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 ?


Another quote, which seems more tightly linked to Heidegger’s philosophical writing, but can also be read in the context of polemics within the Nazi party[2]

There is much talk nowadays of blood and soil as frequently invoked powers. Literati, whom one comes across even today, have already seized hold of them. Blood and soil are certainly powerful and necessary, but they are not a sufficient condition for the Dasein of a people.

[fn1] I copied this over to the Wiki article on Dasein, to see if anyone would provide more information, but nothing so far.
[fn2]. It’s natural to read this as directed against rivals like Alfred Rosenberg, but also as a genuine statement of Heidegger’s own philosophical position, one very close to Nazism.



nastywoman 01.07.23 at 10:18 am

‘Da Sein mit dem Führer’ –
Allerdings nur solange Da-Sein ist, das heißt die ontische Möglichkeit von Seinsverständnis, »gibt es« Sein. Wenn Da Sein nicht existiert, dann »ist« auch nicht »Unabhängigkeit« und »ist« auch nicht »An-sich«. Dergleichen ist dann weder verstehbar noch unverstehbar. Dann ist auch innerweltliches Seiendes weder entdeckbar, noch kann es in Verborgenheit liegen. Dann kann weder gesagt werden, daß Seiendes sei, noch daß es nicht sei. Es kann jetzt wohl, solange Seinsverständnis ist und damit Verständnis von Vorhandenheit, gesagt werden, daß dann Seiendes noch weiterhin sein wird.
Die gekennzeichnete Abhängigkeit des Seins, nicht des Seienden, von Seinsverständnis, das heißt die Abhängigkeit der Realität, nicht des Realen, von der Sorge, sichert die weitere Analytik des Daseins vor einer unkritischen, aber immer wieder sich eindrängenden Interpretation des Da Seins am Leitfaden der Idee von Realität. Erst die Orientierung an der ontologisch positiv interpretierten Existenzialität gibt die Gewähr, daß nicht doch im faktischen Gang der Analyse des »Bewußtseins«, des »Lebens« irgendein wenngleich indifferenter Sinn von Realität zugrundegelegt wird.

But you only will understand it if you understand the difference between ‘Dasein’ and ‘Da Sein’.


Chris Bertram 01.07.23 at 10:42 am

The passage in question doesn’t seem to me to say that Hitler is the embodiment of Dasein but rather that Hitler makes it possible to the German people to achieve a certain condition, namely that of being a consciousness in and for itself (a parallel might be someone saying that a Leninist party makes it possible for the working class not just to exist in itself but also for itself). You could even trace the genealogy of such ideas back to Rousseau, and possibly beyond, in the idea that the lawgiver makes it possible to the people to exist as a people by enabling them to will the general will that binds them. Needless to say, such ideas in their general form can have descendants and adaptations that are highly pernicious (as in this case) or not, but I don’t think that the very idea that it is desirable for some collectives to attain a sense of common existence and purpose necessarily leads to Nazism. Even the nationalist forms, deplorable as I think them, don’t necessarily end up there.


John Q 01.07.23 at 11:04 am

The link to Rousseau and (an authoritarian interpretation of) the general will occurred to me. And you could certainly replace “Hitler and “the German people” with “Lenin” and “the working class” without changing anything else. Dugin has similarly used the concept of Dasein to boost Putin as the saviour of Russia.

As you say, this kind of thinking doesn’t necessarily lead to Nazism, but I think it’s fair to conclude that it led Heidegger there.


MisterMr 01.07.23 at 11:08 am

I know nothing of Heidegger, so instead than contributing I would ask a question: suppose that Heidegger theories really lead to Nazism, would this invalidate him as a “great philosopher”?

Plato, for example, AFAIK was wrong on everything but he is still considered a great philosopher because his wrongness expressed very clearly a certain line of thinking, and therefore was fruitful for the evolution of thought.

Plus H would be wrong morally, not empirically, this is very different.


