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Heidegger Against Nazism

very often suggested a pro-Derrida line, but one could
hardly call it a case of unqualified support. It was
a fascinating experience to observe him wrestling
with deconstructionism in his conference-ending
lecture, as it is too in his recent book on Samuel
Richardson, The Rape of CZarissa (Oxford, 1982).

Eagleton clearly feels there are major problems
involved in reconciling Marxist and deconstructionist
principles, and he can be scathing on the subject of
Derrida’s apparent reluctance to effect the accommodation between the two he promised several years ago.

Yet as in. the case of the critique on Richardson,
Eag1eton IS perfectly capable of turning deconstructionist strategies to account – perhaps against his
better Marxist judgement? – and he can do so in an
ingenious and creative way.

This particular debate appears set to run for a
while yet, and it could well be argued that the state
of 1itera:y theory tomorrow will depend in large part
on what kInd of accommodation (if any) is eventually
reached between Marxism and deconstructionism.

Eag1eton has certainly made some moves in that
direction, but a less inhibited approach than his
might pay more dividents. Deconstructionism has a
great deal of potential as a means of confronting
authoritarian elements in Western culture, and
without wishing to sound too mil1enarian about the
subject it would probably repay the not inconsiderable
effort required to synthesise it with Marxist theory.

Probably the two most successful papers of the
weekend came from Eag1eton and Be1sey, who delivered
characteristically well-organised and thoughtprovoking pieces of work (although even here, in
typically English fashion one might say, the bias
was towards literature rather than philosophy). In
many ways, however, the deconstruction workshop
provoked the liveliest debate, since most of the
underlying issues of the conference seemed to surface
here, with Derrida’s influence looming particularly
large. If any current theory seems likely to bridge
the gap between literature and philosophy it is

One of the participants in this workshop, Julia
McCannell (University of California, Irvine) treated
Bakhtin’s work in some detail, and the latter also
figured (in a more oblique manner, involving his
brother’s friendship with Wittgenstein!) in Eag1eton’s
lecture. Bakhtin’s star has risen of late, and his
acceptance as a major Marxist aesthetic theorist was
-another notable feature of the conference, his name
being bandied around almost as frequently in discussion as Derrida’s. It seemed satisfyingly logical
for the weekend to conclude with Eag1eton’s assessment
of the use-value of these two figures to the modern
literary theorist, since their influence had
extended over so much of the proceedings.

In informal discussions before the final break-up
the possibility of another conference next summer
was considered, with feminism emerging as the likeliest candidate for an overall theme (this remains to
be finalised however). A scheme to publish the
conference papers in an inexpensively printed volume
was put forward by the organisers. For details of
availability contact Marianne Korn, Faculty of
Humanities, Middlesex Polytechnic, All Saints, White
Hart Lane, London N17 8HR.

Stuart Sim

Heidegger Against Nazism

Dear Radical Philosophy,
Mark.Tebbit’s recent article on Lukaas, Heidegger and
(RP, Summer 1982) makes certain erroneous
statements about Heidegger which call for correction.

Tebbit’s misleading equation of Heidegger’s
philosophy and fascism is summed up in his initial
assertion that Heidegger ‘remained an unrepentant
adherent to the extreme right’ and that his thought
rema~ned ‘intrinsically … bound up with European
faSCIsm’ (p.14). Such a charge does serious damage
to both Heidegger’s personal and philosophical
integrity. Since Tebbit offers no concrete evidence
to support his accusation, bit simply rehearses an
unfounded rumour as established fact, I wish to set
the record straight with regard to Heidegger’s
alleged fascism.

In a series of rigorously researched and documented
articles published in Critique (Paris, 1966-67), the
French philosopher Frangois Fedier definitively
exonerated Heidegger from the charge of unrepentant
adherence to fascism levelled against him in three
German publications: Guido Schneeberger’s NaahZese
Zu Heidegger (Berne, 1962), Theodor Adorno’s Jargon
der EigentZiahkeit (Frankfurt-on-Main, 1964) and Paul
Huhnerfeld’s In Saahen Heidegger (Munich, 1961).

