Martin Heidegger

By Leland de la Durantaye
Cabinet 25, Spring 2007

Edited by Andy Ross

Martin Heidegger was born in Messkirch on the edge of the Black Forest in 1889. He excelled in all areas, from math to Greek, theology to physics. He chose philosophy. When he completed his studies, he moved to Freiburg im Breisgau in a different part of the Black Forest to work with Edmund Husserl, the founder of phenomenology.

As Husserl's assistant, Heidegger grew famous. Intellectuals throughout Germany began to speak of "a hidden philosopher-king", the successor of earlier princes of the mind such as Kant and Nietzsche. Hannah Arendt traveled to the Black Forest and began to study with him. They fell in love.

Despite a truly remarkable depth and breadth of knowledge, neither then nor later did Heidegger have the speech or the mannerisms of high European cultivation. He walked, talked, and dressed like someone from the Black Forest. Too intelligent not to make a virtue of necessity, Heidegger cultivated a quaint and bucolic image.

In 1922, his wife Elfriede had inherited a modest sum, and she invested it in a secluded retreat in the higher reaches of the Black Forest. She had a small hut, 6 x 7 sqm, built into a hillside there, commanding a beautiful view of the valley below and the Alps rising in the distance. Soon thereafter, her husband began, at last, to write.

Heidegger knew what he wanted to write about. It seemed to him that philosophy had lost something which it desperately needed back. For him, the largest question that philosophy might ask was this: what do we mean when we speak of a being common to all modes and forms of individual beings? And he saw Western philosophy as having gone astray in that it had ceased to ask this question.

For his special task, Heidegger soon realized that he needed special tools. He saw that the terms and concepts employed by traditional metaphysical inquiry were little suited to the task. And so he retreated to the Black Forest, and on long walks along its wooded paths and in long hours poring over books in his hut, he patiently crafted a special language.

But while everyone remarked the strangeness of Heidegger's language, not everyone rejected it, and figures as diverse as Karl Jaspers, Werner Heisenberg, Ernst Jünger, Hans-Georg Gadamer, Maurice Blanchot, Jacques Lacan, Pierre Klossowski, and René Char found in it an intensity of expression without compare. For his own part, Heidegger was perfectly aware of the strangeness of what he was saying.

Like his manner and his dress, Heidegger's new philosophical language bore unabashed signs of its origins. He began Being and Time by apologizing for "the severity and strangeness of my expressions", and it soon became clear to the book's readers that these were not the severe or strange expressions of classical metaphysics but a new language.

I first heard of the Black Forest in high school, having overheard a friend of my mother's who taught philosophy say that Being and Time was "the smartest and worst book" he had ever read. I soon got my hands on the book. On the first page I read:

   Dedicated to Edmund Husserl in friendship and admiration.
   Todtnauberg in Baden, Black Forest, April 8th 1926.

Heidegger never finished Being and Time, but this did nothing to limit its success. He published a first installment, and this was enough. He learned many lessons from this first and unfinished treatise, and in the works to follow chose the smaller scales of lectures and essays.

In 1933, Heidegger joined the Nazi party, restricted contact with his Jewish mentor, Husserl, as well as with his Jewish love, Arendt, and his many Jewish students. He was appointed rector of Freiburg University in 1933 and during his inauguration speech announced that, "the Führer is himself and alone the present and future German reality and its law."

In 1934, Heidegger turned down the most prestigious teaching post in Germany, the Chair of Philosophy at the University of Berlin. A radio address later that year entitled "Why I Remain in the Provinces" begins, "On the steep slope of a wide mountain valley in the southern Black Forest at an elevation of 1150 meters, there stands a small ski hut." It evokes how "on deep winter nights when a wild, pounding snowstorm rages outside and veils everything,” that “this is the perfect time for philosophy. The questions become simple and essential."

Hannah Arendt and Heidegger met secretly and passionately. There is every reason to believe that the love was mutual and real, and yet Heidegger chose to remain with his wife and family. Written directly after their separation, Being and Time proceeds by analyzing the affects that condition our experience of the world, such as fear and anxiety. He offers magisterial analyses of a range of these affects, but one is conspicuously missing: love.

