“Nevermore”. A response to Martin Lenz

Thank you for your thoughts, Martin! As you know, I’ve been teaching Heidegger, I wrote some pieces about Heidegger, 5 years ago I started to follow the advice of Edgar Allan Poe’s raven: nevermore! Here are some reasons. I try to relate them to your argument, in addition I try to push my point in the opposite direction.

I think there is a sort of a priori answer to the question whether someone’s philosophical thought is marked by their political views: If the person expresses in a philosophically relevant and public context an idea expressive of a political idea and if this expression is significantly related to concepts, lines of thoughts or arguments central to the person in question, then his philosophical thought is marked by his political view. If the political view expressed is hideous, then the philosophical thought expressing the hideous idea is also hideous. Heidegger expressed such political ideas in philosophically relevant and public context before, during, and after the Third Reich using concepts etc. central to his thought. I think that Heidegger’s thought is strongly tainted by a hideous political idea (in a way Frege’s or even Nietzsche’s thought isn’t).

My first argument has been about the “logical” notion of thought, not the “psychological” one. However, there is another question beyond that dichotomy: a philosopher is not just a bearer or producer of psychological or logical contents, many philosophers are philosophers by profession, which means that they occupy positions in universities, have certain duties and rights as philosophy professor, deliver certain services to the philosophical community, act as philosophers etc. Heidegger is in this sense very much continuous with us philosophy professors etc. working in universities, in a way Plato, Seneca, Descartes, Spinoza or Kierkegaard aren’t. As professor (and rector) of the University of Freiburg Heidegger acted several times out of a hideous political ideology. The most drastic case is Heidegger’s “Gutachten” about his Munich colleague Richard Hönigswald in 1933. According to Heidegger, Hönigswald’s philosophy has «den Blick abgelenkt vom Menschen in seiner geschichtlichen Verwurzelung und in seiner volkhaften Überlieferung seiner Herkunft aus Boden und Blut. Damit zusammen ging eine bewusste Zurückdrängung jedes metaphysischen Fragens…». While the first part of the quote dismisses Hönigswald’s thought as not being geschichtlich and völkisch, the second part establishes a direct connection to Heidegger’s Antrittsvorlesung “Was ist Metaphyisk?”.

Finally, Heidegger’s thought has been influential for more hideous political ideas. It has been an inspiration for the Ayatollah regime in Iran (mediated by his French translator Henri Corbin), it is an inspiration for the alt right, Donatella di Cesare (author of a book on Heidegger and the Shoa) has been threatened by Italian facists. Honoring Heidegger with seminars at the university gives further force to this kind of reception.

Shall we, thus, not study Heidegger’s thought? Of course. Janek Wasserman’s “Black Vienna. The Radical Right in the Red City 1918-1938” (2014) contains an interesting chapter on Othmar Spann: “For many years, the Spannkreis served as a linchpin of Viennese culture and Central European radical conservative politics. The most influential intellectual group in interwar Vienna was also its most conservative. It was also the most political impactful. Red Vienna was therefore not a Marxist fortress.” (105). We can study Heidegger, his networks, his thought, his influence and reception as part of our history and historically if we study him not as an exceptional philosophical genius (he wasn’t), but as a chapter in the history of ideas, especially the history of hideous political ideas in the 20thCentury.

Markus Wild (University of Basel) and his dog Titus Hunderich

5 thoughts on ““Nevermore”. A response to Martin Lenz

  1. Markus Wild’s commentary is quite helpful, especially the reference to “Black Vienna.” The penultimate paragraph underscores the problem that I want to address but from a different angle, not so much the what (“hideous political ideas”), but the how, i.e., Heidegger’s and Nietzsche’s deliberate rhetorical strategies to ensure that those hideous ideas maintain a viral character long after Nietzsche and Heidegger are buried.

