Heidegger, Martin, The Self-Assertion of the German University and The. Rectorate / Facts and Thoughts, Review of Metaphysics, (Mar .). of this “Heidegger controversy” (Thomson ) shows that it has long had the .. Heidegger’s Rectorial Address lays great stress on the need for scientists to. Martin Heidegger wanted his writings to speak for themselves. The necessary new edition of the Rectoral Address, which appeared in Prance in in a.

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At the same time, from May,until his resignation of the rectorate the following February, he was also a member of the Nazi party. Heidegger was then in his mid-forties. His early work, culminating in the epochal Being and Time —one of the most difficult, influential, and certainly one of the most controversial books of philosophy produced in this century—lay behind him.

Ahead lay equally formidable essays on language, art, and technology, as well as numerous essays and monographs on key figures in the Western philosophical tradition, from Parmenides and Anaximander to Kant, Hegel, and Nietzsche.

Heidegger at Freiburg, | The New Criterion

Though he has as many detractors as devotees, Heidegger is without doubt among the most influential philosophers of the twentieth century. He is a pervasive force in contemporary theology, psychology, and literary criticism as well as in philosophy.

Among his contemporaries, only Wittgenstein rivals him in the depth and extent of his influence. And despite his sometimes forbiddingly abstruse language, there is something uniquely sagelike about Heidegger.

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Philosophy for him was no merely beidegger pursuit. His impassioned grappling with the void made his philosophy seem piquantly spiritual and yet up-to-date, a continuation of religion by other means.

In later essays, Heidegger adopted a more lyrical, if no less heodegger, manner. But he also pondered such existentially fertile problems as the vocation of art in the modern age, the uncertain future of philosophy, and the threat posed to modern man by the dominance of science and technological thinking.

One might object that no one could have foretold the barbarous character of the Nazi regime that early. After all, the invasion of Poland was nearly six years away, the Kristallnacht nearly five.

Martin Heidegger and Nazism

But by the end of April,when Heidegger took office, it was later than we might like to imagine. Hitler had become chancellor of a coalition cabinet in the disintegrating Weimar Republic on January It is true that he did not achieve full control of the government until after the death of Hindenburg in July, But he managed to eliminate any real opposition almost immediately. In March ofa fitting symbol of those ideals appeared near Dachau: What was his involvement with the Nazis?

What connections, if any, are there between his thought and the National Socialist ideology? Heidegger tells us that he agreed rectoriap succeed him only very reluctantly; he had had virtually no administrative experience and was politically unaffiliated.

Matters came to a head near the end of February heidgger Just ten months after he became rector, Heidegger resigned in protest, withdrawing from any further involvement in university, or national, politics.

She singles out Kant as the great exception. In this context, she claims that Heidegger never read Mein Kampfthough naturally one must wonder to what extent he could have been unaware of its contents. His appointment of Jewish deans, admission of Jewish students to his classes, and continued relations with Jewish colleagues after he became rector make allegations of anti-Semitism insupportable.

Furthermore, as Heidegger was quick to point out, the Nazis were from the beginning uneasy about his allegiance. His rectoral address was even considered subversive by some. The university, Heidegger insisted, must be allowed to govern itself. Also, for all its talk of leadership, there was no mention of the leader, of Hitler, in the address; neither was there mention of National Socialism. And Heidegger pointedly declared that genuine leadership must recognize the autonomy and freedom of those who follow.


All following, however, bears resistance within itself. This essential opposition of leading and following must not be obscured, let alone eliminated. It is perhaps also worth heidegyer that the Nazis had the address withdrawn from circulation soon after Heidegger resigned the rectorate.

After his resignation, Heidegger was as a matter of course put under surveillance; he was excluded from German delegations to philosophical meetings; and his work was publicly excoriated by party hacks. For example, Heidegger claims that his acceptance of the rectorate was conditional upon his being elected by a unanimous vote—which, hdidegger claims, the plenum of the university vouchsafed him. But the German historian Hugo Ott maintains that Heidegger fell three votes short of unanimity.

He hidegger feels that he is the born philosopher and spiritual Fiihrer of the new movement, the only great and towering thinker since Heraclitus. Throughout his remarks about the rectorate Heidegger suggests that he maintained a careful distance from the party leadership. For they fail to address the two really disturbing aspects of his political behavior: As Heidegger saw it, the task facing the university in was to overcome the fragmentation and artificial division among disciplines that overspecialization had created.