Chris Bertram 01.07.23 at 11:42 am

@johnq “As you say, this kind of thinking doesn’t necessarily lead to Nazism, but I think it’s fair to conclude that it led Heidegger there.”

I don’t know about that, for the simple reason that when people favour something in politics, they tend to find rationalizations for that thing that are couched in their preferred idiom. Hence, we can find utilitarian justifications for European settler colonialism or eugenics (for example) without drawing the conclusion that utilitarianism would necessarily lead to the support of either.


Daniel Lindquist 01.07.23 at 11:45 am

I suspect the reason people don’t discuss this passage in relationship to Heidegger’s philosophy is that “Dasein” here is not being used in the sense of the entity which has its being as a question, which is Heidegger’s novel usage, but in the more ordinary German sense of “existence”. Note that the English translation translates it this way, while most of “Being and Time” is unintelligible in English if “Dasein” is uniformly rendered as “existence”.


nastywoman 01.07.23 at 12:27 pm

on the other hand – if you were (‘sein’) there (‘Da’) around 1933 in Germany – my German Grandfather told me that there was a very high probability that your
lead to become a member of the Führers Right Wing Racist Science Denying NSDAP.
(as it was ‘the sink’ in Germany at that time)


Matt 01.07.23 at 1:12 pm

I’m hardly an expert on Heidegger, but, to build on Chris’s comment, my understanding of Being and Time is that there is a lot in it on “rootedness” and the way that our way of being human beings is closely connected to the way we (physically) interact with our world. This is stuff that someone who is predisposed to Naziism can use to make a case for that, but that doesn’t obviously imply it or even strongly suggest it if you’re not disposed that way. In that way it’s like lots of philosophies, including (as Chris notes) utilitarianism or liberalism or Marxism or lots of other things.


J, not that one 01.07.23 at 6:13 pm

I am a philosophical amateur and I kept an open mind on the issue for many years, but the more I read the more I feel (based on my own political and philosophical beliefs) that the two, in Heidegger’s case, are connected. Combine the emphasis on rootedness with white supremacy and you get Nazism, and the elevation of the kind of peasant culture Heidegger preferred is white supremacy.

I see many writers trying to (in my opinion) square the circle and come up with a version of rootedness that would be differentiated from Heidegger’s Nazi version (even assuming he had both a Nazi and non-Nazi version). Many of them are outward-facing against the Heidegger-detractors, and some are more interested in including those curious about white supremacy on the one hand, and cutting down criticism from detractors on the other, than building defenses against them. But it’s possible I haven’t read the right books yet.

In an abstract analytical sense the connection may not be logically necessary, but sociologically it seems a tight one.


engels 01.07.23 at 6:21 pm

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

What does it mean exactly to say that someone’s doing X was a consequence of her believing Y? And why does doing something bad or stupid as a consequence of your philosophical ideas mean you can’t be a great philosopher (Pythagoras was caught and killed by a violent mob because he wouldn’t trample on a bean field).


J, not that one 01.07.23 at 6:37 pm

There is also a leap in discussions of Heidegger from what seems to be a phenomenology of the ordinary person interacting with the physical world (hammers and such) to an abstract praise of the ordinary person that leaps over what many ordinary persons find interesting about the phenomenology of hammers. It raises questions but suggests that hammers are uninteresting after all, a kind of bait and switch, or more charitably, a direct path from hammering to the infinite, do not pass go, do not collect $200.

Sorry if that isn’t clear, I’m drawing a bit on a Partially Examined Life podcast on Being and Time.


Scott P. 01.07.23 at 7:43 pm

I’m just curious about Heidegger’s understanding of what the German people are doing. The quote suggests they are going to make “the highest free decision of all: whether it – the entire people – wants its own existence (Dasein), or whether it does not want it.”

