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Heidegger and Hitler
Proponents of Heidegger's metaphysical viewpoint are reluctant to identify a relationship between it and the opprobrious Nazi regime which Heidegger supported from 1933 to 1945. Critics of Heidegger, however, view the relationship between his metaphysics and his politics as significant. One might well ask, therefore, whether the relationship is real or only apparent -- whether the tenets of National Socialism are found in Heidegger's philosophy, or whether the fact that the two came from one man is merely a coincidence that ultimately means little.
Yet, by the formula of his own analysis (set forth in Contributions to Philosophy: Of the Event), one can see that Heidegger's metaphysics cannot be separated from his politics anymore than he himself can be separated from the environment and context in which he came to maturity. But while some scholars view Heidegger's political views as having an impact on his metaphysical views, this paper posits just the opposite thesis -- that Heidegger's metaphysical views formed his political views. This is essentially the argument of Victor Farias. This paper will show why his argument is valid.
In the Beginning was the Faith
In 1910, Heidegger still considered himself a Catholic. For example, in a review of Forster's Authority and Freedom, Heidegger denounced the spirit of modernism (defined by Pius X in Pascendi as an artifice of doubt that is "in reality firm and steadfast"). Pius X called the Modernist a split-personality type: "he is a philosopher, a believer, a theologian, an historian, a critic, an apologist, a reformer…Hence the common saying of Modernists: that the religious man must ponder his faith" as it is presented to his intellect through symbols and sentiment. Heidegger whole-heartedly agreed with Pius' denunciation of Modernism, as his review of Forster's work in the Akademiker shows: There Heidegger stated, "In order to keep faith with her eternal store of truth the Church is right to strive against the destructive forces of modernism, which remains blind to the utter contradiction between its modern view of life and the ancient wisdom of the Christian tradition" (Farias 44). Heidegger saw clearly and expressed plainly that the Catholic Faith was true and that modernism was false. Just because the Faith was a sign of contradiction to the modern world did not mean that it was full of contradiction.
By 1915, however, Heidegger would begin to embrace modernism and become a "ponderer." The Catholic certainty expressed so adamantly five years earlier was giving way to a more ponderous approach to "being" and a more interpretive analysis of history, philosophy, theology and metaphysics. Lutheranism began to appear attractive to this once staunch Catholic. He stated that his problem with Catholicism stemmed from his study of epistemology -- the study of knowledge. That study, however, became more and more enamored of the subjective experience of knowledge. This new interest led Heidegger on a crash course of intellectual revolution, starting with the Protestants and all the philosophers who followed in their wake. The split from the Old World view of metaphysics (ala the Catholic Church) could be seen in the individualistic experience of the Protestant with the Word of God, in the skeptical philosophy of Hume, and in Kantian metaphysics. Heidegger moved from the assurance of Duns Scotus on the matter of transcendental "Being" to the preponderance of doubt, fragmentation, symbolism, and sentiment decried by Pius.
This preponderance of fragmentation and symbolism was embraced whole-heartedly by the Third Reich, which was theatrical in the extreme, promoting a Germanic paganism and intertwining it with nationalist doctrine. Heidegger's politics did not influence his metaphysics. His metaphysics influenced his politics: he had abandoned the Old World view and embraced the new. Nazism was the "new" in political expression. The Fuehrer was the new messiah -- a new representation of the "being" that had always existed (just in different forms in previous cultures).
The Intellectual Revolution
What led to Heidegger's change of belief? It was an engagement with the very modernism that he himself had warned against in 1910, echoing the words of Pius X in Pascendi. His staunch faith in Catholicism had long since vanished by 1933, when he became rector of the University of Freiburg and joined the National Socialist German Workers' Party. In the air was a new sensation of revolution, of freedom, of political/social redemption. Germany had suffered a crushing and humiliating defeat at the signing of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919. German pride had been wounded by the terms of the treaty, and patriotic vigor filled the air as Mein Kampf and Being and Time ran through the presses.
In 1917, Heidegger had married Elfride Petri, a Protestant. When Heidegger failed to secure a position at the University of Freiburg, it "was a great disappointment" (Farias 52) -- the second strike against his Catholicism. Meanwhile the Modernists, condemned by Pius X, were "quietly putting aside the supernatural character of both dogma and Church," undermining the faith of those around them (Farias 52). Heidegger was one of those around them. His faith had been strong in 1910. Now, it was submitting to a rationalistic view of "religious experience" -- and as a result the necessity of the separation of church and state took on a more powerful position in intellectual circles. This separation, moreover, played right into the Party politics of the time. The National Socialists were anti-religionists. Jews were not the only ones to be persecuted in Germany at this time. So, too, were Catholics. A young intellectual who showed support for the Party could have a better chance of employment in the Weimar than a young intellectual who insisted on the rights of the Church. After all, Pius' Anti-Modernist Oath, demanded of all who labored in the name of the Church, created a firestorm of controversy in the universities where it was very most needed. Modernism appeared to be more entrenched in academia than anyone perhaps realized. Rather than the faithful Catholics expelling Modernists from the universities, the Modernists began expelling those who took the Oath (Farias 52).
Heidegger broke with the Church first on matters of principles (related to academic freedom and conclusions drawn from his own epistemological studies) then on matters of faith. In other words, his pursuit of doctrine changed. Instead of pursuing the doctrine that the Church taught, Heidegger began to "ponder" it, began to compose his own theory of the evolution of knowledge and the experience of "Being," and began to part ways with the Faith. He continued to identify himself as a Catholic on forms required by the State, but inwardly he was questioning with a more liberal mind the dogmas that had been passed down to him concerning "Being" -- or the essence of God. Heidegger still embraced Christianity -- but it was a looser Christianity, one less dogmatic than Catholicism. Meanwhile, the Weimar Republic was being established in the second decade of the 20th century, and Heidegger had received a position at Marburg. In some ways, he still maintained his Catholic views, so much so in fact that his friend Englebert Krebs stated in 1923 that Heidegger, though still maintaining his position outside the Catholic Church, also "does work a great deal on Augustine and Thomas and Aristotle. I had the impression during our talk that I was hearing my friend of the past, and was sitting across from the truly Catholic sage" (Farias 54). But this appearance of two diametrically opposed positions in one person was the very definition of the modernist, split-personality type pointed out by Pius X. Thus, it is apparent, that Heidegger had become the very sort of man identified by Pius X and condemned by himself in 1910: at once Catholic, Protestant, traditional and modern.
When Heidegger published Being and Time, he set forth a work which synthesized viewpoints of the past and the present. Farias notes that "in no sense can we read National Socialism into Being and Time, but we can identify philosophical beliefs that foreshadow Heidegger's later convictions" (60). His metaphysics, as Farias states, shaped his political views. In Being and Time, Heidegger had detached himself from "historical empiricism" and approached history from "an ontological basis" (Farias 61), that is from the obsession with "being" that occupied his philosophical work.
His support of National Socialism in Germany stemmed from his "interpretation of truth as formulated in Being and Time" (Farias 62). Heidegger's sense of "Being" is arrived at by a kind of "living tradition" -- the "active possibilities still living in the former manifestations of a people (in its tradition) and, by that token, still effective in the present" (Farias 65). The "active possibilities" were certainly apparent in the Germany of the Third Reich -- a Germany which saw its "Being" rising gloriously from the ashes of its WWI humiliation. Moreover, this idea of a "living tradition" is certainly manifested in and exploited by Hitler's doctrine. Hitler tapped the reservoir of Germanic tradition and synthesized it into a nationalistic credo. National Socialism was not a revolutionary doctrine to…[continue]
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