Martin Heidegger

Heideggers bekanntestes Werk Sein und Zeit erschien 1927. In der ersten Hälfte übte er starke Kritik am kartesischen Subjektivismus und arbeitete in einer fundamental-ontologischen Untersuchung eine neue Ontologie aus. Hierzu wählte er einen hermeneutischen Zugang: indem er nicht von festen Annahmen ausging und dann argumentativ fortschritt, sondern phänomenologische Analysen anwandte, wollte er mit überkommenen Traditionen brechen. Im zweiten Teil des Buches beschäftigte er sich mit grundlegenden Strukturen des Menschseins, wie etwa dem Phänomen des Todes, der Möglichkeit zur Individualität und dem in die Welt und Geschichte geworfenen Menschen. Hiervon wurden die Existenzphilosophen stark beeinflusst.

Sein und Zeit

Thema der Untersuchung ist die Frage nach dem Sinn von Sein, die nach Heidegger in der abendländischen Philosophie bisher nicht wirklich gestellt worden sei. Sein sei bisher stets nach dem Muster von Seiendem (Vorhandenem) charakterisiert worden. Heidegger unternimmt den Versuch diese nach seiner Auffassung falsche Herangehensweise durch eine fundamentalontologische Untersuchung in den rechten Blick zu bekommen. Die Klärung eines ursprünglicheren Sinns von Sein bestimmt Heideggers Lebenswerk.

Being and Time

Although written in haste, and despite the fact that Heidegger never completed the project outlined in the introduction, the book has profoundly influenced 20th-century philosophy, particularly existentialism, hermeneutics and deconstruction. It is widely considered the most influential work of continental philosophy published during the 20th century.

On the first page, Heidegger describes the project in the following way: "our aim in the following treatise is to work out the question of the sense of being and to do so concretely." Heidegger claims that traditional ontology has prejudicially overlooked this question, dismissing it as overly general, undefinable, or obvious.

Heidegger proposes to understand being as distinguished from any specific thing that is. "'Being' is not something like a being." Being, he claims, is "what determines beings as beings, that in terms of which beings are already understood."

The question Heidegger asks in the introduction is: what is the being that will give access to the question of the meaning of being? Heidegger's answer is that it can only be that being for whom the question of being is important, the being for whom being matters. The being for whom being is a question is not a what, but a who. Heidegger calls this being Dasein.

The question of the authenticity of individual Dasein cannot be separated from the "historicality" of Dasein. On the one hand, Dasein, as mortal, is "stretched along" between birth and death, and thrown into its world, that is, thrown into its possibilities, possibilities which Dasein is charged with the task of assuming. On the other hand, Dasein's access to this world and these possibilities is always via a history and a tradition. This is the question of "world historicality," and among its consequences is Heidegger's argument that Dasein's potential for authenticity lies in the possibility of choosing a "hero."

Martin Heidegger

By Tim Black
Spiked, November 2009

Edited by Andy Ross

Heidegger: The Introduction of Nazism into Philosophy
By Emmanuel Faye
Yale University Press, 464 pages

Martin Heidegger was a Nazi. Zealously renewing his party membership every year between 1933 and 1945, his commitment to the National Socialist cause was unstinting. As rector of Freiburg University, he praised "the inner truth and greatness" of Nazism in his 1933 rectoral address. Wearing a swastika on his lapel at all times, he and his wife also practised private discrimination against Jews.

Emmanuel Faye enriches this portrait of Nazi-era Heidegger with new research. We learn that in seminars from the 1930s and 1940s he defined a people in terms of the "community of biological stock and race." Heidegger would turn up to teach, dapperly attired in a brown shirt, and salute the students with a "Heil Hitler". Faye argues that Nazism underpinned Heidegger's philosophy. To read Heidegger is to encounter a philosophy of Nazism.

But Heidegger's opus, Being and Time, was conceived during the early 1920s and published in 1927. And if Heidegger's thought was so riven with Nazism, why have its principal proponents not been Nazis?

In Germany, such radical icons as Herbert Marcuse or Jurgen Habermas, or liberal paragons like Hannah Arendt, were all at one stage in thrall to the "secret king of thought," as Arendt dubbed him. In France, from the Heideggerian existentialism of Jean-Paul Sartre, to the post-subject, anti-humanist philosophies of Louis Althusser or Jacques Derrida, Heidegger provided the inspiration.

