Dasein and Der Fuhrer (update over fold)

by John Q on January 7, 2023

Back in the Paleolithic days of blogging, I got interested in the relationship between philosophical thought and political action, particularly in the cases of Hayek and Heidegger and their support for Pinochet and Hitler respectively. I think the evidence is in on Hayek (see here and here), so I won’t discuss it further.

In Heidegger’s case, there’s been plenty more evidence on Heidegger’s personal conduct, cumulatively quite damning. But the claim that he was one of the greatest of 20th philosophers remains widely accepted. This seems to imply (via an easy application of modus ponens), that his support for Hitler was not a consequence of his central philosophical ideas. The typical version of this claim attributes Heidegger’s embrace of Nazism to some combination of opportunism and a romantic (in a bad way) German nationalism (now known to include anti-Semitism) that can be separated from his main body of thought.

But in any discussion of Heidegger’s philosophy I’ve seen, his concept of Dasein plays a central role. So, what did he have to say about Dasein and Hitler? According to the Wikipedia article on Heidegger and Nazism[1], this:

The German people has been summoned by the Führer to vote; the Führer, however, is asking nothing from the people; rather, he is giving the people the possibility of making, directly, the highest free decision of all: whether it – the entire people – wants its own existence (Dasein), or whether it does not want it. […] On November 12, the German people as a whole will choose its future, and this future is bound to the Führer. […] There are not separate foreign and domestic policies. There is only one will to the full existence (Dasein) of the State. The Führer has awakened this will in the entire people and has welded it into a single resolve (italics in original).

The speech isn’t obscure, and this passage is often quoted in relation to Heidegger’s Nazism, but I haven’t been able to find any discussion of his invocation of Hitler as the embodiment of Dasein. And, while I’m no expert, nothing I’ve seen in discussions of the concept of Dasein suggests to me that Heidegger is misinterpreting or misrepresenting his own ideas here.

Has anyone done the work of drawing distinctions between this piece of totalitarian propaganda and works like Being and Time? If so, is it possible to sketch the argument ?

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