Friday, October 28, 2011

Friday Night Philosophy Lesson: Is Heidegger a Nazi?

We're going to go right to the meat of it. From Martin Heidegger's Being and Time, Section 74:
...if fateful Dasein, as Being-in-the-World, exists essentially in Being with Others, its historicizing is a co-historicizing and is determinative for it as destiny. This is how we designate the historicizing of the community (Gemeinschaft), of the people (Volkes). Destiny is not something that puts itself together out of individual fates, any more than Being-with-one-another can be conceived as the occurring together of several Subjects. Our fates have already been guided in advance, in our Being with one another in the same world and in our resoluteness for definite possibilities. Only in communicating and in struggling does the power of destiny become free.
In 1999, Johannes Fritsche published a book entitled Historical Destiny and National Socialism in Heidegger's Being and Time. Up until that point in time, Heidegger was viewed--intellectually--with some trepidation, insofar as his sympathies seemed to lean towards the Nazi Party (and he did, in fact, join the Party). Some argued that he simply played the hand he was dealt, that he had no choice but to accept the politics of the moment. But regardless, the question was one mostly limited to Heidegger's action, not his philosophy.

Fritsche changed the game with a quite detailed analysis of Being and Time that demonstrated a deep-seated approval of the basic precepts of Nazism wound up in the work. But of all the passages within, it was the above--from Section 74--that Fritsche focused on, that was the source of his claims.

For Fritsche--and many others who accept his arguments to some degree--the passage is a a justification of the historical destiny of Nazism and the Volkgemainshcaft of the German race.

Fritsche is--of course--completely wrong. Heidegger is exploring phenomenology (the study of how the individual understands his/her self), not political theory. The passage is meaningful only as it relates to Dasein (Heidegger's term for the self one perceives of oneself) in the world. Really, it is more in tune with Hegel's Master and Slave Dialectic than with the historical destiny of national socialism.

The point of the passage is simple (and if you think it's hard to read in English, you should see it in German), despite how complicated it seems: Dasein understands it's fate/destiny in relation to how it understands itself in terms of others.

Heidegger is attempting to lay out how we perceive ourselves as actual participants in the world in which we are "thrown." This is no simple task, though some might find it less than interesting and less than necessary.

The last line of the passage, however, seems almost out of place. But it's really not. What Heidegger is arguing is that the role of the individual Dasein--with regard to that individual Dasein's destiny/future is dependent on participation in the world, in conflict with the other Daseins (note: it's a major error to substitute the idea of a person for Dasein; the concept is important to grasp to understand Heidegger's points and goals).

And indeed, there is a potential Nietzschean outcome, for the Dasein that understands itself as more causal is more causal, is the Nietzschean superman in a sense, is the hero, but only within the limited framework of the Dasein as self-awareness.

Long a short of it? Heidegger may have been a card-carrying Nazi, but that has nothing to do with Being and Time.


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