Heidegger prompts discomfort because he was a Nazi propagating a non-Nazi philosophy. His philosophical vision sits comfortably with many mainstream attitudes, from the environmentalist assault upon human hubris to a snobbish disdain for consumerism. His ontology, his obsession with the Seinsfrage, the "question of being," is central to his thought.

As he puts it in Being and Time, man has forgotten the question of being. This forgetting stems back to classical times and the beginning of the Western cultural tradition. In Heidegger's words, Western civilization has "grown up both into and in a traditional way of interpreting itself" that is "thoroughly colored by the anthropology of Christianity and the ancient world." Such terms as "man" or "the rational animal" efface the question of being by pre-empting it. They provide a conceptual framework with which to understand the world and man's place in it.

Heidegger builds, brick by unusual lexical brick, a portrait of how we come to approach both the question of being and human existence. So, as Dasein (being-there, Heidegger's phrase for human being), we are always-already finding ourselves in a world. This world appears to us by virtue of our dealings with things that "concern" us or with tools that are "ready-to-hand".

Our being in the world is also being in the world with others. It is a social existence, a being within society. This is the public world, a world of duties, of responsibilities, of values. Here individual human beings encounter "das Man", the they, the one, the social agency manifest in the social world. This social agent mediates every aspect of an individual's existence. "It prescribes that way of interpreting the world and Being-in-the-world that lies closest" even to the extent that it "prescribes one's state-of-mind, and determines how one "sees'."

Heidegger's virtuoso portrait of human being was damning. This critique is the nub of his historical resonance. He says this mode of being in society is "fallen". Through social existence, our being-in-the-world-with-others, human being succumbs to the hopelessly rationalized, destructively instrumental mode of being that Heidegger holds responsible for the forgetting of the Seinsfrage.

Modernity here is to be understood as the culmination of ontological forgetfulness. Human interests and needs, values and ideals, have become the sole measure of all things. We identify human being with our social being, nature with our use of it, other people with the social role they perform. Modern citizens have an "inauthentic" existence. Their self-consciousness is "only the satisfying of manipulable rules and public norms and the failure to satisfy them." Fallen social man has no other criteria to judge his behavior than those prescribed by society.

Heidegger's solution to this in Being and Time is the authentic individual, the being who is true to himself, who, through Angst, comes to recognize both his own finitude, his "being-towards-death", and alongside it the meaningless of the modern, social world with its routines of production and consumption, and liberates himself from possibilities that "count for nothing" to become free for authentic ones. Heidegger's existentialism informed Sartre's masterpiece Being and Nothingness.

Heidegger wrote Being and Time in a country devastated by the First World War, with an economy ravaged by galloping inflation, and a ruling class rattled by the Bolshevik revolution. This sense of crisis had been grasped by Friedrich Nietzsche in terms of a rising nihilism, and a fear of the common herd. But by the 1920s things were acute.

Heidegger's Nazism is the least troubling part of his legacy.

AR  I think this is a good analysis. I have been waiting to find the time to read Being and Time for decades now. His work is generally seen as marking the final break between the world of Anglo-American analytic philosophy, whose patron saint is Gottlob Frege and whose guiding light for most of the 20th century was Ludwig Wittgenstein, and the "continental" tradition of phenomenology stemming from Frege's contemporary Edmund Husserl. My own philosophical education was firmly in the analytic tradition, in large part under the influence of Frege scholar Michael Dummett.

Heidegger in France

By Jonathan Derbyshire
Prospect Magazine, December 2013

Edited by Andy Ross

Martin Heidegger has a higher standing in France than in Germany. Le Monde journalist Nicolas Weill writes that the next volume of Heidegger's complete works promises a definitive answer to the question whether Heidegger was a lifelong believer in Nazi ideas.

Heidegger joined the NSDAP in May 1933, soon after assuming the rectorship of Freiburg University. He quickly set about establishing the Führerprinzip there. In his inaugural address as rector, he asserted that traditional notions of academic freedom were empty and that real freedom lay in a German student body that was now on the march. But he resigned after falling out with the minister in Berlin. A postwar denazification commission concluded that there was no danger that Heidegger would ever again promote the ideas of Nazism.

