Why we still need Heidegger — despite his Nazism

A new diary reveals the extent of the philosopher's anti-Semitism. But that doesn't mean his teachings are worthless.

Martin Heidegger
(Image credit: (adoc-photos/Corbis))

This is a gloomy period for scholars and intellectuals working within the traditions of Continental philosophy and literary theory. A few weeks ago, Evelyn Barish published an explosive book about Paul de Man — a leading practitioner and popularizer of deconstruction at Yale in the 1970s. We've known for years that de Man contributed hundreds of articles to a leading pro-Nazi newspaper during World War II. But Barish goes further, claiming that de Man was also a bigamist, a deadbeat dad, a liar, an embezzler, and a forger and falsifier of documents (some of which apparently helped to get him admitted into Harvard after he immigrated to the United States from his native Belgium in 1948).

But that's nothing compared with the latest revelations about Martin Heidegger's Nazism. Arguably the most influential European philosopher of the 20th century (only Ludwig Wittgenstein rivals him for the title), Heidegger has long been known to have been a National Socialist. He joined the Nazi Party in 1933 and remained a member through 1945. He eagerly served in an administrative post as rector of Freiburg University after Hitler assumed power. He praised the "inner truth and greatness" of National Socialism during a lecture in 1935. Never once did he express a word of moral condemnation of the Nazis or the Holocaust. (He died in 1976.)

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Damon Linker

Damon Linker is a senior correspondent at TheWeek.com. He is also a former contributing editor at The New Republic and the author of The Theocons and The Religious Test.