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2 The Nazi Turning and the Rectoral Address
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Fundamental Ontology and National Socialism: the Rectoral Address

The discussion in this chapter to this point has been prolegomenal. I have argued that Heidegger's philosophy of Being is intrinsically political. I have further shown that he turned to practice which he analyzed through the lens of his philosophy. And I have issued a promissory note in the form of the as yet unsupported claim that his turn to Nazism was based in his philosophy. I now want to redeem that promissory note, which is so far no more than that, through a reading of the rectoral address,[115] the main exoteric document of Heidegger's public identification with National Socialism. Now the idea that philosophy is the ground of politics is as old as Plato's Republic . I am convinced that Heidegger's approach to politics in his speech is quasi-Platonic, in fact a form of right-wing Platonism. My aim in reading this text is to show not only that Heidegger's turning to National Socialism is based on his philosophical position, but further that his speech can be read in a rather straightforward manner as an effort to found National Socialism in fundamental ontology.

The rectoral address is the text in which Heidegger for the first time publicly associated his own philosophy with National Socialism. The so-called Rektoratsrede was a public speech given by Heidegger, the newly elected rector of the University of Freiburg, on 27 May 1933 on the occasion of the ceremonial transfer of the rector's office. Heidegger's inauguration as rector of the University of Freiburg in April 1933 took place immediately after the end of the Weimar Republic when Hitler had already taken power, at the beginning of the new postrepublican period, symbolizing a return to the imperialistic form of German politics. Almost immediately thereafter, there was a suspension of the formal rule of law, of freedom of expression, and of habeas corpus. Civil


rights were abrogated and a legal basis was established for a Nazi dictatorship. Dictatorial powers were voted to Hitler for a period of four years. Most Jews were deprived of civil service jobs, including those in the university. In March, the first concentration camps were established and publicly announced. On 1 April a boycott of all Jewish establishments was instituted. In May, there was a burning of "decadent" works by Jews and non-Jews. In the same month, labor unions and then, in July, political parties were banned. In the early summer, the Vatican entered into a treaty, or Konkordat , with Hitler, negotiated for the National Socialist government by von Papen, which provided the first official recognition of Hitler's regime.[116]

Heidegger's speech has already attracted extensive attention.[117] Analysis of this speech from various perspectives has shown an indebtedness, surprising in this thinker of Being, to some less than lofty sources, such as H. S. Sommerfeldt's study, Hermann Göring: Ein Lebensbild .[118] Heidegger evidently took Göring, the Reichsminister, Innenminister for Prussia, and a leading Hitler associate, as a model for the new German man.[119] Here, it will be useful to consider the specifically philosophical context of Heidegger's speech in order to bring out the relation between his fundamental ontology and his turn to politics.

Heidegger's talk represents his further effort, after his analysis of the social situation in the latter days of the Weimar Republic, to apply his philosophical theory in and to political practice. The rectoral address is a short text, about ten pages in length, elicited by a specific occasion. It is not, however, a merely occasional text, a few well-chosen words with no intrinsic significance, unworthy of further consideration. Rather, it is a philosophical discussion of surprising depth, which largely surpasses the occasion for which it was written, and would be worth studying with care even were it not a main document in Heidegger's turn to National Socialism. Since the text does not interpret itself, we will need to provide an interpretation.

The significance of Heidegger's speech is suggested by the various ways in which it has been interpreted. It has been read from different, even incompatible, perspectives: as a strategic effort to lead the German university, even to lead the leaders of the Nazi state; as a defense of the German university; as a defense of the Greek concept of science; and in other ways. One should not deny that Heidegger's talk is in part intended to perform these tasks, and can hence be described as performing them; but it is more than that. While recognizing that there are grounds for legitimate disagreement with the reading to be advanced here, I will interpret the rectoral speech as a coherent philosophical text in the service of Nazism. I am convinced that Heidegger's talk represents a well-thought-out philosophical effort to put philosophy as he under-


stood it in the service of National Socialism in the first place for what he portrayed as the good of the German people, but ultimately for his own view of Being. In my view, this speech is primarily, and should be regarded as, an effort to apply a philosophical theory, conceived in independence of Nazism and before that movement came to power, within a political context for which Heidegger believed his thought was relevant, indeed essential, in order to bring about a goal Heidegger shared with National Socialism and Volk ideology—the historical gathering of the Germans—as well as a goal of his own: the comprehension of Being.

It is, then, reasonable to assume that Heidegger's words on this occasion are not merely strategic, nor merely limited to the immediate situation, but express his own deepest view of the matter, drawing on the entire range of intellectual resources at his command. Although concerned with the alienation of the German Volk , with the opportunity supposedly presented for the coming to being of what is specifically German, this is only an intermediate end, that is a means to a further, more important goal, for Heidegger is finally more concerned with Being. It is his ultimate concern with his ontological preoccupation which made it possible for Heidegger, after the decline of real Nazism, to remain faithful to a kind of ideal Nazism. He may, as Löwith suggests, have been fascinated by Hitler.[120] But his abiding fascination was undoubtedly with Being itself, which called forth his commitment to National Socialism as a way station on the road to ontology.

