On the Introduction of Nazism Into Philosophy
1 May 2010
Regarding Hitler’s Nazism, a few preliminary notes on the most absolute positions.
In the first place, it can’t be dismissed as irrelevant or merely ontic failures of the sort that immediately spring to mind. Not only was the mind that was so exquisitely perceptive at grasping the character of things and earths and worlds the same that decided that Hitler was some integral (and positive, because one could certainly imagine the alternative; certainly some strains of apocalyptic christo-zionist readings of the Holocaust event can be said to see Hitler as the consequential yet evil figure who prepares the way for the restoration of Israel. There are further examples, including some which do not repeat the antisemitism of both given here, or do not repeat it in the same way perhaps, but this example at least provides the related antipode.) figure in the restoration of being against the object-cartesian nihilism of modernity. Hitler mattered to Heidegger, and not for a moment of ecstatic commitment made in the heat of thinking, but for a(n indefinably, perhaps to his end,) prolonged period of time.
In the second place, it should be dismissed that Hitlerism or Nazism’s integrality was such that it determines the entire structure of Heideggerian thought, either through past-directed interrogations of the secret fascisms underlying Being and Time, especially authenticity, or through the secret permeation of anti-semetic Germanic militarism into those writings of the period of his party memebership, where the concepts as they present themselves are always another language describing fealty and a prophetic desire for the Camp, or finally in a projection, as Zizek has done, of Heidegger’s actions in 1933-34 as the culminating experience of his life which determines the entire course from that point on, both in the rejection of politics and in the dangerous silence which grows only more virulent when broken (as in the letter to Marcuse), which all his later works can be supposed to be enacting and reenacting, repressing and returning shame, guilt or defiant yet stealthy loyalty to the principle of the Principal, not the historical principal who presented himself at the decisive moment. Each of these should be dismissed in their facetiously twee conception of philosophy as a practice both of immanent coherence and as a necessarily ethical practice (here I mean particularly ethical in the sense that philosophy should always becoming toward itself as an organizing of the behavior of the self who practices it, not that it is presumed that philosophy has to abide by this or that ethical practice). Certainly in its practice of a search toward instead of an elaboration of present knowledge, a practice of which Heidegger is among the greatest examples, there can never exist a coherence to the body of work that is characterized most spectacularly as an always withdrawing. Further, it isn’t a mistake exactly that philosophy should be characterized as ultimately ethical, or ultimately aesthetic or ontological or anything, as long as this characterization is limited to the particular application of the thought and not to its essential character. In other words, if one were searching for tools for making an ethics, the Heideggerian texts are not the correct ones. Heidegger is explicit about this. In other words, if one could eventually maneuver Heidegger’s Nazism into coherence with the rest of his work, it would at that point be a question of whether the Nazi’s mistake was ontological or aesthetic (in the sense of a stimmung not toward the particulars of their explicitly favored styles of art) or whatever one’s question is relating to Heidegger.
This is not, in itself, a rejection of the thesis proposed by many of those who seek the un-denazification of Heidegger. They hold that their repeated attempts will one day get clear how exactly it was that Heidegger was a Nazi in a way more profound and consequential than that he was a Bavarian or a philosopher or a man or anything else, and simultaneously that the Nazis could only have committed an atrocity like the Holocaust if they were mistaken, philosophically, about everything.
Here I suggest two mistakes. First, another pretense of naivete which treats philosophy as the final ground for decisions, where the Nazis were only led to their particular catastrophe by an incorrect ontology or aesthetic or ethic or logic, etc., as if these were the determining forces for the Holocaust. Bizarrely, this perpetuates the Nazi-led and Christian-sustained myth that Hitler was some sort of Philosopher, heavily engaged with the thought of Nietzsche. He was not, nor was philosophical practice in Germany such that the mass-movement-horror of it was somehow a premeditated rational sequence. The second mistake is even more Hegelian. While positing Heidegger as a uniquely coherent self is perverse, returning to the darkness of Hegel’s nationalism, where the Spirit of Nazism is some truly coherent evil is simply juvenile.
