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5 Nazism and the Beitrage zur Philosophie
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The Volk and Silence (Schweigen)

This chapter has considered the evolution of Heidegger's Nazism in that huge, as yet only partially explored continent known as the Beiträge zur Philosophie . To test the claim that Heidegger here breaks with, or at least distances himself from, National Socialism,[125] we have examined Heidegger's scattered remarks throughout the work on the concept of the Volk . Consideration of his Nazism in terms of this concept is justified by its central role in the amorphous series of doctrines collectively known as the National Socialist worldview and in his own turn to Nazism. It is reasonable to suppose that any turn away from Nazism would be visible in his treatment of this concept.

Heidegger's criticism of National Socialism in the Beiträge is based on a perspective that is astonishingly foreign to that revolutionary movement. Whatever else Nazism was, it was mainly, centrally concerned with the practical problem of world domination. On the contrary, here as elsewhere Heidegger considers Nazism from his own theoretical vantage point, in terms of the criterion of a theory of Being. In the few instances where Heidegger objects to Nazism, it is invariably because of its supposed failure, as a form of worldview, to achieve full theoretical status through a transition to the other beginning that he sketches in this book. Heidegger does not reject National Socialism as such in this work, and certainly not because of the practical consequences to which it led; rather he objects to it for its theoretical deficiencies from his ontological vantage point, for its supposed failure to provide an adequate theory of Being.

The Beitr äge is indispensable to comprehend the interrelation between Heidegger's Nazism and the evolution of his position in the period after the rectorate. With respect to National Socialism, Heidegger's


other beginning is continuous with his earlier thought in three main ways. First, there is a further stress on the destiny of the German people which remains to be realized in history, a commitment that Heidegger continues to share with National Socialism. Second, now as before, Heidegger holds that what he earlier stigmatized as "political science" and still rejects as a mere worldview is inadequate to achieve its end in view. In a word, although Heidegger accepts the Nazi goal, which was ingredient in his turn toward National Socialism, he continues to reject Nazism as an adequate means to that end. Third, in the Beiträge Heidegger reaffirms the point made in rectoral address: the German people need finally to be led to their destiny by Heidegger's thought since it cannot realize itself as German through National Socialism. The difference, of course, is that in the meantime Heidegger's thought has evolved beyond philosophy to the other beginning, in virtue of which Heidegger has come to believe that "philosophy" cannot lead directly to the gathering of the German as German. It can only point to that goal whose realization lies through the turn to poetry, in particular to the thought of Hölderlin.

In sum, Heidegger's thought has changed, but its relation to German destiny remains unchanged. Heidegger remains convinced of his own messianic role in bringing about the destiny of the German people within history. Further, he remains convinced that Nazism is not finally conducive to that shared end. In his later thought, Heidegger does not reject a political role for "philosophy," for his new thought beyond the Platonic tradition, although he rejects philosophy. Even in his rejection of Platonism, Heidegger retains his confidence—characteristic of the hubris often restated since Plato by others, and perhaps characteristic of philosophy itself—that the thought of a philosopher, in Heidegger's view the view of thinker of Being, is a necessary condition of the good life.

Heidegger's critique of Nazism in this work cannot be denied, although its extremely limited extent should be stressed. Here, his objection to National Socialism is always limited to its failure as a theory of Being. Heidegger's failure to object to the political consequences of the Nazi worldview is significant, since it suggests an incapacity of his thought—that is, the thought of a great thinker, in the opinion of some observers the most important thinker of this century—to grasp the political specificity of National Socialism. It is an error to hold that after the rectorate Heidegger breaks with Nazism on a political plane. Even in the rectoral address, his commitment to National Socialism was tempered by his refusal of the hegemony of politics, which he intended to found in philosophy. In the Beiträge his view has not changed, since he continues to accept the point he has always shared with Nazism: insistence on the authentic gathering of the Germans.


We can end this chapter with a comment about Heidegger's silence. [126] It is well known that in his writings, Heidegger never publicly spoke to the problem of the Holocaust, about which he remained silent. The Beiträge suggests an interesting reason for this attitude, for Heidegger's failure to assume the moral consequences of his commitment to a worldview whose well-known excesses have been decried by history. [127] In Being and Time , Heidegger in passing describes silence (Schweigen ) and hearing as possibilities of discursive speech. [128] He characterizes the possibility of authentic silence in genuine discourse, as distinguished from mere silence. [129] In the discussion of conscience, he maintains that the call of conscience is silence. [130] In the initial cycle of Hölderlin lectures, immediately after the rectorate, he modifies this view in maintaining that we are a conversation, which means as well that we are silence.[131] He further inverts the relation between silence as a form of speech and speech in order to ground speech in silence.[132] Heidegger exploits this revision of his view of silence in his discussion of Nietzsche. Here, he states that the highest form of saying lies in being silent (verschweigen ) about what must be said; the saying of thought is being silent (ein Erschweigen ).[133] Heidegger's revised understanding of silence suggests that to be silent is not only possible in an authentic manner; in fact, silence is the most authentic form of speech. In a word, to be an authentic person requires that one in effect be silent.[134]

Heidegger raises the theme of silence in two places in the Beiträge . In a pair of passages in the first part, he examines the silence (Erschweigung ) of Being in general as a Sigetik . [135] This term is a neologism coined by Heidegger, formed from the Greek "sigao, " whose infinitive form means "to be silent or still, to keep silence."[136] Heidegger uses this term to refer to those who still think according to a "logic" used to fit what is thought into compartments. His point is that this "logic," which belongs to the first beginning, is inadequate to grasp the Ereignis , which is the theme of the other beginning. In this sense, one can say that Being in general is silent with respect to the thinking effort to depict it. Heidegger returns to the theme of silence in the last paragraph of the book, in a comment on the origin of speech. [137] Now following the revised understanding of silence announced in the initial Hölderlin lectures, he maintains that speech is grounded in silence. According to Heidegger, silence is the measure, since it first provides the standard. "Speech is grounded in silence. Silence is the hiddenmost holding to the measure [verborgenste Mass-halten]. It holds the measure [Mass], in that it first provides the standards [Maßstäbe]."[138]

This passage in the Beiträge suggests an interesting philosophical explanation for Heidegger's later silence, unrelated to personal psychological weakness, or moral insufficiency, or the effort to preserve one's


honor. On the basis of this text, we can infer that in the face of the mere chatter of supposedly inauthentic beings, Heidegger kept silent at least in part on philosophical grounds, for the reason that to do so is supposedly to engage in an authentic form of genuine discourse, to maintain the standards of rigorous thought based upon silence.

Heidegger's idea of silence should be put in perspective. His point differs from Wittgenstein's view that one should be silent about what cannot be expressed in speech.[139] Heidegger is not willing to take a skeptical stance, for instance by asserting that one should say nothing about what one cannot know. Rather, Heidegger's revised doctrine of silence—a view which, like its original formulation, is presented without any effort to justify the change—is intended to point to silence as the highest level of speech. The modification is, however, significant, even "convenient" in the present context, after the failure of the rectorate. For this revised view of silence provides Heidegger with a reason, rooted in his thought, to remain silent in an authentic manner, to refuse on philosophical grounds to say anything, anything at all, to decline in virtue of his theory to take a public position on the Holocaust, on Nazism, or on his view of Nazism. But one must wonder whether a form of thought can be authentic or even rigorous if this means to remain silent before the Holocaust whose central meaning it can neither express nor grasp.


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