Nice Dasein, I’m a Nazi

My latest for Slate, which is basically just a medium-footing of Paul Hockenos‘ spectacular article in the Chronicle. We ALL KNOW that Heidegger was a fucking Nazi asshole (and also a word-making-up prick), but in the literary disciplines, people still worship him like the words coming out of his mouth are important. It’s the analytic philosophers, they say, whose insistence on the existence of immutable concepts, or the concept of “meaning” at all, are “fascistoid,” as Avitall Ronell once intoned in a documentary. A massive irony, given that the root of all of that Derrida/Foucault/Lacan/Zizek French hooey was an actual Fascist.

Also, some controversy about my use of the word “mansplain” in the article. The guy in question in grad school, a condescending twerp of a man, was most certainly mansplaining me about TS Eliot at the time. He was talking to me as if I could never possibly, with my tiny feeble female mind, know anything important about poetry, Eliot, “usury,” Jews or what an “anti-Semite” is. His treatment of women in an intellectual capacity was 100% different than his treatment of his fellow bros, and in the same conversation, he also let it be known that the poor are poor because they just don’t work hard enough. He was a twerp, a racist, a sexist, and a fuckface. I stand by “mansplain.”

23 thoughts on “Nice Dasein, I’m a Nazi

  1. rebecca,

    the drawing of connections between wittgenstein and heidegger has actually been a source of fruitful work for a long time, from the more continentally inclined parts of the anglo-american side. i would cite rorty, cavell, mulhall for starters. and recent work on heidegger and wittgenstein by an american continentalist, lee braver, captures much the same sort of connection. so i don’t know if the sharks and jets would necessarily have to knife it out instead of going for milkshakes or whatever.


    • Are you seriously coming at me like I haven’t heard of or read–quite extensively–Rorty, Cavell and Mulhall? I know the scholarship, but like you said, little from the analytic side, and all recent. In the Interwar/Postwar period the W/H divide very much deepened the schism.


      • no at-coming intended, but you did kind of imply that W and H were basically incompatible. i wouldn’t presume a germanist to know any particular things about philosophy, or to be ignorant of them. just friendly tipz.


      • well…
        I don’t visit this blog much anymore, but I have never heard of Rorty, Cavell and/or Mulhall. However, the deeper meaning of all this has to somehow tie Heidegger (and his Nazi-philosopher beliefs) to the CU-Boulder sex scandals. Something along the lines of how Nazis (the men) believed that women exist just for their pleasure (so they were sexual harassers before sexual harassment was in vogue) – AND, surprise, surprise! – the philandering philosophers at CU surely share those beliefs, if only secretly.

        So the CU philanderers are worthy heirs of Heidegger and his Hitlerian zeitgeist. I am not sure what zeitgeist is, but it sounds like a word I should use at a party this weekend. Especially since these German words have too many consonants in the wrong places.

        Isn’t there an article to be written for Slate on this very topic? Especially if there is some secret video of CU’s philosophers singing “Deutschland, Deutschland über alles” while party-saluting each other at that now-infamous retreat?


  2. Here’s my take on it — Being and Time is fundamentally incompatible with Nazism, so Heidegger’s support of the Nazi party involved a rejection (at the time) of his own philosophical tenets. Heidegger was such a good Nazi that his rectorate lasted less than a year. Eventually, the Nazi party, as I understand it, had him out digging ditches. Here’s what Heidegger had to say about his rectorate:

    “The rectorate was an attempt to see something in the movement that had come to power, beyond all its failings and crudeness, that was much more far-reaching and that could perhaps one day bring a concentration on the Germans’ Western historical essence. It will in no way be denied that at the time I believed in such possibilities and for that reason renounced the actual vocation of thinking in favor of being effective in an official capacity. In no way will what was caused by my own inadequacy in office be played down. But these points of view do not capture what is essential and what moved me to accept the rectorate.”

    Note he said he had to “renounce” the “vocation of thinking” to take on that official role; i.e., stupidify himself to be a good Nazi. Of course he couldn’t do it for long. He probably wouldn’t last long at most colleges in the US today either. I think he was motivated by vanity and ambition to do what he did, which is still hardly a pretty picture, but not any inherent love for National Socialism.

    I would also suggest that we need to consider Heidegger’s support of the Nazi Party separately from his anti-semitism. Probably 90% of the people killed by Hitler in WW 2 were anti-semitic. During this period, Columbia University of all places had enrollment limits for Jews (I picked this up in Margaret Salinger’s book about Salinger, Dreamcatcher — she documented it). Being a Nazi meant you had to be anti-semitic, but being anti-semitic didn’t mean you were a Nazi: there were plenty of good, God-fearing, red-blooded Americans over there killing “krauts” who were just as anti-semitic as Hitler, as was most of Europe. They just didn’t take their anti-semitism as far as Hitler did.

    I think Adorno’s critique of Heidegger in Jargon of Authenticity is probably the best out there for explaining the link between Heideggerian existentialism and National Socialism, but if I understand Adorno correctly the effect was that of preparing the ground, and the consequences were unintended and untheorized within Heidegger’s thought at the time.


    • “Being and Time is fundamentally incompatible with Nazism” — why? And how would you reconcile this with the contents of the black notebooks?


      • FIGHT FIGHT FIGHT FIGHT FIGHT! No, srsly though, I think that any claim that Sein und Zeit is incompatible with Nazism should be reserved for after the release of die Schwarzen Hefte.


