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Trawny duly declared Heidegger contaminated (Martin Heidegger und der Mythos, new edition, p.12 and after). He then made himself available nationally and internationally for a decontamination campaign. The job was massive: as Fintan O’Toole explained, it would involve nothing less than a disinfection of western culture, because Heidegger’s ideas had gone deep and wide therein. “They can’t be dumped, but they do have to be rethought in the knowledge that the great thinker who expounded them was also a moral idiot.”

Rothman’s account of the meeting in Greenwich Village includes the following: 

“(Professor Roger) Berkowitz, who served as moderator, started things off by reading passages from the black notebooks. One began: “The Jews, with their marked gift for calculating, live, already for the longest time, according to the principle of race, which is why they are resisting its consistent application with utmost violence.” When Berkowitz finished, it was quiet enough to hear traffic on the Bowery. Then, slowly, the professors, along with members of the audience, tried to talk about what Heidegger had written. No one knew what to say; the conversation was halting and desultory.”

It appears that none of these professors of philosophy were familiar with the concept of context. No one demanded that the entire passage where this sentence occurred should be read out in English translation. If that had been done, they might possibly have discovered that the passage was an attack on Nazi racism (Notebooks XII, 38). The translated sentence, as printed in The New Yorker, tramples over all the nuances of the original. A better version would be:

“The Jews, with their marked gift for calculation, have been “living” longest according to the race principle, and precisely for that reason they are also putting up the strongest resistance against its absolute application.” (2)

(2) Die Juden “leben” bei ihrer betont rechnerischen Begabung am längsten schon nach dem Rasseprinzip, weshalb sie sich auch am heftigsten gegen die uneingeschränkte Anwendung zur Wehr setzen. (GA 96:56). In context the passage reads (using Minahane's translation): XI.38 -

That in the age of Contriving-things [die machenschaft] Race shall be elevated to the explicit and purposefully organised “Principle” of history (or just of historiography): that is no arbitrary contrivance of “Doctrinaires”, but a consequence of the power of Contriving-things, which must reduce What’s-in-being in all its Zones to the terms of planned calculation. Through the race notion “Life” will be brought to a breedable form, which represents a type of calculation. The Jews with their marked gift for calculation have “lived” longest according to the race principle, and for just that reason they also put up the strongest resistance against its unlimited application. The organisation of racial breeding does not stem from “Life” itself, but from the overpowering of Life by Contriving-things.

I can't resist the temptation to add to what John has said on this passage. It is simply outrageous that so-called Heidegger specialists - or even anyone with pretensions to understanding the meaning of words -  should fail to see that this is an attack on the Nazi desire to maintain racial purity. The only way it could be construed as an attack on the Jews is because it observes that the Jews have historically been anxious to maintain racial purity - something no-one surely could deny. - PB

The phrase with their marked gift for calculation is italicised in the original, which suggests that someone is being quoted ironically. In any case it refers back to the previous sentence, where he has said that racial breeding is a kind of calculation imposed upon life. The meaning of the present sentence I take to be something like this: the Jews have survived as a group in the Christian west through a sense of racial affinity, but they haven’t had much of a life, and they know that if the whole of Europe took the racial principle to extremes there would be no kind of life at all.

Someone at the dumbstruck meeting in Greenwich Village did finally blurt out a clear response to that sentence.

“After a while, the group paused for wine and crackers—the glummest cocktail hour ever. (Later, an enraged audience member found his words, and responded to the passage by saying, 'That sentence strikes me as somehow so deranged, so alien to a sense of the real. . . . Anyone who is capable of that sort of argument cannot be trusted to think.' A few people—by no means everyone— applauded.)”

Heidegger cannot be trusted to think... Words worth pondering!

Peter Trawny put it differently: Heidegger was too stupid to think. But let’s take things in order. Addressing the New York meeting, Trawny insisted upon a renunciation of context. And at the same time he wanted to save Heidegger from himself, not to mention saving his own job from Heidegger.

“‘There’s a point where we have to say, ‘No, no, this is a point we cannot contextualize anymore,’ he said. ‘There is a responsibility to say, ‘It’s impossible—Heidegger, you cannot say that!... Even if you are the greatest philosopher of the twentieth century, this is over the limit.’ "

At the same time, he saw a way out for Heidegger in one of the philosopher’s own concepts, “errancy”—the idea that human beings are not calculators, but conjecturers, and that being wrong is, therefore, an irreducible part of being a person... Trawny continued, ‘He knew, at the end of his life, what was written in these notebooks. He was aware of the problems. But he couldn’t take the pen and wipe it out. He tries to show us how deeply a philosopher can fail. I don’t know whether this interpretation is strong, but I hope so—that this could be possible.’ (As to the question of ‘contamination,’ Trawny said that he regretted, somewhat, the choice of that metaphor. It may have been ‘too strong.’)”

I think the least one can say is that this interpretation of Heidegger is original. With a paradoxical boldness it speculates on a kind of deathbed conversion of a rake - or to use Fintan O’Toole’s language, the deathbed enlightenment of a moral idiot. Because the fact is, Heidegger was notorious above all for not repenting. He refused to accuse his own thinking of contributing to racial massacre. Not once was he heard to say: I acknowledge my own share of the guilt for the Holocaust. - I don’t know that he ever said in plain language: Those British and American cultures which have cultivated racism, as I did not, and which have promoted and practised genocides, as I did not, might consider making a start on repentance of their own. But he often seemed to imply that.

For consistently failing to apologise he is notorious. But now it is suggested that at the end of his life he wanted his notebooks to be published, specifically so that people could see how bad Martin Heidegger really was (but not immediately, there was no hurry; his repentance could appear as the last item in his collected works). The director of the Martin Heidegger Institute hopes this interpretation could be possible.

“‘The problem is not just that I’m morally shocked—it’s also a problem that he is so dumb,’ Trawny said, as the evening drew to a close. ‘Observe what he is writing there. You see that, like all the others, he was not better. You thought it, actually; for long years, you thought he was very clever, but he is not. This is something that requires a certain distance,’ he concluded. ‘You shouldn’t be too much in love with what you are reading, or you will be disappointed, like always.’”

So we come to the stupid Martin Heidegger. I suppose stupidity is an extenuating circumstance. But the hard cops in the decontamination squad were in no mood for excuses. The notebooks, said Thomas Assheuer (Die Zeit 21/3/2014), “are philosophical madness and in certain sections a thought-crime (ein Gedankenverbrechen).” Fintan O’Toole probably wouldn’t be caught using a phrase like that. But he crisply summed up the dominant view in the decontamination debate: “As the publication for the first time of his philosophical notebooks now reveal, [Heidegger] was a thoroughgoing Nazi”.

Now if we are to take the evidence of the notebooks, which even those whose thoughts O’Toole was copying seem not to have read for themselves, what we find is this: a thoroughgoing Nazi who was not a racist and who contemptuously rejected biological racism again and again. A thoroughgoing Nazi who could write at length about Bolshevism, and repeatedly, without once mentioning Jews! (This dog that did not bark in the night was not noticed not barking by the decontaminators; but then, they were not listening very closely.) A thoroughgoing Nazi who believed that Nazism was not, as it claimed to be, a solution to the modem political crisis, but merely that crisis in a more advanced stage; who thought that the Nazis were doing more damage to the German rural communities than any politicians before them; who regarded the war on Russia as an act of folly and a disaster; who believed that the great event most of all to be desired was a dynamic spiritual interaction between Germany and Russia. - Quite some thoroughgoing Nazi!