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Then suddenly, I presume at the beginning of 1933, he starts writing about “the magnificent wakening popular Will” of the Germans. And he says that the most important thing is to “tie the most deeply-hidden Mission of the German People back into the Great Beginning”. Up to May 1933, when he took the position of rector of Freiburg University (which he says he was pushed into unwillingly), he writes nothing about National Socialism. Becoming rector also involved joining the Nazi Party. During the year when he was rector he does have many entries about National Socialism. But if there’s any entry which is purely uncritical or which just expounds conventional Nazi ideology, I’ve missed it.

For that peculiar year Heidegger is an enthusiastic Nazi, no doubt about that. But he’s enthusiastic only about Nazi potential. Everything he writes is about what the Nazi Party could be or should be, but obviously isn’t; or alternatively, what it may become if it isn’t careful (there’s a danger, he says, of bourgeoisification). For example, “National Socialism is a genuine power-in-becoming only if, behind all its doing and saying, it still has something to keep secret - and operates with a mighty force-in-reserve that works upon the future. But if what currently exists is the sum of of all that is achieved and willed, then it is only a horror that will crumble away.” And again, “ (We cannot take) National Socialism as a finished eternal truth fallen from Heaven - taken like that, it would only be confusion and stupidity. So, as it has come into being, it must itself become a process of becoming and shape the future - that is, itself as an image step back before this future”.

As I understand these statements, this is how a German philosopher in full philosophical armour says: the Nazi Party as it is today is a sow’s ear, but I’m planning to make a silk purse of it. At some time in the late months of 1933 or early 1934 he writes, “Today one can speak of a “Vulgar National Socialism”; by that I mean the world and the criteria and demands and attitudes of those journalists and culture-makers who are currently installed and approved. From these sources, which naturally make a brainless appeal to Hitler’s Mein Kampf, a quite definite doctrine of history and man is transmitted to the people. This doctrine could best be described as Ethical Materialism”. - What this ethical materialism amounts to, in Heidegger’s view, is empty bourgeois respectability and conformism.

Furthermore, “there is now a gloomy biologism, which produces the right “ideology” for Ethical Materialism. People are spreading the deluded notion that the spiritual-historical world (“culture”) grows plant-like out of the “People”, if one simply clears away the impediments...”

There are several similar comments in the notebooks on the biological notions which the Nazis applied to society and culture. He thought all of this was rubbish. But what would the Nazi Party be if it rejected its biologism? Surely, it would no longer be Hitler’s Party! As further proof that Heidegger was a very odd Nazi, he doesn’t even mention the word Jews in his notebooks during this period when he was an active party member, so far as I can see. At least twice he says, “We must settle our accounts with Christianity”. But there’s no mention of settling accounts with the Jews.

His “rectoral speech”, delivered in May 1933, is often described as anti-Semitic. In fact, it never mentions Jews or Judaism. (An English translation of the full text can easily be found on the internet). There’s nothing in it which could be understood as incitement to racial hatred. Even Hitler isn’t mentioned explicitly. Granted, there’s a lot in it about the importance of the leadership principle. But it seems that the leader whom Heidegger thought it most important to follow was none other than Martin Heidegger.

The central idea in the speech is the need for the German people to set out on a great spiritual adventure. They must face the fact that the Christian-Platonic thinking of the last two and a half thousand years is now exhausted, as Nietzsche pointed out when he said that “God is dead”. The Germans will need to link up with the thinking of the older Greeks of two and a half thousand years ago, who were in touch with Being. This will demand heroic virtues, and not least from people in the German universities. The regular Nazis in Freiburg who were listening to all of this, what can they possibly have made of it?

In April 1934 Heidegger, unable to do whatever he wanted to do, resigned his rectorship. In his notebooks he tried to see it as part of a learning process. “A failed year - a lost year - if Failure wasn’t the highest form of human experience, etc.” Actually, it took him about four years for the lesson to sink in. During that time he doesn’t say very much about National Socialism, and he gradually begins to tackle some other issues, and especially technology: what the roots of modern technology are, and what effect it is having on life and thinking. He was still a formal member of the Nazi Party and he kept his professorship, but officially it seems he was gradually sliding into the “That fellow’s no use!” category.

Then, in 1938, he made a judgment on his Nazi adventure. He had thought of National Socialism as “the possibility of a transition to a new beginning”. But this was a mistake. Far from pointing towards a new beginning, it was an ending, the culmination of the existing modern trend. “What is beginning here is much more (and in a far deeper, more comprehensive and intensive manner than in Fascism) the completion of the Modern Age (despite the fact that this began in “Romanticism”) - with the Dehumanisation of Man in the self-assured Rationality of the Historical-Technical, i.e. the thoroughgoing “Mobilisation” of all the Capability of a focused-upon-itself Mankind.” And nonetheless, he said, I was right to make my attempt.

We might ask: what’s wrong with that? What is outrageous or unreasonable in this explanation? Why can’t we accept it now? And why should Heidegger have been expected to say something drastically different after the still-to-come World War? (As we know, he didn’t.)

There had been a basic misunderstanding between Heidegger and the Nazi movement. Heidegger was a failed Nazi, but only because the Nazis failed as Heideggerians. They were supposed to become the political wing of his philosophy. Deep down in their depths, in their unseen potential, in the hidden historic element which they didn’t rant about when they ranted (as he himself said, more or less in so many words), they were thought to be somehow capable of facilitating a major spiritual change in the Germans, a change that would go much deeper than any revolution.