What seems plausible to me is that Heidegger isolated the power of the Volk in much the same sense as someone like Fanon isolated the power of identifying with the colonially produced nationalities in order to overthrow colonialism. This isn’t to equate the two thinkers in any way but rather to draw out the differences. In Fanon, liberatory nationalism is a self-conscious construction which can effectively disrupt and destroy the powers that instituted them by contorting the control mechanism of disruption of pre-colonial fidelities into the disruption of expected behavior of properly colonial subjects, turning the production of the educated elite from the release of virulent ideology into a context where it can take root in the extended openings available to the knowledges limited to natives into the return of the repressed. In Heidegger, of course, Soviet Marxism provided the image of a colonial invasion but in his melodramatic organization, the domination of Germany isn’t the direct enslaving oppression of European colonialism or even the immediate context of late 1920’s economic collapse, but perhaps the final Production, that of the Last Man. Heidegger, however, despite his acute historical sense, is unable to tear himself away from his cultural nationalism and imagines a Germanness that is beyond the national identity (one formed ironically at the same time as the various Maghrebian nationalities to whom Fanon addressed ‘The Wretched of the Earth’). By turning the power of German thinking into the outgrowth of the German language (the only modern language to which he can allow properly philosophical work), he doesn’t produce an effective weapon, dangerous to those who deploy it yet perhaps much more dangerous to those for whom it is being fashioned, but imagines a transhistorical People who exist or worse, must exist. At this point, Heidegger’s brilliant reveal of spatio-temporal truths gets away from him and he can’t break himself away from the easy slippage toward the traditional prejudices of his youth and the metastasizing movement that surrounds him. The important difference between the advocates of Heidegger’s expulsion from thinking and the position I outline here is the Hegelian or Heideggerian nature of the mistake. If the transition between historical states is the inevitability of the thought that precedes it, the dialectic returns and Heidegger’s coherent self enacts its rational solution (in the sense of relating properly to his understanding of technology) to the loss of meaning is to become a Nazi. If, however, it is one of a number of possible responses, then it is in the end something that can be correctly seen as coming from the same intense historical tones that were resonating with millions of Germans, not from the peculiar and rarefied vibrations which result in his thought.
It should be said here that this is the common and hideous redrawing of a history in which the defeated enemies’ sin was themselves. In the case of the Nazis, this position makes even more bland and homologous the particular and contingent decisions that went into its apocalyptic violence. The common German, despite his adherence to such grotesque ideals, despite his professing of admiration for such grotesque figures, despite his support, perhaps military, perhaps social, perhaps even political, is not the same as Goebbels or Goering or Hitler, who are not even equivalent among themselves. With Heidegger as “the introduction of Nazism into philosophy”, mere party membership is elevated to world historical evil by the flattening of “Nazism” into a single event, the Holocaust, which not only ignores the decade of suffering by those who were not put into camps, but also ignores the twenty million Soviets who were destroyed by a different node of the Nazi mechanism (one, it should be noted, which is far easier to relate to Heidegger’s thought than the objectivation of Jews and Communists in the camps.)
Pervading these critiques, in order to identify Heidegger with the Nazis, are absurd monoliths (Him psychologically, his philosophical practice, philosophy as such, the Nazi Nation state) and teloi (the historical necessities of his work coming out of his reactionary background, that further as a result of the work Heidegger must become a fascist [despite Arendt, Sartre, Marcuse, Merleau-Ponty, Gadamer, Foucault, Derrida, etc.], even worse, that the Nazi state of 1933-34 flow necessarily toward the Holocaust itself.) Neither is present in Heidegger’s work in a positive sense and both falsify, sometimes deliberately, the nature of these events in order to blame a collection of conceptual devices for the behavior of its thinker, the behavior of his cohort and the violent imposition of new orders of his contemporaries. It removes the location of these errors from within those who committed them and turns Nazis who still, even until 1942, did not have to proceed with the Shoah, into automatons whose primordial error, perhaps better put original sin, was a Nazism from which all evils flow automatically. That these critiques persist has more to do with the defense of the domains which Heidegger rendered problematic, particularly liberalism, capitalism, truth as correctness, metaphysics and ahistorical universals, than it does with a secret Nazi heart beating beneath the surface.
It is this element of the Heideggerian indictment which is so dangerous. Instead of detailing the failures of Heideggerian mechanisms, it rejects the value of these mechanisms regardless of their relation to the contemporary or the effects of the mechanisms. It merely asserts that those concepts which were produced most clearly and recently by a thinker who held membership in the Nazi party are necessarily going to result in similar effects, while using the flat notion of Nazism as infinite evil to verify the thesis in a relative relation to such an evil, yet insisting that the taint is merely an indicator of the secret infinite which always overwhelms any actual effects or unconcealing or correctness which occur in the practice of the concepts themselves.