Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Why I Hate Heidegger

I have a tendency to react somewhat strongly whenever Heidegger is mentioned.  Anyone participating as I do in a philosophy forum is likely to encounter his name with some frequency.  Almost as frequently as his name is mentioned, I strongly react (I've managed to control myself now and then).  This has been noticed.  Recently, I was challenged to explain my reactions.  This is an effort, or the start of an effort, to do so.

As may be guessed my reactions, such as they have been on that forum, have been adverse.  They have been strongly adverse.  I have a tendency to dwell on his Nazi past.  In all honesty, I've condemned him as loathsome, an anti-Semite, a worshipper of Hitler, a despicable Nazi toady, a cruel and incessant enforcer of racial exclusion laws while rector at Freiburg, a twisted romantic, an ungrateful friend.  And I maintain he was all of these things!  I think he would have been happy to take the place of Goebbels if he could have, or at least would have delighted in being the chief philosopher of the Nazi Way.  But, sadly for him, his considerable efforts to endear himself to Hitler failed, and he was reduced to pouting, for the most part, during the balance of his Fuhrer's reign.  Unrequited love eventually silenced his praises for the man he called the present and future of Germany, and its law.  But he never seemed to get around to condemning Hitler or the Nazis, except in commenting that they just didn't go about things the right way. 

Well, you see what happens.

I've been told that the fact he was a Nazi has nothing to do with his philosophy or his influence, which are claimed to be profound.  There's no doubting his influence, of course.  I have my doubts about his philosophy.  But, I don't hate him for his philosophy, except to the extent it led him to act as he did.  I hate him for the man he was, and deplore the fact that a philosopher was--and could be--such a man.  Think of it; a philosopher not merely buying into Nazi doctrines, but enthusiastically spouting them--indeed, justifying them.  And, worse yet, implementing them.

It may be that I have too romantic or idealized a view of philosophy and philosophers.  In any case, I personally can't think of Heidegger the man as someone separate and distinct from Heidegger the philosopher.  And, I rather doubt he would make such a distinction.

My attitude towards Heidegger the man probably impacts my view of him as a philosopher.  We tend to be dismissive of the intelligence of those we hate.  But, I'll try to relate some of my problems with philosopher Heidegger without indulging in comments about Heidegger the contemptible man (oops! Sorry).

I must confess immediately that I can't stand reading him.  Nor do I enjoy reading such as Sartre, or Kierkegaard, or Schopenhauer (most of the time), or Foucault, or Hegel, or Nietzsche (most of the time).  I grow impatient.  I dislike the terminology (especially the many usages of the word "being").  I'm American, you see, and we know what Heidegger thought of Americans--I'm probably incapable of appreciating the finer and more significant aspects of life, and am technology mad and money-grubbing (actually, I'm rather lame when it comes to technology).

Also, I find his fear of science and technology to be disquieting.  There's something of the romantic and even mystic in Heidegger, I think, but it is a bad sort of romanticism that he seemed to glorify, and not just when it comes to the mystical destiny of Germany.  We can't return to gamboling about the forests, if we ever did so (I suspect we didn't much).  There can be no question that we can (and have) posed a danger to our environment, and there are dangers we must avoid.  But, we will continue to manipulate the environment, and we will continue to employ science and technology to achieve our desires, and we won't do so because of a mistaken conception of metaphysics.  That's what we do, and it will not change.  We must learn to do so intelligently.  I  don't think Heidegger believed this is possible.  In any case, I don't think he showed us how to do so in any useful sense.  And I'm big on useful--but so of course was Dewey, and Heidegger hated him as representative of "Americanism."


  1. Dude, he's dead. Get over it. Save your energy for bad people today, with whom you can make a difference.

  2. He is indeed, happily. As is Hitler. But his ideas, like those of Hitler, live on. It would be nice if we could completely ignore the past, and those who lived in it, but we can't.

  3. I happened upon this post thinking that it would present actual arguments against Heidegger's positions rather than mere invective and mindless sloganeering.

    Heidegger became affiliated with Nazism because he saw within it the potential for a way out of an untenable social and intellectual situation (the gradual decent into machination, which is not to be confused with the mere development of technology that Heidegger saw as inevitable and not necessarily negative). When that potential was not actualized and, indeed, Nazism was subsumed into machination in a particularly horrific way, Heidegger was, in a way, most betrayed of all (no less than the many Western intellectuals affiliated with Stalinism were betrayed by its decent into brutality). It is fitting that this tragic association served to inform Heidegger's later works and to endow them with the emancipatory potential that subsequent generations of leftist intellectuals have found so useful in their own projects.

    Of course, you yourself are too much of an intellectual coward to (knowingly) take a position that risks any sort of negative consequences and too much of a precritical dogmatist to recognize such consequences as your own thought might engender. Thus, your fear and horror that a philosopher could do as Heidegger did masks your true fear/shame: That you cannot do likewise and, thus, are no philosopher. Now run along and go back to sleep.

  4. You Heidegger fans are so excitable!

    Alas, I find it hard to pity the man. It seems to make more sense to pity those the Nazis actually violently oppressed, tortured and killed, does it not? It's rather silly (at best) to portray him as a victim of the Nazis.

    But regardless, your explanation, the basis for which is left unexplained, hardly justifies his commitment to National Socialism or his actions. And, if he thought Hitler was going to halt the "gradual decent into machination" (whatever that is supposed to mean) he may not have been the most perceptive of men.

    I think I've been quite true to the title of my little entry; I've written why I hate Heidegger. Your "disappointment" (feelings of betrayal?) regarding the bases for my opinion of him as a man may be due to an acceptance of the view that his subsequent work absolves him. It's a view I don't accept.

    I disagree that loathing Heidegger makes me an intellectual coward. As for fear and horror, and shame, I know that these are the treasured possessions of existentialists and certain continental philosophers, but I am not among their weepy, self-pitying ranks.

    By the way, I like your name, Anonymous. It seems somewho appropriate. Vale.

  5. I have the same reaction to Heidegger. I can not distinguish the man's ideas from his deeds. A difference that makes a difference is a difference. Curt

  6. I am a grad student who has only just become exposed to Heidegger. I found this post because, in a moment of frustration, I actually googled, "I hate Heidegger." So, you are not alone. back to Heidegger..........

  7. Heidegger's philosophy fits nazism like a glove.

    His irrational twisting of words into "fact", his complete incapability of acknowledging that reality doesn't conform to his wishes, his all-consuming zeal to replace ALL philosophical terms with German vernacular words, and his outright distortion and manipulation of the few non-german words and ideas that he accepted; make him THE nazi of philosophy, if not the philosopher of the nazis.

    I just wish we subjected him to damnatio memoriae, if it was in my hand, I'd destroy all his extant material, prints, and forbid teaching his ideas.

  8. The belief that the German language is particularly fit for philosophy, and the Germans the successors of the ancient Greek philosophers, are two of the many odd characteristics of German Romanticism and self-regard that would be pathetic if they hadn't supplied the bases for German militarism and genocide in the 20th century. I think Heidegger shared in these hateful delusions, and fostered them.