Heidegger and National Socialism

I am reading How Green Were the Nazis?: Nature, Environment, and Nation in the Third Reich, edited by Franz-Joseph Brüggemeier, Marc Cioc, and Thomas Zeller (Ohio University Press, 2005). It’s a disturbingly fascinating work.

heidegger-50x69One of the essays is Thomas Rohkrämer’s “Martin Heidegger, National Socialism, and Environmentalism,” which takes up the long-running (and occasionally vicious) arguments about Heidegger’s Nazism: To what extent was he a Nazi? To what extent did his National Socialist politics follow from or otherwise cohere with the rest of his philosophy?

Rohkrämer has this to say early on:

‘“Martin Heidegger? A Nazi, of course a Nazi!” On a purely factual level, this exclamation by Jürgen Habermas is fully correct. Contrary to what Heidegger and Heideggerians have long maintained, historical research has demonstrated beyond doubt Heidegger’s early enthusiasm for National Socialism. Heidegger sympathized with the Nazis before 1933, he actively maneuvered to become rector, he publicly joined the Nazi Party on May Day, and the ceremony around his Rectoral Address included Nazi flags and the singing of the “Horst Wessel Song.” While Jews and political opponents were removed from the university (like his teacher Edmund Husserl) or even forced to flee the country (like his intimate friend Hannah Arendt), Heidegger showed his enthusiastic support for the destruction of the Weimar Republic and for the new regime. He praised the Führer principle for the university sector, while striving to attain such a position for himself. In speeches and newspaper articles he identified himself with Hitler’s rule, going so far as to state in autumn 1933 that “the Führer himself and alone is and will be Germany’s only reality and its law.” He not only approved in principle of the Nazi cleansing, but also tried to use the new regime to destroy the academic careers of colleagues, for example by initiating a Gestapo investigation.’ (pp. 172-173)

heidegger-at-nazi-meeting-1933-148x100Rohkrämer then has a nicely nuanced discussion of Heidegger’s later moving away from Nazism in several particulars — though never in principle. He also points out that Heidegger was very much not alone among philosophers in embracing the Nazis:

“Association with National Socialism was also widespread among philosophers. While twenty philosophy professors were forced out of their positions, about thirty joined the Nazi Party in 1933 and almost half became party members by 1940. Moreover, it was not only, as many have assumed, ‘life philosophers’ or radical Nietzscheans who supported the Nazis; the rival schools of neo-Kantians or ‘value philosophers’ also had adherents who made the same political decision for very different reasons.” (p. 171)

Given Heidegger’s towering presence in the landscape of 20th-century philosophy and “deep ecology” environmentalism, How Green Were the Nazis? is an important book.

[Go to the Nietzsche and the Nazis page. Go to the StephenHicks.org main page.]

7 thoughts on “Heidegger and National Socialism

  • August 10, 2009 at 6:12 pm

    One of the things I took away from your video “Nietzsche and the Nazis” was the idea that the philosophical bases for Nazism merited respect especially if Nazism were to be genuinely refuted and not just scapegoated. Anyone who believes in a form of Collectivism probably has a fair amount in common with Nazis. To dismiss the Nazis largely on the basis of their racism and crimes against humanity is really just a refutation of those two things whilst leaving the door wide open for the next racially egalitarian iteration of tyrannical Collectivism.

    Without having read this book, I can say that a respect for nature seems on the surface like one of those aspects of Nazism, born out of Romanticism, which likely was politically new for the time and which has lasting merit.

    Moreover, without knowing too much about Heidegger, is it not possible that Heidegger too had some respectable and lasting philosophical insights regardless of clearly having been a strong supporter of National Socialism?

  • August 11, 2009 at 1:41 am

    Heidegger interests me because years ago I took the EST Training which later became Landmark Education which still exists today. I participated quite a lot over 22 years taking many of the advanced courses they offer but never willing to step into an upper level leadership position. There was something interesting about it that was interesting – I learned a lot about incidents that had shaped my values and actions – and at the same time frightening. Over the years in some of the advanced courses I would get a reading list of books and Heidegger’s books were always included there.

    I had read Rand’s works before I ever took the EST Training and I was persuaded to objectivist principles and had a philosophical structure that kept me always questioning what was going on in the Landmark courses. But I still gave myself to them whenever I was participating.

    Four years ago I swore off Landmark courses. I was very angry for about a year. I finally decided that in essence what happened was that their courses took my brain apart but it was up to me to put it back together. The courses always take you, after hours of dismantling truth, cause and effect, and the ego, to a place of “empty and meaningless,” a place where you could create and then choose whatever future you wanted without the strictures, which I had removed in a particular course, of the past.

    As the years went by, I noticed that I would fall into resignation about my future and my life. And this was something that happened to many people, whereupon they would return for another course to see what they could discover that was constricting them and undermining their getting on with their lives.