Fedier’s studies had a considerable impact on the
Continent and particularly in France and Germany where
several of the journalists and authors r~sponsible for
propagating false accusations against Heidegger went
so far as to publicly retract or apologize for their
statements. And the German newspaper Der SpiegeZ
permitted Heidegger to reply personally to his

Since Fedier’s studies have not been translated
into English – a regrettable fact which has undoubtedly facilitated the continuation of inaccurate
charges against Heidegger by such authors as George
Steiner, A.J. Ayer and Tebbitt – I would like to take
this opportunity to bring the English readers’

attention to the true facts of the case.

In 1933, Heidegger replaced Professor Von
Mtll1endorf, a radical Social Democrat, as Rector of
Freiburg University. The Nazi authorities had called
for Vo1 Mtlllendorf’s resignation because of his
refusal to allow anti-semitic propaganda on the campus
Von Mtlllendorf and other liberal members of the
university approached Heidegger, the eminenae grise
of Freiburg academia at that time and unaffiliated to
any political party, begging him to take over the
vacant post in order to keep the university free from
the Nazis’ campaign of anti-semitism. Heidegger was
extremel~ r~luctant to accept their offer, not only
because 7t Involved the compromise of mandatory
membershIp of the party, but also because he remained
sceptical of his chances of being able to resist the
growing tide of Nazi fanaticism. However the

support of the predominantly anti-Nazi
faculty finally persuaded him to accept the Rectorship.

Just two days after Heidegger’s nomination, he was
approached by the leaders of the Nazi Student Movement
who demanded the resumption of the anti-Jewish
campaign forbidden by Von Mtlllendorf. Heidegger
flatly refused, despite unequivocal threats from the
Nazi leaders. Several days after his refusal
Heidegger was summoned to the local Higher Ed~cation



Authorities and was again ordered to proceed with the
implementation of the anti-Jewish measures. They
warned that if Heidegger did not accede to their
demands he would be expelled and the university
closed. Despite these threats, Heidegger once again
refused. Heidegger also refused to allow the autodafe book-burnings (a widespread practice in the
other German universities), to attend party meetings,
to wear party uniform or to give the Nazi salute
(all obligatory for Rectors at that time). It is
true that Heidegger did pay ritual lip-service to the
party in his inaugural speech (when he was obliged to
repeat a formula of party jargon which had been
written into his address by the student movement);
but it is essential to point out that he did so in the
belief that by becoming Rector he would be in a
position to protect his Jewish students and colleagues
– in particular his Jewish mentor Edmund Husserl to
whom he had dedicated his major work Being and Time.

Husserl’s own daughter has publicly and emphatically
denied rumours that Heidegger barred Husserl’s access
to the Freiburg library, pointing out that the
opposite was in fact the case. Throughout his brief
term as Rector Heidegger courageously insisted on
keeping Jewish members of staff (e.g. Von Hevesy
and Thannhauser) and students (e.g. the noted case
of Melen Weiss); he repeatedly refused to censor
Jewish authors and took the exceptional measure of
nominating two radically anti-Nazi professors as
Deans of Medicine and Law in February 1934. The
party was, predictably, infuriated and immediately
demanded that he rescind these appointments.

Heidegger stood by his decision and resigned forthwith – just ten months after summing the Rectorship.

The Nazis wasted no time in denouncing Heidegger and
his publications. It is significant that Heidegger’s
pro-Nazi successor was hailed by the party newspaper,
Der AZemanne, as ‘the first Nazi Rector of the
university’ .

Far from being an ‘unrepentant adherent’ to Nazism,
Heidegger realized after only ten months that he had
committed a naive error in supposing that a university
Rector could counter in any way the incorrigible tide
of Nazi barbarism. Far from producing a philosophy
intrinsically ‘bound up with European fascism’, as
Tebbit suggests, Heidegger’s subsequent lectures in
Freiburg on Nietzsche (1936-37) represent an outspoken
attack on Nazism. For this reason, his philosophy
seminars became a rallying point for anti-Nazi staff
members and students and were soon infiltrated by the
notorious Dr. Hanke and other party spies. In this
respect, I wish to quote from one of the many testaments ‘documented by Fedier relating to Heidegger’s
attitude to Nazism as expressed during his Freiburg
lectures from 1934 to 1944. It is written by
Siegfried Brtlse (a prominent official removed from
his post by the Nazis) and addressed to the post-war
Rector of Freiburg University, dated 14 January 1946:

‘The reason I speak out now on the Heidegger issue
is that from spring 1934 to the end of his courses
in autumn 1944 … I participated in almost all
of Heidegger’s seminars. To my knowledge there
is no-one more qualified to provide a complete
account of Professor Heidegger’s attitude as
expressed in his courses and seminars ….

