Tuesday, May 11, 2010


There are various forms of stupidity. Since I studied the jurists, theologicans and philosophers who started and justified the European witch trials of the 16th and 17th centuries, I know that the most dangerous stupidity is that of the so-called intellectuals. However, they are mostly smart enough to escape history's blame. The story of the intelligentsia supporting the Third Reich has never been written. We are made to believe that all Nazis were primitive people. Well, what about, for example, Martin Heidegger? The great philosopher took office as rector of Freiburg University in April 1933 specifically in order to carry out the Gleichschaltung. In a speech he told the student body that “the Führer and he alone is the present and future German reality and its law”. After the war, he went out of his way to minimize Nazi crimes, describing the Holocaust, in one notorious essay, as just another manifestation of modern technology, like mechanized agriculture. Yet his reputation remained untarnished. By the time of his 80th birthday, in 1969, Heidegger received his absolution by Hannah Arendt. In a birthday address, broadcast on West German radio, she said that Heidegger naïvely “succumbed to the temptation . . . to ‘intervene’ in the world of human affairs.” 


  1. I remember Rudolf Augstein´s interview. It was published after Heidegger was dead. Read it again und you will find a strange defense. After some decades Heidegger probably had the impression being a would-be-member of Widerstand.


  2. This story during the 90-ies has begun to be studied, at least in Italy. There are plenty of books on Heidegger, Carl Schmitt, Cioran, Mircea Eliade, Ionescu, Ernst Jünger, Julius Evola etc., but yet there is no really good book on this theme.

    Very much I agree with your endeavour to pay attention on parallels in history which help us to establish proportions, to valuate and orientate. When I read "Highroad to the Stake" I continuously was trying exactly this, and I am pleased to know that you apparently did the same while writing the book. But this means that we have to be prudent when reasoning together on the issue, because we might be two blind men leading each other. I am still striken by your remark on Foucault which discredits rationalism, and I live in a country in which is still alive, more alive than in other G8 countries, the psycologic rudiment of the medieval piety you were idealizing with Foucault and whose loss you deplored. I have experienced its potential and its limits.

    Partly I agree with your conclusions of today, partly not. Leonardo Sciascia stated in 79 that we live in an epoch where "highly intelligent idiots" exist. I suppose, this oxymoron can exist only when right and wrong are often very similar and aporias and Holzwege abundant, and this condition can arise suddenly, I am afraid (as with 9/11). The most important thing, when you examine a disconcerting event afterwards, is to resist the temptation to think that now everything is obvious. On the other hand, if you speak out truth while things are happening, you might be considered out of your mind. But afterwards everyone will consider as obvious what then you even didn't dare to speak out. That's unfortunatly the way it is.

    We do not loose time, if we try to understand, what was specifically german in the proceeding of the Shoah, but more than this we have to learn something about man. Otherwise we will exercise only an exorcistic ritual compulsively abating the german culture. And after the specific german and the specific human features of the event we have to see a further aspect: the specific features due to our time. What is the difference between Hitler's german Shoah and Ahasuerus' persian Shoah which is narrated in the Book Esther (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Esther)? We are generally more reluctant today, than we were then, to perpetrate such an outrage. But when this reluctance dwindles away, then our tecnology allows industrial proportions indeed. The intention of H's comment wasn't cynic or apologetic, he just was using Occam's Razor in order to find the crucial problem which our time is generating and which still is imprisoning our actions. And this is precisely the enormous reach of our tecnologic potential. In Ahasuerus' time one peasant could produce food for 4 persons, today for more than 100 persons (while 40% of the food production is done by people working in the chemical industry). That in Ukraine 1,5 million jews have been killed without Cyclon B, just shooting, is a fact Heidegger probably didn't know (I myself learned it only some years ago). Otherwise this fact would have pushed him to a further specific conclusion, I suppose. But it wouldn't have changed his pessimism. His prediction, that only "der God" can save us, is exactly what you and Foucault were alluding to.

  3. Primo Levi said "He, who comprehends, justifies". If you believe, that moral indignation can more than rational comprehension, then you obey to Levi's admonishment. If you think that, if something, only rational comprehension can help, then you must reject his admonishment and try to think beyond Foucaults (and Heidegger's) observation (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tree_of_Knowledge_of_Good_and_Evil).

    Hannah Arendt knew what she was speaking about. She was jewish, she was german, she was a philosopher, and she was H's lover. She said that great thinkers are more prone to be involved by totalitarianism than normal people. You recently have quoted in your german blog a crucial word of Nietzsche which is precisely the ground on which displays the behavior of great thinkers which Hannah Arendt means. These involved men are all authentic fruits of Nietzsche's and Hobbes' work.

    Heidegger is gauche, but his conviction that we are all trying to write the bill without the innkeeper is an amonishment which is worth to be considered.

    More interesting than Heidegger's case is Carl Gustav Jung's case (who is very much admired by jews of our time). He considered Nazism the "Rebirth of the german soul", and afterwards he considered it "the proof of something fundamentally evel in the german soul".

    It is impossible to tranform these people into stupid little monsters just spitting on a magic wand.

  4. @cs

    "...you will find a strange defense. After some decades Heidegger probably had the impression being a would-be-member of Widerstand."

    Only his statement on "Die Selbstbehauptung der Universität" could be considered what you call a strange defense. Nothing strange. He just claims acknoledgement for his words of then against the politicisation of science.

    Heidegger himself has called his infatuation a "stupid error".

    Heidegger had dedicated "Sein und Zeit" to Husserl. During the Third Reich he removed the dedication. Afterwards he put it back. Like Carl Gustav Jung he changed his a double-face coat like a "being in time". The wives of both Jung and Heidegger were more ferocious Nazis! (Behind a great man you find always a great woman, don't you).

  5. Heidegger only at the very beginning - when plenty of good reasons to follow the Nazis did still exist and all the disastrous developments had still to arrive - for just one single year was directing a university as an outspoken follower of the Nazis (which was the only way then, how you could be this).

    What about Hans Martin Schleyer, who was, for a long time and from the very beginning, an active member of the SS, and later in the Bundesrepublik became the president of the german association of industrials, until the Bader-Meinhof terrorist group didn't kill him.

    I strongly recommend to see Peter Jürgen Boock's (he was one of the terrorists who captured Schleyer) portrait of Hans Martin Schleyer, where Boock explains why Schleyer then wanted to belong to the SS, believing in a third way which could avoid soviet kolchoses on one hand and the bondage of wild capitalistic speculation on the other hand.