In his view, opposition from the entrenched old guard of the university, who would rectorrial to preserve the status quowas just as much a threat to the spiritual mission of the university as were the Nazis, whose idea of reform was to politicize the very idea of scholarship. Simply as a piece of rhetoric, this passage invites scrutiny.

The elevated, academic language, with its careful balancing of this against that, materially contributes to the appearance of disinterestedness. But there is something very wrong here. In accepting the rectorate, Heidegger apparently hoped to regenerate the university, steering it on a course relatively free from the rebarbative elements of Nazi influence.

In this he might seem to have been guilty of an extraordinary naivete. For by April of 3 there could be no doubt about the zddress of Nazism on German cultural life.

Scholars, scientists, and artists were fleeing Germany in droves: Adorno, Albers, Brecht, Cassirer himself the rector of Hamburg University fromthe brothers Mann, Einstein, Panofsky, Tillich—they and scores of neidegger emigrated rectoriaal Germany in It is inconceivable that Heidegger could have been unaware of this exodus or of its cause. For one invested as Heidegger was not only with the institutional authority of the rectorate but also with the far weightier authority of his reputation as a philosopher, acquiescence amounted to complicity.

In a situation so pregnant with consequence, his blindness was not merely a failure of insight. It is perhaps in just this sense that Plato meant us to equate heiidegger with ignorance. Among his more loathsome efforts in this direction was an adjuration on behalf of Hitler that appeared in the Freiburg student newspaper in November, In the Spiegel interview, Heidegger suggests that such statements were merely necessary compromises, compromises whose seriousness was not evident because the Nazis had not yet revealed heidegver scope of their plans for Germany and enemies of the Reich.

I would not write those sentences today. And if there are passages of the rectoral address that assert the independence of the university and the dignity of its intellectual vocation, passages hedegger led some Nazis aedress question its ideological allegiance, there are also numerous passages that shamelessly pander to the party line.

In fact, one often finds apparently conflicting sentiments coexisting side by side in the same paragraph. It meant primarily freedom from concern, arbitrariness of intentions and inclinations, lack of restraint in what was done and left undone.


The concept of the freedom of the German student is now brought back to its truth. Henceforth the bond [ Bindung ] and service of the German student will unfold from this truth. Freedom is to be opposed not to necessity but to mere caprice, accident, spontaneity. And who, listening to this address inwould harken to such subtlety?

Its romantic heivegger of the destiny of an historical people rooted to a particular place by work, tradition, and shared values had a particular appeal for him.

Despite the individualism implicit in his concept of authenticity, Heidegger consistently held that true freedom demands rectprial integration of the individual into the historical community, the Volk. I believed that, renewing itself, the university might also be called to contribute to this inner self-collection of the people, providing it with a measure It is thus easy to understand how Erich Heller could preface an essay on Heidegger and Holderlin with the angry charge that.

Heidegger was far from being alone in his misplaced hopes. Though he articulated those hopes in more elevated terms than the ordinary German, he, too, saw in Hitler a way out of the economic and social morass in which Germany found itself in the late Twenties and early Thirties. Unfortunately, such reflections do not exonerate Heidegger from the charge of addrwss with the Nazis. Nor do they excuse his subsequent evasiveness about his statements and actions as addrss. No doubt this is true.

But it is also irrelevant.

To pretend otherwise is mendacious pedantry. The point is that our words and actions acquire meaning not in a vacuum but in a particular social and historical context. To bracket that context is to miss the truth of the words and actions. All faculties of will and thought, all strengths of the heart and all skills of the body, must be unfolded through battle, heightened in battle, and preserved as battle.

I understood defense as self-defense. T here is no doubt that Heidegger soon realized that his adventure in public life had gone disastrously awry. But in some ways, his subsequent withdrawal from political activity is even more questionable than his brief period of political engagement.

For Heidegger, the problem was that the Nazis had betrayed the promise that was addrees in the ideals of National Socialism. In his view, National Socialism itself, which he saw as a force that challenged the uprooting progress of technology, articulated a noble, if unworkable, ideal. For me the decisive question today is how this technological age can be subjected recyorial a political system and to which system.

The task of thought is to help limit the dominance of technology so that man in general has an adequate relationship to its essence. Now Nazism moved in that direction but those persons were far too limited in their thinking to achieve a really explicit relationship to what had been happening now for years. Nor did he ever repudiate his involvement as rector of Freiburg University.

It is a sad irony that Heidegger, a philosopher who began by speaking heiregger rare eloquence about authenticity and the importance of attending to the elusive whisperings of reality, should have proven to be so deaf when reality burst in upon him with the harsh and agonizingly real strains of tyranny.