Heidegger never failed to seize on an opportunity,
during his lectures, to articulate his views on
the speeches of Goebbels, Minister for propaganda
and other stooges of National Socialism, often
with such critical acuteness and candid dissent
that his own students feared political repercussions. I was able to observe – many other
students also – that Heidegger’s lectures were
followed by large numbers who wished to hear
Nazism portrayed in all its falsity and sought in

Heidegger a guide for their own behaviour •••. ·
Heidegger’s courses were frequented not only by
students but also by people with a profession or
who were retired. Any time I had occasion to
speakwi th these people they invariably expre·ssed
their admiration for Heidegger’s courage to
attack Nazism with the philosophical rigour of
his prestig10us position as a th~nker. I am
equally aware of the fact that Heidegger’s lectures
were politically monitored by spies precisely
because his open dissidence had not gone unnoticed
by the party.’

The result of Heidegger’s academic dissidence
(admittedly he never joined an armed struggle against
Hitlerism) was that he was refused permission to
travel, was defined in a party report as the ‘most
dispensable member of the university starr’, was
savagely attacked in the Nazi publication witZe une
Macht; some of hi s works were censored and w.i thdrawn
from the shelves and he was the only Freiburg
academic to be consigned to compulsory labour (with
Karl Barth and other ‘undesirables’) on the banks of
the Rhine.

But quite apart from the factual, historical
evidence cited above, it is also difficult to square
Tebbit’s claim that Heidegger’s philosophy is intrinsically bound up with European fascism, with the
conspicuous fact that many of Heidegger’s most
influential disciples were either Jewish (Arendt,
Marcuse, Weiss, Levinas, Derrida) or left-wing
socialists (Merleau-Ponty; Sartre, Ricoeur, Breton
etc.). It is also worth recalling here that
Heidegger’s two closest friends and colleagues in
France after the war were Jean Beaufret (the
recipient of the Heidegger’s celebrated Lettep on
Humanism) who met Heidegger while still an officer
in the Allied Army which liberated Germany from the
Nazis; and Ren~ Char, the French poet who serv.ed
as a leader of the French Resistance Movement during
the war.

While it is undeniable that Heidegger committed a
grave error of judgment when he accepted the Rectorship in 1933, it is simply false to accuse him of
being an unrepentant adherent to fascism or to uncritically equate him with fascism as Tebbit does
when he writes: ‘Lukacs and Heidegger (Marxism and
fascism) … ‘ (p.17). It would appear that Tebbit is
basing his uncritical assumption largely on Lukacs’

argument – equally uncritical – that Heidegger’s
philosophy ‘objectively represented the most reactionary sections of the bourgeoisie in the 1920s’, i.e.

that he was a proponent’ of decadent irrationalism
and nihilism. (Lukacs was clearly unaware of
Heidegger’srigorous critique of nihilism, particularly in his Nietzsche lectures.) We may recall that
Lukacs also attacked Joyce and Kafka as representatives of bourgeois nihilism and irrationalism. Yet
few would feel justified in placing the term ‘fascism’

in parenthesis after those names.

Tebbit’s cursory remarks on Heidegger’s attitude
to ‘subjectivity’ and ‘theology’ are equally superficial and misguided – in marked contrast to his
analysis of Luk~cs’ own philosophy which is at all
times penetrating and perspicacious., It -is regrettable that the author did not remain on firm ground
and confine his study to Lukacs alone.

To be fair to Tebbit, he does acknowledge in his
conclusion that ‘it would require more detailed
evidence to substantiate the theses which I have put
forward in this article, in particular the claim that
Heidegger’s philosophy is intrinsically connected
with fascism’ (p.22). More is the pity that Tebbit
did not make this admission before he chose the
misleading title and theme of his article.

Richard Kearney

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