Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Heidegger and Nazism

I will admit to being quite ignorant of the Heidegger/Nazi debate; it simply doesn't interest me. However, I was struck by a quote taken from What is Called Thinking?. In this passage, Heidegger is discussing Nietzsche's Übermensch:
Nietzsche's thinking gives expression to something that already exists but is still concealed from current views. We may assume, then, that here and there, still invisible to the public eye, the superman already exists. But we must never look for the superman's figure and nature in those characters who by a shallow and misconceived will to power are pushed to the top as the chief functionaries of the various organizations in which that will to power incorporates itself. (Ibid, 59-60)
At the end of that lecture, Heidegger asks: "Is the man of today in his metaphysical nature1 prepared to assume dominion over the earth as a whole?" His answer: "Man as he is today [being the 'last man'] is not prepared to form and assume a world government" (Ibid. 65).

What is Called Thinking was taught after World War II and was, in fact, the first course that Heidegger was allowed to teach after his involvement with the Nazi regime. While Heidegger never publicly renounced his decision to join the Nazi party, statements like these seem to imply the failure of that party's attempt to seize up its own existence in the way Heidegger had hoped. I think it also significant that, following these statements, Heidegger quotes an apparently oft-missed statement by Nietzsche:

[I]n Human, All Too Human I, 349 (1878) I already characterized modern democracy, together with its mongrel forms such as the 'German Reich,' as the form of decline of the state. If there are to be institutions there must be a kind of will, instinct, imperative, anti-liberal to the point of malice: the will to tradition, to authority, to responsibility for centuries to come, to the solidarity of chains of generations forward and backward ad infinitum. ("Twilight of the Idols," found in The Portable Nietzsche, 543)
This is a Nietzsche that most have never heard: the call to tradition, authority, and responsibility. In fact, the Nietzsche who opposed "Deutschland, Deutschland über alles" (Ibid, 506) and who despised the "brutal training, designed to prepare huge numbers of young men, with as little loss of time as possible, to become usable, abusable, in government service" (Ibid, 510) is rarely heard. Thus, I think it important that Heidegger, following his involvement with National Socialism, would quote one of Nietzsche's statements against such a regime.


  1. Here Heidegger is referring to the "last man" who is "about to assume dominion of the earth as a whole" through a "technological transformation of the earth and of human nature" (Ibid, 57 and 59). The last man, then, is technological man.


Blogger Clark Goble said...

I think he wanted the Nazis to be more like what he was undertaken and was upset when they weren't.

What's more significant though is less how much of a Nazi he was than how his views of Jews and the holocaust were immoral.

5:14 PM  

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