Heidegger’s Little Black Books
For Heidegger the “inner truth and greatness” of the Nazi movement lay in “the encounter between global technology and modern humanity” (a specification he secretly added to a 1935 lecture when it was published in 1953). These are not the words of a brutal realist; they belong to a philosopher whose “private National Socialism” proved ill-suited to the needs of the regime. But what is most disturbing in Heidegger’s case is not primarily what he did; it is what he thought about what he did. Hence the challenge of the black notebooks: even after the “error” of the rectorship it turns out that Heidegger did not awaken from his philosophical-political fantasies. They only grew more extreme.
When rumor began to spread across Europe last winter that the black notebooks would soon appear, it caused a minor scandal in faculties of philosophy. The outcry was especially notable in France, where a passionate if ever-shrinking coterie still regards Heidegger as a maître-penseur. Defenders announced that the publication of the notebooks was unremarkable and would change nothing in their philosophical esteem for the author. Detractors, many of whom had never much admired Heidegger in the first place, rushed to say they had known it all along. Reading the pages of Le Nouvel Observateur or Die Zeit last winter, you might have thought that Heidegger’s reputation was forever shattered.
Such gestures of outrage have a manufactured quality. After all, this was hardly the first “Heidegger affair.” The philosopher’s complicity with the Nazis first became a topic of controversy in the pages of the Les Temps modernes shortly after the war, and then, in 1987, the storm clouds gathered once again when Victor Farias, a former student of Heidegger’s from Chile, published a vigorous denunciation, Heidegger et le nazisme. This second Heidegger affair drew volleys and counterattacks from a great many of the leading thinkers of the day. Such cycles of revelation and scandal are rarely edifying, and they seem always to end with the same unsurprising discovery that Heidegger was a Nazi.
Some believe that the damning evidence in the black notebooks will leave Heidegger’s philosophical reputation in ruins. But even before their publication, new evidence of his ideological commitment had come to light, especially the transcripts from a 1933–1934 seminar, “On the Essence and Concept of Nature, History, and State.” One intemperate critic was even moved to announce that Heidegger’s works no longer deserved the title of philosophy at all and should instead be shelved in the libraries among other books on the history of the Third Reich. Such a verdict is surely rash. But the notebooks no doubt will, and should, transform the way Heidegger’s philosophy is read. In them—more than 1,200 pages have been published so far—he is revealed as a man who refused to abandon his political delusions.