Godwin this.

by Eric on April 25, 2008

During this week’s guest stint I’ve managed to touch on Palestine-Israel, the New Deal, and Michel Foucault. Steering clear of the real killer tripwires—i.e., sex roles, the Democratic primaries, or emacs/vi—that leaves a final frontier of Internet mischief….

On this day in 1945, only three days after the occupation of their city by French troops, the remaining full professors of the University of Freiburg assembled to elect new officers and to restore the customs under which they had operated before 1933, when their faculty, racially purged by the Nazis, elected as rector the philosopher Martin Heidegger. (All details here come from Hugo Ott; see more at the footnote.)1

This is not a parable or an analogy. It is a story of one episode in which civil authorities and academic governing bodies reckoned with a disastrous crossover between scholarship and politics.

One of the first orders of business for the reassembled professors was the question of what to do about Nazis among their colleagues. They chartered an internal review committee for the purpose, and tried to keep jurisdiction over this process, without success. City authorities were conducting their own reviews, and they designated Heidegger’s house, among others, as a “Party residence” to be requisitioned for use. The university protested, based on the opinion of legal scholar Franz Böhm (an anti-Nazi dismissed from his post during Hitler’s regime) that for “establishing political guilt” one needed “a proper court of law.”

The French occupation authorities had actual jurisdiction over such cases, and they appointed a trio of professors who had been imprisoned under the Nazis to act and speak for the university. These three became the nucleus of the university’s denazification commission, which in due course all but let Heidegger off. Their report in September 1945 acknowledged that he had stirred up the students against “reactionary” professors, that he

played an active part in transforming the university constitution in line with the “leadership principle” and in introducing the outward forms of Hitlerism (e.g. the Hitler salute…) into academic life … he penalized or sacrificed persons who were opposed to the Nazis, and even contributed directly to National Socialist election propaganda….

But he had been rector only a year before falling out with the party; as his onetime friend Karl Jaspers would later write, “the special brand of National Socialism he concocted for himself had precious little to do with the real thing.”

The report concluded that as “[i]t would be a serious and lamentable loss” for someone as famous as Heidegger to go. He should do a limited amount of teaching, and no administration or examination. The French military government declared Heidegger “disponible,” which was all but harmless.

One professor and member of the commission, Adolf Lampe, dissented. Along with Böhm and another anti-Nazi, Walter Eucken, Lampe began protesting formally. Böhm, the lawyer who had from the start urged a regard for procedure, noted that other academics had already suffered harsher punishments for their connection with the Nazis, and Heidegger should not therefore get off lightly; justice, as Böhm saw it, would have failed if it reached this inequitable conclusion. He wrote in October,

it makes me very bitter to think that one of the principal intellectual architects of the political betrayal of Germany’s universities … should merely have been subjected to the stricture of “disponibilité”, and clearly feels no need at all to answer for the consequences of his actions.

Observing Heidegger going about his business, agreeing to give lectures and generally enjoying the privileges of academic life again, Lampe concurred: “It must therefore be concluded that Herr Heidegger—contrary to what is assumed in the report placed before us by our denazification commission—has not undergone that radical change in his political thinking…. In the absence of such a change we had no business to exonerate Herr Heidegger….”

The French occupation authorities tried to defuse the growing crisis by offering to move Heidegger to the university at Tübingen. But Tübingen would not have him. So with the government unwilling to do much, the case against Heidegger became, Hugo Ott writes, “a purely internal affair” to the University of Freiburg.

Heidegger asked that the faculty consult the philosopher Karl Jaspers for his opinion. Jaspers had fallen out with Heidegger in the 1930s as Heidegger became more evidently enamored of Hitler and Nazism. Jaspers wrote reluctantly but damningly, arguing

In our present situation the education of the younger generation needs to be handled with the utmost responsibility and care. Total academic freedom should be our ultimate goal, but this cannot be achieved overnight. Heidegger’s mode of thinking, which seems to me to be fundamentally unfree, dictatorial and uncommunicative, would have a very damaging effect on students at the present time…. He should be suspended from teaching duties for several years, after which there should be a review of the situation based on his subsequent published work and in the light of changing academic circumstances. The question that must then be asked is whether the restoration of full academic freedom is a justifiable risk, bearing in mind that views hostile to the idea of the university, and potentially damaging to it when propounded with intellectual distinction, may well be promoted in the lecture room. Whether or not such a situation arises will depend on the course of political events and the evolution of our civic spirit.