The later thrust of Heidegger's philosophy is decidedly anti-Platonic. Yet in the rectoral address, Heidegger's understanding of philosophy as essential to National Socialism is basically Platonic. There are divergent ways to interpret the Platonic view of philosophy as the final arbiter of knowlege and as the foundation of politics. The Platonic view has from time to time animated philosophers in the history of the tradition, who regarded themselves as responsible for others, even all others, in virtue of their special claim to knowledge. It animated, for example, Fichte, who claimed a responsibility for all Germans:

And act thou shalt as though
The destiny of all things German
Depended on you and your lonely acting,
And the responsibility were yours.[121]

This Platonic idea of the peculiar responsibilty of philosophers as philosophers can lead in two directions. It is worth recalling that Fichte's words were cited by Kurt Huber, the only philosopher executed by the Nazis, whose participation in the White Rose conspiracy against Hitler cost him his life.[122] Heidegger used the same idea of the cognitive privi-


lege of philosophy to argue for philosophy as the foundation of Nazism. For Heidegger, the philosopher is the necessary component, the conceptual linchpin as it were, for the realization of the National Socialist program. As for Plato, so in this text for Heidegger as well, the necessary condition of the ideal or just state is that it be led by a philosopher.[123] It is, then, consistent to regard his later effort to reject philosophy in favor of a so-called new thinking beyond "philosophy" as doubly determined by the internal evolution of his position as well as by his evident inability to lead the leaders, by his unsuccessful effort to apply philosophy to politics.

Heidegger is not the only philosopher who turned to politics. Perhaps the closest analogy in our time is with the Hungarian Marxist philosopher Lukács.[124] Both the Bolshevist Lukács and the National Socialist Heidegger take a quasi-Platonic stance on the need for philosophy to found politics, and both place their considerable intellectual resources in the service of totalitarian political practice. Heidegger's relation to Nazism resembles Lukács's relation to Marxism-Leninism. It has been said that Lukács provided the philosophical grounding for Leninist politics.[125] It is plausible to regard Heidegger's speech as an effort, based in the extension and interpretation of his own thought, to provide the philosophical grounding for Nazism. In the same way as Lukács turned to politics, from which he later withdrew after the failure of his attempt to translate his thought into practice, so Heidegger also was later marked by his unfortunate effort to descend from the philosophical perch into the political arena. Also like Lukács, Heidegger later abjured the desire to actualize his thought through political action, although he remained faithful to his original political view.

The title of the speech, "The Self-Assertion [Selbstbehauptung] of the German University," records a quadruple commitment: a self-justification; a self-defense, in this case the defense of oneself against the presumed efforts by others to usurp one's place; the self-assertion of the university for a special role to be played by the university in general and the philosophers in particular; and, finally, the self-assertion of the German people through the university.[126] The text begins with the following, crucial statement:

The assumption of the rectorate is the commitment to the spiritual leadership of this institution of higher learning. The following of teachers and students awakens and grows strong only from a true and joint rootedness in the essence of the German university. This essence, however, gains clarity, rank, and power only when first of all and at all times the leaders are themselves led—led by that unyielding spiritual mission that forces the fate of the German people to bear the stamp of its history.[127]


As early as the first sentence, Heidegger lays claim to the traditional role of philosophy in the statement that in assuming the rectorate he commits himself to the spiritual, or intellectual, leadership of the institution of higher learning. A view of spiritual leadership presupposes a conception of spirit. In German philosophy, where the idea of spirit is a leading theme, it refers roughly to a conception of reason as mediated through the social and historical context as the highest point of culture. Spirit is a leading theme in modern German philosophy, for instance in the views of Fichte, Hegel, and Dilthey. For Fichte, the end of life is the development of the spiritual order. In Hegelian idealism, human being differs from nonhuman being through the spiritual dimension, which is manifested in culture. He analyzes the spiritual dimension of existence in magisterial fashion in the Phenomenology of Spirit . In part following Droysen, Dilthey insisted on the difference in kind between natural and social sciences, or Geisteswissenschaften , literally the sciences of the spirit.

Heidegger develops his claim about the university in the next two sentences by applying his conceptions of the ontological difference, fate, history, the Volk[128] or people, truth as disclosure, and so on, all drawn from his fundamental ontology. For Heidegger, the university is an institution composed of teachers and students who are rooted in the so-called essence of the German university. Heidegger names the background for his speech in his reference to the historical fate of the German people. The image he describes is that of an unbroken chain whose links are constituted by the supposed spiritual mission of the Germans within history, the leaders who are led by that mission, their followers composed of other teachers and students, and presumably all other members of the nation.

In invoking the idea of the essence of the university, Heidegger applies his idea of truth as disclosure in a Platonic manner. We recall that Plato insisted on a distinction in kind between reality and appearance and that he further insisted that only philosophers who possessed the inherent mental capabilities honed by appropriate training were able to perceive reality. In quasi-Platonic fashion, Heidegger suggests that the university possesses an essence, as distinguished from its appearance, which he, as a philosopher, is uniquely able to perceive. Others, nonphilosophers, are unable to see the university's essence and hence unable to lead either it or Nazism. Since from his quasi-Platonic angle of vision, the philosopher, incarnating the spirit of the university and the German people, is alone capable of discerning what should be done, Heidegger's demand to lead the university as its spiritual leader, or spiritual Führer ,[129] is also a claim that only the spiritual, but not the political, leader can lead the state to realize the destiny of the German people.


