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7 The French Reception of Heidegger's Nazism
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The Second Wave

The initial phase of the debate sets the stage for all later discussion of this theme in France and elsewhere. The second phase of the French debate differed in numerous ways from its predecessor. To begin with, it


is less compact, and for that reason more difficult to delimit. It occurred over a number of years, roughly from 1948, when the French first edition of Lukács's book appeared, to the publication of Jean-Michel Palmier's study in 1968, the year of the French student uprising. It further includes articles by François Fédier, Jean-Pierre Faye, François Bondy, Alfred Grosser, Robert Minder, Aimé Patri, and others, and journals such as Médiations and Critique . Another difference is the increasingly international character of the second phase of the debate, which makes greater reference to materials published in languages other than French. Further, the discussion now takes on an increasingly heated, often overheated, on occasion even strident character, which surpasses the generally polite nature of traditional scholarly discussion. One can speculate that the excited character of the debate indicates the political stakes of the critique or defense of Heidegger's form of National Socialism.

The remarkable change in tone is arguably due to a variety of factors. On the one hand, in the inital phase of the discussion a number of those who took part, including Löwith and Weil, were not native French, but those who intervene in the next stage of the debate are mainly of French origin. It is a fact that debate in French intellectual circles tends to be noisier and more strident than elsewhere. On the other hand, in the meantime the full effect of Heidegger's "Letter on Humanism" had begun to be felt. As a result, Heidegger had already begun to acquire a commanding presence in French intellectual life, whose horizon was increasingly constituted by his thought. The greater identification of French thought with Heidegger even as his position displaced Hegel's in the role of the master thinker meant that French scholars on occasion acted as if they were as much engaged in defending French thought as in defending Heidegger's position. Further, the appearance in the meantime of Guido Schneeberger's collection of relevant documents, as well as other studies, such as those due to Adorno and Hühnerfeld, meant that Heidegger's philosophy, and not only his personal reputation, was now at risk. Finally, France was then approaching a political crisis that would nearly paralyze the country for a number of months beginning in March 1968.

Although in his "Letter" Heidegger implicitly admits his culpability in his stated desire to turn over a new leaf, Beaufret took a more extreme line, which developed only slowly. As early as 1945, when he was close to Marxism, he described Heidegger's adherence to National Socialism as the result of a naïveté linked to a bourgeois character.[47] But Beaufret rapidly abandoned his youthful flirt, common in France at least until 1968, with revolutionary thought. In his letter to Heidegger, he mentions his concern with the relation of ontology to the possibility of an ethics. Beaufret later provided a curious answer to his own concern in


two ways: through the denial of a more than casual relation between Heidegger and National Socialism, itself a form of the contingency thesis,[48] but above all in his own later turn to a form of revisionist history in which he simply denied that anyone was murdered in Nazi gas chambers, in effect by denying the very existence of Nazi extermination camps![49] Taken to its extremes, the result is to deny that there could be a problem in the link between Heidegger and National Socialism, which, on Beaufret's demonstrably false reading of history, was intrinsically unproblematic. In a word, Nazism was not Nazism! This is surely the most extreme possible form of the deconstruction of the necessitarian thesis, since from this angle of vision it is fully possible to accept that Heidegger was led by his thought to Nazism but to deny that the acceptance of Nazism is problematic.

We can deal separately with the works by Georg Lukács and Jean-Michel Palmier. Lukács, the important Marxist philosopher and literary critic, is the author of History and Class Consciousness , a celebrated book that almost alone created the Hegelian approach to Marxism widely influential in later Marxist discussion.[50] His study of Marxism and existentialism, written during his Stalinist phase, was a consciously polemical intervention in the debate, intended to dismiss existentialism, from an orthodox Marxist perspective.[51] Here, he applied Engels's depiction of the relation between thought and being as the watershed question of all philosophy to oppose the possibility of a putative third way supposedly sought by existentialism between idealism and materialism. According to Lukács, existentialism is merely a form of subjective idealism linked to the defense of bourgeois class interests. In passing, he specifically attacks Heidegger's position as pre-fascist. He developed this criticism at length in an appendix, "Anhang: Heidegger Redivivus"—in direct response to the publication of Heidegger's "Letter on Humanism," the same document that cemented Heidegger's relation to French philosophy—added to the German edition of his book.[52]