In sum Jaspers recommended Heidegger be pensioned off and permitted to publish, but not to teach. Full academic freedom required a marked recovery of the body politic, a restored civic spirit, and confidence in the resilience of the young.

In the middle of January, 1946—nine months after reconstituting itself—the University Senate largely adopted Jaspers’s views, denying Heidegger permission to teach, and saying he would be “expected to maintain a low profile at public functions and gatherings of the University.”

In December, 1946, the French military government went a bit further, denying Heidegger his pension, but changed its mind about that in May 1947. So the ban on Heidegger’s teaching stayed firm until 1949, when the Faculty of Philosophy persuaded the university Senate to lift it, though not by an overwhelming or unbitter vote, and Heidegger was clear to lecture in 1950-51.

From Ott’s account it appears that throughout the nine months it took to come to a resolution in the Heidegger case, university and government authorities influenced each other and that the opinions of academic experts within the academy—particularly Jaspers—carried a great deal of weight outside it. Heidegger’s critics within the university wanted him to pay a price as determined by a set of legitimate procedures. And they—especially Jaspers—weighed academic freedom in the balance, carefully enough to believe it merited support for Heidegger’s continued publishing career, but not for his teaching career until society had recovered to the point where it could sustain the onslaught of his dictatorial mode of thought.

1Hugo Ott, Martin Heidegger: A Political Life, trans. Allan Blunden (London: HarperCollins, 1993); I’m drawing also on Mark Lilla, The Reckless Mind: Intellectuals in Politics (New York: New York Review Books, 2003) and Hans Otto Lenel, “The Life and Work of Franz Böhm,” European Journal of Law and Economics 3 (1996):301-307. Also, previously on CT.



JohnM 04.25.08 at 6:42 pm

Hmm, it seems as if there’s an analogous situation going on at a school in California right now, but I just can’t think of who it involves. *coughJohnYoocough* Oh well, maybe it will come to me.


harry b 04.25.08 at 6:42 pm

Jaspers sounds uncomfortably like a philosopher possessed of genuine wisdom. We don’t want any of those arouond here!


politicalfootball 04.25.08 at 7:20 pm

Hmm. Jaspers does seem to have found the right way to frame it. I wonder how many more years it will be before it will be safe in this country to entrust young legal scholars to the blandishments of torture advocates.


JJO 04.25.08 at 7:45 pm

Are yoo trying to make some kind of point here?


bert 04.25.08 at 7:45 pm

Hugo Ott appears in this BBC documentary. It’s part of a philosophy strand but it’s more interested in the Nazism, and runs through the anti-Heidegger case. Given that your focus is on the politics amongst the denazifying authorities surrounding tenure and access to facilities, Heidegger’s incriminating letter about Staudinger and his complicity in the exclusion of Husserl are worth bearing in mind (see around the 30-minute mark).


abb1 04.25.08 at 7:59 pm

In sum Jaspers recommended Heidegger be pensioned off and permitted to publish, but not to teach.

How can one not be permitted to publish? Officially, I mean. Is there a precedent of this during that period?

Sounds like Jaspers simply recommended that Heidegger should be banned from teaching – and that’s all there is to it. I don’t see any sign of any wise delicate compromise here, except, perhaps, with the pension.


Maurice Meilleur 04.25.08 at 8:12 pm

To make the obvious contemporary connection: if we follow Jaspers’s lead, the questions we should ask in deciding whether Berkeley should continue to recognize John Yoo’s tenure and allow him to teach and conduct research under the aegis of the school are:

(1) Are Yoo’s ideas ‘fundamentally unfree, dictatorial and uncommunicative’?