The Marxist view of the leading role of the party, led by the leader, rests on Marx's conception of the philosopher as the head of the revolution, so to speak—as one whose intellectual qualities provide him with a unique task.[130] Similarly, Heidegger now asserts that the philosopher and only the philosopher is qualified to lead the German revolution initiated by Nazism.

The idea of the historical fate of the German people rests on the concept of fate introduced by Heidegger in Being and Time . His appeal to fate and destiny represents a qualified return to the Greek concept of moira , to an analysis of history in mythical rather than causal terms,[131] as in the well-known myth of the three fates reported by Plato.[132] There is a clear continuity between the analysis of historicality in Being and Time and the initial paragraph of the Rektoratsrede . Heidegger here adopts a nonbiological but metaphysical theory of racism—an exaltation of the Germans specifically in virtue of their belonging to the German people, deeply informed by conservative political thought, including Volk ideology—as concerns the realization of the German people, at the expense of other peoples if necessary. To this end, he links together two views: his own view of fate and its realization through the decisive action of a people spurred on to achieve its destiny in the choice of itself, in effect to be its ownmost possibilities for being as specified through its heritage, on the one hand; and the Nazi view of the intrinsic destiny of the German people as distinguished from other peoples on the other. In his choice of the title "The Self-Assertion of the German University" for this public talk, Heidegger affirms his intention to bend the philosophical resources of his position to a specific political task in a fourth form of self-assertion: the self-assertion of the German people in the conscious decision, as voiced by the newly elected rector of the University of Freiburg, to seize their own destiny. This destiny will be realized through the leadership of the university, particularly through the central role of philosophy, above all through Heidegger's philosophy within the university. True Nazism, Nazism in the authentic sense, cannot be left to the National Socialists, the exponents of "political science"; it requires a philosopher.

The interpretation of the passage "forces the fate of the German people to bear the stamp of its history" ("Schicksal des deutschen Volkes in das Gepräge seiner Geschichte zwingt") is delicate. In Being and Time , Heidegger distinguishes between fate, which refers to the individual, and destiny, which refers to the group, more precisely to the manner in which one relates to others. Heidegger's application of the term "fate" here to the German people, a plural noun, indicates that he regards the Germans as a unity, as a group whose members are intrinsically linked together in a particular manner. What they share is not


something like belonging to the same club or living in the same neighborhood. For Heidegger, this linkage is historical; it lies in the common heritage shared by the Germans as German. According to Heidegger, in virtue of their German origins, the Germans partake of a deep relationship that is already determined for them by history. He stresses this point in Being and Time with the strong expression "fateful destiny of Dasein" (das schicksalhafte Geschick des Daseins ), which violates his distinction between fate and destiny, to designate the way in which a person is related to his or her generation.[133] What Heidegger in the rectoral address, in reference to the destiny of the Germans, calls "the stamp of its history" (Gepräge seiner Geschichte ) is a metaphysical claim about what the Germans are as Germans. For Heidegger, then, the role of the philosopher, what he further designates here as "the unyielding spiritual mission" entrusted to him as the Führer of the University of Freiburg, is nothing other than calling the German people back from its lack of awareness into what it, as German, inherently is, that is, Germans with a potential to exhibit their Germanity, to realize their past in their future actions. What I am calling the realization of the Germans as German is Heidegger's metaphysical understanding of the conception of the destiny of the German people to realize themselves in history.

As I read this text, its initial paragraph records Heidegger's clear and forceful public declaration of his intent to provide vital philosophical help and sustenance to the Nazi political program, support which in his eyes is a necessary condition for its realization. It is possible to read this passage in the rectoral address differently. There is a linguistic defense available amounting to a denial of Heidegger's turn toward Nazism in the observation that the word "Führer " appears here in the plural. In response, we can note that in the context of his rise to the position of rector shortly after Hitler came to power, Heidegger is proposing to lead the leaders of National Socialism and, finally but unmistakably, Hitler himself. As Pöggeler, following Jaspers, has seen, Heidegger understood the concept of the self-assertion of the German university to mean that he would lead the Nazi revolution.[134] Paradoxically, in his public statement of his desire to bend philosophy to the task of Nazi politics, in his own peculiar expression of philosophical loyalty to the National Socialist revolution, he at the same time sows the seeds of discord between himself and official Nazism in his attempted philosophical usurpation of political hegemony.[135] For Heidegger characteristically depicts himself not in the role of the vassal who pledges fealty but in the role of the feudal lord.

The initial paragraph of the talk provides a clear, forceful, unsettling, in fact frightening statement of Heidegger's intention to ground politics in philosophy by basing Nazism on fundamental ontology. The initial


paragraph does not stand alone; it is merely the preamble for the text to follow, which amplifies and completes the main lines set out in the beginning of the document. In the remainder of his speech, Heidegger develops the implications of the supposed need to marry philosophy and politics at this particular moment in German history. He immediately considers the implications of the traditional claim of the university to self-governance, which, he asserts, requires interpretation in terms of who one is, namely the essence of the university, which can be revealed through self-examination only. The university's self-assertion, he states, in a reference to the title of the essay, consists in a common will to the shared will to realize its essence.

