide resonance among German readers in the late 1920s (the understanding may not have been deep, but the direction Heidegger represented struck a chord far broader even than his being, in Hannah Arendt's words, a “secret king in philosophy”).

Following Heidegger’s broader argument, one can, however, imagine others – for example, artisans, or workers or writers being equally “thrown” into, engaged in the world.* That is the attractiveness of Being and Time, a spell deliberately created by Heidegger, although what he means just below the surface is, peasant life and Being-towards-death (Sein zum Tode) as creating an authenticity of self-aware sacrifice for the Fatherland. The term authentic or taking ownership of oneself (eigentlich) seems to refer to individuals, and has often been misread that way. But actually, as we will see below in part V on Historicity, Heidegger was thinking that Dasein invests itself in a destiny (Schicksal) which is part of the fate (Geschick) of one’s generation. “Individual” authenticity is part of the collective authenticity of a people, blindly doing the Hilter salute (he signed his own memos alliteratively in 1933, “Heil Hitler Heidegger). This is not only anti-individuality, but the notion of authenticity in Heidegger’s Nazism is the antithesis of being one’s own person or, minimally, decency. Of course, Heidegger saw himself as the authentic philosopher-advisor to the tyrant, the guide to restoring and advancing Germany as the world ruler. He alone (and Hitler as his advisee) would realize the truth behind the national vision to which everyone else would (slavishly) bow down, march…

But Heidegger would pay a price as a quasi-concealed, academic, national socialist and not an activist. He had no chance to get close to Hitler; Hitler had little interest in him except briefly, through others, as a useful subordinate among professors and students. Heidegger's subsequent role as Rector of Freiburg, zealously praising Hitler and the Nazis, going out of his way to harm the racially and politically "deficient" (for instance, the future Nobel Prize winner in chemistry Hermann Staudinger, whom he sought to ban from the University and deny a pension),accomplished little. He retired in frustration after a year not because his vision had shifted as he later lied to the French post-war investigating commission, but because he could not get near enough to power to counsel Hitler.

In quasi-musical terms, both of these themes in Being and Time – the abstract or somewhat misleading one that most readers take up part of, the political one which I will explore the culmination of in section V on Historicity – are woven together throughout the book.

In fact, the abstract slogan under which Being and Time operates, is, if one dwells on it, obviously misleading. Being and Time claims to raise the question of being, to substitute ontology for metaphysics. But actually, it mainly focuses on Dasein and Being-in-the-world (the being through whom the question of being comes into question…). In actuality, it is more concerned with what would be called existentialism, not by Heidegger, but rather, in the 1950s revival of Heidegger by Sartre and Arendt,***** than with ontology (except to probe everything, to get beyond the “ontic” dimension, to see Dasein uncannily and unforgettably, to start philosophy in a new way). It is actually – also and really - an argument about life in Germany (and perhaps more broadly in the world) with a political culmination.

Living at home in the world is always a possibility and sometimes a reality as Heidegger’s new vision of philosophy indicates. He reached for what he imagined as a glittering image of pre-reflective existence, of a kind of ordinary (though capable of self-awareness) non-alienatedness in the world. But Heidegger also overlooks the bitterness of much rural life. German serfs were not treated as men and were subjected to remarkable abuses - consider the great Peasant War in Germany of 1525 led by Thomas Munzer (see Friedrich Engels, The Peasant War in Germany), the demands of farmers in the Revolution of 1848, echoing those of the French Revolution (see my Marx’s Politics), and the fact that peasants were foundering under landlord and capitalist oppression during the Weimar Republic. Heidegger’s favorite Nazi slogan: Blut und Boden (blood and soil) has a lot to do with the “noble” sacrifice of peasant’s lives for worldwide conquest, not with a pre-reflective engagement with the soil. If his politics were always to the extreme right, saturated in World War I (something he meditated on, though he served only as an inspector in Freiburg, and near the front in the last months of the War as a metereologist – warning others which way the poison gas might blow). In terms of resoluteness (Entschlossenheit), he was more successfully though artificially a peasant in life than a soldier. (Heidegger’s parents, Friedrich and Johanna, were both peasants - the father an artisan and chaplain as well - in rural Messkirch, and his garb and retreat were and were not an affectation.)