(2) Would they threaten to have ‘a very damaging effect’ on students exposed to them?

(3) Is our American ‘body politic’ and ‘civic spirit’ sufficiently healthy, and are our students sufficiently ‘resilient’, to withstand this threat?

–all keeping in mind that our ‘ultimate goal’ is ‘total academic freedom’?

Well, as for (1) his ideas are certainly ‘unfree’ and ‘dictatorial’. I suppose they are also ‘uncommunicative’ in the sense that they do not admit of argument or disproof. Even people otherwise inclined to agree with Yoo’s politics have concluded that he did not give obvious and strong counterarguments a hearing in his memos or his book, and his public positions do not suggest he takes these counterarguments seriously.

Would they damage students exposed to them? The answer to that would depend on what we mean by ‘damage’. Whether our political society is healthy enough to resist whatever threat they pose depends on that definition. And Jaspers, wise as he was, isn’t much help here.

If I start from the obvious place–that Yoo advocated and apparently abetted the violation of federal and international laws against torture–I might get pretty clear answers to (2), until I start to wonder whether simply exposing students to ideas, even from an authority figure, ‘damages’ them. In what sense? That they would automatically agree with him? That even knowing arguments for torture that purport to be constitutional and legal exist is harmful?

I suppose it was clear enough to Jaspers, in the context of an immediate post-Nazi Germany and a figure like Heidegger, what he meant by ‘damage’. In Heidegger’s case, there was clear evidence of damage: he was the rector, he helped purge his university of Jews and the otherwise ‘racially impure’, and he instituted policies that transformed the university into an arm of the Nazi Party and Hitler’s government.

This is plainly not apposite to Yoo’s case. (Unless he stands to become the dean, and plans to fire or expel faculty and professors who oppose torture and to hand control of the school’s curriculum over to the RNC or the American Enterprise Institute.) And yet I would not feel comfortable recommending students take his courses if I were his colleague, nor can I take his legal and constitutional arguments seriously so long as he continues to argue for his positions in bad faith. And if that’s so, how can I justify a ‘no’ answer to (2)? And without a clear answer to (2), how do I even begin to assess an answer to (3)?

My gut reaction is still to take ‘total academic freedom’ to mean at least that this is up to the school, not the government or public opinion, to decide. But ‘who’ is not getting me to ‘what’, with or without Jaspers’s help.


Maurice Meilleur 04.25.08 at 8:15 pm

Uh, that should read ‘fire or expel faculty and students‘, above. Though we’ve all met faculty we’d like to ‘expel’, sometimes, I bet.


Laleh 04.25.08 at 8:24 pm

I have another case which in some ways parallel this.

Abdolkarim Sorush was an Iranian student who imemdiately after the 1979 revolution in Iran set up purge apparatuses in the universities there. Among the people purged were monarchists (or anyone who held a university position during the monarchy), leftists, baha’is, and anyone suspected to be one of the above. Tribunals that had every performative element of a show trial were used to chuck people out of the university (for full disclosure purposes, my father was a leftist academic who was accused sequentially of being a monarchist, and then a baha’i, and then a leftist, and then was purged. He was never allowed to work in academia in Iran again, nor was he allowed to publish his own scientifict research, or even translation works he had done for money of scientific materials).

Sorush today is lionised as the Martin Luther of Iran. 20something years later, he is one of the greatest advocates of separation of the mosque and state. He is genuine in his “conversion” in the sense that he is one of the most regularly beaten up and attacked reformist intellectuals in Iran. However, in all these years, whenever he has been challenged on the purges (which destroyed the lives of hundreds if not thousands of families), he has NEVER ONCE, NOT ONCE, expressed remorse.

What does one do with this? (I happen to be one of those people who genuinely believe Iranians outside Iran should not play any role in the politics of Iran. I am also radically against any kind of neo-imperial/neo-colonial intervention in the affairs of Iran…) Does this/should this influence the way we view Sorush?