In defense of his claim, Heidegger now forges a link between the acknowledged task of the university to defend science, the fate of the German people, and the present historical moment. In the Republic , Plato insists on the task of the philosopher to educate and to discipline the other philosophers, the guardians and the tradesmen. Like Plato, Heidegger points successively to the role of the university to ground science as well as to educate and to discipline the leaders and guardians of the German people, in the present historical moment the German Nazi party. "We understand the Germany university as the 'high' school that, grounded in science, by means of science educates and disciplines the leaders and guardians of the fate of the German people.[136]

Heidegger's analysis presupposes a concept of the right time for decisive action, or kairos , described under the heading of the moment of vision (Augenblick ) in Being and Time . He insists that both science— whose contemporary source lies in the German university—and the fate of Germany must come together in order to respond to the problem of the present moment. Presumably he has in mind the series of difficulties due to the loss of the First World War, later accentuated by the decline and fall of the Weimar Republic, the same general situation discussed under the heading of boredom in the lecture course of 1929/30.

The idea of a historical turning point has ample philosophical precedent. At the time he composed the Phenomenology , Hegel believed that society was at a turning of world history, a period in which fundamental social change was possible, a moment in which the old order was coming to an end and in which it was opportune to seize the day, as it were.[137] Like Hegel, Heidegger thought that history had arrived at a propitious moment in which philosophy can play an important social role. Also like Hegel, Heidegger believes that a people ultimately knows itself in the form of the self-conscious state—according to Heidegger, in the Nazi state. Like Husserl, Heidegger holds that the university can respond to the extreme need of the German people at this supposedly historic moment. But Husserl and Heidegger take diametrically opposed atti-


tudes to National Socialism. Husserl opposed Nazism and desired to utilize the resources of philosophy as science to defeat it; but Heidegger saw philosophical science as a necessary condition to realize the fate of the Germans through National Socialism:

The will to the essence of the German university is the will to science as will to the historical mission of the German people as a people that knows itself in its state. Together , science and German fate must come to power in this will to essence. And they will do so if, and only if, we—this body of teachers and students—on the one hand expose science to its innermost necessity and, on the other hand , are equal to the German fate in its most extreme distress.[138]

Heidegger next turns to a meditation on the nature of science (Wissenschaft ). Contemporary science is a mere semblance (Schein ). Science must be understood through its beginnings in Greek philosophy since all science is philosophy. We need to recapture two fundamental traits of the essence of the Greek view of science. Since, as Aeschylus represents Prometheus as saying, "knowledge, however, is far weaker than necessity,"[139] knowledge must be defiant. Heidegger reinforces this view through a series of remarks on the Greek view of theory (theoria ) as the highest form of activity (energeia ). His insistence here that theory in the authentic sense is in fact the highest form of activity, as described in the Aristotelian conception, highlights his later claim that the translation of the Greek "energeia " as the Latin "actualitas " results in the loss of the original insight.[140] Heidegger's point is consistent with his insistence that after the early Greeks metaphysics is on the wrong track, since science in the Greek sense of the term no longer exists in later thought. Speaking in his own voice, he declares that "this active perseverance [that is, science] knows, as it perseveres, about its impotence before fate [Schicksal]."[141]

The passage cited from Aeschylus and its restatement in Heidegger's own words call for three remarks: To begin with, Heidegger's translation is suspect. According to standard sources "techne " does not mean "knowledge."[142] At best, it refers to a kind of knowledge, roughly that kind required for "knowing how" as opposed to "knowing that." Second, there is an interesting relation between the view that theory is in itself the highest form of practice and Heidegger's effort to place his philosophy in the service of Nazism. Heidegger is not now arguing, as he later will, that his thought is impractical, of no use.[143] He is arguing that pure theory is practically relevant, in fact indispensable for the good life, in the sense that this view is formulated by Plato and restated by numerous later writers.[144] Further, in retrospect there is a strategic value to Heidegger's insistence that necessity is stronger than knowledge. On this


basis, Heidegger later insisted that the failure of his turn to National Socialism did not lie in National Socialism itself, and perhaps not even in his perception of it, but in Being. The idea that Being, not human being, controls human destiny forms the basis of his later nonanthropological view of technology. We perceive, then, in the quotation, and in its restatement by Heidegger, the nascent possibilty of a strategic retreat which Heidegger later undertook.

The meditation on the essence of Greek science is intrinsic to Heidegger's allegiance to Nazism, as he proceeds to demonstrate. We need to recover the original Greek view on the premise that if science is important, its beginning is most important. The original idea of science is significant since its recovery enables us to bend science to the innermost necessity of our being. Heidegger now emphasizes the political force of his view of the preeminence of Greek thought in two ways, through a single sentence that stands apart as a paragraph of its own, and through the appropriate combination of his concept of Dasein with the traditional philosophical concept of spirit and the Nazi concept of the people (Volk ): "But if we submit to the distant command of the beginning, science must become the fundamental happening of our spiritual being as part of a people [dann muss die Wissenschaft zum Grundgeschehnis unseres geistig-völklichen Daseins werden]."[145] In less sibylline language, Heidegger's statement means that we need to return to the original Greek sense of science within the university, particularly within philosophy, in order to realize the fate of the German nation. If we do so, then, unavoidably, science will become the fundamental happening, which will bring this destiny about. The means for science to bring about German destiny is obviously through the realization of Nazism to which Heidegger has pledged the resources of his thought.

