Preferred Citation: Rockmore, Tom. On Heidegger's Nazism and Philosophy. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1992 1992.

1 Revealing Concealed Nazism

Heideggerian Concealment and the History of Philosophy

Heidegger's analysis of Being further conceals its relation to the history of philosophy. Now in part the relation of philosophy to its history has long been concealed through the normative view of philosophy current in the modern tradition. A main impulse at least since Descartes has been the preference for systematic over historical forms of thought. The result is the effort to begin again, finally to make a beginning, finally to make an acceptable beginning in virtue of the preference for a priori over a posteriori types of knowledge, succinctly formulated in Kant's insistence, following Leibniz, on cognitio ex principiis over cognitio ex datis .[18]

As the title of a well-known book about Heidegger suggests,[19] his entire philosophical career is focused to an unusual degree on a single project, initially identified as the question of the meaning of Being. The term "Being" refers to "Being in general," or the "Being of beings," as distinguished from beings, or entities, such as shoes or ships or sealing wax. Heidegger's conviction that since the early Greeks this question has been forgotten, or covered over, so that he needs to destroy later metaphysics in order to return to the original, and solely valid, form of the question, points both toward and away from the importance of the history of philosophy for Heidegger's position. His assertion that the Seinsfrage , or at least the Seinsfrage in its authentic form, has been forgotten since early in the philosophical tradition strongly suggests that his own thought cannot depend on other views in the history of philosophy which he seeks to "destroy" as the condition of freeing up the proper approach to Being.[20] Heidegger is unquestionably equipped with


a deep, in fact unusual, command of the historical tradition; yet his own argument implies that his theory is independent of the history of philosophy, more precisely of anything that happened in the tradition after the pre-Socratics, or at the latest Aristotle.

The implication that Heidegger's own thought is independent of the history of philosophy since the Greeks—which derives from a strategic move on his part to open the path leading to Being—tends to insulate his position from critical scrutiny. In effect, as a result of this move Heidegger contends that his thought is not only original but sui generis. If it differs not only in degree but in kind from any others, that is, all the other views in earlier and contemporary philosophical discussion, then obviously it cannot be understood or evaluated through comparison with them.

Heidegger's references to later thinkers, particularly in Being and Time , are mainly negative. Partly for this reason, Heidegger has been accused of distorting, in fact deliberately concealing, his dependence on previous writers, for instance Kierkegaard.[21] Others have suggested a wider philosophical debt including Nietzsche,[22] Jünger,[23] and others. My own view is that there is a strongly Kantian component in his thought. I think that his study of Being as present under the mode of absence can be regarded as a variant of the Kantian dualistic analysis of noumenon and phenomenon, mediated by such neo-Kantian thinkers as Rickert and Lask. This claim implies that Heidegger's view of Being is circumscribed by the dualistic Kantian framework that structures most later discussion in the German tradition.

Heidegger's strategy to free his position from dependence on the preceding philosophical discussion, a strategy that is neither convincing nor original, impedes the comprehension of his position. An example, among many, of the effort to break with the prior philosophical tradition is Kant's claim, in the famous passage on the Copernican Revolution, that his own position represents a clean break with prior thought.[24] The grounds for Kant's introduction of the Copernican Revolution is that all previous efforts at knowledge have failed and that we need to invoke a new approach, represented by him as systematic. If "critical" means, as it does in Kant's thought, "not dogmatic" but "demonstrable," then we can inquire about the nature of the proof. Now a proof of the critical philosophy is not forthcoming on the a priori, systematic plane it favors, since its claim rests in part on the alleged failure of prior views, that is, on a reading of the history of philosophy. Even Kant's effort to establish the transcendental conditions of the possibility of any knowledge whatsoever is historically tinged, dependent on its relation to other theories in the philosophical tradition.

Heidegger's position is highly dependent on a wide variety of modern


philosophers and even some nonphilosophers, such as Hölderlin, Jünger, and others. The dependence of Heidegger's thought on the preceding philosophical tradition is apparent in at least three ways. First, and most generally, we have already noted that all positions depend on prior thought for their evaluation, for their claim to advance the discussion. Second, Heidegger's argument depends on the history of philosophy since he needs to carry out his "destruction" of metaphysics in order to demonstrate the assertion that forms of ontology later than those of the Greeks have taken an incorrect turning in the road to Being. If he cannot show that later views of ontology are incorrect, then his claim to recover the only correct approach to Being, which has meanwhile lain hidden, is undercut. Third, his desire to return to origins, in this case the proposed return to the hidden beginnings of the philosophical discussion of Being, is merely another form of the widespread modern philosophical interest in bringing about an end to the discipline. In that precise sense, Heidegger's view is largely traditional.

1 Revealing Concealed Nazism

Preferred Citation: Rockmore, Tom. On Heidegger's Nazism and Philosophy. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1992 1992.