Thursday, September 25, 2014

National Socialism, World Jewry, and the History of Being: Heidegger’s Black Notebooks By Richard Wolin

Martin Heidegger

Martin Heidegger’s Schwarze Hefte (Black Notebooks), the first three of which have recently been published in Germany to great controversy, will eventually comprise the last eight volumes of his mammoth Gesamtausgabe (Collected Works). When complete, the edition will run to a staggering 102 volumes—more than the collected works of Kant, Hegel, or Nietzsche. At the end of his life, Heidegger, who regarded himself as the greatest thinker in the Western tradition since Heraclitus, meticulously mapped out the (non-chronological) sequence in which his Collected Works would be published and chose the Black Notebooks as the edition’s culminating contribution.

For decades, the guardians of Heidegger’s literary estate, his son Hermann and the Freiburg philosopher Friedrich-Wilhelm von Herrmann, kept the existence of these works, which take their name from the notebooks, bound in black wax and leather, in which he wrote them, a carefully guarded secret. It is not hard to see why, for they reveal the extent to which during the 1930s and 1940s Heidegger was wholly obsessed with Bolshevism, National Socialism, and the ignoble actions of “World Jewry” (Weltjudentum), as represented by Western powers such as England and the United States.
Of course, the scandal of Heidegger’s politics is not new. It goes back, at the very least, to his inaugural address as the Nazi-installed rector of University of Freiburg in 1933, in which Heidegger sought to sacrifice the autonomy of the university to the historical destiny of the German people (Volk). The subsequent controversies over the extent of Heidegger’s Nazism (he resigned as rector after a year but retained his membership in the National Socialist Party until 1945) might be said to have begun with the denazification proceedings at Freiburg after the war. In the report, his old friend and colleague Karl Jaspers described Heidegger as a nihilist and an uncritical mystic who nonetheless was “occasionally able in a clandestine and remarkable way, to strike the core of philosophical thought.” However, Jaspers also wrote that:
It is absolutely necessary that those who helped place National Socialism in the saddle be called to account. Heidegger is among the few professors to have done that . . . Heidegger’s manner of thinking, which to me seems in its essence unfree, dictatorial, and incapable of communication, would today be disastrous in its pedagogical effects . . . Heidegger certainly did not see through all the real powers and goals of the National Socialist leaders . . . But his manner of speaking and his actions have a certain affinity with National Socialist characteristics, which makes his error comprehensible.
Heidegger was subsequently dismissed from the university and barred from teaching, though he was reintegrated and allowed to teach again in 1951.
The more recent controversies over the extent and significance of Heidegger’s Nazi sympathies have been provoked by the damning research of Hugo Ott, Victor Farías, Emmanuel Faye, and others. However, each time the response of the Heideggerian faithful has been to detach the philosopher’s thought from his embarrassing political entanglements. This strategy has never been entirely plausible, as Jaspers had already recognized. What the Black Notebooks now provide, in contrast to the lectures and theoretical treatises that have already been published, is access to Heidegger’s innermost philosophical thoughts: the elaboration of an extensive “hidden doctrine” that the philosopher developed in the solitude of his Black Forest ski hut.
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