It is striking that Heidegger seems to believe that science in the true sense somehow realizes or could realize itself in Nazism. Heidegger seems literally to believe that science in the ancient Greek sense will realize the Nazi goal, which he also shares, of the gathering of what is authentically German. From this conception it follows loosely that the Greeks would be the authentic forerunners of the German National Socialists. Heidegger was aware of this inference, which he is at pains to refute, perhaps because he later changed his mind about the link between the Greeks and the Nazis. In a lecture course given in the middle of the Second World War, he twice denies that the Greeks are the original Nazis on the grounds that this kind of identification fails to grasp the specificity of National Socialism.[146] Since Heidegger may then have been under political surveillance, it is also possible that he did not change his mind but that in drawing this distinction he merely meant to be prudent in his own way.


What is it precisely that true, or Greek, science is meant to bring about? Heidegger answers this question in a meditation on spirit, which dramatically deepens the link between his own philosophical position and Nazism. According to Heidegger, what he calls the will to the essence of science in the original sense creates for the people the danger of the spiritual world. Heidegger relies on his fundamental ontology when he states that spirit is the resoluteness (Entschlossenheit ) to the essence of Being. Yet he utilizes the Blut und Boden rhetoric of National Socialism[147] when he writes that the "spiritual world of a people" is "the power that most deeply preserves the people's strengths, which are tied to earth and blood powers [seiner erd- und bluthaften Kräfte] as the power of the innermost and widest shaking of its Dasein."[148] Now playing on the relation between the German terms "Marchschritt " and "Schrittgesetz ," roughly "march step" and "law of the step," he emphasizes that the defense of the spiritual world, to be undertaken by the university, will preside over the march already begun by the people into its future history. In sum, the authentic way of Being with respect to German destiny depends on the defense of the ancient Greek concept of science, which alone can and will make possible the desired future of the German people.

Heidegger's view of theory as itself the highest form of practice is merely a restatement of the traditional Greek view of philosophy as the highest form of life. Unlike some thinkers, Heidegger does not maintain that theory is self-realizing, that ideas in some sense literally put themselves into practice.[149] Heidegger finds the means for the realization of his theory in an analysis of the German student movement. His view here anticipates by several decades Herbert Marcuse's theory of the student movement as a radically destabilizing social element.[150] Further extending his military metaphor, Heidegger says that the German students are already on the march in the search for the leaders (Führer ) through whom to realize their own vocation (Bestimmung ).

This statement is both self-serving and explosive. Obviously, Heidegger is pointing toward philosophers as the custodians of the ancient conception of science and himself as their titular head. But he is also pointing away from the National Socialist government, above all Hitler, whose leadership he by inference rejects. For Heidegger, in the final analysis only the German university can defend the original Greek concept of science in order to realize the fate of the German people. The crucial role of the students is to bring this goal about. "Out of the resoluteness of the German student body to be equal to the German fate in its most extreme distress, comes a will to the essence of the university."[151] Again like the early Marx, who thought of the philosophers as the head and the proletariat as the heart of the coming communist


revolution,[152] Heidegger obviously thinks of the philosophers as the leaders and the students as the followers of the true, philosophically grounded form of the National Socialist revolution.

Heidegger elaborates his view through two further remarks. First, he qualifies the will attributed to the students as the true will, which he now links to the newly promulgated student law (das neue Studentenrecht ). We are far from Kant's view of the good will as the only intrinsically good thing.[153] For Kant, the good will must determine the principle of its action on a wholly a priori and universalizable basis. For Heidegger, the true will is neither independent, nor free, nor autonomous in Kant's sense, as unconcerned with empirical considerations. On the contrary, for Heidegger the true will is subservient to the Studentenrecht intended after 1 May 1933 to apply the so-called Führerprinzip in the university. Heidegger's understanding of this idea, which decisively linked all legitimacy to the desires of a single demented individual, is clear in his remarkable proclamation as rector to the German students, published in November 1933: "The Führer himself and alone is today and in the future German reality and its law."[154]

Heidegger's acceptance of this principle is significant as an indication of the extent of his enthusiasm for National Socialism at this point, especially as propagated in fact by Hitler and his party colleagues. It further indicates Heidegger's deplorable inability, on the basis of his conception of resoluteness, to distinguish one of its forms from another. In his conception, the important thing is resoluteness as such. Although in theory resoluteness is the call of conscience, in practice there are absolutely no criteria that enable one to recognize where conscience lies, to make a rational choice. The words and deeds of the Nazi dictator are as good as any other form of resoluteness. For a theory that insists on resoluteness at all costs, resoluteness about pushpin is as good as that about poetry, and Nazism is as good as altruism. Heidegger's notion of resoluteness is, then, the ultimate parody of the Kantian idea of moral responsibility based on intellectual maturity and a wholly rational choice of moral principles.

