Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Framing Heidegger is just “doing business”


[May 2016 note: This was written as part of the Facebook Project on Heidegger, for readers unfamiliar with Heidegger’s work and perhaps steered away from dwelling with his work because a hermeneutics of gossip feeds some academic careerism. It’s now part of my project on “Heidegger and political times.”]


Integral to philosophy is reflecting on the basis for your views. Integral to teaching philosophy is evincing reflection on one’s views and situating that relative to good philosophical work. One can have very detailed views that are still invalid because they’re contrary to evidence or violate accepted norms or are motivated by phony interests, such as presuming bad faith by the other (i.e., the other is guilty until proven innocent, but the presumptuous person doesn’t have time to understand complexities that vindicate the other). This happens in the philosophy profession, too.

Guilt by association is why fair trial proceedings are so commonly necessary. But even as a matter of philosophical interpretation, it’s no surprise that major philosophers remain controversial centuries after their lives. Apparently, philosophers still can’t agree on what Plato meant, etc. How was Socrates’s “Apology” related to Socrates’s views? People get dissertations approved that dispute long-accepted views.

Also, there’s a politics of academia related to needing job security (so initial scholarship may be done hastily; dissertations have to be completed within “normative time”), then having one’s career invested in earlier positions (a matter of professional vanity—and maybe a matter of salary advancement).

This is the case with philosophers who are invested in misreading Heidegger, but are trading on controversy because it sells books, apparently (presuming the trader isn’t just being malicious). “It’s just business” (which is what the hit man says before he shoots you). You’re on your own to decide whether a rhetoric of objectivity is phony or not.

My message to you: Don’t presume that all publishers care a lot about the degree of scholarship involved in the books they publish. It’s business. You do have to judge for yourself.

After WWII, the Allies judged that Heidegger was not a supporter of the Nazis. His students attested that Heidegger was not a supporter of the Nazis.

The love of his life, Hannah Arendt, was Jewish. Heidegger’s best friends were Jewish.

The leading German scholar of Heidegger’s life, Otto Pöggler, shows how Heidegger wasn’t a supporter of the Nazis. An American dissertation from 1972 that focused on this issue, solely, showed that Heidegger was not a supporter of the Nazis (and that work remains undisputed by other scholars, as far as I know). The leading American philosophical scholar of Heidegger’s work, Theodore Kisiel, shows exactly how Heidegger was not a supporter. The Jewish philosopher Jacques Derrida (who is himself basically Heideggerian) shows how Heidegger wasn’t a Nazi.

But persons who need to believe that Heidegger was a supporter will pull out every piece of information they can or conveniently pretend that facts are missing, in order to make plausible their belief that Heidegger was secretly a supporter of anything other than his own ideas for engineering university-led communitarian democracy, targeted to his actual relations of regional interaction and between universities.

So, every one of those “facts” to the contrary proves to be mistaken or implausible, relative to their contexts, I would argue (and continue to argue). I’ve seen it all, I sincerely believe (and welcome something I haven’t seen that provokes my thinking). One can go ‘round and ‘round with more little pieces, each of which proves to be mistaken or fantastically employed out of context.

German academics had grudges against Heidegger (Karl Jaspers, Karl Löwith), because that’s what happens when you’re famous, but vacuously studied (or doing effective critique of others, who feel humiliated by that—Jaspers in particular). It’s incredible! The basis for claiming that Heidegger was not a supporter of the Nazis is factual. But an academic culture of convenience makes dismissive “scholarship” easier, constructing a “Heidegger” who is culpable for being obscure.

An upcoming book (that I won’t name) begins its “Introduction” by saying (first words) “Martin Heidegger’s support for the Nazi regime...” Heidegger never supported the Nazi regime.

Another book in the works is edited by a guy who places his essay first, says at the top “Heidegger was a Nazi, of course,...” (without citation) and then goes on to develop his view of the “black notebooks” (additionally suspect because they have black covers, you know) that is premised on the cavalier view.

My gripe is that scholars who don't understand Heidegger don’t recognize that, which would otherwise call for claiming that one doesn’t understand why Heidegger is reported to have acted as he did; or why he said what he did. Instead, there’s career-motivated need to have the Clear Stand, which implies culpability of a man who just can’t see the obviousness of his own action.



What’s more interesting is the beautiful Aristotelian sense of politics that Heidegger had, wanting a practical university to have a leadership role in national education. I’ve written about this in detail, in an earlier posting, “Heidegger’s leadership.” An important difference is between trying to promote statesmanship in a situation of crisis leadership (Heidegger’s project) and subscribing to the rhetoric of the “leadership” that’s available (not suggested by anything Heidegger did, let alone his writings). The “leader principle” in Germany was exactly analogous to the emergency powers in the U.S. that F.D.R. declared. Only rigorous coordination of leadership at all levels in a crisis can have promise for getting through the crisis quickly. This is obvious to any business leader in a “turnaround” process for a failing corporation (which I happen to know well from experience). But FDR returned power to Congress. Turnaround processes which succeed eventually release tight alignment for the sake of innovation in units. Hitler (long after Heidegger resigned his rectorship and withdrew into his teaching) did not surrender emergency powers (not that there was any pretense that he would).

But let’s stay with that one opening phrase of the book’s “Introduction,” earlier mentioned, which, again, begins: “Martin Heidegger’s support for the Nazi regime...” In fact, in 1945, the Allied De-Nazification Committee did not dispute Heidegger’s account of his resistance to the Nazis: He didn’t seek the rectorship until his fellow faculty members insisted he do so in order to protect the university from Nazi influence. He didn’t join the Party until he was threatened with dismissal by Party administrators. (Heidegger claimed that he had no hope of influencing Party administrators unless he was a Party member, and all evidence supports his claim.) He was under suspicion by the Party from the very day he became Rector. He was anguishing over considering resignation 4 months into the rectorship (private letter to Elisabeth Blochmann) and 6 months before he gave up and resigned.

