Monday, November 30, 2009

Trying to Understand Faye trying to understand Heidegger

I continue to find it difficult to take Emmanuel Faye seriously.  The preface to his Heidegger, The Introduction of Nazism into Philosophy astonished me, and I have yet to recover.  He writes,
            “We have not yet grasped the full significance of the propagation of Nazism and Hitlerism in the domain of thought and ideas – that mounting tidal wave that sweeps up minds, dominates them, possesses them, and eventually overcomes all resistance  Against it, the military victory was but the winning of a first battle – a vital one, to be sure, and a costly one for humanity, since it took a world war.  Today, a different battle, more protracted and sinister, is unfolding: a contest in which the future of the human race is at stake.  It calls for a heightened awareness in all areas of though, from philosophy to law and history.”
            I would love to go ahead and quote Faye explaining what that means, but he doesn’t tell us – at least not as far as I’ve read – and I confess I have not been as dogged about reading Faye as I have some other books about Heidegger I’ve had at hand.   I just finished Wolin’s Heidegger’s Children, and thought I should get back to Faye, but what the heck is he talking about?   Does he imagine that Heidegger’s influence is so strong that the mere reading of Being and Time will turn us into Nazis?  Does he imagine that anything else Heidegger wrote would turn anyone into a Nazi?
            One of the interesting facts of Wolin’s Heidegger’s Children is that none of the four, neither Arendt, Lowith, Jonas or Marcuse knew Heidegger was interested in National Socialism until he joined the Nazi party.  They were all caught by surprise, even though they had studied with him for years.  So if these four formidable philosophers can have studied with Heidegger for years, presumably reading all his works, and not be aware of their relationship to National Socialism, how can we lesser English-speaking folk years later, with only poor translations at hand, understand Being and Time well enough to be able to transform ourselves into Nazis?
            Faye, of course, is French and not English.  Perhaps the French are more susceptible to Heidegger’s Nazi-favoring philosophy.  After all, they did succumb to something like that during the Vichy period – not Heidegger’s teaching most likely – I find no evidence that the French understood him any better than we who speak English, but something more overtly Fascist.

            The Nazis used the term Gleichschaltung to describe the thing Faye seems to be attributing to Heidegger; which means “forcing into line.”  It is the principle you might expect in any totalitarian form of government and the Nazis were very good at it.  But Heidegger wasn’t.  He did try however.  On page 186 of Wolin’s book Wolin tells us that “Heidegger . . . advocates a type of intellectual Gleichschaltung.  As a long-standing critic of academic freedom and the separation of science from broader existential concerns, in the Nazi revolution Heidegger saw an unprecedented opportunity to reintegrate knowledge with Volk and ‘state,’ thereby compelling it to serve a set of higher ontological goals.” 
            Unfortunately for Heidegger’s Nazi reputation, his colleagues and perhaps his students as well were not willing to be forced into line.  Heidegger reported to the after-war query into his Nazi involvement that he gave up his rectorate in 1934 because of disagreement with the Nazi party.  Hugo Ott disputes that, telling us that Heidegger lost his post because he was not effective enough in forcing the university into line.  And if he couldn’t force those easily-forced Germans into line; what hope can he have of influence us free-thinking English-speaking Volk?

            I confess that when I first read Faye’s preface I thought he was going to relate Heidegger’s fascism in some way to the current Islamist threat: “Today a different battle, more protracted and sinister, is unfolding: a contest in which the future of the human race is at stake.  It calls for a heightened awareness in all areas of thought, from philosophy to law and history.”  That is interesting, I thought.  I would not have expected Faye to be so concerned about the Islamist threat.  But, his “more protracted and sinister” battle is with Heidegger’s ideas! 
            Sigh. . .

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