Thursday, November 12, 2009

Does a Nazi deserve a place amongst philosophers?

Alfredo Triff

This article by Patricia Cohen in the NYTimes reviews another book on Heidegger's Nazi past. Though I haven't read Emmanuel Faye's Heidegger: The Introduction of Nazism Into Philosophy, I've read Heidegger and Nazism by Victor Farias. Heidegger's news spreads like the A1H1 flu. My post is meant to spark a discussion, not to exhaust it. Here are some paragraphs from Cohen's article:

Drawing on new evidence, the author, Emmanuel Faye, argues fascist and racist ideas are so woven into the fabric of Heidegger’s theories that they no longer deserve to be called philosophy.

First, "new evidence" on Heidegger is (as "NEW" in Capitalist Advertising) an ongoing affair, and will be revised from time to time. Heidegger the "black sheep" of Twentieth-Century Philosophy? True, the evidence is damning: HE WAS A NAZI. But when it comes to political affiliations, the arts and philosophy can be pretty radical: Wagner and Eliot were anti-Semitic, Foucault and Sartre were Maoists, Henri Lefebvre was a Stalinist (let's not be so fussy about leanings). Is Ezra Pound's poetry less relevant because he defended Mussolini and hated American democracy? Is Thomas Jefferson's political program a travesty because he owned slaves? Can one completely disqualify Speer's architecture because he was Hitler's protégé?

Heidegger’s theories [...] no longer deserve to be called philosophy.

I doubt it {which is not to Heidegger's benefit}. Faye would have to define what is philosophy, and that will take him a long time. A favorite shortcut: Philosophy is the pursuit of truth, but as we know, the history of philosophy is filled with vastly different ideas of what "truth" -truly- is. If so, what is it so difficult to accept that philosophy can legitimize radicalism in all its forms? If Faye thinks that Heidegger's ideas don't amount to philosophy, then we may as well disqualify Twentieth-Century Existentialism from the ranks of philosophy.1 And why not looking for bits of Heidegger-like-DNA in Phenomenology?2

[Faye's book] calls on philosophy professors to treat Heidegger’s writings like hate speech. Libraries, too, should stop classifying Heidegger’s collected works (which have been sanitized and abridged by his family) as philosophy and instead include them under the history of Nazism. These measures would function as a warning label, like a skull-and-crossbones on a bottle of poison, to prevent the careless spread of his most odious ideas, which Mr. Faye lists as the exaltation of the state over the individual, the impossibility of morality, anti-humanism and racial purity.

Isn't it obvious that Heidegger, the person, and thus, Heidegger's books already belong in the history of Nazism? (Which is not necessarily my point). Faye prescription needs to be taken all the way to its obvious comprehensive Gestalt. One cannot separate the history of Nazism from the history of Germany from the history of Europe in the Twentieth Century, which is precisely the ideological armor of...

[...] his most odious ideas [...] the exaltation of the state over the individual, the impossibility of morality, anti-humanism and racial purity.

Zu den Sachen selbst!3 In the same Fayeian fashion: Let's prevent the spread of late-Plato (a lover of tyranny) and Plato's conservative progeny! Hobbes' Sovereign, Burke's "aristocratic order," Hegel's God-like State = Plato's Spirit, Pareto's "elitism," Sorel's "anti-science," etc, etc.

Without understanding the soil in which Heidegger’s philosophy is rooted, Mr. Faye argues, people may not realize that his ideas can grow in troubling directions. Heidegger’s dictum to be authentic and free oneself from conventional restraints, for example, can lead to a rejection of morality. The denunciation of reason and soulless modernism can devolve into crude anti-intellectualism and the glorification of "blood and soil."

Did Heidegger's idea of authenticity implode? Well, Heidegger's Nazi past defies his own definition of authenticity. Then, there is the problem of the limits of self-knowledge that presuppose it. Finally, defining authenticity belongs at the limits of language.4 Even so, saying that Heidegger's dictum "can lead to the rejection of morality" is like saying that listening to Heavy Metal can turn someone into a devil worshiper.

Rather than permanently expelling Heidegger from the Pantheon of PHILOSOPHY (which seems ludicrously naive), I find more productive to try to understand how and why philosophy can produce a Heidegger. I look forward to read Faye's book and follow up with further discussions.
1German and French Existentialism owe heavily to Heidegger's Being and Time. But that's early-Heidegger. Then there is the issue of how much French post-Structuralism owes to late-Heidegger. Not to mention that "branch of the Devil," the left-Heideggerians! Faye's problem may be to prescribe only one kind of philosophy and rule out those discourses that don't fit his "ideal mold." Let's learn to accept that in philosophy, as in painting, there is good, mediocre and bad.  2Heidegger is recognized to be one of the most important philosophers of the Twentieth-Century by Jewish philosophers of the stature of Hannah Arendt (his student, lover and defender during his de-Nazification years), Jacques Derrida and Hubert Dreyfus, amongst others. 3Husserl's famous eidetic reduction. 4The discussion why will take us off the topic. Suffice to say that the fundamental problem with authenticity is that (in)authenticity seems to emerge out of our very attempt to find our lost authenticity. What comes first, the chicken or the egg?


a said...