Bob B 04.25.08 at 8:39 pm

At sometime, can we compare the fate of the academic Stalinists in universities of the liberal capitalist countries following Khrushchev’s speech to a secret session of the 20th Congress of the Soviet Communist Party in 1956?

Any in need of a refresher about the 20th Congress could start with this:

Whatever else, this bit was certainly among the highlights:

“[Khrushchev] revealed that in 1937 and 1938, 98 out of the 139 members of the Central Committee were shot on Stalin’s orders.”

Recall that members of the Central Committee were absolutley dedicated Communists.

But never mind: in the Gorbachev era, Nikolai Bukharin (1888-1938) was officially rehabilitated in 1988.


Anderson 04.25.08 at 8:41 pm

And to think, Heidegger didn’t even have Brian Leiter there to help him.


Patrick 04.25.08 at 8:46 pm

Yoo’s case is complicated by the fact that he’s a lawyer teaching in a law school. Philosophers don’t have a set of ethics outside the academy to which they’re professionally responsible, nor do they train students to fill roles in such a profession.

It seems to me that if the U of California Law School determined that Yoo had behaved unethically according to the ethics of the profession, they’d have a right to bar him from teaching future lawyers.

I don’t think Jack Kervorkian would be an appropriate professor at a medical college, not because of his ideas, or even his criminal convictions, but because his behavior wasn’t that of a responsible physician, and I don’t want future physicians trained by such a person.

The question is, then, has Yoo behaved so badly that we don’t think he’s an appropriate person to mentor future lawyers? Absent a conviction and/or a disbarment, I don’t think it’s an open and shut case for firing. But I think it’s easier to make a case for terminating someone in a professional school (nursing, medicine, social work and law come to mind) based on their behavior in their profession than it is to terminate a professor for spouting nonsense outside the classroom.


Henry (not the famous one) 04.25.08 at 9:58 pm

Add to this mix, Yoo can claim the protection of one of the Morrison decision, a late 1960s decision in which the California Supreme Court found that the State did not have the right to deprive a teacher of his teaching credentials–which you need to teach in any public school–on the basis of consensual homosexual activity with another adult. The Court applied a nexus standard that requires consideration of a number of factors in order to determine whether the conduct made the teacher unfit to teach.

Let’s take as a given that Yoo’s torture memo was not just hackwork in defense of a monarchist view of the Presidency with the power to do anything, including torture, but that, unlike equally specious arguments made in op-ed pages or on blogs, it caused people to suffer torture. Even so, as despicable as Yoo is, I think that it would be hard to meet the nexus standard to show that it made him unfit to teach.

While one email circulating in the last month compared him to a pyromaniac in a fire department (which is, for what it’s worth, one of the counterexamples that the California Supreme Court used in the Morrison case), I don’t think that the analogy quite works. Yes, law students are impressionable—but I don’t think that we can compare them to cans of paint and kindling, just waiting to be set on fire by some demonic professor with a match. I don’t even know that he is teaching his perverse view of American Constitutional law, in which a unitary executive is, for all effects and purposes, above the law or that, if he is, these students are that stupid to buy it. So stripping him of tenure for what he did at DOJ strikes me as the wrong punishment for what he did.

While prosecuting him for war crimes would be possible—we prosecuted judges, lawyers and legal scholars for their complicity in crimes against humanity after World War II in U.S. v. Josef Altstoetter et al.⎯it is impossible to imagine any administration actually doing this. I’m afraid that leaves us with hoping that his next flight across the Atlantic is forced to touch down in Frankfurt or Madrid.


virgil xenophon 04.25.08 at 10:54 pm

I cannot but help to note the vehemence with which
everyone here denounces Yoo (who was simply trying to further the efforts of a Government trying to protect its citizens from those who would gladly be-head them if given the chance) to the lack of outrage over the fact that an ACTUAL convicted felon–an unrepentant terrorist in fact–presently sits as a tenured Professor at the Northwestern School of Law as a mentor to young law students(even though the State Bar has judged her unfit to practice law). That Bernadette Dohrn is even as of this date an unrepentant advocate of violence, murder and an enemy of our entire social/governmental construct and who, in her own words, believes herself to exist “in the belly of the beast”is borne out by statements of hers recorded as recently as a year ago. True enough, her political “foibles” are not the subject of this thread–but than that’s exactly my point–almost everyone who posts here seems to believe themselves to be trapped in the selfsame belly–kindred spirits with our gal Bernadette, whom almost everyone would, it seems(if I take the temperature of this place right), regard as a vast improvement should she replace Yoo at Berkley. But then she resides as a person “of the left” doesn’t she? Nevermind.