Here are four powerful features of Heidegger’s argument. The first is that Dasein is in, not against nature. So the dominion of technology, characteristic of capitalism as a domineering entity (in both Marx and Heidegger) is not an obvious or simple fate for humanity. When Heidegger speaks in his posthumous interview of the confrontation of man and planetary technology, he seems to see forward to the destructiveness of modern war – the saturation of the Middle East by the United States with depleted uranium which has infected and killed many Americans as well since the first gulf War, the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the radiation leak at Fukushima (producing a great green movement in Germany and the transformation of Angela Merkel, just three weeks ago, into she who will phase out nuclear power by 2022, as well as an anti-nuclear referendum in Italy), the unabated trend toward global warming and the acidification of the seas…

Unlike most Western philosophy and religion (the notion of original sin, that nature is sinful), Heidegger does not pit man against nature. Capturing a theme of Nazism – an anti-urban theme – Heidegger wants to restore the forests at the expense of the cities. But the theme itself can be regarded, with an un-Heideggerian gloss, as a simple moral effort to preserve the natural surroundings of humanity, to sustain species and diversity, not to set humans (Dasein) over and above other species, to realize and defend, in Michael Zimmerman’s words, a deep ecology. See Zimmerman, Heidegger's Confrontation with Modernity: Technology, Politics, and Art and his essay “Heidegger and Deep Ecology” here. This is an original and deep element in Heidegger, particularly on a moral point of view, one which values human life and wellbeing (one that Heidegger eschews, falsely and foolishly, as “fishing in the muddy waters of value”).

Second, the very notion of engagement in the world – care – fits very strongly with ordinary, say working class experience, and/or the experience of women. The engagement in the world of Dasein does not privilege theory or theorizing over the world. Herbert Marcuse saw a kind of existentialist Marxism (a bit of an economic determinist one) in some of Heidegger’s formulations and this was not a bad surmise on his part.

Third, Heidegger speaks of “falling into the one.” This is a notion of alienation or an elaboration of what Marx calls commodity fetishism or Georg Lukacs, reification. The dominance of technology, as Heidegger will say later, makes Dasein not at home in the world. Heidegger aims to overcome a world of having purposes given to each of us by someone else (by “the one” - das Man) or striving for external goods (consumption) in competition with others, not being at home in, but being removed from the world, artificial, alienated, empty, a cipher, a last man – here, he casts up dangers which are also a familiar part of the Marxian and radical critique of capitalism (and socialism).

Fourth, perhaps the most important concept in the book is Being towards death (Sein zum Tode). Humans are mortal. Dasein is a stretching across a time between birth and death. One is born into a generation – thrown into a family, into certain circumstances historically (one may suffer as the Jews did in Germany or the Palestinians in the occupied territories…). And one’s fate (Schicksal) will be tied up with a larger historical destiny (Geschick) which may or may not open to oneself and one’s “generation.”

The originality of Heidegger’s argument is the settledness of peasants (and possibly other humans) in the engaged world of Dasein. One might speak of an active world here, but Heidegger’s views of truth or of a fate, a leader or a god, revealing himself, are prototypically passive. He speaks dramatically of one’s thrownness (Geworfenheit) into the world and a particular generation. It is not a dialectic, as in actual life, between activity and passivity. Thus, the Fuehrer gives Germans a choice between withdrawing from the League of Nations and subservience, he says in a 1933 political address (but the German people also created the chooser, a Nazi might also have said). The world discloses itself; philosophers do not seek it (there is something akin to Taoism in this).

Heidegger criticizes Descartes mechanical ego - I think, therefore I am - and Husserl’s transcendental ego (bracketing the immediate results of consciousness, abstaining from whether consciousness refers to external objects). One is not primarily consciousness, Heidegger argues; consciousness is not primarily of things (if things break down – if know-how does not work – then the worker is driven to think about the things themselves…). The point is to live in the world, and to see how one becomes conscious of it, let alone theoretically conscious of it, how it discloses itself, not to elevate conceptions of consciousness over life.

But much is abandoned here. For instance, any notion of freedom – consider Hegel’s three moments of the free will****** - any capacity to ask with Socrates in book 1 of the Republic – is it just? When Thrasymachus summons up justice as “nothing but the advantage of the stronger,” justice and freedom are evaded. Heidegger responds that there are no ethics, that political rule is the advantage of the stronger. He threw his own lot in with Nazism (the most terrifying and intimidating “stronger” of all).

Dasein can achieve a fate, an authentic relationship to herself, Heidegger suggests, only by facing her own death. It is not death as something that happens to someone else. It is one’s “ownmost possibility,” something not to be “outstripped” or gotten beyond. One must not suppose (it would be an error) that Dasein is what we think of as each of us separately, as individuals; nonetheless, Dasein comes to see her life in the perspective of eternity when facing death, to decide to do what it is in one to do (“What I do is me, for that I came” in the words of Gerard Manley Hopkins).