The next sentence in the “Introduction” refers to “Heidegger’s tenure as the first National Socialist rector...” But Heidegger was not regarded by the Nazi Party as a National Socialist rector! Heidegger did not have any dealings with the Party, other than trying, as rector, to get approvals for personnel that the Party objected to. Evidently, Heidegger is culpable for not leaving the university.

When he did resign, the Party heralded the next rector as being “the first National Socialist Party rector,” which was not disputed by the Allied judgement after the war.

So, what you see there is that countering falsehoods can be tedious, while it’s easy to say things that ignore evidence. By now, there’s an industry of misreading (basically: finding Heidegger’s philosophical background irrelevant). I call it a hermeneutics of gossip.

(In brief: It begins with Karl Jaspers and Karl Löwith. Hannah Arendt relies on Jaspers. Others in the U.S. rely on Arendt. The Historikerstreit causes a former student of Heidegger’s to come back to Germany from Chile, Victor Farias, which creates an industry of scandal. This creates opportunity for a publisher to have Hugo Otto combine his scattered explorations into a book, which becomes authoritative, though it’s expansively extrapolative from the relevant materials that were available. Then some young scholars in the U.S build their careers from this, ignoring work by others which undermine their presumptuousness. But the story becomes a long one, with bad scholarship relying on bad scholarship to make careers.)
The book, which is supposed to be transcriptions of a seminar on classical philosophical issues is not postured at all as a book on philosophy. Rather, it’s postured (in the first paragraph of the “Introduction”) as “an essential piece of evidence for those who wish to assess the degree to which he was intellectually committed to Nazi ideology.” Well, Heidegger was never interested, let alone committed. He scathingly criticized Nazi racial policies a year before he became rector. He fought against Nazi policies while rector (but didn’t have the power to always prevent Party activity, which is why he resigned). Then, he spent the next decade criticizing every aspect of Nazi policy that he could get past the Party observers in his classes. What bothers the critics is that they can’t understand alternative explanations that, I could show, any realistic administrator (not academic philosopher) could recognize: In short, you ethically do what you have to do to get what you want. Being a good administrator is about getting things done, however you ethically can. Ethical duplicity is commonly tactical in business (between competitors, not ethical with customers), as well as in sports. Heidegger was in competition with thick-necks, found the struggle futile, and quit. This immediately resulted in Berlin appointing a rector that was called by Berlin the university’s “first Nazi rector” (source for this sentence: Hugo Ott’s book).

Ironically—which would be perversely comical, if Heidegger’s reputation wasn’t being further maligned—is that Heidegger’s sense of the political (based in Aristotle, Plato, early Greek thinking, and German Romanticism) was quite congruent with his philosophical views, such that the book’s “Introduction” is perversely right that “any interpretation that makes a simple distinction between his philosophy and his politics is no longer tenable...” But the arrogant editor has the relationship backwards. If you know Heidegger’s real politics, you wouldn’t want a simple distinction. But beyond that, Heidegger never made simple distinctions. The “Introduction” just chooses to presume a world of simple distinctions because it’s good for sales.

The book jacket blurb for the book indicates that the book “represents important evidence of the development of Heidegger’s political thought.” But the seminar was held during the winter semester of 1933-34, 4 months before Heidegger resigned from the rectorship and a decade after the development of Heidegger’s political thought during lecture courses on Aristotle in the mid-20s!

There are True Believers in academia, too, even in professional philosophy. But I happen to know that the editor of the book that I’m not naming has his career invested in his reading of Heidegger. But, hey, it’s just business.

Those “who wish to assess” have their work done for them. That editor has made his decision, and he’s going to be clear about how your assessing is to go: Heidegger “explicitly supports Hitlerian dictatorship.” Not true! I’ve seen the passages that the editor relies on (and we’ve argued about it privately). One of the commentary essays in the book shows how the editor’s claim is based on severe misreading. But does the editor revise his “Introduction” to be more even handed? No. (Did he read the essays before writing the “Introduction”?)

Personally, I’ve looked into the details of the editor’s views: why he believes what he does. His reading involves a lot of logical errors, as well as bad reading of Heidegger’s text and ignoring facts—which could be occasion for good philosophical learning. But “I don’t have time” for that, he said. I’m sure you don’t want to give time to reading about it all any further. Matters of hermeneutical validity can get very tedious, like Analytical philosophy famously does.

You also wouldn’t want to go through the details of why the article on Heidegger in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy is a set up to make you believe that there’s a “Nazi” problem that’s philosophically serious. It’s philosophically hilarious: The SEP author calls everything that he can’t explain an “a priori transcendental” conception, as if Heidegger never overcame Kant. So, he sets up the reader in the beginning by announcing that he’s addressing a Nazi problem (in a short biographical statement) and ends the article with discussion of the Nazi problem (as if Heidegger’s career is ultimately relative to that one-year “problem”).

But, if you took time to go through the materials I link to in my earlier posting, linked from “Heidegger’s Leadership,” you’d know why I might get despairing about the way “idle chatter” gets to prevail in “scholarship.” Philosophy is not supposed to be comparable to bad intellectual history. Ideas actually can be the basis of philosopher’s action. (Action-orienting policies do follow from conceptual perspectives, in pragmatism and in hermeneutical thinking.) One may find that ridiculous—to be motivated by ideas—but that’s no argument against being a philosopher.