But the November 12, 1933 elections had only one slate of candidates (the Nazis). There was no actual decision. And the rest of the Heidegger quote suggests that, as far as he was concerned, the decision had already been made — there IS only one Dasein for Germany, and it exists in the present.

So the whole idea of making a free decision was a farce.


John Q 01.08.23 at 7:01 am

Daniel Lindquist @6 This is the kind of response that I’m most interested in. But I’m unconvinced by your point about the English translation

  • If Dasein were translated as “being” the translation would work just as well. In particular “full being” makes more sense than “full existence”
  • In the literal sense of the term, “existence” is binary, so “full existence” must mean more than that
  • Reading this passage (and the other quote I’ve now appended) I get the feeling, which seems to be the usual view of Heideggerians in regard to Sein und Zeit, that neither “being” nor “existence” is an adequate translation for Dasein

nastywoman 01.08.23 at 8:00 am

‘I get the feeling, which seems to be the usual view of Heideggerians in regard to Sein und Zeit, that neither “being” nor “existence” is an adequate translation for Dasein’

as there probably doesn’t exist any adequate translation for ‘Dasein’ in English –
it is in Italian:
and that could be improvised into:
the essence


mrmister 01.08.23 at 7:27 pm

The OP is interested in the tightness of the connection between Heidegger’s Nazism and his general philosophy, and the framing seems to be that it would be a win for his philosophy if the connection were looser rather than tighter. Of course, this is correct insofar as his philosophy entailing Naziism would indeed be a refutation of it. But there are also reasons his philosophy could fail to entail Naziism that would be very unflattering.

I have developed this sense of another “great” philosopher, namely Kant. Kant is notorious for the dated social views he claimed to follow from his theory–sometimes these claims were (relatively) harmless, like masturbation being wrong, sometimes more clearly toxic, like suicide being always wrong, except for rape victims, who are required to commit suicide to avoid dishonoring humanity. Contemporary Kantians have been at pains to show that these views do not actually follow from Kantianism proper, and instead can be safely written off as the prejudices and failings of the man himself.

In a sense, I think this is right. His explanation of why masturbation is wrong, for instance, is clearly far from a deductive application of how own theory. But then again, his explanation of why lying violates the categorical imperative is also clearly far from a deductively valid argument. Indeed, after years of study, it is hard for me to make out these arguments at all, particularly under the interpretive constraint that, whatever they are, they are supposed to be compelling to rational beings as such (and hence the admissible premises and inference rules cannot include any clear substantive commitments on which rational beings could differ).

So, while I think it is true that Kantianism as a theory does not entail the prejudiced conclusions that Kant himself espoused, that is for the highly unflattering reason that Kantianism as a theory is too unclear to entail anything at all, not even the standard conclusions, like the wrongness of lying, that proponents generally want to hang on to. It is empty verbiage which can be appended in front of nearly any conclusion, and therefore is as compatible with nonprejudiced views as with prejudiced ones.

I haven’t spent nearly the same amount of time reading Heidegger as reading Kant, and I have spent zero time reading Heidegger’s secondary literature or arguing with Heideggerians, but I have wondered whether my (obviously highly tendentious) diagnosis of the relationship between Kant’s philosophy and his particular social prejudices might also apply there.


Stephen 01.08.23 at 7:54 pm


And what, exactly or even approximately, is meant in English by “the essence of existence”? What are the unessential aspects of existence?

I cannot help being reminded of Dr Trelawney in the Dance to the Music of Time, with his mystic greeting “The Essence of All is the Godhead of the True”.

Full marks to anyone who can interpret that or the formulaic reply, “The Vision of Visions heals the Blindness of Sight.”

I don’t know if Anthony Powell had ever read Heidegger, but I doubt it.


