Monday, March 8, 2010

How a brilliant man justified Nazism

Last fall Yale University Press published Emmanuel Faye’s Heidegger: The Introduction of Nazism into Philosophy in Light of the Unpublished Seminars of 1933-1935Times Higher Education reviews it.

The book reopens a chapter in 20th century philosophy that many postmodernists had hoped had been closed. Martin Heidegger (1889-1976) was one of last century's most influential philosophers.  He has been especially beloved and defended by French deconstructionists. The problem is that he joined the Nazis 5 months after Hitler became Chancellor of Germany. This choice can't be chalked up to the rash impetuousness of youth; he was 44 years old and his most influential book, Being and Time had been published six years earlier. Its publication helped qualify him to be elected rector of University of Freiburg. In his inaugural lecture, he  infamously declared: "The German people must choose its future, and this future is bound to the Führer."

Heidegger was known for coining new terms to highlight his ideas. He concluded that man is the being-there (Dasein). That is, man is a being-in-time or a “being-unto-death,” for time and death directly affect our awareness in this world. This leads to a sense of dread (Angst); he is a being thrust into the world and headed for death (nothingness) with no explanation “why there is something rather than nothing at all.” Man, ultimately, is a being-unto-nothingness. No wonder that Heidegger found the robust vitality of a resurrected Germany under Hitler attractive.

Alasdair MacIntyre, former Marxist turned neo-Thomist, says of Heidegger's embrace of Nazism: "We should not be surprised that Heidegger was for a short period a Nazi, not because anything in Sein und Zeit (Being and Time, his masterwork) entails National Socialism but because nothing in Sein und Zeit could give one a standpoint from which to criticise it or any other irrationalism."

In other words, Heidegger had no transcendental reference point by which he could judge that the wave of fascist and nationalist enthusiasm rolling over Germany was, in fact, not national revival but moral evil.
Postmodernists and deconstructionists, however, reject the idea of a transcendental reference point, God, revelation or philosophical/moral foundations. It is implausible.

In a newspaper interview in 1987, Jacques Derrida (1930-2004), founder of deconstruction, threw down the gauntlet to Heidegger's critics, demanding that they either show substantial links between Heidegger's texts and "the reality of all the Nazisms" or shut up. It is this challenge, in effect, that Faye's book, first published in France in 2005, takes up.

Heidegger tried to explain but never repented or even apologized for his membership in and support for the Nazi party. He was one of over 30 German philosophers who stayed on after Hitler's ascendancy to power. In Hitler they saw a future.

But let Heidegger speak for himself on his philosophy and politics: "Only where leader and led together bind each other in one destiny, and fight for the realisation of one idea, does true order grow. Then spiritual superiority and freedom respond in the form of deep dedication of all powers to the people, to the state, in the form of the most rigid training, as commitment, resistance, solitude, and love. The existence and the superiority of the Fuhrer sink down into being, into the soul of the people and thus bind it authentically and passionately to the task." When men cease to believe in God, it isn't that they believe in nothing but that they will believe in anything. I think it was Chesterton who said something like that.

The review concludes: "By highlighting the links between Heidegger's politics and his philosophy, and going where other experts have so manifestly been unprepared to go, Faye has done both history and philosophy a valuable service." Amen. 

Kresta Theological Point: The Catechism of the Catholic Church explicitly warns against identifying the fulfilled kingdom with any era of time, movement of men, or reign of nations. The church has rejected  "even modified forms of this falsification of the kingdom to come under the name of millenarianism, especially the 'intrinsically perverse' politics of a secular messianism" (CCC, #677).

He believed that the German people would lead the way through the the twin dangers of Communism and modern Western democracy. The USSR and the USA were in the grip of mere scientific materialism which separated language from being by inserting abstract conceptions between them. The national spirits of the USSR and USA both threatened the heroic, poetic, almost spiritual, quality of the awakening German people. He believed that the rise of Nazism meant the purification of Germany and a metaphysical mission to elevate Europe. History was unfolding this truth and Heidegger wanted to cheer on its direction.

He saw a quasi-mystical dimension to language. Language was one with Being and it revealed Being. The mere fact of, not the content of, language communicated this. Language is already an interpretation of Being long before we can apply rational categories to it. Mind you, there is no personal God or personal Being which discloses truths about himself through language. No, ultimate reality is impersonal and we are ultimately caught up to despair. But while we must live in this world, we can take refuge in the brute fact of language. That Being seems to communicate by its nature means that we aren't isolated and alone.

Of course, Christianity teaches that in the beginning was the Word, the Word was with God and the Word was God (John 1:1). So it isn't hard to see some parallels between Heidegger's emphasis on the central importance of language and Christianity's insistence on the centrality of the Word. Heidegger's fellowship, however,was not with God and his people, but with the German people and their fuhrer. With Faye's book, new in English translation, today's rootless thinkers will be forced to reconsider the ill-chosen politics of Heidegger and, perhaps, ask themselves, if they themselves have been building on a foundation which will not withstand the forces of historical and political change.


  1. That Chesterton Quote

    "When men cease to believe in God, it isn't that they believe in nothing but that they will believe in anything."

    Chesterton didn't say that, nor would he have said it. It is a self-contradictory statement.

    The Quotemeister at The American Chesterton Society gives a plausible explanation for how this misquotation came about.

  2. "...we must point out the irony that critics have chastised Chesterton for misquoting other writers, while he is the most misquoted writer of all. No one would be more pleased than G.K. Chesterton"

    From the links that were posted.