Heidegger came to believe that the present is characterized by a forgetfulness of Being that shows itself in the global domination of modern science and technology. He came to regard Nazism as just another embodiment of the nihilism of the modern age.

Jean-Paul Sartre claimed to derive from Heidegger an existentialism according to which man is free to decide his own essence. But Heidegger said Sartre took for granted that man's essence lay in action or decision and missed the more fundamental question about the meaning of Being.

Heidegger appeared on the postwar French scene as a critic of technology and of modernity. But the critique of biologism that Heidegger developed was not opposed to the Nazi worldview. He rejected the Nazi racial theories yet retained a metaphysical conception of race. He merely objected to the grounding of biologistic theories in the Darwinian conception of life.

Heidegger's Black Notebooks

Richard Wolin
Jewish Review of Books, Summer 2014

Heidegger's Black Notebooks contain sustained reflections on contemporary problems as viewed from the standpoint of the history of Being. The Volk concept he embraced in Being and Time (1927) underwrites his political view that inferior peoples may be justly persecuted.

Heidegger: "Man does not decide whether and how beings appear, whether and how God and the gods or history and nature come forward into the lighting of Being, come to presence and depart. The advent of beings lies in the destiny of Being."

The Black Notebooks reflect Heidegger’s enthusiasm for the German "National Revolution" of 1933, from which he expected "a total transformation of our German Dasein": "The metaphysics of Dasein must deepen itself in a manner consistent with its inner structures and extend to the metapolitics of the historical Volk."

Heidegger held that the superiority of his Existenzphilosophie derived from its claim to being rooted in Being. Nazi völkisch ideology was based on the virtues of Bodenständigkeit, where Heidegger saw a deep affinity with his own ontology.

Jews lacked Bodenständigkeit, a capacity for völkisch belonging predicated on rootedness in Being. And they had invented religious universalism. This was anathema to Heidegger, who saw it as a vestige of the idealism he sought to "annihilate" by turning to Being.

Heidegger's critique of theories of knowledge that abstract from the actual conditions of human existence is deeply original and remains important. His philosophy of existence revolutionized the enterprise of transcendental philosophy. But his fundamental ontology was profoundly and irredeemably ideological.

No matter where Heidegger trains his gaze, he sees manifestations of historico-ontological degeneracy, and hypostatization and disqualification of Being. His preferred term for this is Machenschaft or "machination". He believed that the USSR, USA, and UK, as embodiments of Machenschaft, were expressions of the spirit of World Jewry.

More quotes from the Black Notebooks:

"Since time immemorial, the Jews ... have 'lived' according to the principle of race. They now seek to defend themselves against that same principle's unrestricted application."

"The character of modernity is the total and unrelenting manipulation of all Being ... The bourgeois-Christian form of English Bolshevism must be annihilated."

"The Führer has awakened a new reality that has rechanneled our thinking along the right path and infused it with new energy."

"National Socialism is a barbaric principle. Therein lie its essence and its capacity for greatness."

Heidegger betrayed philosophy.

Heidegger in Black

Peter E. Gordon
The New York Review of Books, October 2014

Martin Heidegger wrote several "black books" from 1931 to 1941. They reveal him as a man who refused to abandon his political delusions.

For Heidegger, the inner truth and greatness of the Nazi movement lay in the encounter between global technology and modern humanity. After 1934 he felt that Nazism had betrayed its promise and succumbed to the technological fate that afflicted the modern age.

In Being and Time (1927), Heidegger set forth a bold challenge to the conventional picture of the human being as a thinking being. He proposed instead that philosophy should take as its cue our everyday commerce with worldly things. The human being is immersed in its world. Dasein is an ongoing event that is thrown into time and can only come upon itself as it presses forward into its own possibilities.

Heidegger said insight permits the human being to grasp itself as it truly is despite the fallenness and opacity of its being. Dasein gains this knowledge in an anticipation of its own end. Its ongoing existence depends on the resolute decision to embrace certain possibilities as its own. Authenticity is an unflinching affirmation of the history of one's own people and the hardness of its fate.

Heidegger resists ideas and propositions just as he resists the Cartesian model of the disengaged mind. He rejects mere theory against the solidity and efficacy of worldly practice. As rector he tried to resist vulgar National Socialism. He expressed fear that the ascendant language of allegedly scientific racism would mislead the German people from its true historical mission.

