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Pierre Joris:
Heidegger, France, Politics, the University
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We are very grateful to Pierre Joris for allowing us to make this text available here.
Victor Farias, Heidegger and Fascism, translated by (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1989) Originally published as Heidegger et le Nazisme (Paris: Verdier, 1987) François Fédier, Heidegger, Anatomie d'un scandale (Paris: Laffont, 1988)
Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe, La fiction du politique (Paris: Christian Bourgois, 1988)
Jean-François Lyotard, Heidegger et "les juifs" (Paris: Galilée, 1988)
Jacques Derrida, De L'Esprit (Paris: Galilée, 1987).
Pierre Bourdieu, L'ontologie politique de Martin Heidegger (Paris: Editions de Minuit, 1988). Luc Ferry, Alain Renaut, Heidegger et les Modernes, (Paris: Grasset, 1988). "Le Messager Européen", n. 1 pp. 13-121 (Paris: POL, 1987) publishes a dossier on Heidegger put together and with an essay by Elisabeth de Fontenay. It includes a french translation of the Spiegel interview and a commentary by the Czech philosopher Jan Patocka.
"Le Débat" n. 48, jan.-feb. 1988 (Paris: Gallimard) contains a section on the Farias book with articles by Pierre Aubenque, Henri Crétella, Michel Deguy, François Fédier, Gérard Granel, Stéphane Moses and Alain Renaut.
Hugo Ott, "Wege und Abwege," Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 28-29 November 1987. In France the debate concerning Heidegger's fascism goes back to 1945, when Sartre's Les Temps Modernes published, in its very first issue, a dossier concerning this question. An English edition is projected for 1989, to be published by Temple University Press. Thomas Sheehan, "Heidegger and the Nazis," New York Review of Books, June 16 1988. See footnote 5. Martin Heidegger, Die Selbstbehauptung der deutschen Universität / Das Rektorat 1933/34, Frankfurt: Vittorio Klostermann, 1983. The article "Das Rektorat 1933/34 - Tatsachen und Gedanken" was written in 1945 but not published until 1983. cf above, note 4. See also Lanzman's book by the same title: Shoah, Paris: Fayard, 1985. in Le Nouvel Observateur, 6-12 November 1987. (Cited by Ferry/Renaud, Lacoue- Labarthe and others. I have not been able to locate the article in the international issue of the Nouvel Observateur available at the SUNY-Binghamton library. cf. Le Débat , n. 48, January-February 1988, Paris, which contains a dossier on Heidegger. F. Fédier, "L'intention de nuire", Le débat, p.136. P. Aubenque, Le débat, p.113-115. G. Granel, Le débat, p. 143. The recent publication of 1978 and 1979 letters of support from Jean Beaufret to the revisionist neo-fascist "historian" Maurice Faurisson are casting grave doubts on Beaufret moral and political character. Ferry, Renaut, p. 75. J. Beaufret, Entretien avec F. de Towarnicki, PUF, 1984, p. 87. Cited by Ferry/Renaud, p.75. This classical line is not confined to France. In America it is represented by, among others, Karl Moehling, whose essay "Heidegger and the Nazis" (in Thomas Sheehan ed., Heidegger, The Man and the Thinker, Chicago: Precedent Publishing Inc., 1981) completely endorses the thesis of a momentary lapse in judgment on Heidegger's part. This acrimonious quarrel started after the publication in Critique n. 234 (October 1966) of an article by Fédier attacking recent Heideggerian scholarship (especially Schneeberger's Nachlese ). Jean-Pierre Faye, then involved in a large-scale research project concerning nazi discourse ( published in 1972 as Langages totalitaires, by Hermann) answered with "La lecture et l'énoncé" in Critique n.237 (February 1967), and Fédier came back with "A propos de Heidegger, une lecture dénoncée" in Critique n. 242 (July 1967). Pierre Bourdieu, L'Ontologie politique de Martin Heidegger, Paris: Editions de Minuit, 1988. Lyotard, p. 119. Lyotard, p. 122. Lyotard, p. 123. Lacoue-Labarthe, p. 39. Lacoue-Labarthe, p. 40. Michael Zimmerman, "L'affaire Heidegger", in Times Literary Supplement, October 7-13, 1988, London. Thomas Sheehan, "Heidegger and the Nazis," The New York Review of Books, June 16, 1988. ALain Renaut, "Qu'est-ce que l'homme? Essai sur le chemin de pensée de Heidegger," in: Man and World, 1976, vol. 9, n. 1. Ferry, Renaud. p. 78-79. Ferry,Renaut. p. 82. Ferry,Renaut. p. 84. Martin Heidegger, Being and Time. Tr. John Macquarrie & Edward Robinson. New York: Harper & Row, 1962. p. 167. Lyotard, p. 110. Schneeberger, p.148. Lyotard, p 117ff. Martin Heidegger, Die Selbstbehauptung der deutschen Universität and Das Rektorat 1933/34, Frankfurt: Vittorio Klostermann, 1983. Sheehan, citing Ott, Zeitschrift des Breisgau-Geschichtsverein , (1984), p. 116. Sheehan, p. 39. Farias, p 154ff. My translation from the French translation of the Farias. Heidegger, Being and Time, p. 436. Farias, p. 161.
First of all, an insistent reference to the West and to "Western Civilization," a theme or lexicon whose careless manipulation has often slid over into rather undemocratic theses, as we know now from experience, especially when it is a question of a "decadence" of the said Western Civilization. As soon as anyone talks about "decadence of Western Civilization," I am on my guard. We know that this kind of talk can sometimes (not always) lead to restorations or installations of an authoritarian, even totalitarian order.
Jacques Derrida, "Like the Sound of the Sea Deep within a Shell: Paul de Man's War", Critical Inquiry (page 601)


