Courtesy Reuters

What Heidegger Was Hiding

Unearthing the Philosopher’s Anti-Semitism

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Heidegger und der Mythos der jüdischen Weltverschwörung (Heidegger and the Myth of the Jewish World Conspiracy). BY PETER TRAWNY. Klostermann, 2014, 124 pp. €15.80.

The German philosopher Martin Heidegger died in 1976, yet scholars are still plowing through his life’s work today -- some of it for the very first time. Indeed, few modern thinkers have been as productive: once published in their entirety, his complete works will comprise over 100 volumes. Fewer still have rivaled his reach: Heidegger deeply influenced some of the twentieth century’s most important philosophers, among them Leo Strauss, Jean-Paul Sartre, Hannah Arendt, and Jacques Derrida. And although Heidegger’s work is most firmly entrenched in the Western tradition, his readership is global, with serious followings in Latin America, China, Japan, and even Iran.

But Heidegger’s legacy also bears a dark stain, one that his influence has never quite managed to wash out. Heidegger joined the Nazi Party in the spring of 1933, ran the University of Freiburg on behalf of the regime, and gave impassioned speeches in support of Adolf Hitler at key moments, including during the plebiscites in the fall of 1933, which solidified popular support for Nazi policies.

Nevertheless, Heidegger managed to emerge from World War II with his reputation mostly intact. The Allies’ denazification program, which aimed to rid German society of Nazi ideology, targeted regime supporters just like him. Freiburg came under French control, and the new authorities there forced Heidegger into retirement and forbade him from teaching. But in 1950, the now-independent university revoked the ban. This resulted in large part from Heidegger’s outreach campaign to French intellectuals with anti-Nazi credentials, including Sartre and the resistance fighter Jean Beaufret. In short order, Heidegger won over a wide following in France. Once his international reputation was secure, the university gave him emeritus status and allowed him to resume teaching.

To his new champions, Heidegger portrayed himself as the typical unworldly philosopher, claiming that he had joined the Nazi Party and accepted Freiburg’s rectorate

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