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7 The French Reception of Heidegger's Nazism
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The Onset of the Third Wave

The third, most recent phase of the French debate began when Farias's study burst onto the intellectual scene in the fall of 1987. Any account of this phase needs to distinguish between the immediate reaction to Farias's book in French circles and the more measured but often still heated discussion that followed and at the present time is still under way. The immediate French reaction to Farias's book was part of a rapid response which, it is fair to say, swept over western Europe. The major newspapers and many magazines in all the major European countries


carried articles concerning this study, often with a kind of concealed amusement directed at the French reception of the work.

Two examples from the West German press and one from an Italian newspaper are typical. In an article in a well-known liberal German daily, the author, apparently unaware of the preceding discussion, comments that the question of the negative influence on Heidegger's thought will henceforth be raised in France as well as in Germany.[63] In a respected intellectual German weekly, another writer concludes that Heidegger's letter to Jean Beaufret did not remain without a response, since it led to French postmodernism, although none of the postmodernists, who are all staunchly antitotalitarian, can be simply assimilated to Heidegger in a political manner.[64] Both of these articles are cautious and, in the best German sense, sachlich , concerned more to report than to pass judgment.

We find a much sharper, less journalistic reaction in an Italian daily newspaper which counterposes articles by two well-known Italian philosophers: Roberto Maggiori, an anti-Heideggerian; and Gianni Vattimo, a well-known Heideggerian. Responding to an earlier review by Vattimo of the Farias book, Maggiori criticizes Vattimo's view that the whole "affaire Heidegger " is an operation directed against certain Parisian thinkers. In a sharp response, which recalls Beaufret's estimate of Heidegger as a conceptual giant among pygmies, Vattimo dismisses Farias's work as of little historical consequence.[65]

The sharp exchange between Maggiori and Vattimo is similar in content, but not in tone, to the often much sharper character of the French discussion. The immediate reaction, what in French is aptly called the réaction à chaud , was precisely that, namely heated, in fact overheated to a degree unusual even in French intellectual circles. This phase of the controversy, which was more symptomatic of the depth of feeling than of insight into the problem, was uncharacteristically played out in the pages of the daily papers, the weekly magazines, in art and literary journals, on television, and so on—in short, through forms of communication not often associated with the measured tread of philosophical debate. It involved such well-known figures on the French intellectual scene as Derrida, Finkielkraut, E. de Fontenay, Baudrillard, Levinas, Aubenque, Blanchot, Bourdieu, Renaut, Ferry, Daix, and so on, as well as a large number of less well known figures, all of whom felt called upon to comment on the situation; it involved as well foreign scholars imported for the occasion such as Gadamer. What had earlier been a philosophical debate, a disagreement between scholars on a theme concerning a famous but obscure German thinker, quickly became a kind of intellectual free-for-all in which opinions, even frank accusations, were voiced in rapid fashion. The result was to guarantee a succès de scandale for a book that rapidly became a cause célèbre .


One way to indicate the amplitude of the immediate reaction, which lasted for weeks in certain cases, is by a simple list, in no particular order, of some of the newspapers and journals that ran articles, sometimes numerous articles, on the topic: Art Press, La Quinzaine Lit-téraire, Le Monde, Le Matin, Libération, La Croix, Le Quotidien de Paris, Le Figaro, Le Magazine Littéraire, Le Canard Enchainé , and so on. The tone of the debate to follow was given by the opening shot, fired by Christian Jambet, a former nouveau philosophe , in his preface to the French edition of Farias's work. His sharply worded preface begins with a reference to the traditional belief in the virtue of philosophy for life, before building to remarks on the manner in which Heidegger allegedly identifies authentic existence with a mere semblance, itself representative of the politics of extermination. Jambet ends with a statement intended to sum up Heidegger's thought in a reference to a well-known film, Night and Fog (Nuit et brouillard ) on the Nazi concentration camps: "Heidegger has the merit of making ontology the question of our time. But how can we accept that philosophy, born of Socrates' trial for leading a just life, ends in the twilight where Heidegger wanted to see the end of the gods, but which was only the time of Night and Fog ?"[66]

In his preface, Jambet raises the question of the specific difference that opposes, or seems to oppose, Heidegger to the entire philosophical tradition through the relation between his own thought and absolute evil. Yet Jambet does not raise the other theme, highly relevant in the French context, of the specific link between Heidegger's philosophy and French thought. Certainly, the latter topic is partially responsible for the inflamed, passionate character of the immediate French reaction. Perhaps Hugo Ott, the Freiburg historian, caught the mood best in the opening comment of his review of Farias's book: "In France a sky has fallen in—the sky of the philosophers ."[67]

