On legacies, on ourselves

{else: why the black notebooks matter {{

Consider the case of a technology with a terrible history.

We use techs with terrible history, with  awful moral and political implications, all the time. I, for one, am using a few of them right now: I wear shoes made by companies that explore slave labor, I use an iPad often (and we all know the human cost of those), and though I do not eat beef, I do eat soy (so, I am basically as knee deep in shit as most of my peers that do eat beef).

Moral perfectionism is a problematic position, and I do not think there is much to be gained by going there – mostly because perfectionist approaches basically make your life pretty impossible.

In that case, shouldn’t we take the Heidegger affair as a case of moral perfectionism? Of intelectual witch hunt?

Only if we want to reduce the reaction of a philosopher against the most horrifying event of the twentieth century to an afterthought.

Heidegger’s support of Nazism was not accidental, it was not a result of ignorance or political desinterest. Rather, Heidegger’s support of Nazism was a direct result of Heidegger being a Nazist – of him being anti-semitic and a firm believer in the superiority of blut und erte. These are not accidents. And the importance of territory, originality, and other memes of Nazism, are hence not accidents hidden within his philosophy – they are deliberate incorporations of a certain language, associated with Nazism, into ontology.

In this, was Heidegger atypical? Well, he is certain the most mainstream case of philosophical adherence to Nazism, and he is also the only such case to be considered among the best – if not the best – philosopher of the 20th Century.

My former advisor, whom I admire very much, often says that we all have our demons. Heidegger had some pretty large ones.

But is this a case of demoniac possession? I mean, is the anti-semitism, the sense of inevitability of superiority of one form of being, the talk of destiny and so on, are all these things just a “demon” within Heidegger’s philosophy? Or are they at the core of what Heidegger was doing?

Consider the case of a technology constructed to do very bad things.

Can we ever save gas chambers? Can we resignify, re-appropriate and re-use gas chambers and make them do things less gas-chambery?  Can we save the atomic bomb?

Well, perhaps we can rethink gas. Perhaps we can rethink the atom. But we should not consider the history of the atom and the history of the gas as an afterthought to our using of these things.

We do not need to rethink Heidegger, we do not need to consider whether it is controversial that he was a Nazi. He was a Nazi. His philosophy a vehicle for his Nazism. Denying these points is to solidly position oneselves on the side of the worst sort of revisionism, one that tends to see the demise of six million people as a historical accident with no protagonists – as if six billion people had died on the hands of nothing. That was, of course, not the case. They died on the hands of people like Heidegger.

Is this to say Being and Time belongs on the trash can?

I wouldn’t blame you if you said so. I really wouldn’t. But I also do not want to censor my peers who wish to read the book against itself, in the same way that I do not blame those who wish to explore gas or atomic energy to things other than weaponry.

But let us not fool ourselves about the roots of the things we are using.

We should at least, everytime we quote Being and Time to our students, remind them that such book was written by a man who once read Mein Kampf and thought it was such a great book that he went out of his way to work for the writer. These things ought to matter.

Else we might as well say that truth and history do not matter. And we all know where this ends.

3 Responses to “On legacies, on ourselves”
  1. Fabs, even though you offer some extremely interesting insights into the Heidegger case, there are some errors (“six billion people” in lieu of “six million people”) and vague inaccuracies (that H’s “philosophy [was] a vehicle for his Nazism”). I totally agree with your reservations and suspicions vis a vis the whole conception of H’s daimon (Greek for Geschick, Schicksal, Schicksalsbestimmung, hence Geist, Volksgeist) but I’m afraid you should clarify and qualify your argument better, say, in what sense H’s “philosophy [was] a vehicle for his Nazism” –assuming that the development of his thought in the 1920s had apparently little to do with the 1930s infamous rhetoric –your placing together “Being and Time” and “Mein Kampf” seems quite misleading. I tend to agree with Derrida’s reading of the German, European Zeitgeist as something very complex (“Nazism, as I say in De L’Esprit, did not just grow like a mushroom”), as shown also by André Glucksmann’s “Les Maîtres Penseurs” : http://www.yadvashem.org/odot_pdf/Microsoft%20Word%20-%203657.pdf

  2. Fixed the billion dollar mistake. Duh.

    We’ve argued about the “vehicle” controversy for a while, and though I understand those who see the full-blown monstrosity that was Heidegger in the 1930s as separated from the developments in Being and Time, I do not think we can see, with all we know now, the elements of territoriality, originality, and authenticity present in Being and Time as a mere coincidence. They take part in a language that was common among Nazi intelectuals – in that sense, I stand by what I wrote when I indicate that I see his philosophy as a vehicle to his Nazism.

    Now, I hope it is clear that I do not think that from the fact that Heidegger had used and presented his philosophy within this context it follows that we are also in the same page when we interpret Heidegger, or use his philosophy.

    I think De L’Esprit is a text that Derrida would review with the evidence that has been mounting since then. Derrida did not see some of the documents and letters that we’ve seen now. In Chicago, when I heard Caputo, he pointed at this mentioning that Heidegger’s adherence to Nazism was still a point of argument in the 80s, given we did not have so much evidence in front of us, it was a completely different story now.

    What do ya think?

  3. I think you got an excellent point and I tend to agree with you overall. I was just trying to be more careful in the way we handle this “vehicle” controversy, precisely because even though I (following Derrida and many others here) don’t entirely separate “the full-blown monstrosity that was Heidegger in the 1930s” from “the developments in Being and Time” –I just don’t think we can jump into some causal correlation or simply reduce H’s philosophy to sociocultural, psychological conditionings (which certainly play a role, but cannot be all there is to be reduced to). So I agree with “the elements of territoriality, originality, and authenticity present in Being and Time” –but you might find those or similar metaphors in different accounts of worldhood, identity and difference –even in the Hebrew bible, for that matter ! I always love Marlène Zarader’s takes on the “unthought debts” vis a vis Judaism when we delve into H’s ambitious ontological task of thinking the unthought : http://crises.upv.univ-montp3.fr/equipe/chercheurs-et-enseignants-chercheurs-rattaches-a-titre-principal/philosophie/zarader-marlene/

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