Democratic Theory and Technological Society

By Richard B. Day; Ronald Beiner et al. | Go to book overview

POLITICS AND PROGRESS IN HEIDEGGER'S PHILOSOPHY OF HISTORY

W. R. Newell

The question of the significance of Martin Heidegger's thought for political philosophy has always been a vexed one. This is due in part to a problem of terminology. Heidegger does not claim to possess a "political philosophy" as such because, as a historical thinker, he does not accept the concept of a permanent human nature within the larger order of nature. He believes that authentic freedom and fulfillment will be achieved, if at all, only through some future deliverance. But this is no less true of Hegel, Nietzsche and Marx, who for similar reasons do not embrace the traditional meaning of political philosophy in the sense in which it is understood by Aristotle or Hobbes: the study of human nature in relation to nature. And yet we do not ordinarily hesitate to speak of their significance for political philosophy broadly considered, that is to say, their views of the modern state, alienation and the prospects for greater freedom and community. Heidegger's writings are also concerned with these themes.

The most serious obstacle to assessing the significance of Heidegger's thought for political philosophy is his involvement with the National Socialist regime in Germany during 1933. Feelings run high over this episode, and even the best intentioned efforts at balance and impartiality frequently shade into polemics or apologetics.1 I have nothing to say about Heidegger's activities in 1933 as a biographical matter. They continue to receive close attention from historians of the period. But I want to suggest that the intense controversy over the character of Heidegger's actions and self-understanding in 1933 has frequently caused the question of his larger significance for the course of contemporary political and social thought to be misposed. Often, those who are most eager to pillory Heidegger and those most eager to fence off his philosophy from any taint of Nazism are oddly agreed in treating 1933 as being virtually exhaustive of the significance of Heidegger's thought for political philosophy altogether. Given this premise,

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