Heidegger's acceptance of the Führer principle stands as a clear, unassailable demand to abandon any velleity of critical thought in favor of political orthodoxy. His later attempt to portray his public adherence to this principle as one of a series of compromises he knew he would need to make as rector is unconvincing because it contradicts the idea of free thought, which is a necessary condition of philosophy.[155] His later claim that during his period as rector he believed in the possibility of National Socialism and, for this reason, abandoned the thinker's essential vocation in favor of his work in an official capacity[156] is at best a half truth. For when he pledged his thought to the service of Nazism, he not only


abandoned his philosophical research and teaching; he also renounced free thought, which is its proudest possession. If philosophy consists in critical thought, in the demand for the demonstration of proposed claims, in accepting the Führer principle Heidegger abjures purely and simply his philosophic calling. There is finally no significant distinction between Heidegger's call for submission to the whim of the Führer and Lukács's similar betrayal of reason in the service of Stalinism.[157] As concerns their voluntary subordination of philosophical criticism to political totalitarianism, both thinkers are outstanding examples of the betrayal of reason in our time.

Heidegger's renunciation of the critical role of thought is apparent in his peremptory dismissal of academic freedom. He refers to academic freedom in quotation marks, as inauthentic, in favor of the highest freedom consisting in the giving of the law to oneself. The obvious echo of Kant's categorical imperative is misleading here, since for Heidegger "authentic academic freedom" means that "the German students must give to themselves the new law promulgated by the National Socialist movement." It is difficult to view this statement otherwise than as an injunction to forgo freedom of thought in the ordinary sense by voluntarily submitting to the necessity imposed by a new political reality. In this respect, despite the stress on the call of conscience, there is a less obvious echo of Spinoza's view of freedom as insight into necessity, where "necessity" means "the law of National Socialism."

If Heidegger's new concept of the freedom of the German students is the true view, then the familiar view of academic freedom as the possibility to think and write without constraints is untrue. Heidegger maintains that his new concept creates a specific obligation for German students. "The concept of the freedom of the German student is now brought back to its truth. Henceforth the bond [Bindung] and service [Dienst] of the German student will unfold from this truth."[158] In a clear echo of the triadic structure of the Platonic state, Heidegger now dogmatically asserts the existence of three bonds, which he interprets as services owed by the German students.[159]

First, there is the bond to the community of the people (Volksgemeinschaft ), presumably to those who share the common German heritage, a bond that is rooted in labor service (Arbeitsdienst ). The use of the term "Volksgemeinschaft " combines a commitment to the Volk and to the Gemeinschaft , to those who share something in common, by opposition to the Gesellschaft , or society. It is overly charitable to think that Heidegger is concerned with all Germans, for instance those who fail to share his view of the importance of the German people. A community in this sense is a mere subset of society composed of those bound together through a common purpose, end, or goal. It follows that the


commitment Heidegger exacts from the students is not to society as a whole, not, for instance, to all Germans, but only to those who share the common project. Even if we suppose that Heidegger is interested in people and not only in Being, clearly his interest in the German people is limited only to those ready and willing to accept a particular view of the situation, namely the one he happens to share with National Socialism. His idea of the realization of the German people through philosophy as the ground of National Socialism, hence, includes the familiar National Socialist exclusion of those who happen to reject this program or, by implication, are rejected by it. Although he doesn't spell out his exclusion from the destiny of the Germans of those who might be unhappy with this goal, it obviously is reflected in his peculiar choice of terminology.

Second, there is the bond to the honor and destiny (Geschick ) of the nation. This is a plural form of resoluteness that concerns a common future as distinguished from the individual. Heidegger grounds this possibility in a brief, undeveloped reference to the possibility of authentic being with one another, evoked in Being and Time .[160] This bond is now rendered explicit in the third, decisive bond to the spiritual mission of the German people. For Heidegger, this people influences its own destiny through its world-shaping powers. In this respect, there is an interesting tension, which perhaps reflects Heidegger's genuine ambivalence. On the one hand, he now insists on what a people can do to shape its own destiny, through its adherence to science, the presupposition of Heidegger's call for the members of the academic community to assume their prescribed role in the transformation of German reality. On the other hand, earlier in the same text he has insisted on the relative powerlessness of knowledge before destiny. It is inconsistent to analyze history in terms of destiny and to maintain that a people can be master of its future. At best, as Heidegger later realized after the turning in his thought, one can hold oneself open for a possibility which one cannot oneself realize if historical agency is lodged on some level beyond human being.

According to Heidegger, a people must risk everything in order to be a spiritual people. This idea recalls his insistence in Being and Time , in his analysis of death, on the recognition of human finitude as a condition of authenticity.[161] To drive this point home, he now provides a series of metaphors expressing concepts of danger, hardest clarity, highest, widest, and richest knowledge, future destiny, and so on. The effect is to create a sense of struggle in which one's very existence is at stake, a struggle not necessarily for truth but for life itself in the genuine sense. Heidegger's commitment to an "existential" struggle for his view of the proper way to live is further evident during this period by his coopera-


tion in the institution of what can be described as camps for scientific reeducation (Wissenschaftslager ) more precisely for the reeducation of students and professors to his view of the true commitment to National Socialism.[162] This incident, which recalls the worst excesses of political efforts at mind control, has many historical precedents. Here, it is specifically interesting as an indication of the extent to which Heidegger's philosophical conviction led in political practice. It is difficult to perceive the difference between Heidegger's active cooperation in setting up and running scientific concentration camps on the basis of his fundamental ontology and the use of such means in our time by dictators such as Stalin or Mao.