    After I swore off, I realized that the empty and meaningless “space” had come to dominate my outlook. It became that each day could be a new creation and then each moment, etc., etc. into a regress to being a zero. When in that mental place, the experience is resignation.

    The courses were a lot about communication and working in teams of people and creating promises and then fulfilling on one’s word. What I had been taught was how to operate in a collectivist, relativist world – not a world of individual values being sought, but a world that “works for everyone.”

    You are alive when you are participating and dead when you are not. Given all of this experience, I can easily see why Heidegger would have been attracted to a national socialism. It makes complete sense.

    I’ve watched the politics of various people who I knew from participating in Landmark and I would say that a very high percentage of them voted for Obama. His surface characteristics and his appeal to the good and fair society enrolled them and that was enough. I couldn’t go there, but it was Rand and the great amount of reading I had done in economics and politics that came to my rescue.

    Existentialism did in the 50s, 60s and 70s address important issues that people have. People wanted more from life. They wanted to feel connected and to learn how to talk to people so they could cause that. My experiences with Landmark produced those experiences. I divulged a lot of the details of my life and my feelings to people and they to me and there was a level of intimacy that I had not known and always wanted. Also I came to have a vivid relationship to my speaking and what I said I would do. When I chose something, it wasn’t casual. I knew I chose it. So I would say that my experience with existentialism in the form of Landmark’s education gave me a good foundation in basic human to human interaction.

    I’ve since re-engaged with objectivism at a much deeper level. Now rather than learning the philosophy as a system of ideas, I’m engaged in living them.

  • August 15, 2009 at 4:15 am

    Heidegger was a Nazi. And…? Philosophers are people, too. And if monarchy, socialism, communism, and, yes, nazism are popular political positions, then we should as a matter of course expect some philosophers to be nazis, just as I expect some other cruel, monstrous philosophers–like Heidegger–are socialists, communists, or monarchists.

    If someone, say a philosopher, proclaims “I am the superior man and you must obey me,” there are only four responses: “Yes, master;” immediate execution, laughter, or a straight jacket. That millions, nay, billions of people opt for the first is a gross defect in human beings in need of explanation, but this lends no credence to the claim.

  • August 15, 2009 at 7:27 am

    Pace and Tehag ask, quite rightly, about the implications of Heidegger’s Nazism for the rest of his philosophy.

    If (a) Heidegger’s politics are Nazi, and (b) his politics is coherent with, consistent with, or otherwise logically connected with the rest of his philosophy, and (c) his politics is false, destructive and evil — then (d) the rest of his philosophy is false, destructive, and evil.

    In that conditional statement, (b) is the challenging clause and is the one that most exercises Heidegger’s proponents and detractors.

    The debate moves along two dimensions. Those who think philosophy in general is and should be systematic and consistent argue with those who think philosophy is ultimately a grab-bag of at best semi-consistent ideas. And those who are repulsed by some particular element of Heidegger’s philosophy use his politics as evidence against his philosophy, and those who are attracted by Heidegger’s philosophy want to disconnect it from his politics.

    So: Is philosophy systematic or not? And is Heidegger’s philosophy an integrated whole or merely an aggregate? These, I think, are the key issues in Tehag’s and Pace’s comments.

    Another aspect of clause (b) is levels of abstraction. Was Heidegger’s environmentalism, for example, a generalized Romantic love of nature out of which many possible particular formulations and implications are possible — or was his environmentalism tightly integrated with a particular anti-human, an anti-technology, and anti-rational ideology? This, I think, is the key issue Pace raises in his first two paragraphs.

    There’s also the important fact that Heidegger was not alone in his Nazism, as Tehag points out, and this raises questions of political psychology. Are most people sheep led around by the popular prejudices of the day? Does this apply to philosophers too — or should we expect more independence of thought from them? And where do those popular prejudices come from — do they gestate semi-consciously and erupt spontaneously? Or is there much systematic thought and argument, conscious planning and implementation that creates the conditions for mass political movements?

    All good issues and questions.

    The issues matter now, in part because Heidegger continues to exert great influence in our generation. And they matter in part because — whether influenced by Heidegger or not — many in our generation are attracted to anti-humanist, anti-science, anti-technology, anti-individualist, and anti-free society views; so it is proper to ask whether those views will, whether intentionally or not, lead again to some form of Nazism in practice.

  • August 17, 2009 at 10:53 pm

    I do think it is fair to ask about the endgame of any Collectivist regime limited by resource scarcity emerging from a system of unbridled resource consumption and population growth. The logical refrain one hears from Environmentalists is that either we clean our own house or nature will do it for us. The implication of course is that we can cull or sterilise ourselves or we will have chaos and starvation from ecosystem collapse.

