Evaluating Martin Heidegger is complicated by his support
for the National Socialists. Here was a man close to noted Jewish thinkers
— yet he embraced the Nazi movement. Some evil people have a few “good”
values, while some good people end up associated with serious evil.
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Author, p. Page
Some lives go full-circle, and Martin Heidegger’s life
began and ended in the Black Forest. Born 26 September 1889 in Messkirch,
he would later return to the Black Forest to escape his legacy as a Nazi
Martin Heidegger was a student of, and assistant to, Edmund Husserl, whom he succeeded in 1928 as professor
of philosophy at Freiburg. Heidegger began his rise in the academic establishment
as a phenomenologist, under the guidance of Husserl. In fact, Heidegger’s
classic work, Being and Time was published in the 1927
Yearbook for Phenomenolgy and Philosophical Research.
One of Heidegger’s students was Jean-Paul Sartre,
later the most prominent French Existentialist. Sadly, history drove the
two men apart, as Heidegger remained in Germany under the National Socialists,
even joining the Nazi Party.
Many students of philosophy have difficulty separating Heidegger’s brilliance
and use of curiously-mystic language from his support of Adolph Hitler
and the National Socialists from 1933 through 1945. It must be understood
that Heidegger, like all philosophers, was not immune to the events around
him. This observation is a contradiction of the idea that all men are responsible
for their actions, regardless of outside influences.
Heidegger, who in Sein und Zeit had spoken much of resolutely
facing death, joined the Nazis after Hitler came to power and, as Rektor
of his university, delivered an inaugural address which, fortunately
for him, is not widely read. If, as he now says, he soon abandoned Nazism,
it is the more remarkable that his resolve was kept so quiet that even
today many remain unconvinced.
- Existentialism; Kaufmann, p. 47
Professor Richard Wolin and other researches now believe Heidegger was
dedicated to the National Socialist Party, indifferent to how Hitler ruled
Though [Richard] Wolin’s grievance with Derrida is not at issue
in “Heidegger’s Children,” one can’t help feeling that, indirectly, it
is being reprised. The heart of the controversy was Wolin’s accusation
that Derrida had tailored his “far-fetched and illogical” opinions about
Heidegger’s Nazism to dodge an important question: by embracing the legendary
German thinker’s philosophy, had Derrida and other radical postmodern leftists
accepted the core of Heidegger’s dubious politics as well?
- “Heidegger’s Children”: Sins of the Father;
reviewed by James Ryerson, New York Times on the Web Book
Review; 21 December 2001
The Germany in which Heidegger lived was a country in a constant state
of war and division. Only a few years before his birth, modern Germany
was formed out of formerly feuding regions. Germany is a country with few
natural borders, leading its leaders to believe that the best way to maintain
Germany was a strong military. These military forces often collided.
Heidegger came to desire a state ruled by an elite group of soldier-philosophers.
He came to distrust the public tastes, modernity, and democratic institutions.
The National Socialists matched his vision of a new, powerful central government.
What one must wonder is how Heidegger reconciled his relationships with
students of Jewish descent with the Nazi concentration camps.
Before Heidegger became the Nazi rector of the University of
Freidburg in 1933, he served as teacher and sage to four gifted students
of assimilated German Jewish backgrounds. Hannah Arendt, who at 18 began
a three-year love affair with Heidegger, achieved fame as a political thinker.
Herbeert Marcuse, denounced by the Pope in the late 1960s, became a philosophical
guru for the New Left. Hans Jonas matured into a pioneering theorist of
environmentalism, serving as a touchstone for the German Green Party. And
Karl Lowith became a distinguished scholar of modern historical consciousness.
- “Heidegger’s Children”: Sins of the Father;
reviewed by James Ryerson, New York Times on the Web Book
Review; December 21, 2001
One reason that Heidegger may not have opposed the Nazi conquests of World
War II was the long-standing German distrust of the French. Napoleon I
had conquered Germany. As a result, many Germans still consider the French
culture a threat the German heritage. Later in life, many Germans would
view the Soviet Union in the same light. Until his death, Germany was still
an important site of the Cold War between Communism and Western democracies.