Jim Harrison 01.09.23 at 5:26 am

I took a course on Being and Time back in around ’65. That was before all the revelations of Heidegger’s enthusiastic support for the Nazis. Nevertheless, I finished the course convinced that Heidegger’s philosophy was essentially fascist. I haven’t been in the philosophy business for a very long time, and I don’t really remember how much of my conclusion about Heidegger’s politics was reasoned out and how much was just a hunch. I stick by it, though. Indeed, what worries me is that Heidegger’s thinking remains, if not cogent, at least seductive to this day. What’s worse, if only for me, is that it’s hard to separate out the politically poisonous moments of his philosophy from those that seem crucially illuminating. Philosophy is genuinely dangerous!

I don’t have a synonym to offer for Dasein—I leave it in German in my writing and thoughts—but “wherever you are, you’re somewhere” captures a lot of it.


nastywoman 01.09.23 at 9:11 am

And what, exactly or even approximately, is meant in English by “the essence of existence”?

Without ‘improvising’ it’s nearly impossible to find out?

and about:
‘What are the unessential aspects of existence’?

One of them could be the impossibility to translate some words which only exist in German into English or it could be -(or not?) what @ 15 explains:
‘So, while I think it is true that Kantianism -(or ‘Heideggerism’ – is that a word?) – as a theory does not entail the prejudiced conclusions that Kant himself espoused, that is for the highly unflattering reason that Kantianism as a theory is too unclear to entail anything at all, not even the standard conclusions. It is empty verbiage which can be appended in front of nearly any conclusion, and therefore is as compatible with nonprejudiced views as with prejudiced ones.
OR as I’m familiar with Freiburg (where Heidegger used to teach) and listened to what some Stammtischphilosophers had to say – about what might lead to Fascism -(or not) and there (still) is this very (un?)-funny theory that: ‘Am teutschen Wesen soll die Welt genesen!


Chris Bertram 01.09.23 at 9:20 am

When thinking about where-this-kind-of-thinking-inevitably-leads, I was reminded of J Glenn Gray, one of the earliest proponents of Heidegger’s work in the US, who was also the author of The Warriors, perhaps the best philosophical account of war fighting from the point of view of combattants (with a preface by Hannah Arendt) that draws on his personal experience of fighting against the Nazis in WW2. Recommended, btw.


TM 01.09.23 at 2:28 pm


John Q 01.09.23 at 7:06 pm

Chris @18 I agree that “inevitably” is too strong. As you say, there are plenty of counterexamples, and plenty of possible readings of an obscure text.

But the fact that his philosophy led Heidegger himself to Nazism suggests that there is something seriously wrong with it. It doesn’t seem as if anyone has come up with a way of excising (as opposed to ignoring or misreading) its fascist implications.

Responding to Matt @8 The examples of Hayek and Pareto show that a certain kind of “classical” liberalism can lead to fascism or something like it. Then there’s Calhoun and Locke. My response is, so much the worse for classical liberalism.


Tom Hurka 01.09.23 at 7:29 pm

Let me, for one, whole-heartedly endorse mrmister’s “tendentious” but dead accurate characterization of Kant’s ethics as basically “empty verbiage.” And Kant’s arguments, such as they are, for his few clear claims are pathetically bad, e.g., knowledge can be instrumentally bad, therefore it’s not intrinsically good. Sheesh!


William S. Berry 01.09.23 at 7:56 pm

What “mrmister” said (about Kant) @15:

I’ve read a good deal more Hume (the Treatise, the Enquiry, Dialogues/ natural religion) than of Kant (just some select excerpts of the Phenomenology, secondary works, etc.), but just enough Kant to think that maybe he was only partly awakened from his dogmatic slumbers. I am sure that obscurantists* such as Kant, Hegel, other (mostly German) philosophers (right up through our old friend Heidegger), have what they think is a clear idea of what they are writing in the moment; but they often fail spectacularly in communicating that idea. They could have done with a bit of advice from Wittgenstein: “What can be said, can be said clearly”, followed up by a liberal dose of “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must remain silent.”

