- Heidegger’s Roots: Nietzsche, National Socialism, and the Greeks
In the last twenty years, Martin Heidegger's encounter with National Socialism has been an ongoing subject of debate. While some scholars believe that Heidegger's politics discredit his overall philosophical project, others argue that we can save Heidegger's philosophy by bracketing out his personal politics, effectively separating the man from the thinker. Splitting the difference between these two extreme positions, Charles Bambach focuses his study on the Heideggerian themes of rootedness (Bodenständigkeit) and self-assertion (Selbstbehauptung) in maintaining the close connection between Heidegger's politics and ontology, particularly during the period from 1933 to 1945. What results is a carefully researched book that vilifies more than it vindicates, though without ever denying Heidegger's place as one of the most important thinkers of the twentieth-century.
Turning the tables on Heidegger and his philosophical obsession with the rootedness of the German people, Bambach explores Heidegger's own roots, insisting that we read Heidegger within his proper historical context and not within some imagined "hermeneutic vacuum" (15). This proves to be no easy task, however, as the post-1945 Heidegger took great pains in presenting his previous thought as more of a renunciation than an affirmation of National Socialist ideology. Heidegger's concerns were ontological, not political—or so he would have us think. Contesting what he calls the "The Official Story" of Heideggerian apologetics, Bambach does well in situating Heidegger's writings from that period—from the Rectorial Address of 1933, to the Introduction to Metaphysics of 1935, to the Nietzsche lectures of 1936–37 and 1944–45—in dialogue with some of the foremost Nazi sympathizers of the day. As Bambach has it, Heidegger's interlocutors were not only Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Hegel, and Nietzsche, but contemporary figures like Hans Heyse, Ernst Krieck, Alfred Baeumler, and Kurt Hildebrandt, all of whom argued in favor of National Socialism and the self-assertion of the German people. The theme of Selbstbehauptung was by no means original to Heidegger, nor was it apolitical. The self-assertion of the Volk was not an abstract idea but a very real and pressing concern, particularly at a time when Germany found itself caught between the rootlessness and nihilism of Russia to the East and America to the West.
In drawing our attention to Heidegger's co-opting of National Socialist terminology, Bambach nevertheless remains open to the ever-widening gulf that existed between them [End Page 675] Ultimately, Bambach reads Heidegger's writings from 1933 to 1945 as "a philosophical attempt at geo-politics, a grand metaphysical vision of German destiny that develops both within and against the vision of political hegemony forged by the National Socialist movement" (10). While it cannot be doubted that Heidegger's talk of struggle and rootedness, sacrifice and homeland, heroic valor and native soil mimics the language of National Socialism, it is similarly hard to deny that he used these terms in a private way. Heidegger's pastorale militans did not employ a positivist metaphysics founded upon biological racism and bent on worldly domination. Instead, what Heidegger hoped for was an "ontological revolution" (99) wherein the German university would lead the way, with Heidegger himself playing the role of "philosophical Führer" (21). For Heidegger, German autochthony demanded a new beginning that would require a certain return to the Greek understanding of truth and being—Germany, after all, being the "sole nation capable of retrieving the Greek arche" (171). Needless to say, Hitler's brand of National Socialism would never lead to such a revolution—a fact that would become all too clear to Heidegger after his brief stint as rector at Freiburg. And yet, even while acknowledging "the terrible failure of a particular version of [National Socialism] in its organizational, technocratic, administrative, and military-political form" (184), Heidegger refused to relinquish the language of 'rootedness,' holding to what Bambach deems a private, "purer" (180), "Messkirchian" (10) form of National Socialism from the mid-1930s until 1945, and...