04 February 2009

More on Heidegger

We started discussing Heidegger in class today, and spent close to half the time pondering what his connection to Naziism might mean. Levenson's take on it is that the tragedy of Heidegger is that he misread and misapplied his own philosophy, since Being and Time indicates that every person is an entire world (in some sense), and so destroying a person is destroying an entire world.

I'm not sure about that conclusion, as every so often I got the impression there was something ominous buried deeply under the words in Being and Time, but I've only made it through the introduction and the first two chapters thusfar. Levenson also indicated that Heidegger's later work contained some softening, and, perhaps, "rectification", which suggests to me that his earlier work was not quite ... right, yet.

I'm not ready yet to write about Heidegger's ideas, but here's what the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy's article on Existentialism has to say about Heidegger's politics:

Heidegger suggests that it was this concept of historicality that underwrote his own concrete political engagement during the period of National Socialism in Germany. Disgusted with the political situation in Weimar Germany and characterizing it as especially irresolute or inauthentic, Heidegger looked upon Hitler's movement as a way of recalling the German people back to their “ownmost” possibility—i.e., a way for Germany to constitute itself authentically as an alternative to the political models of Russia and the United States. Heidegger's choice to intervene in university politics at this time was thus both a choice of himself—in which he chose his hero: Plato's “philosopher-king” (see Arendt 1978)—and a choice for his “generation.” Much is controversial about Heidegger's engagement for National Socialism (not least whether he drew the appropriate consequences from his own concept of authenticity), but it provides a clear example of a kind of existential politics that depends on an ability to “tell time”—that is, to sense the imperatives of one's factic historical situation. Heidegger later became very suspicious of this sort of existential politics. Indeed, for the idea of authenticity as resolute commitment he substituted the idea of a “letting-be” (Gelassenheit) and for engagement the stance of “waiting.” He came to believe that the problems that face us (notably, the dominance of technological ways of thinking) have roots that lie deeper than can be addressed through politics directly. He thus famously denied that democracy was sufficient to deal with the political crisis posed by technology, asserting that “only a god can save us” (Heidegger 1981:55, 57). But even here, in keeping with the existential notion of historicity, Heidegger's recommendations turn on a reading of history, of the meaning of our time. (S.E.P. Existentialism)

Sartre, too, took the call to authenticity as a call to political action, for whatever that's worth. He, however, did not manage to join a group that gained any lasting notoriety.

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