Martin Heidegger (September 26, 1889 – May 26, 1976) was a German philosopher known for his existential and phenomenological explorations of the “question of Being”.
Heidegger joined the NSDAP on May 1, 1933, ten days after being elected Rector of the University of Freiburg.
His involvement with National Socialism and the relation between his philosophy and National Socialism are still highly controversial, especially because he never apologized nor expressed regret.
Heidegger’s inaugural address as rector of Freiburg, the “Rektoratsrede“, was entitled “The Self-Assertion of the German University“.
This speech displayed the visible endorsement of National Socialism by Heidegger, giving the blessing of his philosophy to the new political party.
In this speech Heidegger linked the concept of “science” with a historical struggle of the German people:
‘The will to the essence of the German university is the will to science as will to the historical spiritual mission of the German people as a people [Volk] that knows itself in its state [Staat].
‘Together, science and German destiny must come to power in the will to essence.
And they will do so and only will do so, if we – teachers and students – on the one hand, expose science to its innermost necessity and, on the other hand, are able to stand our ground while German destiny is in its most extreme distress.’
Heidegger also linked the concept of a people with ‘Blut und Boden’ – (blood and soil).
The spiritual world of a people is not the superstructure of a culture any more than it is an armory filled with useful information and values; it is the power that most deeply preserves the people’s earth- and blood-bound strengths as the power that most deeply arouses and most profoundly shakes the people’s existence.
The rectorate speech ended with a call for the German people to “will itself” and “fulfill its historical mission“:
‘But no one will even ask us whether we do or do not will, when the spiritual strength of the West fails and its joints crack, when this moribund semblance of a culture caves in and drags all forces into confusion and lets them suffocate in madness.
Whether this will or will not happen depends solely on whether we, as a historical-spiritual people, still and once again will ourselves – or whether we no longer will ourselves. Each individual participates in this decision even when, and especially when, he evades it.
But we do will that our people fulfill its historical mission.’
Speech to Heidelberg Student Association – June 1933
‘We have the new Reich and the university that is to receive its tasks from the Reich’s will to existence.
A fierce battle must be fought against this situation in the National Socialist spirit, and this spirit cannot be allowed to be suffocated by humanizing, Christian ideas that suppress its un-conditionality.
Danger comes not from work for the State.
It comes only from indifference and resistance.
For that reason, only true strength should have access to the right path, but not halfheartedness.
The new teaching which is at issue here does not mean conveying knowledge, but allowing students to learn and inducing them to learn.
This means allowing oneself to be beset by the unknown and then becoming master of it in comprehending knowing; it means becoming secure in one’s sense of what is essential.
It is from such teaching that true research emerges, interlocked with the whole through its rootedness in the people (Volk) and its bond to the state.
The student is forced out into the uncertainty of all things, in which the necessity of engagement is grounded.
University study must again become a risk, not a refuge for the cowardly.
Whoever does not survive the battle, lies where he falls.
The new courage must accustom itself to steadfastness, for the battle for the institutions where our leaders are educated will continue for a long time.
It will be fought out of the strengths of the new Reich that Chancellor Hitler will bring to reality.
A hard race with no thought of self must fight this battle, a race that lives from constant testing and that remains directed toward the goal to which it has committed itself. It is a battle to determine who shall be the teachers and leaders at the university.’
Heidegger supported the “necessity of a Führer” for Germany as early as 1918.
In a number of speeches in November 1933 Heidegger endorses the Führerprinzip (“leader principle”), i.e. the principle that the Führer is the embodiment of the people.
For example, in one speech Heidegger stated :
‘Let not propositions and ‘ideas’ be the rules of your being (Sein). The Führer alone is the present and future German reality and its law. Learn to know ever more deeply: that from now on every single thing demands decision, and every action responsibility.’
In another speech a few days later Heidegger said:
‘There is only one will to the full existence (Dasein) of the State. The Führer has awakened this will in the entire people and has welded it into a single resolve.‘
In late November Heidegger gave a conference at the University of Tübingen, organized by the students of the university and the ‘Kampfbund’, an NSDAP organisation.
In this address he argued for a revolution in knowledge.
‘We have witnessed a revolution. The state has transformed itself.
This revolution was not the advent of a power pre-existing in the bosom of the state or of a political party. The national-socialist revolution means rather the radical transformation of German existence.
However, in the university, not only has the revolution not yet achieved its aims, it has not even started.‘
|Geburtshaus – Martin Heidegger|
Heidegger was born in rural Meßkirch, Germany.
Raised a Roman Catholic, he was the son of the sexton of the village church, Friedrich Heidegger, and his wife Johanna, née Kempf.
In their faith, his parents adhered to the First Vatican Council of 1870, which was observed mainly by the poorer class of Meßkirch.
The religious controversy between the wealthy Altkatholiken (Old Catholics) and the working class led to the temporary use of a converted barn for the Roman Catholics.
At the festive reunion of the congregation in 1895, the Old Catholic sexton handed the key to six-year-old Martin.
|Meßkirch – Deutschland|
Heidegger’s family could not afford to send him to university, so he entered a Jesuit seminary, though he was turned away within weeks because of the health requirement and what the director and doctor of the seminary described as a psychosomatic heart condition.