*Yes, I am well aware that in confessing to not being able to penetrate some of the verbiage of these very famous philosophers, one sets oneself up for being called “obtuse” or something similar, or worse, by some paragon of perspicacity patrolling these threads (Well, no stj in this case, given his status as banned from JQ’s threads. But surely there is some brave soul who can take up the slack?).
* * * * *

@mrmister: Just to clear up my confusion on this point, you are the original “mrmister”, no? The commenter @3, who styles himself (presumably) “mistermr” is a relative newcomer (he once said he commented before under a different ‘nym, AIR) who identifies as Italian. Hope I’ve got it straight now!


Matt 01.09.23 at 8:04 pm

I think “can lead to” is either too strong, or potentially misleading here. Lots of things “can lead to” other things, if you’re predisposed to those other things, but not otherwise. It does seem that Heidegger’s views don’t rule out Nazism (just like Utilitarianism didn’t rule out colonialism), but that’s a pretty weak criticism. Many people have tried to show a stronger connection, but it’s controversial and requires a lot more actual work. And of course you have pleanty of people strongly inspired by Heidegger, like Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, and Merleau-Ponty, who were strong anti-fascists.


John Q 01.09.23 at 10:56 pm

Matt @24 The recent kerfuffle about longtermism is a useful comparison. Lots of people (including here at CT) used it to say that utilitarianism leads to bad conclusions. I’m not exactly a utilitarian, but, if I were, I wouldn’t respond by pointing to good utilitarians. I’d argue that the longtermists got their utility calculations wrong.

The obvious lines of criticism are
(a) it’s a misapplication of utilitarianism to worry about potential people who won’t exist on our current trajectory
(b) relatedly, we should be looking at average utility, not total utility
(c) there’s too much uncertainty about very long-term consequences to place much weight on them in choosing between current alternatives
(d) the factual assumptions about the relative risks of catastrophe (AI apocalypse vs climate catastrophe etc) are wrong.

That might not convince critics, but it’s the way I would defend a philosophical position against the claim that it has bad implications.


John Q 01.09.23 at 11:01 pm

Matt @18 OT, but of the people you’ve mentioned, I much prefer de Beauvoir. And it always seemed to me that, although she used a bit of phraseology from Sartre (for example, “bad faith”), all the good stuff in her work was her own. I think the same in relation to Heidegger, Husserl etc.


LFC 01.10.23 at 2:38 am

The way Louis Menand handles Heidegger and Sartre in his very long (and in certain respects slightly maddening) book The Free World: Art and Thought in the Cold War is interesting. For a while Menand quotes, among other things, certain bits from Sartre’s Being and Nothingness and explicates them.

Then, at the bottom of p. 74, he apparently says to himself: Uh-oh, I’m supposed to be writing for a general audience here, maybe I should say something they can (more) readily grasp. And he proceeds to write the following:

Leaving aside the atheism, Sartre’s definition of freedom is consistent with the German philosophical tradition. It is the definition used by Kant, Schiller, Hegel, and Marx: freedom is transparency (understanding one’s situation without mystification) and self-mastery…. Your actions should be choices, not reactions. You should think for yourself.

Still, there is nothing quite like Sartre’s idea of freedom in Husserl or Heidegger. For Heidegger, the end of thinking is a state whose features are not entirely clear, but that could be called quasi-mystical. Gelassenheit — release, serenity, a “letting be” — is a term he eventually chose for this state. The aim is to achieve an awareness of things; it is not to change them. For Sartre [as for Marx], the aim is not contemplation. It is action. Philosophy proper falls by the wayside…. This part of Sartre’s thought took some of its inspiration from a completely different mode of expression, American fiction.


