Martin Heidegger, one of the 20th century’s most important philosophers, is raising a new storm in his native Germany, and France, four decades after his death.
At its center is the publication of his “black notebooks,” a kind of philosophical diary that he began in 1931 and completed before his death in 1976. Passages from the book that were leaked to the media last December shocked many scholars and other readers because of their blatant anti-Semitism.
Many academics agree that Heidegger – the author of “Being and Time,” a member of the Nazi Party and Hitler supporter – is not an “easy” philosopher. “The question is how to explain the dissonance between one of the greatest and most influential philosophies of the 20th century, and Heidegger’s contemptible political and personal stance,” wrote Boaz Neumann, from the philosophy department of Tel Aviv University, in the introduction to his lecture on the subject on Army Radio.
The recently published notebooks, and in particular the entries from the period between the start of World War II and 1941, only heighten this dissonance. Heidegger used Nazi and anti-Semitic terms and ideas, including Weltjudentum (“world Judaism”), and wrote about the “conspiracy” of “rootless Jews.”
“World Judaism,” Heidegger wrote in one passage, “is one of the main drivers of Western modernity.” Elsewhere, he writes that world Judaism “doesn’t need to get involved in military action while continuing to unfurl its influence, whereas we are left to sacrifice the best blood of the best of our people.”
In another place, he wrote that it is because the Jews “have lived according to the race principle for the longest” that they demonstrate so much opposition to the Nazi race theory.
German weekly Die Zeit wrote late last year that, in light of the new publication, it was “difficult to defend” Heidegger’s ideas. German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung called the revelations “a failure of modern philosophy.” The book’s editor, German philosopher Peter Trawny – director of the Martin Heidegger Institute at the University of Wuppertal – was “shocked” by the notebooks’ anti-Semitism.
“Heidegger didn’t just pick up these anti-Semitic ideas, he processed them philosophically – he failed to immunize his thinking from such tendencies,” Trawny said. But he added that their publication was justified, despite the “potential damage” to Heidegger’s legacy.
Prior to the book’s publication, Neumann expressed a similar view, saying that the philosopher was “too important, too influential and too great in philosophical terms for the entire issue to be solved merely by declaring that he and his philosophy were Nazi.”