Heidegger likes the patina of individuality (though without freedom) or feints at it in his notion of Dasein. He writes a long and complicated book, precisely so that a sleepy reader will get the false interpretation: “he is really an existentialist…almost a Thoreau…agrees with human freedom…believes in the capacity to say no to authority…What, after all, is authenticity except to reject existing conventions.” But all this is superficial chatter about Heidegger.

It would be best, once again, to think of Heidegger as having a hidden meaning, one lying on the surface of his formulations but hard to take in simply – he can’t mean, he doesn’t mean that - because of their abstraction. One thinks of Strauss, profoundly a Heideggerian (Heidegger is “the one great thinker of our time,” Strauss says in his posthumously published essay on “The Origins of Heideggerian Existentialism,” he whom one cannot get beyond – an almost mystical enthusiasm…). Strauss concurs with Heidegger – with what it means to say that urban life is a mistake ("Marxism is the urbanization of the world"), only the rural a good thing.

As I have noted, Heidegger liked to dress as a peasant. He valued the German fatherland. In 1923, he participated in a demonstration celebrating Schlageter, the German soldier who died fighting the French occupation of the Ruhr. Thus, Heidegger took part in a national demonstration against the Treaty of Versailles and against the French aggression (a demonstration that appealed to justice, but from the extreme Right). Heidegger was possessed by the fact that Germany lost World War I. So there was a need for a do over, a repeat (Wiederholung), as he says repeatedly, one of his favorite words, in part V of Being and Time on historicity, and at the international meeting at Locarno of French and German intellectuals in 1929.

At Locarno, Heidegger clashed with Ernst Cassirer in what Peter Gordon has cleverly named Continental Divide. Cassirer represented the “old,” the rational, critical German philosopher and was, of course, a Jew; Heidegger represented a new direction in philosophy (and was, of course, a bigot). Cassirer wanted German-French intellectual conversation and internationalism or peace. Heidegger wanted a repeat of World War I. Strauss conjures his friend Kurt Riezler who stood with Heidegger (as did many others, including some, often reactionary Jews who were struck by Heidegger’s originality).********But what they stood for was not – as they believed or hoped – some of the innovations in Heidegger’s philosophy that were not Nazi sketched above. Heidegger also stood for the coming German revolution. His thinking led to Hitler (they were both born in 1889; once again, in Leo Strauss’s phrase, Heidegger is to philosophy what Hitler was to politics) and he was a boundless admirer of Hitler’s beautiful hands, a Nazi fetish. See here.

The decisive political move in Heidegger is that awareness of mortality, a genuine Being toward death, enables one to “go right under the gaze” or jaws of death. It enables one to affirm one’s heritage (Erbe), to fight for the restoration of Deutschland against its current humiliation. There are three stages in Heidgger’s thinking: a) medieval peasant engagement with life, b) the alienation caused by industrialization and defeat in World War I (this alienation is wrongly interpreted, Heidegger asserts, as a need for critical or rational thinking and to produce a better, modern society, i.e. liberal democracy or communism); and c) an effort to achieve a genuine understanding of what is good in heritage, to make it new, to be a Nazi. The Schwarzwald, the German forest, would, under Hitler’s leadership, rise up to dominate the world...

Dasein, as in later Heidegger, is often thought to be different from, say, though in conversation with, Japanese Buddhist understandings of the world. That is a true, but also a tame way to see it. More obviously, as his demonstrating for Schlageter manifested, German Dasein was currently prostrate before French Dasein . The German Dasein of the peasantry was also, Heidegger thought, threatened by communism in the Soviet Union and the importation of empty American things (the new of technology which has no history, no shaping to the hand, is but alien dominion from above or a “standing reserve” as Heidegger later called it).

Heidegger wants German Dasein to rise up and devour French Dasein. So to achieve a genuine fatedness as an individual (Schicksal), one must join in the destiny of one’s generation, one’s people (Geschick). Listen now to Heidegger’s words on historicity:

“If Dasein, by anticipation, lets death become powerful in itself, then as free for death, Dasein understands itself in its own superior power, the power of its finite freedom, so that in this freedom, which ‘is’ only in its having chosen to make such a choice, it can take over the powerlessness of abandonment to its having done so, and can thus come to have a clear vision for the accidents of the situation that has been disclosed. But if fateful Dasein, as Being–in-the-world, exists essentially in Being-with-Others, its historicizing is a co-historicizing and is determinative for it as destiny [Geschick]. This is how we designate the historicizing of the community, of a people. Destiny is not something that puts itself together out of individual fates, any more than Being-with-one-another can be conceived as the occurring together of several Subjects. Our fates have already been guided in advance, in our Being with one another in the same world and in our resoluteness for definite possibilities. Only in communicating and in struggling does the power of destiny become free. Dasein’s fateful destiny in and with its `generation’ goes to make up the full authentic historizing of Dasein.”(par 384, p. 436, Macquarrie and Robinson translation).