The American publication of Victor Farias' book Heidegger and Fascism
1, though unlikely to cause the same kind of storm its orginal French publication did two years previously, is nevertheless bound to retable the question of Heidegger's political stance and engagement. The recent polemic concerning the young Paul de Man's involvement with fascism seems now to be fading, possibly suggesting a certain lassitude among the intellectual community. It would be most unfortunate if this caused the Farias book to slip by unnoticed. What follows does not purport to be an exhaustive examination of the questions announced in the title: the hypertrophied size of the current literature concerning these problems would make such an undertaking impossible in the limited context of this essay. Rather, what I propose to do is to examine the problem of Heidegger's politics, with special reference to the University, in the light of four books recently published in France2, while drawing on a number of other essays, reviews and magazine articles published in that country over the last two years3, as well as on some work concerning these matters published in the US. That time period has witnessed, in relation to Heidegger, what the French call 'un scandale', triggered by the publication of Farias' book. This scandal, rather than remaining confined to the hallowed halls of the university and the 'specialists' in Heidegger studies, instantly became a major media affair, turning Farias' book overnight into a controversial best-seller. Ever since, an unceasing stream of articles, essays, statements, rebuttals & "I-told-you-so's", instant books on the subject and television appearances by the major tenors of the Parisian intelligentsia, have kept the scandal simmering, if not on the boil.

Except for Lacoue-Labarthe's essay, which had been in elaboration for quite some time, and parts of which had appeared over the last years (published by the University of Strasbourg, for example), the books I am mainly concerned with were written in the wake of the publication of Farias' vehement, not to say defamatory, attack on Heidegger. I will therefore start with a brief summary of the latter book, before moving on to Fédier's essay which attempts a point for point rebuttal of Farias' positions from the point of view of a strict heideggerian. Finally, I will turn to Lacoue-Labarthe's seminal analysis of the politics of fascism, an analysis which goes far beyond both Farias and Fédier's positions and tries to come to terms with the question Adorno put: is Heidegger's philosophy "fascist in its most intimate components"? Lyotard's essay and the Ferry/Renaud analysis will be discussed at relevant moments of the essay.

Victor Farias' book, "Heidegger et le nazisme" claims to the be both the most complete and most revelatory, in-depth literary-historical analysis of Heidegger's political believes and activities, especially of his relation to National-Socialism. Farias sets himself up as an ex-student of Heidegger, and, as Hugo Ott notes in the review4 we will discuss in more detail later on, Farias did take part in the seminar on Heraklitus which Heidegger taught together with Eugen Fink during the winter semester 1966/67 in Freiburg. But this seems to be the only link to Heidegger: Farias graduated in 67 in Freiburg under Gerhardt Schmidt (a student of Eugen Fink's) with a thesis on Franz Brentano. The only other connection is Farias's claim in interviews with media after the success of his book, that Heidegger opposed a proposed translation of Being and Time into Spanish, supposedly because he considered the latter an inferior language, incapable of expressing his thought. Ott playfully suggests that this "rejection" of Farias by Heidegger may have "traumatized" the young Chilean philosopher - the motive for the Oedipian "crime"?

Be that as it may, Heidegger et le Nazisme is certainly not a disinterested or 'objective' study of the German philosopher. The admittedly vast amount of informations and documents Farias has gathered, are marshalled not with the aim of making a dispassionate presentation of the facts, or of opening up a debate that has been simmering away on the back burner for a long time5, but with the avowed intention of serving as buttresses for Farias' main project, which is best described as a savage attempt to demolish Heidegger's thought by suggesting that fascism was the mainspring, both intellectually and politically, of the philosopher's life-long undertaking.

Before going into a detailed analysis of the French reactions to the Farias book, it may be useful to relate a more dispassionate view from outside France. Hugo Ott, probably the best-known German specialist in matters Heidegger (his biography of the philosopher, Unterwegs zu einer Biographie, came out earlier this fall), reviewed the Farias book for the Neue Zürcher Zeitung . He starts by pointing out that, although the book first came out in France in late 1987 (originally written in German and Spanish, it is only after the book's success in France that a German edition was projected6), the manuscript must have been finished by 1985, as Farias does not make use of material published in 1986, material that would have buttressed his position, such as Karl Löwith's Mein Leben in Deutschland, or the Erhart Kästner-Martin Heidegger correspondence, which gives a detailed account of the origin, procedure and importance of the Spiegel-interview.

Ott then points out in which ways Farias' book adds to our historical knowledge of the "Heidegger and National-Socialism" question: the author did have access to archival material in the German Democratic Republic, such as the proceedings of the Prussian Ministry of Culture and of the Reich's Ministry for Science, Art and "Volksbildung". These archives are essentially off-limits for West German citizens, but accessible to foreigners. What can now be judged, says Ott, is:

"...was genau Heideggers 'politischer Auftrag' war, der mit dem zweiten Berliner Ruf im Herbst 1933 verbunden war: nämlich der Plan eine Reichsakademie zu schaffen unter der Präsidentschaft Heideggers. Bisher wussten wir nur, dass er eine "Preussische Dozentenakademie" leiten sollte, wir wussten auch, dass die NS-internen Gegner Heideggers Jaensch (Heidegger's langjähriger philosophischer Kollege in Marburg) und Krieck sich vehement diesen Plänen widersetzten und das Amt Rosenberg einschalten."
But, says Ott, "these are already questions of detail", and proceeds to discuss what is clearly the weakest point in the Farias book, namely the latter's framing device: the claim that both the beginning and the end of Heidegger's career stand in the shadow of Abraham a Sancta Clara, a medieval Capuchin monk from Kreenheinstetten, a village near Heidegger's birth place, Messkirch, "a powerful preacher in Vienna, during the time of the wars against the Turks". Abraham a Sancta Clara, a declared and vocal antisemite, was indeed the subject of a (one-page7!) paper by the young theology student Heidegger in 1910 (on the occasion of the inauguration of a monument in his honor in Messkirch), and again in 1964 when Heidegger gave a conference in the same city, entitled: "On Abraham a Sancta Clara". But as Ott shows, the relationship is tenuous and Farias can only make as much of it as he does by "freely associating - for all its worth", i.e. by using a "methodisches Spezifikum" which, for the historian at least, is more than dubious. It is indeed the weakest point of the Farias book, suffering from the general shoddiness and vagueness of Farias' thinking - "sobald es ans Deuten geht, wird es bei Farias problematisch", ("as soon as Farias tries to interpret, things become problematic"), as Ott puts it. It remains, however, that the Heidegger-Sancta Clara relationship could be worth investigating by a more serious historiographer, if only because it may give us a better insight into the cultural crucible from which Heidegger emerged - and to which he kept returning.

Ott then points out a couple obvious howlers Farias committed, and which every other critic and reviewer, sympathetic of inimical to Farias's thesis, has also noted: the (voluntary?) misinterpretation of the word "Kapauner" ( the name used by the locals to refer to the theology students in Konstanz, which Farias links to "Capuchin" monks, enabling him to further link Heidegger with Sancta Clara, though the word in fact refers to a capon), and the association of "Sachsenhausen" in an old German saying ("War and peace are as closely linked as Frankfurt and Sachsenhausen"), used by Abraham a Sancta Clara and quoted by Heidegger in his 1964 Messkirch conference on the Augustiner monk, with the concentration camp of the same name (situated near Berlin) rather then with the Frankfurt suburb meant in the saying.

As far as the other main thesis - the SA thesis - of the Farias book is concerned, one needs to withhold judgment for the time being. Briefly, according to this thesis Heidegger, the ultraconservatist "Blut und Boden" revolutionary, had always been and remained a firm backer of Röhm's SA movement. It is when the SA and Röhm were wiped out by Hitler and the SS, that Heidegger is supposed to have gone into opposition: in that sense, Farias claims, Heidegger was a life-long "heretical" National-Socialist ideologue opposed to the SS usurpers whom he considered as betrayers of the real National-Socialist doctrine. Thus his troubles with the regime after 1934 could be ascribed purely to this "heretical" position within the movement itself.

Much could be said for this thesis, and Farias of course tries to milk it for all its worth, overstating his case in the process. There simply is not enough accurate data available at this point. The one utterance by Heidegger which seems to link him to the SA comes in the posthumously published article "Das Rektorat 1933/34," in which he states that "by the spring of 1934 I was aware of the consequences of my resignation [as rector]; I was totally clear about them after 30 June of that year. Whoever accepted a position in the administration of the university after that date had to know without the shadow of a doubt with whom he was involved.8" That date (30 June 1934) is of course the date of "the night of the long knives" when Hitler had his SS physically eliminate the SA and Röhm. However, Heidegger's formulation is, to say the least, ambiguous: Is it the lawless brutality of the massacre that reveals to him the criminal nature of the regime, or is it the fact that the victims of the massacre were Röhm and the SA, and that now it is the SS who ran the "revolution"? At this point there does not seem to be a sure way of deciding either way, and we may never know unless new evidence, buttressing one side or the other of the argument, came to light, possibly after the Heidegger archives become accessible, something that will not happen until next century. Ott dismisses Farias' SA theory and suggests that in fact towards the end of the rectorat Heidegger was in conflict with the SA-students at the university, though this, it would seem to me, does not necessarily disprove a possible gut-allegiance to Röhm's early SA ideology.

Here is how Ott finally sums up his view of the Farias book:

Farias' Verdienst liegt in der Sammlung neuer Quellen und in ihrer positivistischen Aufbereitung. Viele Fakten. Er gelangt jedoch rasch an seine Grenzen, wo die Interpretation ansetzt, und vor allem, wo der Zusammenhang von politischer Praxis und dem Denken Heideggers erhellt werden müsste. Aber gerade das sollte man von einem Philosophen erwarten. Ansatzweise ist der Versuch unternommen. Doch überzeugen diese Ansätze nicht, z.B. das Bemühen, die Schlageter-Rede vom Mai 1933 mit "Sein und Zeit" zu korrelieren.
The German historiographer's cool evaluation is indeed a far cry from the hysterical reception the book got in France. When it came out in October 1987, the scandal was instant and ubiquitous: rather than merely stirring up the intellectual and university communities, it spread like wildfire, a conflagration fanned by the eagerness of the media who took the scandal up for all it was worth, vide the daily Libération and its front page headlines which read: HEIL HEIDEGGER. In his review Ott jokes: "In France the sky has collapsed - le ciel des philosophes. " Understandably so," he claims, because "France's clocks work differently": While in Germany most of the facts and even some of the details of the Farias book were well-known, France had always done its best to hide these facts from itself9.

What does seem characteristically odd is the fact that the backers and defenders of the Farias book can be, along the French spectrum, more or less identified with the new right, via the so-called Nouveaux Philosophes: Heidegger et le nazisme was prefaced by Christian Jambet and the most spirited defense of the book was Heidegger et les Modernes, published in Grasset's collection 'Figures' directed by Bernard-Henri Lévy, and written by Luc Ferry and Alain Renaut, who had made a fairly good-sized splash with an essay called La Pensée 68, a virulent critique of and attack on leftwing thought as it emerged in the sixties via Foucault, Lacan, Derrida and Althusser. But it should be noted that the wide appeal of this affair has deeper reasons than a mere 'querelle de chapelle'. In late 1987 the French public was primed for this question: the television showing of Claude Lanzman's film Shoa,10 the widely publicized discussions that followed, and the long drawn-out trial, constantly in the news, of the SS muderer Klaus Barbie, "the butcher of Lyon," had certainly sensitized a good part of the population. Rivalry among the intellectual community used this fact to the hilt - for their own purposes, in most cases, i.e., the discussion turned all too often into a 'Règlement de comptes at Sorbonne Corral'.