Maurice Meilleur 04.25.08 at 11:39 pm

Virgil, since you obviously visit here frequently enough to feel comfortable generalizing about all the posters (‘everyone’), it seems odd that you would have overlooked the fact that so many posters wind up concluding that Yoo should not be fired. I dare say that that’s at least a plurality and may be the majority position, and of those who do feel he should be fired, many have tried to make a case for firing Yoo for cause, not for his ideology. I haven’t seen many people simply say he should be fired, full stop. But judging from your tone, you’d think just the opposite was true.

And only in your mind does ‘everyone’ here feel trapped ‘in the belly of the beast.’


Maurice Meilleur 04.25.08 at 11:47 pm

And also, Virgil, please provide something like argument for the claim that ‘almost everyone’ (a qualification!–ooh, nuance) here would consider Dohrn a ‘vast improvement’ over Yoo at Berkeley. If you hurry, you can get it in before you’re disemvowelled.


theo 04.26.08 at 12:09 am

an enemy of our entire social/governmental construct and who…believes herself to exist “in the belly of the beast”

When you put it that way, Bernardine Dohrn sounds a lot like Alan Greenspan. Except his housing bubble-led recession is going to cause a lot more mortality (and morbidity).

p.s. you can always distinguish the people who have actually bothered to research Dohrn’s case from the drones who regurgitate Freeper comments, by whether they can actually spell her name correctly.


virgil xenophon 04.26.08 at 1:50 am

I would never claim that many of Yoo’s critics do
not have many logical and well-reasoned arguments to make; as to whether they ultimately carry the day is yet another matter. And yes, some people here and elsewhere for have made principled defenses of Yoo on procedural grounds alone even where they are on the side opposite. I guess the nub of the matter as far as I’m concerned is (for those who emphasize this aspect of the matter) the
lack of outrage over someone such as Bernardine (yes, a mental slip, I was just off a blog where
that spelling was used. I am of an age [64] to well remember her activities[and correct name] in “real-time” and not just from the history texts.)
and the almost total concentration on Yoo.

Now, as theo alludes(re: Greenspan) I am fairly certain that part of the concern over Yoo as opposed to Dohrn is the supposedly wider range (real and potential, present and future) of the “error of his ways.” Fair enough. But am I reading too much into arguments advanced here and allowing my own philosophical slant on things to color my reading of the discussion? Perhaps so, but I would feel a lot better if Dohrn’s status had at least been raised in the time-honored “compare and contrast” mode of undergraduate exam inquiry if
only to provide a sense of perspective. Especially as her legal status and the historical facts concerning what she did are firmly established. And yet, apparently, she is AOK with the faculty at Northwestern. If Northwestern feels the “by-gones be by-gones” mode is hunky dory can/should Berkley (or those who comment either here or over at “Balkinization”) be MORE judgmental over far more nebulous legal/ethical actions?


Bruce Baugh 04.26.08 at 2:03 am

An investigation of the sort described in the post would be nice, as opposed to concluding that we shouldn’t in any formal capacity look or discuss it.


Hattie 04.26.08 at 3:56 am

Interesting. I wish I had known about the Heiddegger case when I was a young ignoramus living in Freiburg in the early 70’s. Now the trail is getting cold for a lot of this stuff.
I think it does have some bearing on the Yoo case. I grew up in Berkeley, and the history of that place and that school are something I know a lot about. Whenever Berkeley is in the news you know the boys on the right are up to no good.


abb1 04.26.08 at 9:06 am

…an enemy of our entire social/governmental construct…

Sounds like a really disgusting individual who not only should be banned from teaching, but publishing too. Shouldn’t be allowed to walk the streets, far as I’m concerned. Yesss Sir.


