So Heidegger was even worse than everyone thought. They thought he was a little anti-Semitic, yes, but not…you know…all the way anti-Semitic.
This week’s publication of the “black notebooks” (a kind of philosophical diary that Heidegger asked to be held back until the end of his complete work), challenges this view. In France the revelations have been debated vigorously since passages were leaked to the media last December, with some Heidegger scholars even trying to stop the notebooks’ publication.
In Germany, one critic has argued that it would be “hard to defend” Heidegger’s thinking after the publication of the notebooks, while another has already called the revelations a “debacle” for modern continental philosophy – even though the complete notebooks were until now embargoed by the publisher.
So what did he say?
“World Judaism”, Heidegger writes in the notebooks, “is ungraspable everywhere and doesn’t need to get involved in military action while continuing to unfurl its influence, whereas we are left to sacrifice the best blood of the best of our people”.
In another passage, the philosopher writes that the Jewish people, with their “talent for calculation”, were so vehemently opposed to the Nazi’s racial theories because “they themselves have lived according to the race principle for longest”.
The notion of “world Judaism” was propagated in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the notorious forgery purporting to reveal a Jewish plan for world domination. Adolf Hitler stated the conspiracy theory as fact in Mein Kampf, and Heidegger too appears to adopt some of its central tropes.
Did Heidegger have much to say about “World Gentilism”?
Other philosophers have argued that the new revelations do not amount to a “smoking gun” of antisemitism, and should not lead to a dismissal of Heidegger’s other writings even if they did. “Philosophy is about learning to be aware of problems in your own thinking where you might not have suspected them,” said the British philosopher Jonathan Rée about the black notebooks.
“The best of what Heidegger wrote – indeed the best of philosophy in general – is not an injunction to agree with a proffered opinion, but a plea to all of us to make our thinking more thoughtful.”
Ok, but a philosopher whose thinking is infected with something as stupid and vicious as anti-Semitism – especially anti-Semitism in Nazi Germany – isn’t going to be much help with making our thinking more thoughtful. Do you see what I mean? Because he’s not a good example of more thoughtful thinking. Anti-semitic thinking is not a good model for making our thinking more thoughtful.