So far in his talk, Heidegger has stressed the preeminent role of the university for furthering science and, as a consequence, German destiny. He now reinforces this view in three ways:

First, he lists a number of professions. He then states that knowledge does not serve them but that they serve knowledge, although in doing so they carry out the will of the people concerning its very being. "Knowledge does not serve the professions, quite the reverse: the professions effect and administer that highest and essential knowledge of the people concerning its entire being (Dasein)."[163] In the present context, this remark means that the various professions are necessarily subordinated to the home of philosophy in the university, precisely as in Plato's Republic .

Second, here and elsewhere in the speech Heidegger stresses the equal primordiality of the three bonds and the three services he has just assigned to the German students. "The three bonds—by the people, to the destiny of the state, in a spiritual mission—are equally primordial to the German essence. The three services that stem from it—Labor Service, Armed Service, and Knowledge Service—are equally necessary and of equal rank."[164] The effect of this statement is to heighten the responsibility of the German students to carry out the duties assigned to them by the philosophers.

Third, Heidegger now draws an obvious inference following from his subordination of the students, members of the professions, and presumably everyone else, including the National Socialist regime, to philosophy. Once again he clearly insists on the central role of science in the full sense of the term—here through a self-interpretation of his own term "high school"—because the university alone is able to pursue the destiny of the German people. "This science is meant when the essence of the German university is delimited as the 'high' school that, grounded in science, by means of science educates and disciplines the leaders and guardians of the fate of the German people."[165] Obviously, this is an activist view of philosophy. Clearly, Heidegger rejects the traditional idea of philosophy as disinterested science, as exemplified, say, in Aris-


totle's view of pure theory, in favor of something like the Leninist concept of partiinost '. According to Lenin, following Marx, philosophy is an important means to bring about the proletarian goal of abolishing the state. Heidegger, who also regards philosophy as a means to an end, understands its task as to realize German destiny by strengthening the Nazi state.

The stress on science as determined by philosophy presupposes that the university is organized to reflect that view. Heidegger underlines that need but realistically acknowledges that since it took the Greeks three centuries to arrive at an appropriate concept of science, it will not be possible to do so in the current academic year. The distinction of three bonds implicitly raises the question of their relation. Heidegger responds by stating that the type of university he has in mind depends upon the coalescence of the three bonds in a single formative force. He interprets this vision to mean that students and professors alike must necessarily strive toward the essence of science. Through another military metaphor, he insists that both wills confront each other in battle since battle is unavoidable. "The two wills [i.e., that of the student body and of the professors] must confront one another, ready for battle [Kampf].[166] All capacities [Vermögen] of will and thought, must be unfolded through battle, heightened in battle, and preserved as battle."[167] Heidegger further heightens his emphasis on battle with a quotation from Carl yon Clausewitz, the author of the well-known military treatise On War : "I take leave of the frivolous hope of salvation by the hand of accident."[168]

Heidegger's reference to battle is doubly determined here, by his own philosophical position and the political reality of National Socialism. In Being and Time , he maintains that the realization of the German people, on which he insists here, requires a battle. "Only in communication and in struggle [Kampf] does the power of destiny become free. Dasein's fateful destiny in and with its 'generation' goes to make up the full authentic happening [Geschehen] of Dasein."[169] His allusions to battle are, hence, consistent with his view that authenticity can come about in no other way.

The idea of battle obviously also refers to Hitler as well. Heidegger does not mention Hitler either here or elsewhere in his speech. But it would be an error to regard the failure to name the Nazi dictator as either decisive or even significant. A direct reference to Hitler would almost be superfluous since indirect references are scattered throughout. In the context of Heidegger's assumption of the rectorate as the spiritual F ührer of the University of Freiburg almost immediately after the Nazi rise to power, his multiple allusions to battle are also intended as a clear allusion to Hitler's notorious view of the struggle for the


realization of the destiny of the German people formulated in Mein Kampf

Heidegger has no doubt about what is correct, about what members of the German academic community should do at this period of German history, at a moment when the NSDAP has risen to power. He portrays this moment as a turning point in world history, as an occasion to seize the future, as it were. In a dramatic passage, fully equal to Spengler[170] at his best, Heidegger shows why he believes that the moment has come to act. "But no one will even ask us whether we do or do not will, when the spiritual strength of the West fails and the joints of the world no longer hold, when this moribund semblance of a culture caves in and suffocates all that remains strong into confusion and lets it suffocate in madness."[171]

Heidegger's conception of Nazism as the way to realize the destiny of the Germans presupposes an ideal of community that can be realized in practice only if each individual contributes to it. Heidegger underscores the need for each person to decide for or against the historical destiny of the German people. "Whether this will happen or no depends alone on whether or not we, as a historical-spiritual people, still and once again will ourselves. Every individual participates in this decision, even he, and indeed especially he, who evades it."[172] Since the philosopher speaks for the people, its political leaders and the state, in short for everyone, it is the philosopher who takes the fateful decision for the authentic destiny of the German people. The rectoral address is, then, a solemn pledge before history in the name of the future of the German Volk . The result is a curious reciprocal relation between philosophy and National Socialism. On behalf of philosophy, Heidegger asserts the need to lead all others, including the Nazis, who in his view depend on philosophy for their justification. Having claimed the hegemony of the "movement" in virtue of his thought, from that standpoint Heidegger unhesitatingly makes a public commitment of his thought and all those dependent on it, by implication everyone, to National Socialism. Heidegger's speech exhibits a circular relation between philosophy and politics because philosophy grounds politics, to which it is unquestionably and unquestioningly committed.