Lukács's book seems to have affected the French discussion of Heidegger only marginally, mainly through its influence on Merleau-Ponty and Sartre. Lukács was in part later answered by Merleau-Ponty, who, in a famous discussion, identified Lukács as the founder of so-called Western Marxism.[53] And Lukács clearly influenced Sartre's later turn to Marxism. Writing two decades later, Palmier, a careful student of Heidegger, casts himself in the role of a defender of the master against the various attacks which, for perhaps the first time in the French discussion, he attempts to parry through detailed textual analysis. Palmier's study, which appeared at the close of the sharp exchange between Fédier and Faye, is intended by its author as an initial approach to Heidegger's


writings from April 1933 to February 1934, that is, during his period as rector.[54] But by casting his net so narrowly, Palmier perhaps unintentionally takes this period, which he recognizes as belonging to Heidegger's oeuvre, out of context, since he renders it exceedingly difficult to grasp the degree of continuity between it and the later evolution of Heidegger's thought. Perhaps for this reason, despite the serious nature of Palmier's study, it seems not to have attracted attention in the later debate.[55]

In order to characterize the second phase of the discussion, whose conceptual and chronological limits fall between the books by Lukács and Palmier, we do well to turn to the polemic between Fédier and Faye. Unlike the initial phase of the discussion, which began with a defense of Heidegger, the opening shot was fired by an attacker who was met after a short interval by a committed defender, determined to repulse any assault on the house of Being. This phase of the attack, in fact the second battle of the conceptual war concerning Heidegger, was launched by Jean-Pierre Faye in 1961[56] through the publication of the French translation of certain Heideggerian texts, notably the Rektoratsrede and the homage to Schlageter. In a short presentation preceding the texts, Faye notes the violence of Heidegger's revolutionary language, particularly in the rectoral speech, and its link to Nazi terminology. In a further article[57] in the same journal, Faye reproduces the famous passage on the essence of authentic Nazism from An Introduction to Metaphysics , as well as Heidegger's endorsement—in a letter to Die Zeit dated 24 September 1953—of the effort by Christian E. Lewalter to explain away Heidegger's apparent concern with Nazism—published in the same journal on 13 August. Here, Faye develops his earlier discussion by insisting on the relation between Heidegger's views and those of Ernst Krieck. Faye also took the occasion, prodded by Aimé Patri, to correct his earlier translation of Heideggerian texts.

In retrospect, Faye's articles did not break new ground. His main contribution was to make available material that tended to cast doubt on the contingency analysis. The initial intervention by François Fédier, Heidegger's most ardent defender in the French philosophical discussion after Beaufret's death, occurred only some five years after Faye's articles. Even then, Fédier's ire was mainly directed toward other targets. Fédier turns to Faye only when the latter dared to respond to his impassioned defense of Heidegger against all comers. Since that time, Fédier has maintained his visible role—which now after the death of Beaufret, his former teacher, is nearly his alone—as the self-appointed official spokesman for the contingency thesis, determined to deconstruct any and all forms of the necessitarian analysis. With the exception of


Aubenque, at present no other prominent French defender of Heidegger argues that the link between Heidegger's philosophy and politics is merely contingent.

Fédier's initial article[58] was prompted by his perception of attacks on Heidegger by Guido Schneeberger, Theodor Adorno, and Paul Hühnerfeld. Instead of a response to a polemic, the author describes his intent as an examination of the presuppositions of so-called hostile arguments. In each case, Fédier shows to his satisfaction that the writer in question is methodologically incapable of comprehending Heidegger's Nazism before describing what he calls reality through a simple statement of the "main facts" of the case. According to Fédier, who does not examine other, later evidence, with the exception of the Spiegel interview, an analysis of Heidegger's courses between 1934 and 1944 suffices to perceive the exact meaning of Heidegger's opposition to Nazism and, for the same reason, to understand why he desired in 1933 to contribute to the realization of something other than what Nazism became.

It is noteworthy that none of the works to which Fédier responds here is due to a French author or published in French. Fédier's discussion, which is a form of the contingency thesis, specifically a further version of the claim that the critics of Heidegger are insufficiently familiar with the object of their criticism, is innovative only as an early attempt within the French context to respond to foreign criticism of Heidegger. Although Fédier's défense tous azimuts did not even consider the nascent French effort to come to grips with the problem, it is not surprising that he was quickly answered by three French writers, including Patri, Minder, and Faye, which in turn evoked a rapid rejoinder from Fédier.

Fédier is defended by Patti. In his short paper, he argues in support of Fédier and against Faye that—on linguistic grounds alone—one cannot identify a relation between Heidegger and Nazism, since the adjective "völkisch " was already used by Fichte, who was not a member of the SS.[59] This version of the attack on the necessitarian thesis because the critic is allegedly misinformed was immediately contradicted in another short paper by Minder, who asserts that even a cursory examination of Heidegger's language supposes an acceptance of some fundamental principles of the Third Reich.[60] He further notes, as Farias and especially Ott later argue in detail, that Heidegger was strongly influenced by a certain rustic but politically reactionary form of Roman Catholicism.