Matt 01.10.23 at 3:34 am

I guess I don’t really understand the position you’re arguing for, John. You’ve not shown that Heidegger’s views “lead to” Nazism in any real way – you’d have to look at them much more closely to do that. (I don’t actually recommend it – not because I don’t think there’s useful stuff in Heidegger – I do – but because, at least in my experience, it takes a lot of work to extract it and it seems unlikely to me to be a good use of your time.) But it’s also clearly the case that a lot of people who know Heidegger’s work well, and are deeply influenced by it, were not only not Nazis but were strongly opposed to Naziism. This seems to me to suggest that Heidegger’s views were neither necessary nor sufficent for his Nazism. That is, as far as I can tell, pretty much the standard view.

Now, I do think that there are aspects of Heidegger’s views that, for a person who already has Nazi sympathies, can be seen by them as supporting Nazi views. I think that’s the case for Heidegger himself! And, again, I think that’s a pretty standard reading. But really, it’s the pre-existing Nazi views that do this. His views don’t “lead to bad things” without those.

Compare with utilitarianism. Both of the Mills were active participants in British colonialism. And, JS Mill wrote a fair amount in support of it. He tied his support of it to his wider utilitarian views. (There’s a good book on this, if you’re interested, edited by Schultz and Varouxakis, Utilitarianism and Empire.) But, it seems pretty clear again that what was doing the real work was the Mills’ pre-existing pro-colonilist views, not the utilitarianism. Both of these seem like pretty banal conclusions to me.


Matt 01.10.23 at 4:19 am

Also, on de Beauvior and Heidegger, here’s an opening paragraph from a chapter in the Cambridge Companion to Simone de Beauvoir:

This chapter explores ways in which Heidegger can be seen as decisive for Beauvoir’s philosophy and why it is important to consider this. Showing philosophical influences and connections is, in my view, important only if it adds to the analysis and understanding of a philosopher. In regard to Heidegger and Beauvoir, I definitly believe this to be the case. Reading Beauvoir with Heidegger can deepen our understanding of Beauvoir’s view of human being and their relationship to the world and to others. This approach might be called hermeneutical in the Heideggerian sense: it reveals new meanings without assuming that a final comprehension is ever possible.

Eva Gothlin, “Reading Simon de Beauvoir with Martin Heideger, Cambridge Companion to de Beauvoir. (As Gothlin is an expert on de Beauvoir I’m willing to take her word for it that the intellectual relationship is important, though it also seemes so from reading both authors.)


engels 01.10.23 at 2:40 pm

you have pleanty of people strongly inspired by Heidegger, like Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, and Merleau-Ponty, who were strong anti-fascists

Marcuse (who studied with Heidegger at Freiburg and served with OSS in WW2) takes a very negative view of Heidegger in this interview shortly before his death: “this is one of the errors a philosopher is not allowed to commit… a betrayal of philosophy as such”.



novakant 01.10.23 at 2:49 pm

Heidegger was inherently anti-modern, so there always was and is a dangerous, right-wing or totalitarian potential in his ideas. When the Nazis took power he tried to weaponize his ideas through them, though he was revolted by their vulgarity, but hey, if you want to make an omelet…

Things got really ugly once the war started when he recycled the vilest anti-semitic tropes in the Black Notebooks – he adds not a racist, but cultural antisemitism to his anti-modern agenda, the Jews are now standing in the way of the cultural renewal he envisions.

How Hannah Arendt dealt with all this, I don’t know, it would be interesting to read their letters.

All this doesn’t mean one shouldn’t read Heidegger, especially the shorter stuff: e.g. Holzwege, Der Satz vom Grund – just as one should read Nietzsche, Paul de Man etc.

But it has to be a reading on a very high level, probably best is a seminar type situauion.


J, not that one 01.10.23 at 2:49 pm

As mrmister and LFC suggest, it all depends on what “humans being in and for themselves” amounts to, doesn’t it? I often feel much of that definition for Heidegger turns out to hinge on the untranslatibility of the word Dasein and an “you either get it or you don’t” attitude. Which shuts down analysis and discussion.


novakant 01.10.23 at 5:18 pm

William S. Berry, I hear you, but I find it sad that oftentimes lack of initial understanding leads to dismissal and claims of obscurantism, while I believe that the so-called continental philosophy would speak to most people if properly explained.

