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  • The Intersection of Heidegger's Philosophy and His Politics as Reflected in the Views of His Contemporaries at the University of Freiburg
  • Richard Detsch

There has been so much speculation in the last ten years or more about the reasons for and the extent of Heidegger's involvement in the Nazi movement that another attempt to come to grips with this important problem might seem superfluous. Amidst the weighty arguments advanced in what has become a multitude of treatises and tomes, however, there has thus far been little interest in dealing with Heidegger's simple statement in his Spiegel interview that he was moved by the "confusion of opinions . . . from 22 parties . . . to adopt a political stance that was national and above all social."1 If we suspend our suspicion for the moment that Heidegger is here again manipulating the facts to fit his postwar predicament, as has been amply demonstrated [End Page 407] regarding other details, and examine the evidence we will find that there are indeed indications of the predominance of Heidegger's social concerns with respect to the political situation of the early '30s as well as of his leaning toward an authoritarian form of government an inclination shared, to be sure, by a significantly large number of his compatriots, academic and otherwise. There is one approach in particular toward answering the question of why Heidegger became a Nazi which the present attempt hopes to put in question: the emphasis on his abandonment of his Christian religious origins. The following statement by Theodore Kisiel expresses this line of reasoning most succinctly: "It will take a decade, but it will be not just an anti-Catholic, nor an anti-Christian, but the full-blown anti-religious attitude of the German Geist ripened from German Idealism that sweeps Heidegger into National Socialism, with all the romantic fervor of another religious conversion."2 John Caputo argues, based on the work of Kisiel and van Buren, that the Heidegger of the early twenties was drawing from two "equiprimordial" sources, "the Aristotelian and the Christian." "It was only in the 1930's, in the period of Heidegger's active political engagement with National Socialism, that the twofold root of the tradition was pruned to a single root . . . a Great Greek beginning from which everything Jewish and Christian, everything Roman, Latin, and Romance, was to be excluded as fallen, derivative, distortive, and inauthentic."3 This shift in perspective, this rejection by Heidegger of earlier Christian impulses in his work led to "fatal" lapses in the ethical realm: " . . . by leaving behind Kierkegaard and Luther . . . and by treating Aristotle as a fading echo of the primordially early Greek, Heidegger left the question of Being in a state of utter mystification about ethico-political matters, about the matter of our concrete responsibilities to one another."4 David Farrell Krell makes this lack of respect for and attention to the "other" the centerpiece of an entire study attempting to show Heidegger's propensity for the inhuman ideology of Nazism.5 These arguments derive perhaps from the rhetorical question posed by the Freiburg historian Hugo Ott in 1988: "Didn't this pseudo-religious expectation of salvation [through the mission of the Führer] conceal a monstrous hubris, wasn't the thinking of Heidegger in its radically contained, i.e., in its elementary [End Page 408] simplicity really a surrogate for the Christian view of life thrown overboard?"6 The problem with all such arguments is that "the Christian view of life" did not prevent others of a background similar to Heidegger's from an enthusiastic acceptance of Nazism without an abandonment of their religious faith. In this regard, let the case of Engelbert Krebs, Heidegger's one-time friend and mentor, the Jesuit priest who officiated at his marriage ceremony, serve as an example. Ott deals with Krebs fairly extensively in his Heidegger biography, stressing Krebs's chagrin when Heidegger turned his back on the Catholic Church, but fails to mention at all the enthusiasm for the Nazi movement that Krebs shared with his former friend.

During his tenure as dean of the Theological Faculty at the University of Freiburg, Krebs delivered an address in a university lecture...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-4586
Print ISSN
0022-5053
Pages
pp. 407-428
Launched on MUSE
2005-02-24
Open Access
No
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