In an early response to the book Jacques Derrida observed: "As far as the essential 'facts' are concerned, I haven't discovered anything in this investigation that had not been known, and for a long time, to those with a serious interest in Heidegger."11 This slightly blasé stance was shared and echoed by many of the more moderate French defenders of Heidegger (Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe and Michel Deguy, for instance), while others, such as François Fédier, Pierre Aubenque or Gérard Granel12, clearly go overboard in a defense of Heidegger, or rather in attacks on Farias verging more often than not on the hysterical. Rather than trying to argue with Farias, their strategy is one of unrelenting, global and abusive attack: Farias' work is seen as a "shameless falsification" "animated by a desire to occult the truth"13; it is an "delirium of interpretation", an "imposture", a "hodgepotch" of "insinuations" which, were Heidegger alive today, would have landed the author "in a court of law"14. The book is simply dismissed, in that most favorite of French insults, as essentially a "stalinist trial"15: by claiming to show that the author's intentions are biased, one can then simply evacuate all the information he brings to his thesis. This is of course to be expected from France, where Heidegger's reputation has for a long time been that of an untouchable cult figure - a reputation that goes back, and is due in great part, to the unremitting proselytizing of Jean Baufret16 and François Fédier, the former's heir as Heidegger's unconditional French champion.

A closer look at François Fédier's response will give us an insight into the methodology of the unconditional Heideggerians. Ferry/Renaud call this "degree zero of interpretation", "the pure and simple refusal to consider Heidegger's philosophy, if not on the basis of, then at least in relation to17" his political involvement. Fédier is in that sense the faithful disciple of Jean Beaufret. As late as 1984 the latter dismissed any questioning of Heidegger's politics by bringing up René Char's war-time record as a resistant fighter and the fact that General Eisenhower had thanked Char personally, to suggest, rather ludicrously, that none of Heidegger's critics had been so honored! He then claims that "Heidegger never did anything that could motivate the allegations leveled at him," that any political interpretation of his philosophy is "a conspiracy of mediocre people in the name of mediocrity", ending by lamely suggesting that, in his as well as in Char's mind, it is "simply charitable not to go into any further details."18

Fédier's essay in Le débat , intitled "L'Intention de nuire", which one could translate as "With harmful intentions", sets the tone. First off, he decries Farias, noting that two German publishers refused to publish his book, and then goes on to point out the same mistakes we have already seen when analyzing Ott's review. Fédier, in contradistinction to Ott, insists on the supposedly willed mistakes, suggesting that the whole of Farias' work is simply a fabrication, an attempt to discredit Heidegger's thought. He carefully avoids bringing up any of the new information Farias' book uncovers, and stubbornly holds to the classical line19, which admits that Heidegger made a mistake by accepting the rectorate; that the mistake was heroic, in that Heidegger thought he could influence Nazi cultural policy for the better; that during the rectorate he behaved with dignity - "forbidding as far as he could all acts of barbary such as anti-semitic autodafés"; and that Heidegger realized his mistake quickly, ending his involvement with national-socialism when he gave up the post in February 1934. Fédier clearly felt that this article was not enough, and, in the late spring of 1988, brought out a book-length denunciation of Farias, Heidegger: anatomie d'un scandale.

This book does not convince any more than the article in Le Débat and is essentially a restatement of the Beaufret line of defense. Faced with Farias' facts, Fédier's method is no less cavalier than the former's. The basic line of defense consists in pitching the Farias allegations against Heidegger's own statements concerning his involvement with the nazis, especially the article "Das Rektorat 1933-1934" (in Fédier's own translation). And to triumphantly conclude that Farias must be making it up, given that Heidegger has a different version of the facts, and that Heidegger's word has to be taken at face value. That the work of Ott and others has shown that "Das Rektorat 1933-1934" is a clear attempt by Heidegger to whitewash himself, both by omission and distortion of the known facts, is not mentioned by Fédier who, as France's main orthodox heideggerian, can or should not be ignorant of the findings of German heideggerian historiography.

A further objection to Heidegger: anatomie d'un scandale are basic mistaken allegations and suggestions. Fédier claims for example that Farias' bad faith is shown by the fact that he always gives the German "Volk" as "peuple aryen". I found only three such occasions: on page 136, and twice on page 175, and in all cases "aryen" is put between brackets. Aside from the fact that this may be due primarily to Farias' French translators (the original manuscript is in German and Spanish), there is no question that the translation of "Volk" presents problems, and the French word "peuple" does not give the very loaded connotations the word had in Germany in the 1930s. In fact, there had already been a long and heated debate around the translation of that word and its adjectival form "völkisch" in France in the 1960s, with Fédier arguing against any political overtones in the word, attacking Jean-Pierre Faye's contention that the word holds connotations that could validly suggest translations such as "popular", "populist". "national" and even "racial"20. Fédier himself has given what one can only call sanitized French translations of certain of Heidegger's texts, among them the famous Rektorat Rede. "Die Selbstbehauptung der deutschen Universität", ("The Self-affirmation of the German University") becomes in Fédier's pseudo-heideggerian French "L'Université allemande envers et contre tout elle-même" - a transparent attempt to de-politicize and defuse the title of a text that poses major problems concerning its political intentions.