Even a small selection will communicate the sheer breadth of opinion in the immediate response to Farias's study in French circles. In a sober article, Roger-Pol Droit states that as a result of his study Farias has dismantled the "official" view of Heidegger's merely contingent relation with National Socialism, long maintained by Beaufret and other friends.[68] According to Droit, who clearly denies De Waelhens's claim, in the future it will be impossible to separate Heidegger the philosopher from Heidegger the man, and it will be necessary to think the link that unites them. Georges-Arthur Goldschmidt, a French refugee from German Nazism, welcomes Farias's study for swelling the meager ranks of those bothered by Heidegger's Nazi past; he regards Farias's book as a means to impede the normal business of the Parisian Heideggerians, henceforth obliged to confront the issues.[69] In a response, Emmanuel Martineau, the author of the pirated translation of Being and Time, a


friend and student of Beaufret, admits that the latter became part of Heideggerian fascism, which he regards as matched by a hystericial anti-Heideggerian fascism. He accuses Goldschmidt of falling prey, not to the hate of Nazi cruelty, but purely and simply to the hatred of thought.[70]

Alain Finkielkraut complains that in noting the connection between Being and Time and Mein Kampf , there is a concealed risk of promoting a kind of fascist reaction against philosophy.[71] In a response to Finkielkraut, Goldschmidt suggests that in France there is little real knowledge of Nazism; there is further an incapacity to see that a kind of Nazism rooted in German thought since Fichte is central to Heidegger's thought.[72] Jean Baudrillard observes that the so-called necrological discussion concerning Heidegger has no intrinsic philosophical meaning. He maintains that this discussion only betrays a transition from the stage of history to the stage of myth in which events, which we cannot grasp on the plane of reality, give rise to a convulsion indicative of a loss of reality.[73]

Martineau's version of the lack of critical competence, already in evidence in earlier discussions, is further developed by Jacques Derrida in an interview.[74] According to Derrida, then on the point of publishing a book coincidentally concerned with Heidegger and politics, the so-called facts discovered by Farias are not new for anyone seriously interested in Heidegger; and the interpretation of their relation to the master's thought is so insufficient as to raise the question of whether Farias has devoted more than an hour to reading Heidegger. Yet Derrida also concedes the need to show the deep link between Heidegger's thought and actions to the possibility and reality of what he calls all the Nazisms.

In the face of Derrida's claim that Farias is not a competent reader of Heidegger's texts, Farias's enumeration, in his response, of a list of facts, supposedly brought to the attention of scholars for the first time, seems vaguely unsatisfactory.[75] A still more radical response is furnished by Pierre Aubenque, the well-known Aristotle scholar, who in a bitter article[76] simply denies all the relevant points, including the relevance of Farias's book, the intellectual honesty of his analysis, the need for a study of this kind, and the lack of a significant connection between Heidegger's thought and Nazism. Aubenque's analysis is supported by Pascal David, who ends a review of Farias's study with a quotation from Abraham a Santa Clara—the Augustinian anti-Semite whom Farias regards as influential on Heidegger—to the effect that God loves fools, not foolishness.[77]

In his article, Aubenque refers approvingly to Derrida, but the difference between their respective readings of Heidegger's Nazism places them in different camps. Although infinitely more clever than Fédier, in his avowal of a version of the contingency thesis Aubenque is finally


close to Fédier's wholly unyielding defense, which simply denies that there is a problem worthy of consideration. In comparison, Derrida's response is more innovative in "deconstructing" the opposition between representatives of the necessitarian and contingentist analyses. In essence, Derrida proposes that we can acknowledge the intrinsic link between Heidegger and Nazism, although he continues to insist that only the anointed few can comprehend it in the correct manner.

The result is to concede the main point of the necessitarian approach but to restrict its development by continuing to insist, as the contingentists have all along, that only the "orthodox," or more precisely the "orthodox" critic of Heidegger, can measure the problem. An appropriate analogy is the claim made by a former Stalinist that only Stalin's victims can legitimately judge his crimes. This new standard of criticism, which couples an admission of the problem—which can no longer be denied, and is in fact no longer denied in any straightforward fashion by any observer with the clear exception of Fédier and Aubenque, who continue to represent the original form of the contingentist view—with the insistence on expert knowledge of Heidegger's thought as a precondition for valid discussion of Heidegger's Nazism, represents a significant evolution in the scholarly French discussion of this theme. As a result, the gap between the discussants has narrowed considerably since the point at issue is no longer whether there was a real and durable link between Heidegger and Nazism—something perhaps only Aubenque among the more significant French intellectuals still denies—but rather how to understand this link, in particular how to understand its significance for his philosophy.

In philosophy, because of the length of the gestation period the debate normally unfolds rather slowly, over a period measured at best in years and more often in decades or centuries. Now in French circles, where the half-life of a theory is very short, the debate usually unfolds more quickly since to publish slowly would be to run the risk of being able to comment on a topic only as it was in the process of disappearing from the intellectual scene. Until recently, that is, until the publication of Farias's work, with the exception of Palmier's study, no books wholly, or even mainly, centered on the theme of Heidegger and Nazism had appeared. This lacuna, if it is one, was now rapidly corrected, at a speed extraordinary even by the standards of the French intellectual discussion. Farias's book was published in October 1987. From that period until the following May, even as a steady, but steadily diminishing, stream of articles devoted to the topic continued to pour out, in an extraordinary burst of scholarly creativity no fewer than six studies devoted to this theme appeared.[78] Not surprisingly, in most cases they


reflected the new consensus that there was a problem, although they differed widely on its description and analysis.

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