    Wild and I disagree about Nietzsche. As a scholar of the subject, Wild is aware of Nietzsche’s influence on Heidegger. Heidegger’s multi-volume work on Nietzsche is not the only evidence required, but it is substantial. As Geoff Waite has shown in his extensive study, “Nietzsche’s Corps/e” (Duke UP, 1996), we lack a hermeneutics capable of adequately assessing the esoteric rhetorical strategies at work in Nietzsche, and later in Heidegger. Both Nietzsche and Heidegger endorse what Don Dombowsky calls in his book “Nietzsche and Napoleon” (U of Wales P, 2014) “Aristocratic Radicalism.”

    Recently, Ronald Beiner, following in Waite’s footsteps, published a kind of postscript to “Nietzsche’s Corps/e” entitled “Dangerous Minds: Nietzsche, Heidegger, and the Return of the Far Right” (2018). That book updates the Nietzsche/Heidegger problem with copious examples from numerous regions.

    Donatella di Cesare, whose situation in Italy I trust Wild to convey accurately, has not done her homework on the politics of the George Circle (see, for example, Melissa Lane and Martin Ruehl’s “A Poet’s Reich” from 2011), and is an apologist for Hans-Georg Gadamer’s collaborations with National Socialism. In 1933, Gadamer signed the “Bekenntnis der Professoren an den deutschen Universitaeten und Hochschullen zu Adolf Hitler und dem nationalsozialistischen Staat,” which legitimated Hitler’s one-man rule, among other things. Donatella di Cesare’s position is that Gadamer was simply doing what he needed to do to survive. She doesn’t stoop so low as Jean Grondin and mention that Gadamer had Jewish friends during the National Socialist period.

    The situation Wild describes in his post does not touch on the fact that many scholars who have made their careers by linking themselves to Heidegger and Gadamer, including many still publishing and preaching, promote an ethics derived from the works of Heidegger and Gadamer, as if the world needs, for instance, ethical applications of philosophical hermeneutics in the realm of health care, or a resurrection of Heidegger’s ideas to help us with global warming and other ecological concerns.

    — Bruce Krajewski


  2. Thanks again for this insightful reply. I take the liberty to repeat my comment I made on facebook: While I hope to speak to many points at a later date, I’d just like to acknowledge a sort of worried agreement with your conclusion that “Honoring Heidegger with seminars at the university gives further force to this kind of [hideous] reception.” – If correct, this means that our continuous teaching would amount to being complicit in the ideology. I think this should indeed be discussed more extensively, not least by those teaching bigots. That said, I wonder how you balance this against politically opposed receptions, for instance, in the French tradition.


  3. Dear Martin, Thanks again for your insightful comments. Yes, I do indeed think that giving thinkers like Heidegger an academic platform runs in danger of giving reception in hideous political quarters some sort of dignity. Concerning the French reception, let me say this much: As Dominique Janicaud (Heidegger en France 2001, Engl. translation 2015) has claimed, almost every French philosophical movement after World War 2 —from existentialism to psychoanalysis and deconstruction — was influenced by Heidegger. This is a rather peculiar situation for a national tradition in philosophy. Because of this preeminent role in French philosophy, it seemed very difficult for many French philosophers to distinguish criticism of Heidegger from criticism of French philosophy. This transpires in the French discussions of the books by Ott, Farias, Faye, or Trawny. Especially the reactions of the school of the orthodox Heideggerian Jean Beaufret haven’t been very helpful (especially Fédier’s recations). Moreover, the leftist reception of Heidegger hasen’t been free from rather troublesome reversals of concepts as well. Take the importance of Heidegger’s unfortunate letter on humanism (again, to Jean Beaufret). Derrida or Lacou-Labarth claimed that early Heidegger was led to Nazism because of his humanism. Yet the late Heidegger has left Nazism behind. (Really? His conferences on the “Bühlerhöhe” suggest otherwise.) The dialectics of defending Heidegger reached its bizarre peak in Lacoue-Labarth’s statement that Nazism is a humanism (“le nazisme est un humanism”, La fiction du politique 1987, 134). Moreover, I think that some paths of French thought very much inspired by Heidegger has brought the humanities in troubles for a rather unhappy criticism of notions like knowledge, truth, method, science etc. This backfires on the humanities, I’m afraid. In sum: No, all in all I don’t think that the French reception of Heidegger is helpful here.

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