Now if Heidegger believed there was actually a chance of this, surely he was justified in trying to become the intellectual guide of the Nazi movement? In fact, surely it was his duty? I think it’s a tragedy that he didn‘t succeed. It is hard to imagine what a Heideggerian state would have been like. But I think, at the very least, it would not have had a culture of biological racism, which ran totally against Heidegger’s thinking and which he despised. And without a full-blown, state-backed culture of racism, would something like the Holocaust have been possible? Apart from that, the German people were supposed to achieve an intensive renewal of the spirit. Military adventures could not have helped in this, they could only have been disruptive.

So I think the Heideggerian Nazi state would have been averse to any wars except defensive wars. It would simply have waited for Russia to become Russian again, if Russia had allowed that. (Bolshevism was seen as something totally non- Russian, a West-European metaphysical deviation.)

Bringing intelligent direction to raw barbaric energy - isn’t this a theme that goes a long way back in Europe? Hadn’t popes and bishops, poets and philosophers done this through the centuries, and been praised for it? And how obvious was it in 1933 that this couldn’t be done with Hitler and the Nazis? If we look at the contemporary press, we will see that the larger body of opinion inside and outside Germany did not regard Hitler as the kind of political monster who could never fundamentally change.

I’m not so much thinking of Hitler’s enthusiastic admirers, such as the editor of the Irish Times. On March 6, 1933 he wrote in his editorial: “In reasoned warfare against the Communists Herr Hitler will have the support of all civilised nations. At the moment he is Europe’s standard-bearer against Muscovite terrorism, and although some of his methods certainly are open to question, nobody doubts his entire sincerity.” I am thinking more of people like Daniel Binchy, who was an Irish diplomat in Germany from 1929 to 1932 and whose article “Adolf Hitler” was published in Studies in March 1933.

This article was republished two years ago in the Studies anthology. The editor. Professor Bryan Fanning, called it “astute”. This, because Binchy had actually read Mein Kampf and had familiarised himself with Nazi policy. And Binchy had an uneasy feeling about Hitler and the raw Nazi energy, no doubt about that. But when he considered the current political situation, he said that one of the possibilities was that Hitler would follow policies fundamentally different from Nazi policy, in response to pressures from his coalition partners. He didn’t think that was inconceivable. So why was it inconceivable that Hitler and the Nazis might respond to the intellectual energy of a great philosopher?

My conclusion from all this is: the explanation of his Nazi involvement which Heidegger recorded in his notebook in 1938 makes sense. It’s basically the same explanation that he gave after the war, and it’s adequate.

As I said earlier, I can’t find anything about Jews or Judaism in the notebooks written between 1931 and 1938. But there are a number of mentions of Jews and Judaism in the later notebooks, written between 1939 and 1941. Almost invariably these come up in the course of expressing oppositional attitudes towards Nazism and Nazi policies. He does see Judaism as a current of thinking with some sharply negative features. But he insists that this isn’t a biological problem, this isn’t a racial problem, it’s a metaphysical problem - like the problem of Americanism, the problem of Bolshevism, the problem of Christianity. But Judaism doesn’t have anything like the importance that these other negative forces in thinking have for Heidegger.

You’d never guess that from the anti- Heidegger press campaign that was drummed up lately, where these references to Jews and Judaism were torn out of context. I would say that some of these press campaigners can’t think, some of them won’t think, and some of them want to stop anyone else thinking. Certainly, their recent activities won’t have encouraged people in Germany to read these notebooks. And they won’t have spurred anyone in Ireland, say, to look for translations. And yet these notebooks have some of the richest food for thought that a person interested in thinking is likely to find.

The most important idea is that metaphysically, there is nothing to choose between Fascism, Communism and Liberal Democracy. All of them leave the human being in the grip of technology. All of them are systems unresponsive to the world, responsive only to complexes of artificial human aims and interests, and increasingly destructive (the ecology movement in past times took some ideas from Heidegger). And all of them degrade the mind and make it ever more difficult to find conditions for a new beginning.

In fact, if you have to compare Bolshevism and Americanism, then it’s Bolshevism that’s relatively harmless. It doesn’t get its hooks so deep into its human beings. There’s a zone of the Russian mind that it doesn’t get to and that will survive it with rich potential.

In the immediate term, what’s in store for the West, Heidegger says, is “a Prussianly-restrained unconditional hyper-Americanisation”. So: was he wrong? It seems to me that that’s what I’ve experienced in my own life in Ireland and anywhere else I’ve lived. There’s some Prussian restraint on raw Americanism, meaning for example a social welfare system, a bureaucratic system of care, but basically the moving force is Americanisation. And what he says about country life, the prospects of country life, and the implications of the radio for country life - I can confirm all that from experience too.

About two years into the Second World War, Heidegger wrote that it was “a war over the Nothingness of Nothing”. And after the war, he believed that it made no basic difference that Tweedledum had been defeated by Tweedledee and Tweedledoo (who now began their own Cold War over Nothing). None of them were capable of getting western thinking out of its dead end. All of them were letting technology get out of control.

As we know, liberal democracy was an impressive winner in its Cold War. Professor Fukuyama immediately announced that it was the only game in town - the only game that was ever going to be in town (though it seems to miss its enemies). And technology has got so far out of control that we only have occasional sentimental controversies about it, for example regarding privacy - as if the satellites are going to let you have any such thing.

The question arises: can there possibly be any alternative?