More reasoned and responsible direct responses to Farias's suggestions are hard to come by in France. Pierre Bourdieu's reissued in book-form, with the obvious desire to cash in on the reworked and slightly expanded text first published in 1975, and now reissued in book-form, with the obvious desire to cash in on the Heidegger/fascism craze of 1987/8821. In fact, the most interesting French writings on Heidegger's fascism, run parallel to Heidegger et le Nazisme: both Derrida's and Lacoue-Labarthe's books had either been completed or were well-advanced when the Farias book came out. The one book clearly written after the "scandale" started is Jean-François Lyotard's Heidegger et "les juifs". Let's turn to it for a moment.

The first part of Lyotard's book is not directly involved with Heidegger's fascism, or with Heidegger the thinker, but continues the author's recent investigations around the Kantian notion of the sublime, its relation to modern art and writing, Adorno's aesthetics, and, before all, Lyotard's concern with "l'oubli", the forgotten, "l'oubli oublié", and "l'immémorial", while articulating the Freudian concepts of primary and secondary Verdrängung with these concepts. It is only from page 88 on that he addresses the question of Heidegger directly. He begins by laying down four rules to be observed in any attempt to "bring to justice" the case in question. These rules seem to me worthwhile to repeat here, as they apply not only in Lyotard's own work, but seem generally valid:

  1. The importance of Heidegger's thought has to be admitted, for, says Lyotard, without that recognition, Heidegger's "faute" (Lyotard uses the term Lacoue-Labarthe employs; the word "faute" is stronger than "erreur", error, and implies a sense of misdeed, or even of sin) would "unhappily be ordinary".
  2. One has to admit that Heidegger's involvement with Nazism was "not anecdotal, but deliberate, profound and, in a certain way, ongoing..... One can hear that compromise in the texts Heidegger signs, in those he gives as speeches without signing them... in the political texts, but also in the philosophical ones... Before all, one hears it in his silence concerning the extermination [of the Jews], a silence maintained to the very last, except for a single sentence."
  3. "One does not erase one of these first two conditions in favor of the other". By this Lyotard means that one cannot solve the problem by reducing it to a play of alternatives that would go something like: if Heidegger was a great thinker than he was not a nazi, or, its corollary, if Heidegger was a nazi, then he was not a great thinker.
  4. One must not remain satisfied with the affirmation of "the coexistence of the two heideggerian sides, the venerable and the ignoble, and the diagnosis of a fissure [clivage]."
He then proceeds to show how Heidegger's political entanglements are related to his thinking, how the thinking of Sein und Zeit, especially as relating to the notion of dread when applied to the destiny of the community, the Volk, may allow for the politics of fascism, even though it does not necessitate, or even authorize these politics. The authorization comes, says Lyotard when commenting on Derrida's deconstruction of Heidegger's use of the words "geist", "geistig", "geistlich", exactly at that point when Heidegger lets spirit in, and with it, "one of the most insistent axioms of (Christian) European metaphysics,"22 thus being unfaithful to his own essential thinking. But this is not all, for the "Kehre" itself does not remedy this lack, though it replaces Entscheidung with Dichtung, and "the effectuation of destiny" with "waiting for the god."23 Something deeper is wrong here, says Lyotard, and situates it in the "existential-ontological approach itself."24 He then goes on to delineate two "motives" of the "topos of art" - and here his analysis rejoins Lacoue-Labarthe's work in the latter's La Fiction du politique, which, as I have said earlier, seems to me to be the most interesting among the recent critiques of Heidegger, and to which we shall now turn.

Lacoue-Labarthe's basic contention is this: Heidegger's political involvement in 1933 is in no way an "error", it is clearly inscribed in Heidegger's thought from the beginning on, and absolutely coherent with his thinking, so much so that the combining of the "political" and the "philosophical" was so powerful that up until 1944 nearly all Heidegger's teaching was devoted to an "explication" with national-socialism, and the "truth" which Heidegger had, or had believed to have seen in it. "The temptation is great," writes Lacoue-Labarthe25, "to credit the involvement of 33 to some breakdown, to a sudden lack of vigilance, or even, and more seriously, to the pressure of a thought not yet sufficiently freed from metaphysics. But that would be to forget that metaphysics, at least under that form of an unuprootable Trieb as recognized by Kant and Nietzsche, lies at the most secret heart of thought itself. "Thinking", if there is such a thing as "thought", can never claim to be "freed" from metaphysics."

That is why one cannot speak of an "error" in Heidegger's case. It could only be considered an error, a mistake, if national-socialism had not carried the possibility Heidegger saw in it:

"Or, manifestement il la portait, en certains de ses traits au moins, eu égard au destin de l'Allemagne et au destin de l'Occident. La détresse (Not) qui commande l'insurrection nationale-socialiste, comme elle commande la protestation du Discours du Rectorat,.....est encore, et peut-être surtout, l'inquiétude ou même l'effroi devant l'épuisement du projet moderne où se relève son être catastrophique. Aucune emphase ne contraint Heidegger à invoquer, au centre du Discours du Rectorat, le mot de Niezsche: "Dieu est mort": ce mot vient dire exactement la circonstance, c'est-à-dire l'être-abandonné ou la déréliction (Verlassenheit) de "l'homme d'aujourd'hui au milieu de l'étant."26
Thus Lacoue-Labarthe can say that in 1933 Heidegger "ne s'est pas trompé" , has made no error. But that by 1934 he knows that he made an error. This error, still according Lacoue-Labarthe and as far as Heidegger is concerned, does not concern the truth of Naziism but its reality. None of this is really new, though Lacoue-Labarthe's analysis is indeed the most nuanced French view of the "affaire" - and we will come back to his thinking concerning the concatenation of Heidegger's philosophy and praxis in relation to the University in the second part of this paper.