Heidegger is known to have referred to the “inner truth and greatness”
of the Nazis long after the fall of the Third Reich. German superiority
and nationalistic pride obscured Heidegger’s views of history.
What makes Heidegger curious as a founder of existentialism is that he
strongly objected to being considered one of The Existentialists, which
would place him in company with Sartre and Camus. These men, French communists, were not the sort
that Heidegger wanted anyone to link to him.
1889 September 26
Born in the town of Messkirch, in the Baden region of Germany.
Enters secondary school (high school) in Freiburg under a scholarship
from the Catholic Church.
Leaves school to become a Jesuit "novice" but only a month
later is discharged from his duties.
Halts studies toward the priesthood, decides to pursue a degree in
philosophy. Reads the works of Edmund Husserl.
Receives doctorate from the University of Freiburg. Remains at the
university as an assistant to Husserl.
Drafted by the German army, but found unfit for combat duty. Assigned
to the postal service.
Marries Elfriede Petri, a Protestant.
Discharged from the army. Returns to the University of Freiburg as
an unsalaried lecturer and assistant to Husserl.
Son Jorg is born.
Forms a friendship with Karl Jaspers.
They correspond for years.
Moves to Marburg and serves as an associate professor.
Publishes Being and Time in the Yearbook for Philosophy
and Penomenological Research, edited by Husserl. Publishing was only to retain a position
at the University of Marburg.
Rejects a chair at the University of Berlin, preferring the small
towns of southern Germany.
1933 April 21
Elected Rector of the Freiburg University by the faculty.
1933 May 1
Joins the National Socialist Party.
Resigns as Rector of the University due to disputes with the faculty
and the local Nazi officials.
Begins a series of lectures on Nietzsche.
There is some debate as to whether or not these lectures were meant
to clarify Nietzsche's works, which were being used to support the
Nazi ideals of racial purity.
Drafted into the Volkssturm to dig anti-tank ditches along the Rhine.
Officially leaves National Socialist Party.
French troops attempt to arrange a meeting between Heidegger and Jean-Paul Sartre, a long-time admirer. The meeting
does not occur, but the two begin corresponding.
Banned from officially lecturing and teaching at any university.
However, Heidegger continues to write and speak, just not as an active
Publishes On Humanism to distinguish his phenomenology
from French existentialism.
Interviewed by Der Spiegel, a popular German magazine.
The interview is not published until after his death. Heidegger used
the interview to explain his links to the Nazi movement.
The first transcripts of his various lectures are published, as he
wanted. The completed transcripts will be more than 100 volumes, featuring
all major lectures by Heidegger.
1976 May 26
Being and Time, Essay: 1927 (English 1962) [Amazon]
What is Metaphysics, Essay: 1929 (English 1949) [Amazon]
An Introduction to Metaphysics, Essay: 1953 (English 1959)
What is Called Thinking, Essay: 1954 (English 1968)
What is Philosophy, Essay: 1956
On the Way to Language, Essay: 1959
Martin Heidegger began as a recognized authority in the
phenomenological movement and became an existentialist with theistic leanings.
Heidegger based his philosophy upon the “hermeneutics of existence” — or
the science of existence. The “scientific” method was that of phenomenological
Kierkegaard accepted the paradox of being defining itself. As a scientist,
Heidegger could not accept this paradox. According to Heidegger, a concept
must be defined without using itself as reference. The difficulty of definition
was confronted by defining “Being” as a collection of concepts.
According to Heidegger's writings, human being -- as opposed
to human beings -- is comprised of four components: concern, being-toward-death,
existence, and moods. Dasein is the act of "being there" in essence.
Without being something, there is no existence.