I dont think that philosophy produced a controversial figure. Talk about Spinoza. Was there someone in his own time (and not in retrospect) more ridden with controversy and opprobrium (both for his ideology and his personal conduct) than Spinoza? And nobody questions is place in the history of philosophy today...

(And for the list of bad boys, i'd like to add Althusser who strangled his wife and nobody seems to care much about this detail, perhaps because crime is these days located outside the ideological).

ariana h-r

joni said...

Alas, Hans Sedlmayr, one of my favorite art historians, also became a Nazi. That doesn't make his work any less riveting. I often use his Bruegel essay in my classes. At the end of the class I bring up the Nazi stuff and we talk about it. It's always one of my favorite tricks because first we look at the paintings. I get them to say all the things about the paintings that Sedlmayr says first...then make them read the essay. They are so happy to have "gotten it right" - by agreeing with, and seeing the same things in the painting as "the authority" that when you spring the Nazi part on them they don't know what to say at first. It really makes them think.

miamibourbaki said...

A: Welcome. You're used to weird stuff yourself in anthropology, eh? Althusser is a good case, though this is different. He was known to be depressive and his crime of passion though comparable, is hardly as tainting as Heidegger's.

Joni: Incorporate and win! Good strategy. Thanks for your comment.

Ernesto Menéndez-Conde said...

Recuerdo un libro -pero no el autor ni el titulo- que lei en la Habana hace ya muchisimo tiempo. Basicamente demostraba en que la tradicion filosofica alemana -desde Fitchte, pasando por Hegel hasta Heidegger- estaba todo el sustento filosofico del fascismo. El Nazismo fue, entonces, la consumacion de toda la tradicion filosofica alemana.
El problema consiste, me parece, en que los escritos de cualquier pensador decimononico contienen rasgos que se pueden asociar con el fascismo. Pero con frecuencia, se trata de topicos que tuvieron una importancia mas bien marginal dentro de los sistemas filosoficos de los autores.
En los nacionalismos de la intelectualidad europea del siglo XIX puede encontrarse la genesis del fascismo. De todos modos, uno tropieza con detalles curiosos: Nietzsche (en Ecce Homo)se jactaba de que ancestros fuesen polacos y no alemanes. En su correspondencia, ademas, se puede leer cuanto detestaba el anti-semitismo del esposo de su hermana. No es de extrannar, por tanto, que los fascistas publicaran a un Nietzsche censurado.
No he leido el libro que comentas, pero las referencias que tengo es que Heidegger, como Richard Strauss, se decepcionaron del Nacional Socialismo. Ambos trataron de desligarse de regimen y ambos fueron de alguna manera ninguneados por el gobierno hittleriano.

J. Ferrer said...

Faye lleva años abogando por la retirada de Heidegger de los programas de estudio de filosofía en Francia. Una obsesión la suya que se basa en el rastreo minucioso de las huellas racistas, anti-judías y fascistas (sobre todo) en la correspondencia del pensador de la Selva negra. Luego, basada en el descubrimiento, ¡vaya mérito!, de que Martin Heidegger era uno más entre muchos alemanes de su tiempo. Lo que Faye no ha podido demostrar, y mira que le gustaría hacerlo en la estela del farsesco Farías, es que la filosofía de Heidegger sea "fascista". Que sean "nazis" la superación de la metafísica, el pensamiento sobre la técnica, la dialéctica del Dasein o el curso sobre Schelling... Imposibilitado de hacerlo, Faye ha tomado otro camino: apártese a Heidegger de la filosofía y léalo, el que pueda, como quien lee el capítulo de "Historia del fascismo", es decir, reduciendo su obra a meros entretenimientos de un alemán reaccionario, antisemita y votante del NDSAP... Si no fuera tan grave para los estudios de filosofía en las universidades lo que la victoria de los Faye significaría, toda esta farsa grotesca no movería más que a risa...

a said...

Yes, you're right (Alfredo). Your point also is that you can't really separate a thinker's political ideology with his/her philosophy, even if his is not an explicitly political philosophy (as in the case of Schmidt that was mentioned in FB). I agree with that. But to ban him or eliminate him?
I also think that we are still riding the post-totalitarian/totalitarian fear wave. Spinoza and others seem harmless today. In a hundred years perhaps this issue will not suscite ideological passions?

