Academic journal article The Review of Metaphysics

Heidegger's Hidden Path: From Philosophy to Politics

Academic journal article The Review of Metaphysics

Heidegger's Hidden Path: From Philosophy to Politics

Article excerpt

MARTIN HEIDEGGER IS WIDELY ACKNOWLEDGED to be one of the most original and important philosophers of the twentieth century, while remaining one of the most controversial. His thinking has contributed to such diverse fields as phenomenology, existentialism, hermeneutics, aesthetics, literary criticism, and theology. His critique of traditional metaphysics and his opposition to positivism and technological world domination have been embraced by leading theorists of post-modernity. He influenced such prominent thinkers as Gadamer, Arendt, Habermas, Derrida, Foucault, and Lyotard. (1) On the other hand, his involvement in the Nazi movement has invoked a stormy debate. Although he never claimed that his philosophy was concerned with politics, political considerations have come to overshadow his philosophical work. Especially after the publication of Victor Farias's Heidegger et le Nazisme in 1987 and Hugo Ott's Martin Heidegger: Unterwegs zu einer Biographie in 1988, it becomes difficult to treat Heidegger's political stance as irrelevant to his philosophical opus. (2) In the first edition, published in 1963, of his comprehensive and detailed study of the development of Heidegger's thought, Der Denkweg Martin Heideggers (Martin Heidegger's Path of Thinking), Otto Poggeler did not raise any political issues. Yet, in light of the controversy that gained a new momentum in the late 1980's such an approach seems no longer possible. (3) The distinction between "two Heideggers"--one a philosopher and one a politician--is no longer tenable. (4) Questions must be raised concerning Heidegger's philosophy and his political involvement, and vice versa.

One serious defect of the polemical writings that straightforwardly charge Heidegger with Nazism is that they mostly represent a poor knowledge of his philosophy. Heidegger's writings are painfully difficult, even to specialists, and his concepts can be easily misinterpreted, especially by those who, instead of searching for truth, embrace a prosecutor's zeal. For example, in his influential book, Farias completely avoids asking philosophical questions. His work, as many commentators agree, is "a jumble of truths, half-truths, insinuations, and innuendos--all presented with the same conviction and endowed with the same unquestioned authority." (5) On the internet, one can easily find hundreds of articles by authors who claim that Heidegger's guilt has already been decided. My objective is not to blame or to exonerate Heidegger before investigating the relationship between his philosophy and politics in depth. Obviously, given the limited nature of my presentation, I cannot consider Heidegger's entire philosophical opus. I intend to concentrate chiefly on his critique of the Western metaphysical tradition and on an interpretation of his most controversial statement from An Introduction to Metaphysics about the "inner truth and greatness" of National Socialism. (6) I will begin my investigation by considering a notorious episode in Heidegger's life, namely his service as Rector of the University of Freiburg from April 1933 to February 1934. Then I move to the essence of his philosophy, the quest for the meaning of Being, deduce a political theory from his ontology, and arrive at his politics. This way I attempt to throw some new light on the Heidegger controversy and to disclose the Heideggerian hidden path.

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The Controversial Stage in Heidegger's Life. Heidegger's life entered a problematic and controversial stage with Hitler's rise to power. In September 1930, Adolf Hitler's National Socialist German Workers' Party (NSDAP) became the second largest party in Germany, and on January 30, 1933 Hitler was appointed chancellor of Germany. Up to then virtually apolitical, Heidegger now became politically involved. On April 21, 1933, he was elected rector of the University of Freiburg by the faculty. He was apparently urged by his colleagues to become a candidate for this politically sensitive post, as he later claimed in an interview with Der Spiegel, to avoid the danger that a party functionary would be named rector. …

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