    There is an implied evil in the Environmentalist solution akin to Nazi Eugenics and Ethnic Cleansing campaigns whereas nature is completely indifferent to questions of good and evil but can be equally undesirable in consequence.

    Maybe I am off base here, but I feel like the very basic question is: are Environmental Collectivists generally willing or inclined in times of pressure or scarcity toward Mass Murder? The 20th Century certainly gives much affirmative evidence as does the continuing rhetoric we hear politely stated every day.

    On the flip side, are Libertarians generally inclined towards selfishness and neglect of others suffering or dying in times of pressure or scarcity?

  • August 19, 2009 at 8:59 am


    This may not be a precise answer to your question, but the following article shows a connection between individualism and interdependence. I sometimes cite it when I hear the argument that individualists are narcissists.

    Title: Individualism and Interdependence
    Authors: Waterman
    Source: American Psychologist, 1981, 36, 7, 762-773, American Psychological Associates, Inc


  • September 2, 2009 at 10:55 am

    “Given Heidegger’s towering presence in the landscape of 20th-century philosophy and “deep ecology” environmentalism, How Green Were the Nazis? is an important book.”

    Only the gods can save us… according to Heidegger. Green gods no doubt. But forgive me if I bring up Lyotard and other topics (feminism and sex) throughout this post. Heidegger points indirectly to paganism and Lyotard flushes it out for all to see. In this way, Lyotard compliments Heidegger’s anti rationalism and presents an accurate view of today’s postmoderism.

    Paganism is back… Paganism comes close to what the French postmodern philosopher Lyotard describes as an extreme form of feminism. And Lyotard is happy that this feminism is now in play within our time. He welcomes it. According to Lyotard paganism is anti rational and anti philosophic (or anti phallosophic). He says Plato understood paganism as an impiety because Socrates believed that a god worthy of worship must be a being who causes good and not evil, who does not change shape and who does not lie. According to Lyotard, with paganism “the gods are as weak as you and me.” In fact, they are protean and, through metamorphoses, they lie. Therefore, justice and moral authority as conceived by Lyotard do not conform to a permanent hierarchy: paganism is a name for a situation where one passes judgment “in matters of justice, that is, politics and ethics, and all without criteria.” – like whim itself.

    According to Lyotard males are like a Socrates who uses “phallocratic” rationalism and women are needed who do not philosophize, at least not like men, since reasoning does not suit them. In other words, rationality is a male trap. Lyotard sees the day that women will usher in a new revolution in the west which will create “another sexual space, a topology of erotic powers, comparable to that which Freud designated in the infant under the name of polymorphous perversity.”

    Polymorphous perversity is just the beginning of the descent. Christianity with its hierarchal monotheism is just one “meta narrative” that today is slowly being destroyed by a Neo Marxist post modernism. So who are the pagans today? Who are some of the protean, deceitful human deities? Obama — the Messiah – and Bill Clinton comes to mind. Clinton was once asked why he banged Monica and he said because he could – whim. Who are the radical feminists? Tons of them out there but Hillary Clinton gets my vote. I think the movie The Devil Wears Prada was based on her character (interesting note: the current Pope also wears Prada, whereas the last wore Mephisto). Al Gore is now the new high priest for earth worship (Gaia) with his global warming crusade. The old pagans didn’t proselytize whereas the new ones do.

    With paganism, abortions are the new leave the baby on hill killings. The same flirtation with Baal. We’re getting back to polymorphous perversity in a very open way, e.g., Britany, Madonna and Christina French kissing for MTV. Children will be asked, “Will you marry a boy or a girl?” Sex Ed classes will teach you how to safely insert a cucumber up you butt, etc. With Lyotard’s anti phallosophic paganism men are portrayed in the media with the following choices: metro, homo or bozo. It’s about men’s sensitivity and consensus group training for the fashionable soft & futile look. And if you don’t fit the mode then it’s off to rehab for cries and hugs with Dr. Phil.

    I once read an article on Christianity that said, “Society has reverted to the sexual standards of the pagan world, and the bishop wants the church to revert along with it. The church must adopt new attitudes towards sex, he says, by which he means the old pagan attitudes.” The progressive bishop the article referred to stated Christianity needs “a better understanding of the complex role sexuality plays in our human nature, and of the purposes of God in creating us as sexual beings” goes on to say that this was because the teaching of both the Bible and the church have been shaped through the lens of male experience. The key word is male. In my mind, Lyotard is correct about paganism and the feminism behind it. We are living ever more in post Christian times where the grand narrative of Christianity is attacked on all fronts.

    So the green world will usher in new pagan Gods – according to Heidegger and Lyotard – and Christianity and maybe civilization will be eclipsed.

    A good author on Lyotard’s Postmodernism is Thomas Pangle – a Straussian who taught at the University of Toronto. A lot of good stuff by Straussians on Heidegger too, notably Leo Strauss himself.

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