Heidegger, Philosophy, and Politics: The Heidelberg Conference

Heidegger, Philosophy, and Politics: The Heidelberg Conference

Heidegger, Philosophy, and Politics: The Heidelberg Conference

Heidegger, Philosophy, and Politics: The Heidelberg Conference


In February 1988, philosophers Jacques Derrida, Hans-Georg Gadamer, and Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe came together in Heidelberg before a large audience to discuss the philosophical and political implications of Martin Heidegger’s thought. This event took place in the very amphitheater in which, more than fifty years earlier, Heidegger, as rector of the University of Freiburg and a member of the Nazi Party, had given a speech entitled “The University in the New Reich.” Heidegger’s involvement in Nazism has always been, and will remain, an indelible scandal, but what is its real relation to his work and thought? And what are the responsibilities of those who read this work, who analyze and elaborate this thought? Conversely, what is at stake in the wholesale dismissal of this important but compromised twentieth-century philosopher?

In 1988, in the wake of the recent publication of Victor Farias’s Heidegger and Nazism, and of the heated debates that ensued, these questions had become more pressing than ever. The reflections presented by three of the most prominent of Heidegger’s readers, improvised in French and transcribed here, were an attempt to approach these questions before a broad public, but with a depth of knowledge and a complex sense of the questions at issue that have been often lacking in the press. Ranging over two days and including exchanges with one another and with the audience, the discussions pursued by these major thinkers remain highly relevant today, especially following the publication of Heidegger’s already notorious “Black Notebooks,” which have added another chapter to the ongoing debates over this contested figure. The present volume recalls a highly charged moment in this history, while also drawing the debate toward its most essential questions.


Jean-Luc Nancy

The document published here is already equipped with an entire apparatus of presentation and commentary, and it might appear indecent to add to them. But it is with good reason that Michel Surya, coeditor of this volume with the Institut Mémoires de l’édition contemporaine (IMEC), has taken care to situate this publication within the context of its appearance now, in 2014, twenty-six years after the Heidelberg conference took place. He has asked me to write a note to this effect. Although I did not participate in the encounter in Heidelberg, it happens that the three participants who engaged in that debate are no longer with us. My links with two of them, and my relation in general with the work of Heidegger, permit me to risk a response to this request.

The length of time that separates us from 1988 is now much greater than the twelve years that separated that encounter from the death of Heidegger. This time has brought with it a history more and more freighted with profound mutations and with sequels that are less foreseeable than ever; the requirements thus placed on thought are continually changing. At the same time, Heidegger’s posthumous publications have progressed considerably and have continued to stoke debates that, for their part, are not always making progress.

It is inevitable that, in 2014, a reading of these exchanges from 1988 reveals a certain dislocation. I will not attempt to analyze this. But one might well assume that, at a moment when Heidegger’s . . .

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