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Heidegger

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As we meditate this year on the resurrection of anti-Semitism and its new acceptability, let us not forget the role academia, supposedly objective and sane, plays in perpetuating it. Anyone familiar with university politics knows full well the hypocrisy of ideologies, be they Marxist or fascist (even Zionist and anti-Zionist) that can impose themselves on staff and students.

Of all the well-known Western philosophers, Martin Heidegger must be the most morally despicable. I have no expertise in physiognomy, but just looking at his portraits as a young professor I see a weasel-like malignance and arrogance. Having deflowered his brilliant but flawed Jewish student, Hannah Arendt, he set about systematically blaming Jews for every failing of modern societies to the point where he joined the Nazi party and paid his dues right up until the very end of the war. He admired Hitler, and to his dying day he not only refused to repudiate him but also thought that Nazism was the right way for Germany to go, even if the specific manifestation that lost the war was in his opinion a deviation.

He enthusiastically sacked Jews from their positions in the University of Freiburg when he was appointed chancellor in 1933. He approved the racist Nuremberg laws Hitler introduced and never once responded to requests from other academics to condemn Hitler’s policy of exterminating innocent Jews. If ever there was proof that philosophy has little to do with morality, Heidegger must be the perfect example.

I will not bore those of you familiar with his philosophy or those who have little patience with casuistry by rehearsing his work. But I will focus on several aspects just to make my point. Heidegger had little patience for Kant’s concept of moral obligation. Neither did he much like Nietzsche, who wrote about the super- or übermensch, above the common and petty restrictions of ordinary mortals. Fascist dictators tended to love Nietzsche because they used his idea of the exceptional superman (above the norm and above the law). This was at the root of Nazi ideology, if you could call it that. Heidegger refined and expanded on Nietzsche to argue for the absurd notion of an “uber folk”, a super people. Yes, in other words, the Nazis.

He initially based his thought on one of my favorites Husserl (born Jewish 1859-1938). It was Husserl who first developed the idea of phenomenalism, that we humans exist as beings whose primary responsibility is to live our lives through our own experiences. Some, like Sartre, took this to be a charter for unrestrained freedom to act as one wished. Heidegger modified it in his early work “Being and Time” (1927) to discuss the nature of “being” as existing in a bubble of one’s own lunacy. This bubble of his consists of submitting oneself to the idea of one’s people, in his case the Aryan super race that would purge the world of the decadent malevolent influence of the despised Jews. Them he blamed, as if they all acted and thought in a similar way; they alone were responsible for everything evil in the world, from Marxism to Capitalism, from collectivism to individuality. They were rootless cosmopolitans, an epithet he shared with the Marxism he so despised and feared. As with all prejudiced people, he hated and feared a myth rather than a reality. Judaism was guilty of introducing monotheism, universalism, everything that challenged his idea of a folk rooted in land and blood. They were not willing to fight but incited others to take up arms. I wonder where he would stand today as Jews fight for the right to be accepted as a folk and to live on their own land that they defend with their blood.

But I would no more expect Heidegger to understand this than I would any anti-Semite. One can understand why so many philosophers feel such an affinity to his sick thought process. His apologists claim that his anti-Semitism is a blip. The overwhelming majority of contemporary philosophers have excused him or ignore his moral failure. Even Hannah Arendt was so enamored of him (or perhaps trying to excuse herself) that she herself assisted in his rehabilitation. But in recent years his detailed notebooks from the years 1931 to 1941 have been published under the title of “Black Notebooks”. They are replete with his disgusting prejudice, invective, and hatred. Among them he said that Nazism’s persecution of the Jews was justified as self-defense against Jewry’s unique predisposition towards planned criminality.

The Talmud says that “hatred distorts the balance of one’s mind”; so too does love. Heidegger is revealed as an evil, hateful man. The Talmud tells us that in the period from Rosh Hashana to Yom Kipur all of humanity passes before the Almighty to be judged. We are all God’s creatures, regardless of our origins or race. We have an obligation to try our best to care for, to help, and to improve the world we live in. Even if around us our enemies swarm, we should not lose sight of our task in improving humanity. I hope Heidegger is being dealt with wherever he is. But for us he is a lesson that irrational hatred remains a pernicious disease that can strike anywhere, and like any disease it requires a prophylactic.

3 thoughts on “Heidegger

  1. To all academics, Please consider signing a letter in support of academic freedom:

    http://facultyforacademicfreedom.org/.
    Background – This is a grass-roots effort being organized by a group of faculty members spearheaded by Cornell Law Professor William Jacobson.
    The goal is to make sure that the effort to support academic freedom is not associated with any particular group or organization, that it is inclusive of voices on the political left and right, and also representative of diverse disciplines in academia to show the breadth of the response to the threat of academic boycotts. The letter has also been reported in the Washington Post http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/volokh-conspiracy/wp/2014/09/22/over-600-scholars-sign-letter-against-bds/

    Why sign the petition? – This Petition is important because it lets faculty and students know there are many others like them who — regardless of their views on particular aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute — do not believe that the academic freedom of the entire educational system should be sacrificed for the goal of the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. The over 1000 signatories who have signed to date include many distinguished names amongst which are Nobel laureates Steven Weinberg, Randy Schekman and Roald Hoffman.
    One does not have to be “pro-Israel” to sign — only pro-academic freedom, pro-fairness, pro-intellectual honesty, pro-factual accuracy, pro-education and pro-peace.
    Many thanks,

    PS Additionally please consider encourage others to sign. The petition is open to all academics including someone who is a present or retired faculty member, academic staff, post-doctoral student, trustee or administrator.

  2. Thank you for this post, which lets some light into a room that has been kept very closely shuttered. It is appalling that this man has been so enormously influential in the Western academic world precisely since 1945, when one would have thought that he would be avoided like a leper.
    One example of this was his influence on the Jewish poet and Holocaust survivor Paul Celan. James Lyon has a book about the relationship between them; apparently Celan read him partly because his language was so influential that he felt he needed to do so in order to engage with his audience and at the same time put up a sort of smoke screen so that they wouldn't catch on too fast to what he was really saying. Unfortunately Heidegger has also influenced many critics of Celan's work so that their "explanations" are harder to understand than the poems themselves. Heidegger is a kind of fog machine, and I guess that is why so many people have found him useful.
    I would have liked to write you a letter but don't have an address for you. I was directed to you by a friend who thought you might be interested in my book, Western Art and Jewish Presence in the Work of Paul Celan, for which I'm seeking reviewers; a flyer is posted at http://www.derondareview.org/bookonPaulCelan.htm I'm hoping this book will shed some light on the deep issues between Judaism and Western culture and will be grateful for any advice or help on how to get it known. Please excuse this way of contacting you; as said, I don't know any other and really hope you will find my work of interest. With thanks for your attention, (Dr.) Esther Cameron

  3. Esther
    I should be delighted to review the book provided you can give me till January/February to deliver.
    I tried the link you sent but it gave me an error message.
    You can reach me at jeremyrosen(at)msn.com
    Regards
    Jeremy

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