Where Lacoue-Labarthe's book is most interesting however is when he links what Brecht and Walter Benjamin called fascist "aesthetization of politics," and Heidegger's focus on the work of art after the Kehre. Indeed, Heidegger's lecture "On the Origin of the Work of Art" in 1936 coincides roughly with Hitler's Nuremberg "art speeches" which proclaim that great architecture was necessary for a great nation. In his review of the book, Michael Zimmerman suggests that "Heidegger's account of the world-organizing role of the Greek temple provided a philosophical interpretation of such political architecture" while at the same time offering "an implicit critique of the National Socialist 'aesthetic' of giant public spectacles.27

Lacoue-Labarthe shows how this aesthetization is not necessarily confined to the politics of fascism but is indeed inscribed in the Greek origins of Western civilization: the polis, the city, and thus the politics of that polis as an aesthetic work of art, a kind of early Gesamtkunstwerk. (The title of Lacoue-Labarthe's book, La fiction du politique, points to this fusion, or confusion.) National Socialism was thus a kind of "National Aestheticism" in that it "fictionalized" politics by conceiving, as Zimmerman puts it, " the nation-state as a self-organizing, self-producing work of art, a national version of the Gesamtkunstwerk of which Wagner dreamed at Bayreuth," :

Rejecting the French Enlightment imitatio of the Latin Roman world, many Germans - including Heidegger - made the paradoxical and self-destructive attempt to imitate not the content of Greek culture, but instead the Greek capacity for creating something radically new. Lacoue-Labarthe argues that such self-invention led to "mythification", aspects of which are discernable not only on National Socialist rhetoric, but also in Heidegger's interpretation of Hölderlin as Germany's Homer.

These are also the motives Lyotard addresses in the last chapters of his book, and in specific reference to Lacoue-Labarthe's work. This is however not the place to enter into the detail of these discussions, or even to deal with Lyotard and Lacoue-Labarthe's concern with what they see as Heidegger's gravest "faute": his silence in the face of the extermination of the Jews. In the second part of this essay I will try to deal with Heidegger's thought and politics as they involve the institution in which he spent most of his life, and in which his own political praxis was most visible: the university.


In his review of Farias' Heidegger et le nazisme, Thomas Sheehan sums up the political situation of Heidegger as follows28:
In outline, the story of Heidegger and the Nazis concerns (1) a provincial, ultraconservative German nationalist and, at least from 1932 on, a Nazi sympathizer (2) who, three months after Hitler took power, became rector of Freiburg University, joined the NSDAP, and tried unsuccessfully to become the philosophical Führer of the Nazi movement, (3) who quit the rectorate in 1934 and quietly dissociated himself from some aspects of the Nazi party while remaining an enthusiastic supporter of its ideals, (4) who was dismissed from teaching in 1945, only to be reintegrated into the university in 1951, and who even after his death in 1976 continues to have an immense following in Europe and America.
As a summing up the facts, this is more or less accurate. But it does leave unanswered the major question: how could Heidegger's thought lead him to align himself with the politics of the NSDAP? How could he accept the rectorate of the university of Freiburg, and, after quitting that post, continue to militate within the national-socialist intelligentsia for leadership positions and the creation of new institutions for Geisteswissenschaft?

The easiest explanation would be to simply say that the "ultra-conservative German nationalist," the viscerally anti-marxist south German catholic (one of whose favorite political theorist's was Friedrich Naumann), the firm believer in a strong, autocratic wilheminian state, won out over the philosopher of Sein und Zeit. But this does not really resolve anything. An external critique, historical or psychological, tells us nothing of the work, or, rather tends to incite one to simply dismiss Heidegger's thought; on the other hand, a purely internal critique of his thinking, while capable of showing up flaws in Heidegger's thinking, will have to do so in the philosophical context of the work and risks to remain stuck there. The difficulty resides precisely in the articulation of an internal critique with a critique of the external praxis .

One way in may be to to examine certain essential concepts in Heidegger's philosophy, or at least to show that some of his presuppositions would inexorably give permission to a totalitarian politics, either on the grand scale of the state or on the smaller scale of an organization such as the university, i.e. the space in which Heidegger's social praxis took place. One of the more obvious concepts to choose in that context, is the notion of decline. The inevitable decline of occidental civilization was a common topos of German (and European) intellectual considerations from the late 19 Century on. This notion of decline is implicitly (and, indeed, explicitly) present at the very root of Heidegger's questioning and underpins much of his work, starting with Sein und Zeit. As Sheehan puts it: "For Heidegger, Europe had entered upon a climactic - in fact the "eschatological" - phase of the "forgottenness of Being" that had plagued the West since Plato." Renaut gives a convincing analysis of this problem in an early essay29, and then, with Ferry, takes it up again in Heidegger et les modernes. I will follow their analysis in most details.

According to these two writers, the notion of the decline was described by Heidegger as a possibility inherent in man, as, in fact, "a structure of human existence (Dasein)," though, it seemed that, for Being and Time, "this possibility actualized itself electively in what the later texts would describe as the modern era".30 Using ¤¤ 21, 27, and 43-a of Sein und Zeit, they proceed to show that the ground of the declining history of ontology (the forgetting of Being) has to be situated in the elective orientation of the fallen Dasein towards what is available for its preoccupation: "The connecting of the decline of thought and of human decay could not be made more explicit".31 This of course poses a problem: Sein und Zeit insists on the quasi-structural character of the "decline", which, belonging to the very being of Dasein, is an "existential" and thus defines "the permanent and immediate nature of being-there". The decline (Verfallenheit) is thus no accident that would befall Being from the outside, but a"Seins-modus des Daseins" and even a"Grundart des Seins des Da" : Dasein is always already in decline.