Regarding existentialism I can recommend this very entertaining, but surprisingly in-depth account of some of its proponents’ life and work:

Sarah Bakewell: At the Existentialist Café


Chris 01.10.23 at 11:20 pm

In the literal sense of the term, “existence” is binary, so “full existence” must mean more than that

Important not to use this literal sense when thinking of Heidegger, especially in translation. Dasein is not existence, and he uses “existence” in a straighforward, but idiosyncratic (or, at least, broadly existentialist) sense. Dasein is a type of being, or a way of being, and is of course notoriously difficult to pin down. Hell, much of his work is figuring out and explaining what Dasein is, but it is not mere being in the sense of existing; it is a uniquely (at least for Heidegger; I don’t think he cared about animal cognition in the slightest) human way of understanding our being, or as Drefyus liked to say, taking a stand on our being.

When Heidegger talks about the German people “[wanting] its own existence (Dasein)” or not, he’s talking, therefore, about their relationship to their own being, how they take a stand on it, whether their understanding of it is uniquely their own, etc. Its basically a way of invoking the concept of Germanness and German culture that you find among German nationalists going back at least into the 19th century (I think of Wagner, but I’m sure it goes much further), couched in terms of (and therefore given the intellectual weight of) Heidegger’s own philosophy. Now, I don’t know whether this means his philosophy necessarily, or even less strongly, naturally (that is, of its own accord, without some intellectual twisting) turn to Nazism, but I don’t think you can really resolve those questions with Heidegger himself (if you can at all). At the very least, you’d have to look at some of the thinkers he influenced heavily (I’m thinking Arendt, Merleau-Ponty, maybe even Foucault, but there are a lot of others; hell, Dreyfus and his attempts at Heideggerizing the behavioral and brain sciences would be important to consider), and in what directions it took them, and whether what is unique in their thought is what saves Heideggerian philosophy from Nazism, etc.


J, not that one 01.10.23 at 11:39 pm

What does it mean to “properly explain” philosophy though – to put it into context for a reader or student? Is it like literature, where I can get insights from David Copperfield without being a male Victorian orphan? Or are the words supposed to be self-explanatory if I know the definitions and think about the logic long enough – like a physics textbook?

Is the anti modern aspect of Heidegger essential to his thought? If so, it’s odd that it’s so infrequently discussed.


MisterMr 01.11.23 at 7:56 am

@William S. Berry 23

I’m MisterMr, I’m the one who commented at (4), and I’m a different person from “mrmister” who commented at (15).

I’m italian and I think I’m the older commenter, I did use a different handler initially (Random Lurker) but that was many years ago.


novakant 01.12.23 at 9:50 am

What does it mean to “properly explain” philosophy

I would say:

close reading with a good teacher to understand the terminology and internal logic of the text

and (especially in Heidegger’s case)

a historical and biographical approach to unravel the influences and motivations that might have inspired the text.

Is the anti modern aspect of Heidegger essential to his thought?

Yes. Heidegger’s rejection of modernity is a big part of the whole program. He wanted to establish an approach to the world that is somehow pure and direct, not cluttered by thought and technology. That is the fascinating aspect of his thinking, but also the dangerous one. The impulse is anti-democratic, as well as anti-semitic since he sees “the Jews” as an osbtacle to such and approach.


engels 01.12.23 at 6:37 pm

I’m MisterMr, I’m the one who commented at (4), and I’m a different person from “mrmister” who commented at (15).

Wait, what


engels 01.13.23 at 12:44 pm

It would be pretty funny if Matt changed his handle to MrLister (I know it should really Dr but I think that’s also true of at least one of the Misters).


TM 01.16.23 at 12:43 pm

I’m gonna ask the obvious question: was Heidegger a great philosopher, and if yes why? Does anybody feel qualified to answer?

Comments on this entry are closed.