The latter point is a form of the necessitarian thesis interpreted in a historicist manner directly counter to the evolution of Heidegger's thought after the famous turning. For the claim that anyone, including the author of fundamental ontology, is not in part a product of the surrounding environment precisely contradicts Heidegger's own claim that we are all determined by the modern world, by technology, ulti-


mately by metaphysics, even by Being. In his response, Faye returns to the attack with a perceptive comment on nascent right-wing Heideggerianism.[61] He notes in an ironic remark that there is at present a Parisian sect devoted to protecting its masters in the way that the ASPCA is devoted to protecting animals! He provides a discussion of the history of the term "völkisch " and its relation to racism, in particular anti-Semitism, later developed by Bourdieu, before turning his critical gaze on the difference, crucial in his eyes, between being in the world and transforming it.

Faye's article could only have been perceived as it was in part intended: as a provocation. In his article, Faye commits a strategic error, since he attempts to show that he has the appropriate knowledge which Fédier accuses him of lacking. The argument cannot be won on such terms, since it is always possible to maintain that the critic knew some things but not others, and the other things are relevant, indeed crucial. In short, it is always possible to claim and in effect to make out the claim that one who opposes a doctrine, any doctrine, is not sufficiently informed. This insight was not lost on Fédier, who quickly responded in this way in order to show that après tout Faye was uninformed, in any case not sufficiently informed to criticize such a difficult thinker as Heidegger, since he did not know German sufficiently well. This is a technique which Fédier has continued to employ with frequency in his now numerous attempts to defend the "sacred" cause.[62]

In his response, Fédier concedes that Heidegger did use certain incriminating expressions over a ten-month period, but he denies that as a result Heidegger's thought is compromised in any way. In the course of a veritable demonstration of why no translation is safe from "deconstruction," which anticipates Derrida's use of this method in his best days, Fédier goes so far as to say that a "real" translation of the rectoral address will remove the vestiges of Nazism which Faye has "injected" into it. He further advances a claim—which he later developed at length in a book—that although Heidegger was mistaken in 1933 in his allegiance to Hitler, it was impossible to understand at the time what Hitler would become. He closes with a triple criticism of Heidegger's failure: to foresee the consequences of Nazism, to measure the powerlessness of thought with respect to Nazism, and to grasp that thought could not modify what was under way. The latter two points are different versions of the same idea of the weakness of thought, which represent an application of Heidegger's own later view, in the "Letter on Humanism" and elsewhere, of thought as different from and opposed to philosophy.

For present purposes, Fédier's argument is interesting as the basic statement of the contingentist attack on the necessitarian analysis. More than twenty years later, one can no longer doubt in good faith the


existence of a form of right-wing Heideggerianism determined to save Heidegger at all costs, even if to do so on occasion requires one to deny the clearly evident. At this early stage, with the exception of Beaufret, Gandillac, and De Waelhens, and to a lesser extent such secondary figures as Patri, Fédier was virtually isolated as the keeper of the grail of Being. But as early as his first skirmish, he identified the basic form of his response to any form of the necessitarian argument.

Fédier's strategy is obviously dependent on that of such pioneer defenders of Heidegger in the French-language discussion as De Waelhens, who formulated the initial version of the attack on the necessitarian thesis for insufficient evidence. Now De Waelhens's version of this gambit was unconvincing since it was no more than the claim, which can always be made, that the critic is uninformed. But this claim was unconvincing, or at least not sufficiently convincing to be acceptable to such a truly knowledgeable observer as Löwith. Yet if he does not perfect this strategy, Fédier at least takes it much further by developing it into a coherent defense, much as in chess the difference between an isolated move and a viable defense consists in the articulation of the various elements. Fédier's counter consists in the following elements, all calculated to make it difficult, even impossible, to make out a claim for a durable, or even a transitory, link between Heidegger and Nazism: the assertion that Heidegger was naive, but not culpable since he did not, or could not, know the nature of Nazism; the intimation that the critic is inadequately informed, for instance about Heidegger, as concerns the German language, and so on; and the pretension that a simple statement of the "facts," including a look at the statements of others who were there and hence by implication know the "real" story is sufficient to separate the "real" Heidegger from the mythic figure who is the target of his critics. Combined in different ways, all of these elements later return in the third phase of the French debate on Heidegger and National Socialism.

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