Where Ferry/Renaut now see a problem is in the fact that this always-already effected structural decline is put in relation with the historical decline of ontology, i.e., "if Greek ontology had not yet been the complete victim of such a forgetting [of Being], then one has to believe that in a certain way Greek Dasein had not yet fallen into decline as much as modern Dasein. As a consequence, the decline, structural in the aforementioned texts, has also to appear as historical, and even as historically variable."32 This admixture of the structural and the historical is visible throughout Being and Time, for example in Heidegger treatment of the "they":

The "they" is an existentiale; and as a primordial phenomenon, it belongs to Dasein's positive constitution. It itself has, in turn, various possibilities of becoming concrete as something characteristic of Dasein [seiner daseinsmässigen Konkretion]. The extent to which its dominion becomes compelling and explicit may change in the course of history.33
But how then can one explain these historical variations of the decline? On what or on whom do they depend? According to the structure of the "always-already", the decline should be independent of any strictly individual determination, should in principle have nothing to do with any particular Dasein. And yet it is exactly the particularized Dasein that can escape, according to Heidegger, this decline of Being, through the mediation of dread:
Anxiety thus takes away from Dasein the possibility of understanding itself, as it falls, in terms of the 'world' and the way things have been publicly interpreted. Anxiety throws Dasein back upon that which it is anxious about - its authentic potentiality-for-Being-in-the-world. (p.232)
and, further on in the same ¤:
...as Dasein falls, anxiety brings it back from its absorption in the 'world'. (p. 233)
to conclude that:
...in anxiety there lies the possibility of a disclosure which is quite distinctive; for anxiety individualizes. This individualization brings Dasein back from its falling, and makes manifest to it that authenticity and inauthenticity are possibilities of its Being. (p. 235) It thus becomes possible to fight the Verfallenheit of Dasein, and this becomes a responsibility man has at the present "eschatological" end of the modern world's decline. It is in this sense that the possibility and even desirability of political activism is inscribed in Heidegger's 1927 book. This is in fact obvious as soon as the concept of the historicity of Dasein has been established, and indeed, the whole second part of Being and Time, is, as Lyotard puts it "dedicated to the power Dasein has, and notably that destiny called Volk, to escape inauthenticity and to open itself to the advent of its destiny..."34
It is therefore difficult to believe Heidegger when he claims, after the event, that it took much doing to convince him to become rector: the image he tries to project, namely that of the solitary philosopher working in his mountain retreat on Heraklitus and who only very reluctantly lets himself be persuaded to take on the task of the rectorate, looks now like a transparent attempt to claim à posteriori an uninvolvement with, and even ignorance of, the political power struggles of 1933.

Heidegger's aim was to "revolutionize" the university. A brief analysis of the Rektoratsrede and other texts from that period will give us some insight into how Heidegger conceived of this revolution, and will show that, no matter what validity much of his thinking may and does still hold for us today, his own praxis was, to say the least, undemocratic and deeply reprehensible. In his Rektoratsrede the philosopher-turned-rector sets his priorities straight: the address begins with the assertion of the necessity for a "geistige Führung". Derrida's already mentioned book, De l'Esprit, cogently analyses and critiques Heidegger's use of the word "Geist", early on banned or used only between quotation marks or under erasure, for being one of the central terms of the onto-theological tradition, and thus metaphysical, but resuscitated in all its (worst) connotations in Heidegger's political writings. The notion of "Führung" and of "Führer," although inevitably subject to the darkest connotations given its socio-historical context, should however not be reduced to a mere echo of Hitlerian cynical manipulation; on the other hand neither can it be simply equated with Plato's basileia, as Lacoue-Labarthe does when he attempts to show that this "error" of Heidegger could be seen as a slipping back into the philosophical or onto-theological tradition of Platonic politics and thinking. The ambiguous way in which Heidegger himself tried to understand the notion of the Führer can be glimpsed in the following extract from the speech he gave on 11 November 1933, asking for active participation in Hitler's referendum35:

Das deutsche Volk ist vom Führer zur Wahl gerufen; der Führer aber erbittet nichts vom Volke, er gibt vielmehr dem Volke die unmittelbarste Möglichkeit der höchsten freien Entscheidung, ob das ganze Volk sein eigenes Dasein will, oder ob es dieses nicht will. Das Volk wählt morgen nichts Geringeres als seine Zukunft.
The suggestion being that the Führer "offers" a "free choice" to the people. But, without being glib, one can say that this was "an offer the people could not refuse," in fact, no free choice at all. Unhappily there does not seem to be any specific text in which Heidegger clearly thinks through the concept of the Führer, and we have to rely on his own praxis as rector to deduce what this notion could mean for him. As Lyotard points out36, terms like Wahl, Entscheidung, Volksentscheidung, Volk, Arbeit, etc. have complex ramifications that will link them on the one hand with Heidegger's own philosophical writings and thought and on the other with the thinking of writers such as Carl Schmitt or Ernst Jünger.