Concern, or Sorge, is the ability to care about the self, in relation
to phenomena. Being-toward-death, or Sein zum Tode, represents the finite
nature of life. This belief that death defines life complements Søren
Kierkegaard's thought that God does not exist, but is real. Existence,
or Existenz, represents knowing one is and is changing. Finally, moods,
or Stimmungen, are reactions to other beings, further allowing one to define
Dasein requires choices and resulting actions to define the self. These
choices allow for an almost unlimited combination of the components of
being. Each choice represents a pivotal point in the individuals life --
every choice, even the seemingly minor ones, contribute to the larger definition
of self. Choices occur in relation to a timeline, universal and personal.
These points in time became the topic of Heidegger's Being and Time.
Existence and Essence
As with Kierkegaard and Sartre, Heidegger believed the
existence of a physical body preceded the essence of self. At some point
in the development process, a being becomes aware that it exists. This
pivotal point in time is when essence begins to form; the individual decides
to acknowledge and embrace an essence at this moment.
Because man in the only known being in which essence and existence do
not appear simultaneously, man is a unique creature on this planet. All
things man creates have essence, or definition, before they exist. In other
words, an individual thinks about a creation and its purpose before the
Dasien Sorge was Heidegger's term for concern and caring
about the self and its existence. When confronted with the world and other
beings, the individual feels anxiety and dread. The world appears complex
and unsafe -- which it is. As a result, the human being, Dasien, must care
for itself as no one else can or will.
Taking care of the self is a sign that the individual recognizes dangers
in the universe. Recognizing threats demonstrates an understanding of the
physical self. It is reasonable to conclude that concern with the physical
self precedes the awareness of concern for the emotional self. While a
child might instinctively want human contact, it only understands the need
for food and other basic physical needs.
Classes of Dasein Existence
Being-there, Dasein, can be expressed in several fashions.
The five modes of Dasein described by Heidegger are: authenticity, inauthenticity,
everydayness, averageness, and publicness. Authentic being represents a
choice of self and achievement. All other modes represent a failing to
embrace the individuality available to all people.
Inauthenticity results from business, preoccupation, excitement, and other
external forces. An inauthentic being is working to fit the definitions
of others. Averageness takes hold when the individual no longer attempts
to achieve and accepts a loss of differentiation. Everydayness represents
a person no longer changing or making choices, but the individual might
still be different from others. Many with achievement become everyday when
they no longer attempt to excel.
Publicness is the complete loss of self for a public image. The individual
conforms to preconceptions and opinions. Unlike the celebrity with one
achievement, this individual repeats the same achievement over and over,
thereby withdrawing from independence. An example would be an artist with
one style of expression, repeated with minor variations to please others.
By avoiding the new, the different, the individual ceases to create and
define a self.
Sein zum Tode: Toward Death
The only proof that an individual understands existence
is the understanding and acceptance of death. While a child can understand
the physical need for food, the known consequences of not eating are limited
to hunger and illness. Death is a complex concept, beyond the grasp of
an immature existence.
The moment one accepts death is the point when essence is brought into
focus. Knowing that life is finite reinforces the importance of all further
decisions. Poor choices result in the "Existential Guilt" of
failure. For the existentialist, the worst of natural sins is a failure
to define the self using free will. Guilt cannot be avoided, however, because
all individuals fail to take some action, to make some choices.
Desire to Be
Though life is filled with dread that the universe is not
safe and guilt that life is every complete, the human being has a desire
to exist and define the self. The pursuit of authenticity is constant,
for the existentialist. While it cannot be perfected, as we coexist with
other beings, individuals must work to define themselves.
Individuals make decisions knowing that others might try to change the
universe around them. Business is unavoidable, as is a public role in the
society. Only the most dedicated existential being can rise above these
challenges to define the self, without regard to others.
Man acts as though he were the shaper and master of language, while in
fact language remains the master of man. "Building Dwelling Thinking," lecture,
5 August 1951 (published in Poetry, Language, Thought, 1971)