Put this in a German context of the late 1920s and “the power of destiny” for Heidegger’s generation is plainly a repeat of World War I, with an intended different outcome…He is thus willing a Nazism as German destiny here (Hitler would come to power in 1933 with some 38.5% of the vote…; many Germans were, of course, repulsed by the Nazis…).*********

To join one’s `generation’ in this way is to be authentic, as a German.

This is the very point he made, again in the style of Being and Time, in his Rectoral address at Freiburg and his defense of Hitler’s referendum to withdraw from the League of Nations. The resonant phrase: “ Alles grosse steht im Sturm “ (Everything great stands in the storm) in Heidegger’s address was a reference to Plato. An arcane meaning of Plato’s Republic is that a philosopher should not hide under the wall against a storm, as he seems to suggest in book 6, but come to rule – to be a philosopher–king or alternately, to take democratic action against tyranny. See my “Going down. Heidegger is mistaken in thinking Plato’s goal is to rule authoritarianly or tyrannically; rather, the idea is for philosophers to go down to defend democracy against tyranny, as the little city within a city, the city formed by Socrates's conversation with Glaucon and Adeimantus, that of the philosopher-defenders of justice and democracy under the threat of tyranny, may do. The second reference in Heidegger’s sentence was to the Storm Troopers in the audience, and the aim for renewed world war.

*Strauss, though an imitator, was just about as cagy. See his posthumously published “Introduction to Heideggerian Existentialism” in The Restoration of Classical Political Rationalism, ed. Thomas Pangle, which gives the game away about his admiration for Heidegger, his hatred for urban society and hence, modern liberal (conservative, liberal and radical) views of freedom of each individual. If “stadt luft macht frei” (city air makes free) even in the Middle Ages, Strauss hated cities…

**One of Heidegger’s odious acts as Rector of Freiburg was to affirm the previous Rector’s forbidding of Husserl, a retired faculty member, to use the library…

***That Socrates founded civil disobedience is beyond Heidegger and Strauss.

****In his 1933 Rectoral address, Heidegger imagines the unified workers, students and professors, and soldiers of Germany – ostracizing Jews – in the national community, supporting the Nazis. This is the genocidal purification of the University, something abhorrent - there is much to be said for academic freedom and the preservation of difference against “purification.” The Rectoral Address is the distorted culmination of what was initially an attractive position - that one is engaged in tasks for their own sake, lives engaged with a particular world, at home in it, not a life consumed by the search for money, goods, status….The adequate argument, a form of eudaimonism that includes political community – the opposite of Heidegger’s rapacious or genocidal “community” – could easily incorporate Heidegger’s insights. See my Democratic Individuality, chs. 5-8.

*****The BBC film oddly treats Arendt solely as a luminous writer against Nazism and hence, someone whose forgiveness and propagation of Heidegger – they had been lovers, but unlike Heidegger’s other affairs, achieved a mystical and intellectual connection – helped his miraculous recovery. He had rightly been banned from German universities for 5 years, under Jaspers’ urging, tried to commit suicide and was, for a spell, in a mental hospital. Hugo Ott, wonderingly and acidly, likens the recovery of Heidegger’s intellectual stock, as a world-figure in philosophy, to the German ” economic miracle.”

But Hannah Arendt is, more importantly, a brilliant political theorist, one whose resonance, even to the understanding of nonviolence (her notion of power, though she is, interestingly if perhaps on her own account confusedly, not nonviolent) and democratic community from below (consider her account of the French Resistance), is very great and unlike, Heidegger, for the good.

******First, each of us may allow our will to be sunk in particular purposes; second, each may negate any and all particlar determinations; third, each may seek to realize her will in a regime which is free for everyone. Any of us can examine our will and see these possibilities. The third moment is echoed in Rawls's original position, but is more radical; it questions any particular realization of equal freedom, and asks beyond it, is it free?.

*******Even Emmanuel Levinas who was no reactionary followed Heidegger, though perhaps uneasily…

********Many Germans resisted as in the Thaelmann brigade - one quarter Jewish Germans – which fought in Spain against Franco and Hitler or the communist party – 100,000 in the underground. Daniel Goldhagen thus too easily identifies Germanness with Heideggerian destiny. See here.

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