Nazi philosopher spews hate from the grave

Richard Wagner (1813-1883), composer of the monumental four-opera cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen, was an anti-Semite. Making it even more difficult to separate the man from the music was the fact that Hitler was an admirer, as were many Nazis. To this day, there has not been a single staging of a Wagner opera in the State of Israel, a situation that will not change any time soon, what with ISIS terrorists behaving like Nazis. (Memo to John Adams: Write an opera “explaining” those beheadings.)

There is no contradiction as such between, on one hand, noxious or absurd personal beliefs and, on the other, artistic talent or creativity -- even in cases of spillover. While it may be hard to enjoy or appreciate a work of art that expresses or exemplifies an abhorrent theme, its aesthetic value may not necessarily be nullified. Leni Riefenstahl’s movies of Nazi rallies, studied in film school, are examples usually cited.

As the Wagner example shows, it is possible to be a moral imbecile and still make great art. Well, artists get away with lots of things, more of them these days courtesy of the National Endowment for the Arts. (Memo to John Boehner: Defund the NEA.) What about philosophers whose writings intentionally entail a point view that deserves moral condemnation? Is that by itself a refutation of the philosopher’s entire contribution?

I have in mind one of 20th century’s most influential philosophers, Martin Heidegger (1889-1976). Heidegger joined the Nazi Party shortly after he was elected rector of Freiburg University in April 1933 and remained a party member until 1945. In his book The Coming of the Third Reich, historian Richard J. Evans maintains (pp. 419-422) that Heidegger at one point had ambitions to become the official Nazi Party philosopher. It didn’t work out in part because Alfred Rosenberg already occupied that position. Rosenberg was hanged in 1946 along with other Nazi war criminals. Denazification procedures against Heidegger eventually petered out and he was allowed to resume his Freiburg teaching duties in 1950.

Post-WWII opinion among philosophers has been divided whether Heidegger’s Nazi past and explicit advocacy of racism and anti-Semitism are enough to invalidate his work. Defenders and admirers will soon have their hands full with the upcoming publication of Heidegger’s Black Notebooks covering the period 1942-1948 and containing material thought to have been lost that was found in the spring of last year. According to an article in Italy’s Corriere Della Sera, the Notebooks express the view that the Holocaust was an example of “self-destruction: the Jews destroyed themselves and no fingers should be pointed at anyone except the Jews themselves.” Say what?

Article author Donatella Di Cesare offers some chilling paraphrases of what’s in the Notebooks. I have seen similar “arguments” on various websites, which I’m sure will borrow from Heidegger by way of “support” once the Notebooks are published.

The Jews are the agents of modernity and have disseminated modernity’s evils. They have besmirched the spirit of the West, undermining it from within. Accomplices of metaphysics, the Jews have everywhere brought about the acceleration of technology. Only Germany, with her people’s iron cohesion, could stem the devastating impact of technology. This is why the global conflict was primarily a war of Germans against Jews. If the Jews were annihilated in the death camps, it was because of the mechanism that they fomented by plotting to achieve world domination.

The Shoah is presented [in the Notebooks] as playing a decisive role in the history of Being because it coincides with the “supreme fulfilment of technology”, which consumes itself after devouring everything else. In this sense, the extermination of the Jews represents the apocalyptic moment when that which destroys ends up destroying itself. As the peak of “self-destruction in history,” the Shoah makes possible the purification of Being.

But is this peak reached? Did world Judaism self-destruct at Auschwitz? In the end, there should be no victors or vanquished, which are again metaphysical categories. Instead the Jew is simply the end that must simply come to an end. Only in this way can a new beginning emerge and the new European morning be glimpsed.

The Allies failed to understand the Germans’ mission and stymied their global project. This crime is held to be more serious than all the other crimes. This guilt has no term of comparison, not even the “gas chambers.” For the history of Being, the real immeasurable misdeed is the one committed against the German people, who were supposed to save the West.

Well, you get the idea. On a personal note, I had to read Heidegger in graduate school for a seminar but never quite got over my initial reaction of “what the [expletive deleted] is this [expletive deleted]?” Once I moved on to teaching, I ran into colleagues who were Heidegger fans, largely on the left. By then I realized it was a waste of time arguing what a total creep he was and that they should not be wasting time reading this garbage.

I will be keeping my eyes open for the verbal gymnastics that will surely follow the publication of Heidegger’s Black Notebooks. Various and sundry apologists are probably lining up right now, licking their chops at the opportunity to offer “doubly hermeneutical exegetical contextualizations” in defense of their master. Intellectual dishonesty is the norm in academia these days, certainly in humanities departments where the left rules the roost.   