A.T. said...

El problema consiste, me parece, en que los escritos de cualquier pensador decimononico contienen rasgos que se pueden asociar con el fascismo. Right on point Ernesto. "Give me two arguments (no matter how different) and I'll connect them" is the drive of ideology. Gracias por tu comentario.

Imposibilitado de hacerlo, Faye ha tomado otro camino: apártese a Heidegger de la filosofía y léalo, el que pueda, como quien lee el capítulo de "Historia del fascismo".

Ferrer: De acuerdo. For what I gather here Faye is trying to get into a sort of hermeneutic (bizarre for a non-Heideggerian) analysis of Heidegger's main locutions, "Dasein," "Volk," "Construct" and "Ort." On a different note, there's is the constant danger of left and right Heideggerians becoming one! (just kidding). Thanks for your comment.

A: To follow up on Ernesto M-Conde, How can one about turn Spinoza into a proto-Heideggerian because of his anti-modern views? DELEUZE!

Anonymous said...

Triff I don´t know that art can be compared to philosophy,they use different mediums and ends.

J. Ferrer said...

Alfredo (on your joke y excúsenme por seguir en español; en inglés me costaría mucho más): en realidad los Farías y los Faye no han remontado lo que ya Habermas escribió cuando apenas le salía el bigotico (1953): hay una adecuación del pensamiento de Heidegger a la ideología nacional-socialista y hay una tensión posterior con ella. Bien, claro y diáfano como agua del Cauto donde se bañó Hannah Arendt. Hay un Heidegger "líder de opinión" (que dirían hoy los que se dedican al marketing) que cobra consciencia de su lugar dentro de la Universidad, del propio espacio de la Universidad dentro de una Alemania "nueva" y actúa en consecuencia. Hay pasiones mundanas, hay certezas apoyadas en muletas, hay muletas que quiso comprar porque adivinaba el terremoto. Es posible rastrear tales adecuaciones y tensiones bajo cualquier impronta "revolucionaria", en Rusia, en Cuba. La Alemania del 33 en adelante era "revolucionaria", como la primera y la segunda lo fueron.
Pero una cosa, creo, es la pertinente indagación en la manera en que la historia se cuela en la obra de un escritor, filósofo, etc., y otra bien distinta la voluntad de silenciar un cuerpo teórico entero por haber estado contaminado de aquello a lo que difícilmente se pudo sustraer. Ya te digo: compárese el Habermas que escribió sobre el asdunto con veintipocos años con, por ejemplo, el prólogo de Farías a la edición española de las lecciones de Lógica. Ahí, mi querido amigo, quien oficia de "torquemada (de derechas)" es precisamente Farías... No sé si conoces, por cierto, su libro sobre Salvador Allende... De hecho, no sé si se publicó, pues leí el manuscrito cuando rodaba inédito por un par de editoriales de acá... ¡Tremendos estos torquemadas sobre patines!

Anonymous said...

Great blog you have Mr. Triff.

Marie D.A.

Anonymous said...

As the saying goes "Hate the sins, not the sinner," Here we can say "love the work, hate the author." Now you can love him for his work, but hate him for the ideologies he holds.

thrutheretina said...

I think that close readings are very important, because it easy to make associations, and take things out of context when not wholly involved in the writer's hermeneutics, and even more so if that is one's aim from the start ie Faye. I'm referring only to Being and Time here, but the analytic is in my opinion absolutely unwaveringly amoral, and Heidegger will qualify this every time he refers to the "they" self as a modality which is neither good nor bad, and to the call of conscience which says nothing, other than "Guilty!" in which case one may or may not go on to break from predetermined symbolic order mandates in one's action (authentic vs inauthentic)(this can be taken to be an unspoken aesthetic valuation, but I think it's anachronistic). The call only serves to bring Dasein back to itself in a moment of unheimlichkeit, which discloses Dasein's singular mineness. We have to remember here that Heidegger is digging for the ontological conditions of Dasein, the "how" in terms of everydayness. (something that's easy to forget, as I often do when talking to buddies about Heidegger's account of Dasein's temporality not applying to someone raised in a room totally devoid of light, not able to register change in objects over time)etc. It's a description of everydayness, and only works as such. I don't think that there's much room here for guys like Faye to maneuver. Maybe I'm not giving enough attention to the politically-charged lines in the introduction to metaphysics, but honestly, they're just a few sentences in a book mostly about Greek thinkers and their interpretations of Being. That's just my 2c

Alfredo Triff said...

thrutheretina: since my post i read faye's book & hold the same opinion. yet, i think there's more than just "digging," if so, the digging also took heidegger into a contradictory, at times a pitifully grecoteutonic, heavy, self-important, antisemite, path.

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