September 13, 2019


Heidegger, the homesick philosopher  (SAMUEL EARLE , 9/11/19, New Statesman)

[T]oday it's another of Heidegger's relationships that overshadows his life and legacy: his affiliation with the Nazi Party, which he joined in 1933 and never truly renounced. Heidegger and Hitler also shared a lover's discourse of sorts: terms such as Heimat (homeland), Volk (people) and "historical destiny", a fondness for the German forest, and contempt for cosmopolitanism and "humanism". Since the posthumous publication of Heidegger's private notebooks, their common foe is also beyond doubt, despite his feelings for Arendt: "World Jewry". [...]

Perhaps the most worrying sign of Heidegger's relevance today lies in politics - where all manner of dangerous reactionaries delight in declaring their indebtedness to him. Martin Sellner, leader of the Austrian branch of the neo-fascist network Generation Identity - which allegedly has ties to Brenton Tarrant, who murdered 51 people in attacks on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand this year - attributes his "path of thinking to Heidegger". For the ultra-conservative thinker and adviser to Vladimir Putin Aleksandr Dugin, mastering Heidegger "is the main strategic task of the Russian people". When Steve Bannon, Donald Trump's former chief strategist, was interviewed by Der Spiegel last year, he held up a biography of Heidegger. "That's my guy," he said.

Heidegger's thought cannot be confined to a single idea or interpretation. He pined for a lost harmony and simplicity, but left one of the most divisive and complex oeuvres in the history of philosophy. He was a nature lover and a Nazi philosopher; an anti-Semite and an almost rabbinical thinker (some Nazis were suspicious of his avid Jewish readers and wanted to ban his work because of a perceived "Talmudic-Kabbalist" quality). He was obsessed with the West and is adored by its self-appointed defenders. But he was also influenced by Eastern philosophy and, convinced that the West had lost its way, he became central to anti-Western thought, inspiring the 1979 Iranian Revolution's idea of "Westoxification". Meanwhile, his more spiritual musings circulate innocently on social media, as life advice for the lost at heart.

There is no clear political philosophy in Heidegger. Born in 1889, in the small village of Messkirch, he was a philosopher whose style was often willingly - some say comically - opaque. Many of his key terms are so difficult to define that translators simply opt to keep the original German. At the time of writing, "Martin Heidegger" is one of only 174 English Wikipedia pages -out of a total 29 million - officially flagged as "incomprehensible" by the site.

This is also one of the reasons why Heidegger's standing is so fraught, even when his Nazism and anti-Semitism are set aside. The way he wrote has especially irked Anglophile readers, who suspect a man without substance. So whereas for Arendt he was "the secret king of thought" and for Levinas "the greatest philosopher of the century", Bertrand Russell, by contrast, thought Heidegger did not even warrant a place in his History of Western Philosophy (1945). "Heidegger is the only world-famous philosopher of the 20th century about whom it can seriously be argued that he was a charlatan," Bernard Williams wrote in 1981.

Posted by at September 13, 2019 12:15 PM