As a young man Heidegger became involved in an extreme right wing occult group (superficially Catholic) led by Richard Kralik Ritter von Meyrswalden, and called der Gral Bund.
Richard Kralik attended the elementary and high school of the University of Linz.
In addition to studying law, he devoted himself to philosophy and ancient oriental languages.
In addition, he pursued the study of art and music, and literature.
After studying in Vienna, he also studied at several universities in Germany.
Around 1905 he established the Gral Bund – a neo-romantic, occult group.
Heidegger was inspired by Kralik and this occult romanticism continued to affect his philosophy for the remainder of his life.
After studying theology at the University of Freiburg from 1909 to 1911, he switched to philosophy, in part again because of his heart condition.
Heidegger completed his doctoral thesis on psychologism in 1914 influenced by Neo-Thomism and Neo-Kantianism, and in 1916 finished his venia legendi with a thesis on Duns Scotus influenced by Heinrich Rickert and Edmund Husserl.
In the two years following, he worked first as an unsalaried Privatdozent, then served as a soldier during the final year of World War I, working behind a desk and never leaving Germany.
After the war, he served as a salaried senior assistant to Edmund Husserl at the University of Freiburg in the Black Forest from 1919 until 1923.
In 1923, Heidegger was elected to an extraordinary Professorship in Philosophy at the University of Marburg.
His colleagues there included Rudolf Bultmann, Nicolai Hartmann, and Paul Natorp. Heidegger’s students at Marburg included Hans-Georg Gadamer, Hannah Arendt, Karl Löwith, Gerhard Krüger, Leo Strauss, Jacob Klein, Gunther (Stern) Anders, and Hans Jonas. Through a confrontation with Aristotle he began to develop in his lectures the main theme of his philosophy: the question of the sense of being.
He extended the concept of subject to the dimension of history and concrete existence, which he found prefigured in such Christian thinkers as Saint Paul, Augustine of Hippo, Luther, and Kierkegaard.
He also read the works of Dilthey, Husserl, and Max Scheler.
In 1927, Heidegger published his main work ‘Sein und Zeit’ (Being and Time).
When Husserl retired as Professor of Philosophy in 1928, Heidegger accepted Freiburg’s election to be his successor, in spite of a counter-offer by Marburg.
Heidegger remained at Freiburg im Breisgau for the rest of his life, declining a number of later offers, including one from Humboldt University of Berlin.
His students at Freiburg included Hannah Arendt, Günther Anders, Hans Jonas, Karl Löwith, Charles Malik, Herbert Marcuse, and Ernst Nolte.
Heidegger was elected rector of the University on April 21, 1933, and joined the National Socialist German Workers’ (Nazi) Party on May 1 (see above).
In his inaugural address as rector on May 27 he expressed his support to a German revolution, and in an article and a speech to the students from the same year he supported Adolf Hitler.
Heidegger resigned the rectorate in April 1934, but remained a member of the NSDAP until 1945.
Heidegger died on May 26, 1976, and was buried in the Meßkirch cemetery, beside his parents and brother.
Being, Time, and Dasein
Heidegger’s philosophy is founded on the attempt to conjoin what he considers two fundamental insights: the first is his observation that, in the course of over 2,000 years of history, philosophy has attended to all the beings that can be found in the world (including the “world” itself), but has forgotten to ask what “Being” itself is.
This is Heidegger’s “question of Being,” and it is Heidegger’s fundamental concern throughout his work.
One crucial source of this insight was Heidegger’s reading of Franz Brentano’s treatise on Aristotle’s manifold uses of the word “being,” a work which provoked Heidegger to ask what kind of unity underlies this multiplicity of uses.
Heidegger opens his magnum opus, ‘Being and Time’, with a citation from Plato’s Sophist indicating that Western philosophy has neglected “Being” because it was considered obvious, rather than as worthy of question.
Heidegger’s intuition about the question of Being is thus a historical argument, which in his later work becomes his concern with the “history of Being,” that is, the history of the forgetting of Being, which according to Heidegger requires that philosophy retrace its footsteps through a productive “destruction” of the history of philosophy.
The second intuition animating Heidegger’s philosophy derives from the influence of Edmund Husserl, a philosopher largely uninterested in questions of philosophical history. Rather, Husserl argued that all that philosophy could and should be is a description of experience (hence the phenomenological slogan, “to the things themselves“).
But for Heidegger, this meant understanding that experience is always already situated in a world and in ways of being.
Thus Husserl’s understanding that all consciousness is “intentional” (in the sense that it is always intended toward something, and is always “about” something) is transformed in Heidegger’s philosophy, becoming the thought that all experience is grounded in “care.”
This is the basis of Heidegger’s “existential analytic“, as he develops it in ‘Being and Time’. Heidegger argues that to describe experience properly entails finding the being for whom such a description might matter.
Heidegger thus conducts his description of experience with reference to “Dasein,” the being for whom being is a question.