Richard Wagner (1813-1883), composer of the monumental four-opera cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen, was an anti-Semite. Making it even more difficult to separate the man from the music was the fact that Hitler was an admirer, as were many Nazis. To this day, there has not been a single staging of a Wagner opera in the State of Israel, a situation that will not change any time soon, what with ISIS terrorists behaving like Nazis. (Memo to John Adams: Write an opera “explaining” those beheadings.)

There is no contradiction as such between, on one hand, noxious or absurd personal beliefs and, on the other, artistic talent or creativity -- even in cases of spillover. While it may be hard to enjoy or appreciate a work of art that expresses or exemplifies an abhorrent theme, its aesthetic value may not necessarily be nullified. Leni Riefenstahl’s movies of Nazi rallies, studied in film school, are examples usually cited.

As the Wagner example shows, it is possible to be a moral imbecile and still make great art. Well, artists get away with lots of things, more of them these days courtesy of the National Endowment for the Arts. (Memo to John Boehner: Defund the NEA.) What about philosophers whose writings intentionally entail a point view that deserves moral condemnation? Is that by itself a refutation of the philosopher’s entire contribution?

I have in mind one of 20th century’s most influential philosophers, Martin Heidegger (1889-1976). Heidegger joined the Nazi Party shortly after he was elected rector of Freiburg University in April 1933 and remained a party member until 1945. In his book The Coming of the Third Reich, historian Richard J. Evans maintains (pp. 419-422) that Heidegger at one point had ambitions to become the official Nazi Party philosopher. It didn’t work out in part because Alfred Rosenberg already occupied that position. Rosenberg was hanged in 1946 along with other Nazi war criminals. Denazification procedures against Heidegger eventually petered out and he was allowed to resume his Freiburg teaching duties in 1950.

Post-WWII opinion among philosophers has been divided whether Heidegger’s Nazi past and explicit advocacy of racism and anti-Semitism are enough to invalidate his work. Defenders and admirers will soon have their hands full with the upcoming publication of Heidegger’s Black Notebooks covering the period 1942-1948 and containing material thought to have been lost that was found in the spring of last year. According to an article in Italy’s Corriere Della Sera, the Notebooks express the view that the Holocaust was an example of “self-destruction: the Jews destroyed themselves and no fingers should be pointed at anyone except the Jews themselves.” Say what?

Article author Donatella Di Cesare offers some chilling paraphrases of what’s in the Notebooks. I have seen similar “arguments” on various websites, which I’m sure will borrow from Heidegger by way of “support” once the Notebooks are published.

The Jews are the agents of modernity and have disseminated modernity’s evils. They have besmirched the spirit of the West, undermining it from within. Accomplices of metaphysics, the Jews have everywhere brought about the acceleration of technology. Only Germany, with her people’s iron cohesion, could stem the devastating impact of technology. This is why the global conflict was primarily a war of Germans against Jews. If the Jews were annihilated in the death camps, it was because of the mechanism that they fomented by plotting to achieve world domination.

The Shoah is presented [in the Notebooks] as playing a decisive role in the history of Being because it coincides with the “supreme fulfilment of technology”, which consumes itself after devouring everything else. In this sense, the extermination of the Jews represents the apocalyptic moment when that which destroys ends up destroying itself. As the peak of “self-destruction in history,” the Shoah makes possible the purification of Being.

But is this peak reached? Did world Judaism self-destruct at Auschwitz? In the end, there should be no victors or vanquished, which are again metaphysical categories. Instead the Jew is simply the end that must simply come to an end. Only in this way can a new beginning emerge and the new European morning be glimpsed.

The Allies failed to understand the Germans’ mission and stymied their global project. This crime is held to be more serious than all the other crimes. This guilt has no term of comparison, not even the “gas chambers.” For the history of Being, the real immeasurable misdeed is the one committed against the German people, who were supposed to save the West.

Well, you get the idea. On a personal note, I had to read Heidegger in graduate school for a seminar but never quite got over my initial reaction of “what the [expletive deleted] is this [expletive deleted]?” Once I moved on to teaching, I ran into colleagues who were Heidegger fans, largely on the left. By then I realized it was a waste of time arguing what a total creep he was and that they should not be wasting time reading this garbage.

I will be keeping my eyes open for the verbal gymnastics that will surely follow the publication of Heidegger’s Black Notebooks. Various and sundry apologists are probably lining up right now, licking their chops at the opportunity to offer “doubly hermeneutical exegetical contextualizations” in defense of their master. Intellectual dishonesty is the norm in academia these days, certainly in humanities departments where the left rules the roost.