Almost everyone has heard the name of Martin Heidegger, even if they don’t know anything about his writings. He was an extremely influential German philosopher of the 19th and 20th centuries, his works are required reading in most college introductory philosophy courses. However, he was also a Nazi.
Recently, a book was published by the name “Heidegger: The Introduction of Nazism Into Philosophy” by Emmanuel Faye, argues for Heidegger’s works to be taken out of the philosophical canon and be classified under “history of Nazism.” Should his ideas be discounted because he was a Nazi? Xingli Wang, associate professor of philosophy, explains further:
How did Heidegger influence the Nazi movement?
In 1933 Hitler was elected Chancellor of Germany, later that same year Heidegger was named Rector of University of Freiburg and also became a Nazi. It was there he gave a famous speech praising Nazi ideals. Heidegger was already very well known philosopher at this point, so Hitler himself borrowed parts of this speech for his own use. Heidegger was interested in entering politics, and so chose Nazism as his doorway. He was only Rector for about a year until he resigned in ’34. It was also at this time that he began to doubt Nazism. This is an important point because he never officially recanted his Nazism, leading some to believe that he was a fervent Nazi until the very end.
Why did he become a Nazi?
Obviously, this question has many different interpretations, but I think the answer can be divided into three parts. First, his background: He was born poor, in rural Germany and trained to be a theologian. He came from an extremely conservative background, and hated liberal democracy.
Second, the government in place, the Weimar Republic, was very weak and Hitler was a power figure. Heidegger certainly wasn’t the only one attracted to Hitler during this time.
The third reason was his philosophy. In his book “Being and Time” he originally referred to the idea of Dasein as a way for the individual to reach authentic existence, but later applied the term to the German nationality as a whole.
I want to emphasize that Heidegger was not a racist, he was drawn to Nazi politics, which is why, when Hitler turned to racism, Heidegger doubted the ideology. I don’t think it necessary to have a linkage between his philosophy and his actions; for example, he condemned “herd mentality” in his writings, yet I can’t think of a more apt term for describing the Nazi movement.
The question remains, why did he never publicly recant his Nazism? No one knows, although he did make subtle comments in his writings admitting that it was a mistake to join the movement.
-Joe Aultman-Moore ’12, Juniata Online Journalist