      • Note that I’m not denying that Heidegger was anti-semitic. Anti-semitism just wasn’t unique to Nazism, that’s all. The Nazis were the biggest pigs on the block, but not the only ones. So I don’t think I’ll be contradicting anything in the Notebooks unless he says he was a Nazi in the mid 1920s and was inspired by Mein Kampf to write Being and Time. I don’t see that happening.

        National Socialism, as I understand it how it worked itself out in Germany, required individual identity to be subsumed under a national/ethnic identity that is embodied in the central male leader. I don’t see how this is compatible with Being and Time. I haven’t read it in some years, but it seems to me that we’re thrown into a social identity and need to discover an individual one. I don’t see how that can be compatible with Nazism.


  3. The idea behind your use of “mansplain” is rock-solid–all the instances you describe are in fact moments where the ‘explainer’ is driven by structural sexism (among other power complexes) to attempt to disabuse his weaker interlocutor of her wretched misunderstandings (probably conditioned, of course, by the weakness of her sex).

    The reason I cringe every time I read the term is in part a low tolerance for neologism (I fucking hate “selfie” and “fail” as a noun and many of the lexical horrors of our day). This is certainly pedantic.

    But less pedantic–and perhaps a moment where I run the risk of mansplainin’–is that the jovial cleverness of the term may distract attention from the very real phenomenon it seeks to describe. By humorously neologizing the action, don’t you run the risk of those very people who might benefit from observing and understanding its effects failing to do so?

    that’s it. Ok, here’s more. Explain is latinate. Man is germanic. Combining the roots makes me hurt.


  4. I guess I don’t want to be limited to being a jerk because of my gender. I also want to be a jerk because of my race, my intellectual background, and my age.

    Please, let me be an asshole multiform.


  5. Wow–I love reading this blog. People debating Heidegger, neologisms, Woolf’s journals. Every other blog seems entrenched in banalities, recipe swapping, or MadMen analysis.
    Re: theelderj Your post reminds me of the line in a Stoppard play when Housman bristles that the neologism homosexual is untenable because its root words come from Latin and Greek. Another character deadpans homosexuality is indeed half Latin, half Greek.
    I do feel bad for Ronnel, though–a Jewish, female Germanist who the Heidegger scholars have always marginalized.


  6. Good job Rebecca! I had a discussion about this same topic in one of my grad seminars about Heidegger. I don’t know why academics seem so content with tossing his Nazi and anti-semite history to the side. He’s not special. No philosopher is. If he didn’t write the philosophical gobbledygook he wrote, eventually someone else would have.
    I have one thing to add though…. I was mansplained a lot in grad school, but surprisingly a lot of it came from women! They would use exact same patronizing tone and mention how I should go back to painting my nails or something. I think that it’s possible that it’s become culturally ingrained in both sexes.


  7. Hi, Rebecca. I’m pretty interested in this issue. I too have studied philosophy at the graduate level, particularly phenomenology, so this hits close to home. People are defensive about Heidegger, no doubt about it. I’m not sure a Slate blurb was the ideal vehicle to discuss the issue or to generate fruitful dialogue. It seems too large a topic, but, hey, whatever.

    In any case, as a student of phenomenology, I have long be aware of Heidegger’s Nazism. And of course, throughout my studies I got many differing opinions from professors on the issue. My own feeling after reading up no pre-war Germany, is that Heidegger either must have in some way seen the writing on the wall, or else he should have. Max Scheler was supposedly quite vocal about his contempt for the Nazis before his death in 1928, though it’s my understanding he was very much in the minority of academics who did voice such an opinion. Why not Heidegger? Obviously, because he wasn’t opposed to the Nazis. The situation is complex, and it’s worth thinking about the politics of the academy, the general spirit of the times, etc., etc.—what might be chalked up as ‘mansplaining’ in some quarters. But nothing changes the simple fact that some people did oppose the Nazis, and some people went along with them. And Heidegger went along with them.

    He certainly wasn’t the only opportunist. The Nazis limited party enrollment after they came to power because they were concerned that the wrong sort of people were joining up and threatened to dilute the character of the party. But that’s not what really matters here is it? He’s the only Great Philosopher with this problem, he’s the only one about whose thought we really care. Perhaps because we want to save what we can of his thought.

    We want to know what part of his philosophy is tainted by Nazism so we might know where to cut. But the larger question, I think, is whether that’s even possible, whether there is a causal relationship that can be manipulated in such a way. Do themes in Being and Time cause one to become sympathetic to Nazism? Not for anyone I know. Do sympathies with the Nazis cause one to write Being and Time? Not for the vast majority of Germans. Are we talking about necessary or sufficient causes anyway?

    In the US, our political and legal thought is obviously tainted by the legacy of slavery. Can we cut off the slavery parts of our national heritage and save the good part? Is there even anything left? How does this work? I don’t want to defend or excuse Heidegger’s Nazism, and I won’t, any more than I will defend or excuse John Locke’s racism, or that of the Founding Fathers. I don’t think these problems can be defeated in any real or satisfying way. One has to struggle with it I think just like one has to struggle with all of history. One can choose not to read Heidegger, but is that really solving anything?


    • Choosing not to read Heidegger anymore has solved the problem of me really not enjoying his Dasein, that’s for sure :). But I am, as are many, mostly curious as to what the schwarzen Hefte hold. If they are full of what their editor is saying, then it may warrant a total reconsideration of the canon.


Hello. I "value" your comment. (No, really, I do!) Please don't be a dick, though.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s