But no matter what the benefits of a discussion of the theoretical origins of these concepts may be, it is clear that the authoritarian, undemocratic concept of the leader was indeed used by Heidegger as rector in his praxis. Three months after his installation as rector of Freiburg university he established the Führerprinzip , according to which the rector would henceforth no longer be elected by the academic Senate of the university but would be appointed by the nazi minister of education and provided with new, sweeping powers. Heidegger obviously had as little respect of and use for the traditions of academic freedom - no matter their limitations and the legitimate criticisms one could and still can bring against them - as he did for the parliamentary institutions of the Weimar republic. These developments were clearly foreshadowed in the inaugural address where he says:

Die vielbesungene "akademische Freiheit" wird aus der Deutschen Universität versto§en; denn diese Freiheit war unecht, weil nur verneinend. Sie bedeutete vorwiegend Unbekümmertheit, Beliebigkeit der Absichten und Neigungen, Ungebundenheit im Tun und Lassen. Der Begriff der Freiheit des deutschen Studenten wird jetzt zu seiner Wharheit zurückgebracht. Aus ihr entfaltet sich künftig Bindung und Dienst der deutschen Studentenschaft.37
These three links between the "true concept of freedom" and the student body are set then set out. The first one links the students to the Volksgemeinschaft, the Volks-community and finds its expression in the national-socialist Arbeitsdienst. The second links the students to the "honor" and "destiny" of the Volk in relation to other "Völker", demanding "Einsatz bis ins letzte", i.e. the readiness to die for Germany in the service of the Wehrdienst, i.e. the military. Finally, the third Bindung links the student body to the German people's "geistigen Auftrag", its spiritual mission. The question is how this spiritual mission links Heidegger's own sense of knowledge and the nazi conception of science and knowledge.

In a letter to a colleague of 20 December Heidegger had stated his aims: "From the very day of my assumption to the office my goal has been the fundamental change of scientific education in accordance with the strengths and the demands of the National Socialist State".38 These aims had indeed been presented in more detail in the Rektoratsrede and are there linked more closely to Heidegger's understanding of the Verfallenheitenheit of Western civilization. Here is how Sheehan puts it:

The essence of the university, [Heidegger] says, is the "will to knowledge", which requires returning to the pre-Socratic origins of thought. But concretely that means unifying "science and German fate" and willing "the historical mission of the German Volk, a Volk that knows itself in its State" - all this within a spirituality "that is the power to preserve, in the deepest way, the strengths [of the Volk] which are rooted in soil and blood.39
On 30 November 1933, Heidegger gave a conference at the University of Tübingen, organized by the students of the university and the Kampfbund, the local NSDAP party section.40 He starts by giving a brief history of the German university and mentions W. v. Humboldt who, he says, insists that "the state should never lose sight of the fact that for the university it constitute an obstacle, and that therefore it should not interfere with its work. Things would function infinitely better without the State. On the other hand the state has the obligation to procure the means necessary for the university to function". After developing the Humboldian view further, Heidegger arrives at the present : " Meanwhile we have witnessed a revolution. The state has transformed itself. This revolution was not the advent of a power preexisting in the bosom of the state or of a political party. The national-socialist Revolution means rather the radical transformation of German existence." The new student is no longer a bourgeois, but a revolutionary SA or SS member who has gone through the Arbeitsdienst, is physically fit, etc. Teaching also has changed: the new teacher "writes on the new concept of science", speaks about the political student, discusses political faculties; there are now courses on "Volkskunde", etc. But, Heidegger goes on, all of this is only "the old under new colors." At best it is only "a purely exterior transfer of certain results of this revolution while at bottom everything remains stuck in its usual inertia."

So, he asks, what has to happen? "According to the Führer's own words, the revolution has been completed and is making place for evolution... However, in the university, not only has the revolution not yet achieved its aims, it has not even started." This is so because "revolutionary reality is not something that exists already (etwas Vorhandenes), but, by its essence, something that has still to develop, something in gestation."

Heidegger then develops his vision of this revolutionary university, first by defining the new reality according to which the German people are finally coming into their historical destiny, totally inside of and guided by the state, and by the new "Wissen", the new knowledge that will be dispensed there. He defines learning as follows: "To learn does not mean to receive and store given knowledges. To learn does not mean to receive, but, profoundly, to give oneself to oneself. In the act of learning, I give myself in full possession of myself, I give myself what in the depth of my being I already know and guard carefully."

Lyotard, commenting on this same speech, and after noting that the above-quoted definitions echo what Heidegger said concerning Wissen in 1927 and will say concerning lernen in 1951, suggests that the concept of "fate", if resolved according to this knowledge, can only be determined as "destiny", Geschick. The latter term is defined by Heidegger in Being and Time as "the historizing of a community, of a people."41 This destiny, Heidegger goes on, is thus "not something that puts itself together out of individual fates, any more than Being-with-one-another can be conceived as the occuring together of several Subjects. Our fate have already been guided in advance, in our Being with one another in the same world and in our resoluteness for definite possibilities."

And, as Lyotard again points out, this analysis is echoed in the Tübingen speech when Heidegger declares that: " To learn means to give oneself to oneself by founding that possession on the original belonging of one's existence as member of a people (Völkisches Dasein), and to become conscious of oneself as co-detainer of the truth of the people in its State."42

It seems clear from the foregoing that essential Heideggerrian concepts as first developed in Being and Time lend themselves without ambiguity, and in Heidegger's own practical thinking to implementation in the context of a fascist university structure. This is not to dismiss Heidegger's thought : there is no doubt that in certain essential aspects it addresses some of the most fundamental questions we are faced with at this end of the century. But it also means that we have to re-examine Heidegger's thinking and to do so not only by claiming that his thinking was not yet post-metaphysical enough, as many heideggerian deconstructionists are wont to do. Lacoue-Labarthe's line, that "thinking can never be separated from metaphysics" implies that no matter how consciously, how fully, one tries to think beyond the forms of onto-theology, there always lurks the possibility - the danger - of erring, especially, it would seem, in the complex act of articulating abstract thought and political action. Sheehan says at the end of his article: "We know now how greatly he 'erred.' The question remains about how greatly he thought. The way to answer that question is not to stop reading Heidegger but to start demythologizing him." That means first of all to read and reread Heidegger, but it also means that the time has come to rethink and recontextualize essential aspects of the pre-war european intellectual endeavors, especially those who fell prey to what Bataille termed "la tentation fasciste."



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