Hidari 04.26.08 at 10:29 am

Are we allowed to allude to the fact that Martin Heidegger, according to some people, is one of the greatest philosophers of the 20th century and that Yoo would appear to be a moderately dreary Bushite nonentity? Might this have any bearing on their respective futures (so to speak) in the academy?

Incidentally, virgil xenophon, there’s a blog called Harry’s Place you should check out. They LOVE people like you over there.


Order of Magnitude 04.26.08 at 2:22 pm

hidari, before you shoo people away, maybe you should check Susan Jacoby’s piece in the LA Times Talking to ourselves.


Colin Danby 04.26.08 at 5:05 pm

To save us all time going forward, is there a name for arguments of the form:

Before you can denounce misdeed x by person/entity y, you must:

1. Enumerate all known misdeeds of character similar to x by persons/entities similar to y.

2. Rank those misdeeds in order of seriousness.

3. Starting from the top, denounce each with appropriate vehemence.

4. Come to misdeed x by person/entity y only when it is reached in its proper order.

5. Failure to follow this procedure is evidence of hypocrisy.


Colin Danby 04.26.08 at 5:11 pm

It’s a pity more folks won’t take Eric at his word, though, that this is an interesting and painful case and not a transparent parable.

Can I take up one matter of substance from the post? There’s a good argument that Heidegger should have been imprisoned for past collaboration. What is not a good argument, though, is Jaspers’ bit about his “damaging effect on students,” which shifts ground away from past deeds to speculation about future influence. The “mode of thinking … subsequent published work” bit is also a little chilling, no?


abb1 04.26.08 at 5:39 pm

@25, Colin, it appears that he simply recommends to ban the guy from teaching, that’s all. The rest is bullshit, sugarcoating the pill.


engels 04.26.08 at 5:54 pm

But will you condemn Michael Bellesiles?


engels 04.26.08 at 6:06 pm


Dan Simon 04.27.08 at 5:15 am

Rather than using the Dohrn case as a cudgel against Crooked Timber commenters, we can use it more profitably (as Eric presumably intended with the Heidegger case) to illuminate current issues. The simple fact is that Dohrn’s appointment and tenure (assuming she’s tenured) at Northwestern University School of Law postdated her violent criminal activities, and (as far as I know) went entirely unremarked in both the legal academic community, and the academic community at large. It’s therefore reasonable to ask whether Dohrn’s example is more pertinent than Heidegger’s to the Woo case.

A number of factors suggest strongly that it is. To begin with, Indiana in 2000 is a lot more like California in 2008, academically speaking, than is Germany in 1945–even putting aside the rather obvious sui generis aspects of the latter time and place. Philosophy is not the law, as has been pointed out. And the directly academic elements of Heidegger’s offenses–in particular, participating in a politicized faculty purge, in cooperation with a totalitarian government–have no equivalent in either of the American instances.

So–does anyone want to explain why such a large segment of the academic community seems to draw an analogy to Heidegger rather than Dohrn, when thinking about John Woo?


abb1 04.27.08 at 8:44 am

@29: postdated her violent criminal activities

Yeah, according to this, she was convicted for

resisting arrest and assaulting a police officer during the Days of Rage protests against the trial of the Chicago Eight

I think the analogy with the Vietnam War is quite appropriate, but which side there was guilty of “violent criminal activities”? Seems to me this is one of those “another simple answer to a simple question” occasions, Atrios-style.

And in the Heidegger analogy, Dohrn is probably an equivalent of anti-fascist resistance fighter.


Chris Bertram 04.27.08 at 9:00 am

It is somewhat ironic that the penalty suffered by Heidegger (a research-only contract, no teaching) is the kind of arrangements many of todays academic stars dream of. But then there wasn’t an RAE in Germany, 1945.


Colin Danby 04.27.08 at 8:28 pm

Thanks for the references, Engels!

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