Machination was a technological force that Heidegger saw as dominating the modern world. He brooded over the unconditional power of machination and the complete groundlessness of things. The ascendency of the Jews belonged to the metaphysics of the West. Heidegger in 1941: "The question concerning the role of world Jewry is not a racial but a metaphysical question."

Heidegger conflated modes of technology in his postwar remark that "the manufacture of corpses in the gas chambers and the death camps" and the mechanized food industry were essentially the same.

Philosophy did not make Heidegger wise.

Heidegger's Ghost

Alexander S. Duff
The American Interest, February 2016

Radical spiritual malaise takes diverse forms: Iranian theocrats, Russian imperialists, American racists, European extremists, and more. Behind them all is Martin Heidegger.

Heidegger was no Marx. Whereas Marx traces the sources of dissatisfaction to the alienation of labor in the capitalist system, Heidegger looks to the character of human reason. This is the source of the anxiety, distress, boredom, and terror that characterize our time. According to Heidegger, western rationalist philosophy has blinded us to the deepest sources of authentic meaning in human existence.

Heidegger was disappointed by the Nazis. They were not radical enough. Since then, opponents of the liberal West on both right and left have drawn on his work. Today, two beneficiaries of his influence stand out: Iran and Russia.

In Iran, Ahmad Fardid is often called Iran's Heidegger. He inspired the Red Shi'te revolutionaries opposed to the Black Shi'ite establishment clerics. His concept of Gharbzadegi is variously translated as Occidentosis, Westoxication, or Westitis, and is the spirit of Greek rationality that culminated in Enlightenment humanism. Fardid called it the chief enemy of the Iranian Islamic revolution and advocated permanent revolution to keep it out. Fardid was to Heidegger what Trotsky was to Marx.

In Russia, Aleksandr Dugin used Heidegger's ideas to recreate a Russian identity from the wreckage of the Soviet Union. Dugin claims to be close to Vladimir Putin and provides the Eurasianist veneer of Putin's opposition to the United States and the European Union. Dugin aims to retrieve a Russian imperial identity, in the language of Orthodox Church Slavonic, that can rescue the spirit of the country from liberal capitalism.

Heideggerians see liberal universalism thinning out the basis of community and corrupting a thicker communal existence. Stopping it involves reviving a religious order. The retrieved community is shaped by a purified religion, such as Russian Orthodox Christianity or Shi'ite Islam.

Heidegger says reason shaped the modern world but led us to forget our deepest identity as manifestations of being. This forgetfulness he calls nihilism. Nihilist phenomena include world wars, genocide, and nuclear confrontation. They set the moods of our time as anxiety, terror, distress, and boredom.

Rationalism comes from a preference for comfort and stability in the face of finitude and impermanence. It becomes our main approach to the world, excluding feeling and tradition. Our practice of creating meaning in the world by engaging with that world gets hidden. We have built societies instead of a community. This error alienates us from our real selves.

Heidegger quoted Hölderlin:
Wo aber Gefahr ist, wächst das Rettende auch!

Martin and Fritz Heidegger

Adam Soboczynski, Alexander Cammann
Los Angeles Review of Books, December 2016

Martin Heidegger and his brother Fritz exchanged more than 500 letters between 1930 and 1946. Martin the philosopher was a vocal supporter of National Socialism but Fritz the banker was skeptical.

Martin complained of the "Judification" of German culture and universities. His philosophy teacher Edmund Husserl and his student and lover Hannah Arendt were both Jewish, as were many other students that sat with him in his classes, including Karl Löwith, Herbert Marcuse, and Leo Strauss.

On April 13, 1933, Martin wrote: "It can be seen from one day to the next how great a statesman Hitler is becoming. The world of our people and the Reich finds itself in a process of transformation, and all those who have eyes to see, ears to hear, and a heart for action will be swept along and put in a state of extreme excitement."

On January 18, 1945, Martin wrote: "What the Weltgeist has in store for the Germans is a mystery. Just as murky is why it is using the Americans and Bolsheviks as its servants."

On July 23, 1945, he wote of the "KZ-people" housed in his apartment as being "not so nice" and of the dreadful situation at his university. He wrote in April 1946 that the expulsion of Germans from eastern lands exceeded "all organized criminal atrocities" prior to 1945.