Heidegger justifies his philosophical demand for the leadership of the Nazi movement through the relation he discerns between philosophy, science, the university, and the will of the people. He now invokes this relation in an enigmatic comment: "For the young and the youngest strength of the people [Denn die jung und jüngste Kraft des Volkes], which already reaches beyond us, has by now decided the matter."[173] This statement is ambiguous. It is probable that Heidegger is here referring to the students since throughout he has spoken as if their choice had already been made, as if they had sought out the professors to lead them


and not conversely. He is also referring to the Nazi party. Heidegger became a member of the NSDAP on 1 May 1933, that is, before he became rector. With the exception of biologism, he evidently held all the views of the ordinary Nazi,[174] presumably including its proclaimed legitimacy to decide for the German people.

In general, the entire speech can be regarded as a public affirmation that the philosopher has rallied to the politics of Nazism on his own terms, namely with respect to the concerns and categories developed in his fundamental ontology. Throughout the address, Heidegger repeatedly stressed his conviction, founded in his own view of science, that the Nazi political undertaking requires the leadership of philosophers who are not themselves to be led. He indirectly reemphasizes the preeminent role he attributes to philosophy at the end of the speech. "But we fully understand the splendor and the greatness of this setting [dieses Aufbruchs] only when we carry within ourselves that profound and far-reaching thoughtfulness that gave ancient Greek wisdom the word: 'All that is great stands in the storm.' "[175]

His allusion to Plato here, in this crucial passage at the close of his talk, is significant for several reasons. Certainly, it calls attention to Heidegger's dependence throughout this speech on the quasi-Platonic view that philosophy founds politics. It also reinforces Heidegger's quasi-Platonic assertion that only a philosopher can lead the National Socialist revolution through the suggestion that only one who has understood the Platonic view can understand the present historical moment, with its possibility in the midst of extreme need to seize the occasion to realize the destiny of the German nation. Further, through an appropriate rendering of the passage cited, Heidegger now enlists Plato in support of his own view of the danger inherent in the present moment. It is, then, a matter of some concern that Heidegger, who was a competent Greek scholar, deliberately distorts the passage from Plato.[176]

Analysis of the rectoral address shows that efforts to portray Heidegger's interest in Nazism as superficial or transitory are refuted by the text. Heidegger's concern with National Socialism at this point is deep and later remains constant since it follows from a permanent part of his thought. Like most philosophical theories, Heidegger's thought later evolved, but the initial commitment to the concept of authenticity, which, in its plural form, underlies his insistence on the realization of the historical destiny of the German people, never changed. As passages from his later writings show, he never altered his basic commitment, following from a part of his thought that did not change, to the goal that apparently led him to Nazism in the first place, the realization in history of the destiny of German being, as a means to the authentic thought of Being.


This chapter has sought to understand Heidegger's Nazi turning in terms of factors external and internal to his thought. It has studied the stages of Heidegger's Nazi turning on the basis of his fundamental ontology to practice and then to National Socialism. I have argued that Heidegger's philosophical position is intrinsically political and have shown how Heidegger was led to practice on the basis of his thought and later was led to Nazism. I have further shown the presence throughout the rectoral speech of numerous concepts borrowed from Heidegger's fundamental ontology. Now I want to examine an important possible objection. One could concede that fundamental ontology is political and that it called for a practical turn but deny that in practice the political nature of Heidegger's thought called for a turn to Nazism. The point of the objection is to concede that it is not accidental that Heidegger turned to politics, but it is merely contingent that he turned to Nazism. It follows that his philosophy is not itself in question in his acceptance of National Socialism since he could have accepted another form of politics.

In my view, this objection is mistaken. There are various reasons for which Heidegger could have turned to another kind of political practice, such as the possibility that Nazism might not have existed. Once it is conceded that fundamental ontology in its very nature calls for a turn to politics, then it must be noted that Heidegger's theory has no intrinsic resources to prevent him from accepting either National Socialism or another similar theory. Fundamental ontology calls for completion in a turn from theory to political practice to bring about authentic Dasein, and, hence, an authentic thought of Being.[177] Authenticity depends on resoluteness on the part of one who sees beyond appearance into the essence of things, on one who is ready and able to choose for himself or herself and even for others. There is a kind of aristocratic authoritarian-ism built into Heidegger's theory of fundamental ontology which leads seamlessly to a politically antidemocratic political point of view. As in Plato's political theory, which is also antidemocratic, only the philosopher finally knows, and the philosopher's role is to decide for everyone.[178] Nazism might not have existed. Heidegger could have accepted another political practice than Nazism. But it was neither an accident that Nazism existed nor that he turned to it. For the same external factors that influenced the rise of Nazism and the development of his own thought also limited the kind of political choice he could reasonably accept. In sum, Heidegger's pursuit of Being, as he understood it, led to Nazism, and could in fact only lead either to this or another form of antidemocratic, authoritarian political practice. It is, then, no accident that Heidegger the philosopher of Being became Heidegger the Nazi, since Heidegger the philosopher and Heidegger the political activist are one and the same person.


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2 The Nazi Turning and the Rectoral Address
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