donderdag 3 april 2014

Heidegger and the Jews

There can be no doubt any longer. Peter Trawny, the director of the Heidegger Institute in Wuppertal now publishes Heidegger’s Schwartze Heften, the notebooks with his diary entries from the thirties to seventies. They show that the philosopher from the Black Forest suspects Judaism of being bent on world domination. From the notebooks emanates, according to Trawny, a “Being-historical anti-Semitism” which infuses Heidegger’s thought through all its pores.

Actually, doubt there has been for many years indeed whether Heidegger was anti-Semitic. Most writers agreed that his wife Elfriede was, because she spoke out in an overt anti-Semitic way. But Heidegger himself did not. Of course there was his membership of the Nazi Party and his statement about the inner truth and greatness of the Hitler movement. But that could be explained by the circumstances in which Heidegger as rector of a university had to do his job.

It is not unlikely that this relativizing by heideggerians of Heidegger’s Nazi period was motivated by a great admiration for the philosopher’s work. Someone with such fascinating and profound thoughts, he impossibly could have been an anti-Semite?

Or yet, perhaps the reverse? With this question, the case begins to get interesting. Could there possibly be an inner connection between the deep (according to some: quasi-deep) thinking about the history of Being and anti-Semitism ?

Some will say: better don’t search for such a connection. For Heidegger's work is quite opaque and anti-Semitism is an elusive phenomenon, so only in a shared confusion a connection could possibly be found, but that clarifies nothing.

Then things remain as vague as the insecurity that Levinas in the thirties already experienced in the philosophy of Heidegger (so, apart from Heidegger’s political positions). In the preface of Existence and Existents Levinas tells that his thinking is at the same time determined by Heidegger’s philosophical innovations, and “governed by the profound need to leave the climate of that philosophy”.

But it does not necessarily have to remain that vague. Indeed, Levinas did not let it remain that vague. Because in his later philosophical work, especially in Totality and Infinity he makes very clear that in fact Heidegger’s thinking is totalitarian in nature. Heidegger does not know how to deal with the idea of radical otherness, and that has much to do with his adoration of Being.

Personally I try, on the basis of the comments of Levinas, to get it clear what happens when Heidegger’s thinking on Being is applied to something like management and organization. In that case, the idea of Being in which we all participate is complemented by the idea that we also share our lifeworlds through a shared Mitsein. Authentic Mitsein would generate a kind of spontaneous and taken-for-granted cooperation and communication on the basis of which a healthy organization can flourish.

That’s a nice thought, but also somewhat romantic and unrealistic and, as to me, only half the story. In many cases, an individual’s specific identity will in fact lead to tensions and fractures with others with whom he shares a world. And not always with the prospect of bridging the gaps because people may réally differ from each other. Then it takes more than an ethics which relies on a shared world. Then dealing with differences is just as crucial.

Heidegger’s problem with that could very well have to do with his anti-Semitism.

Also see Why Heidegger doesn't bring us any further and Wonder or Bewilderment