Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Tom Rockmore's vested interest in Heidegger's National Socialism?

I have for one month now been on a “dogged” (Geary’s term) quest to understand more about Heidegger and especially his involvement with National Socialism.  I am probably more inclined than Geary to launch off on such quests, but I have taken his question seriously; which I take to be “why am I more than casually interested in Heidegger?”  I’m not sure that I am – not as I define “casually.”
Just yesterday I obtained Victor Farias’ Heidegger and Nazism, 1987-9.  I was surprised to discover that Tom Rockmore was one of the authors of the “Foreword” to Farias’ English edition.   Rockmore also wrote the Foreword to Emmanuel Faye’s Heidegger, 2009.  This means that Rockmore has been interested in exposing Heidegger’s association with National Socialism for more than 20 years.  Surely, that is a better definition of “dogged.”
Having read both Forewords, Rockmore strikes me as an intelligent fellow, a cut above Faye in reasoning ability (I’m not sure about Farias yet).  One of his comments might bear on Geary’s question.  On page xii of the Farias Foreword, Rockmore writes, “We should perhaps point out the asymmetrical character of the discussion evoked by Farias’ book in West Germany and France: in West Germany, hardly any philosopher wishes to comment on the Heidegger problem; in France, hardly any can actually avoid making a comment.  I read elsewhere that American interest in philosophy tends to take its cue from France, but maybe in regard to Heidegger we can’t quite fit ourselves into either the French or the German frame of mind.  Our nation did not embrace National Socialism and we did not engage in a holocaust so we have no reason to avoid the question of Heidegger’s involvement with National Socialism. 
On the other hand, we were not as caught up with Political Marxism as France was after World War II.  France had a strong association with National Socialism during World War II by means of the German domination during their Vichy period.  After the war they executed a few of their more notorious collaborators and then sought an alternative to National Socialism in Political Marxism.  They had nothing like our McCarthy period in France.  They were rather fond of Communism for quite a long time, but then in the 60s they became disenchanted and in searching for an alternative hit upon Heidegger.  Many French philosophers (so I read) have an intense interest in preserving Heidegger’s respectability.
We don’t seem to have that same intensity of interest in the English-speaking countries.  My impression is that it is more a matter of curiosity for us – at least most of us.  Tom Rockmore seems to be as interested in the subject as Emmanuel Faye.  I looked Rockmore up on and find he wrote an anti-Heidegger book of his own: On Heidegger’s Nazism and Philosophy – in 1997, halfway between Farias’ and Faye’s books.
In the Farias introduction Rockmore (with Margolis) writes that Heidegger is “the only major thinker to opt for Nazism, the main example of absolute evil in our time – possibly of any time.  The combination is without any known historical precedent.”   Rockmore doesn’t seem balanced in this statement.  He not only doesn’t mention Stalinism as an evil ranking with Nazism, he seems to exclude it from consideration.  I wondered why.
So I did another search and found that Rockmore wrote a book entitled Marx after Marxism:            In it Rockmore writes, “It is arguable that now, after the decline of political Marxism, in a period in which for the foreseeable future in most of the industrialized world there will be no alternative to economic liberalism, Marx’s theories have never been more relevant. . . political Marxism came to an abrupt, unforeseen, frequently bitter end in much of the world following the break up of the Soviet bloc toward the end of the 1980s.  At present, communism, which once ruled more than half the world, remains in power in only a few places . . . . There is no reason to believe communism will make a successful comeback in either the near or even distant future, and certainly none to believe that, with the exception of China, where it remains in power, it will ever again become a significant political contender on the world stage.  Other than as the study of Marx’s theories and their application to an almost bewildering series of phenomena from literature, through aesthetics, to social theory, history, and so on, the period of Marxism has ended.  We have now entered a period after Marxism when, in a way we could not do earlier, we can begin to understand Marx in new ways, unencumbered by Marxist interpretations that have long dominated the discussions of both Marxists and non-Marxists.”
            So Rockmore intends to rehabilitate Marx.  I wonder whether there was a Marxist reaction against Heidegger in France.  Surely not all of the French Marxists abandoned Marxism – at least not all of Marxism – after the fall of the Soviet bloc.  Did these post-Soviet-bloc-fall Marxists oppose Heidegger in the way that Rockmore does? 
            I have one book that takes a less aggressive view of Heidegger’s politics: Heidegger, Philosophy, Nazism by Julian Young, 1997.  My impression is that Young wouldn’t exclude Stalinism from a place besides Nazism in our condemnation.  He seems neither a defender of Heidegger nor an attacker.  He doesn’t seem to have either the French Heideggerian’s need to defend Heidegger, nor the Marxist (and former Marxist?) need to attack him.  I looked up Young on Amazon and found that he has written books on Schopenhauer and Nietzsche.  In one book, Nietzsche’s Philosophy of Religion, Young tells us (according to the product description) “that the mature Nietzsche is neither an 'atheist', an 'individualist', nor an 'immoralist': he is a German philosopher belonging to a German tradition of conservative communitarianism - though to claim him as a proto-Nazi is radically mistaken.”
            So perhaps my impression that Young is balanced is that I don’t begin with a Marxist bias.  I don’t need to protect or rehabilitate Marx.  I have read Nietzsche in the past and the idea that he is a proto-Nazi has never struck me as sound.  Nietzsche was a complex philosopher and it has always seemed a disservice to his brilliance to reduce him to a precursor of Nazi “philosophy” which is actually no philosophy at all. 
Associating Heidegger with Nazi “philosophy” runs into the same problem: what is the Nazi philosophy?  Did Heidegger wait with a blank mind while lesser minds filled in the details of what German National Socialism was to be?  Or did he have something in mind prior to that?  Young (who is interested in rehabilitating Nietzsche) may be in a better position to speculate about what Heidegger may have been thinking than Rockmore (who is interested in rehabilitating Marx).

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