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Thursday, September 6, 2018

Heidegger On Why He Misunderstood Nazism

Heidegger in 1960
Martin Heidegger hated to talk about his engagement with the nazis; he never came up with satisfactory explanation for why he appeared to be sympathetic to nazism, particularly in 1933 when the nazis acquired power in Germany.

In 1945, he wrote an essay, “The Rectorate 1933/34: Facts and Thoughts,” to explain what happened in 1933. He says in the essay that at that time he saw in the Nazi Party “the possibility of an inner self-collection and of a renewal of the people, and a path toward the discovery of its historical-Western purpose. I believed that the university, renewing itself, might also be called to significantly participate in the inner self-collection of the people.”

But he insists that he was never asked by any agency of the Nazi Party for any kind of political advise, and he never tried to have such a political participation, and that he never maintained any personal or political relations with the Party. He clarifies that as soon as he became aware that he had misunderstood the nature of nazism, he moved away from the Nazi Party. He portrays himself as a victim of nazis, claiming that after he resigned from the position of University Rectorate in 1934, he was attacked by the nazis in a disgusting manner.

The central message of Heidegger’s essay can be summed up as “I was too naive to understand nazism in the early 1930s, so please don’t blame me.”

In his book, A la rencontre de Heidegger. Souvenirs d'un messager de la Forêt-Noire, Frédéric de Towarnicki reminisces the conversation that he had with Heidegger while they were having wine in 1945. Towarnicki asked Heidegger why he was close to nazism in the early 1930s. Heidegger replied, “Dummheit.” (Stupidity). Heidegger also said that the political engagement with the nazis was "the greatest stupidity of his life" ("die größte Dummheit seines Lebens”).

However, many of the Heidegger’s former admirers and students, people like Hannah Arendt, Karl Jaspers, Herbert Marcuse, and several others, were not satisfied with the explanation that he offers in his 1945 essay. They insist that it was something other than “stupidity” that drew Heidegger to the nazis.

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