Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Must we burn Heidegger? (updated)

That would seem to be the next logical step, if Emmanuel Faye's advice is heeded:
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. As a result Mr. Faye declares, Heidegger’s works and the many fields built on them need to be re-examined lest they spread sinister ideas as dangerous to modern thought as “the Nazi movement was to the physical existence of the exterminated peoples.”

First published in France in 2005, the book, “Heidegger: The Introduction of Nazism Into Philosophy,” 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.
Leaving aside the question of whether all, or even most, of Heidegger's works have said qualities (and I don't believe they do), the notion that fascism and racism are somehow exclusive of "philosophy" leaves me wondering just how Mr. Faye defines "philosophy." Can there be no evil philosophy? What about a mistaken philosophy -- also impossible?

While I'm not well-read enough in Heidegger to pronounce with much authority, my impression from what I've read (primary & secondary) is that Heidegger's suspicion of rationalism and democracy left him a fairly easy mark for the Nazi emphasis on instinct and authoritarianism, but not that Heidegger's philosophy taught anything "Nazi" as such. Heidegger's shameful rectoral address, and his comment on the "inner truth of National Socialism" in Introduction to Metaphysics, are sheer opportunistic flattery. As Rorty wrote somewhere, Heidegger was basically a very smart Black Forest redneck.

Damon Linker's blog post excoriating the Heidegger-banners, mentioned in the NYT article, shows a much stronger grasp of what philosophy is:
I'm a liberal democrat and a humanist who considers totalitarianism in general, and Nazism in particular, to be moral and political abominations. I believe in the truth of science, and I like many things about technological modernity. I accept logic as a valid means of determining many forms of truth. And I happily accept the vision of Being that has prevailed in the Western world since the time of the ancient Greeks. In other words, I'm not inclined to follow Heidegger in its efforts to prepare the way for a more "primordial" encounter with Being by subverting these and other aspects of our world. But what a breathtakingly exciting experience it is to be forced to think about and make a case for, rather than lazily accept as self-evident, our most fundamental assumptions about the world and ourselves!

That is--or should be--what philosophy is all about. Which is why Heidegger was right at assert in an electrifying lecture course from 1929 that "philosophy is the opposite of all comfort and assurance." What Carlin Romano has advocated in his essay is something altogether different--something tamer, more congenial, more comforting. Fine: By all means, let's offer another seminar on Rawls and the foundations of liberal justice. But surely there should also be a place in the university for a close encounter with a dramatically different style of thinking--with the stunningly radical (and perhaps radically erroneous) thought of Martin Heidegger.
Some may disagree with Linker because they don't believe it's safe or desirable to question the fundamental assumptions of liberal thought, which always has its enemies. That would be to set political priorities and limits on what's philosophically acceptable ... which is not too far from the confusion of quotidian politics and fundamental philosophy that Heidegger apparently fell into. But in a good cause, right? Anything's justifiable in a good cause ....

... John Holbo comes at the NYT piece from the angle of Nazi typography. No, really. Must we burn Helvetica?

... Holbo's thread includes this great comment by Hidari, which Hidari follows up with:
Heidegger’s brother was called Fritz, was famous as the town (Messkirch) ‘card’, never went to University, and was famous for his antics and his anarchic sense of humour (he picked fights with the Nazis during the war). In Messkirch (you’ll like this, Alison), Martin was always known as ‘oh you know…..Fritz’s brother!’. This when Martin was one of the most famous philosophers on earth.

... Finally I've been able to google the fellow whose lecture at the New School a few years back dwelled on two sentences from B&T that he said demonstrated Heidegger's fascism. That's Johannes Fritsche, who wrote a book. As I recall, his previous book had been on Aristotle, and the New School thought it was getting an Aristotle professor -- then he arrives, and it's all Heidegger all the time. He is now teaching in Istanbul.

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