In ‘Being and Time’, Heidegger criticized the abstract and metaphysical character of traditional ways of grasping human existence as rational animal, person, man, soul, spirit, or subject.
‘Dasein‘ – (existence), then, is not intended as a way of conducting a philosophical anthropology, but is rather understood by Heidegger to be the condition of possibility for anything like a philosophical anthropology.
‘Dasein‘, according to Heidegger, is care. In the course of his existential analytic, Heidegger argues that ‘Dasein‘, who finds itself thrown into the world (Geworfenheit – thrownness) amidst things and with others, is thrown into its possibilities, including the possibility and inevitability of one’s own mortality.
The need for ‘Dasein‘ to assume these possibilities, that is, the need to be responsible for one’s own existence, is the basis of Heidegger’s notions of authenticity and resoluteness—that is, of those specific possibilities for ‘Dasein‘ which depend on escaping the “vulgar” temporality of calculation and of public life.
The marriage of these two observations depends on the fact that each of them is essentially concerned with time.
That ‘Dasein‘ s thrown into an already existing world and thus into its mortal possibilities does not only mean that ‘Dasein‘ is an essentially temporal being; it also implies that the description of ‘Dasein‘ can only be carried out in terms inherited from the Western tradition itself.
For Heidegger, unlike for Husserl, philosophical terminology could not be divorced from the history of the use of that terminology, and thus genuine philosophy could not avoid confronting questions of language and meaning.
The existential analytic of ‘Being and Time’ was thus always only a first step in Heidegger’s philosophy, to be followed by the “dismantling” (Destruktion) of the history of philosophy, that is, a transformation of its language and meaning, that would have made of the existential analytic only a kind of “limit case” (in the sense in which special relativity is a limit case of general relativity).
That Heidegger did not write this second part of ‘Being and Time’, and that the existential analytic was left behind in the course of Heidegger’s subsequent writings on the history of being, might be interpreted as a failure to conjugate his account of individual experience with his account of the vicissitudes of the collective human adventure that he understands the Western philosophical tradition to be.
And this would in turn raise the question of whether this failure is due to a flaw in Heidegger’s account of temporality, that is, of whether Heidegger was correct to oppose vulgar and authentic time.
There are also recent critiques in this regard that were directed at Heidegger’s focus on time instead of primarily thinking about being in relation to place and space.
Hölderlin and Nietzsche
Friedrich Hölderlin and Friedrich Nietzsche were both important influences on Heidegger, and many of his lecture courses were devoted to one or the other, especially in the 1930s and 1940s.
The lectures on Nietzsche focused on fragments posthumously published under the title ‘Der Wille zur Macht’ – (The Will to Power), rather than on Nietzsche’s published works.
Heidegger read ‘Der Wille zur Macht’ as the culminating expression of Western metaphysics, and the lectures are a kind of dialogue between the two thinkers.
Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (15 October 1844 – 25 August 1900) was a German philosopher, poet, composer, cultural critic, and classical philologist. He wrote critical texts on religion, morality, contemporary culture, philosophy, and science, displaying a fondness for metaphor, irony, and aphorism.
Nietzsche’s key ideas include the “death of God,” the ‘Übermensch‘, the ‘eternal recurrence‘, the ‘Apollonian and Dionysian dichotomy’, and the ‘will to power‘. Central to his philosophy is the idea of “life-affirmation“, which involves questioning of all doctrines that drain life’s expansive energies, however socially prevalent those views might be. His influence remains substantial within philosophy, notably in existentialism, post-modernism, and post-structuralism, as well as outside it. His radical questioning of the value and objectivity of truth has been the focus of extensive commentary, especially in the continental tradition.
This is also the case for the lecture courses devoted to the poetry of Friedrich Hölderlin, which became an increasingly central focus of Heidegger’s work and thought.
Heidegger grants to Hölderlin a singular place within the history of being and the history of Germany, as a herald whose thought is yet to be “heard” in Germany or the West.
Many of Heidegger’s works from the 1930s onwards include meditations on lines from Hölderlin’s poetry, and several of the lecture courses are devoted to the reading of a single poem (see, for example, Hölderlin’s Hymn “The Ister“).
Johann Christian Friedrich Hölderlin (20 March 1770 – 7 June 1843) was a major German lyric poet, commonly associated with the artistic movement known as Romanticism. Hölderlin was also an important thinker in the development of German Idealism, particularly his early association with and philosophical influence on his seminary roommates and fellow Swabians Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel and Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling.
Hölderlin was a poet-thinker who wrote, fragmentarily, on poetic theory and philosophical matters. His theoretical works, such as the essays “Das Werden im Vergehen” (“Becoming in Dissolution”) and “Urteil und Sein” (“Judgement and Being”) are insightful and important if somewhat tortuous and difficult to parse. They raise many of the key problems also addressed by his Tübingen roommates Hegel and Schelling. And, though his poetry was never “theory-driven”, the interpretation and exegesis of some of his more difficult poems has given rise to profound philosophical speculation by thinkers as divergent as Martin Heidegger, Jacques Derrida, Neil Paul Cummins, Michel Foucault and Theodor Adorno.