Philosophy, Politics, recent, The Totalitarian Philosophers

Why We Should Read Heidegger

This the final instalment in a series of essays by Matt McManus examining the work and legacies of the totalitarian philosophers.

I must make a confession here: Martin Heidegger was one of the first philosophers I really and truly loved. When I was around 19 years old, one of the summer jobs I worked was as a traffic counter. We were responsible for counting the number of cars that went through street lights, which needless to say was a profoundly boring task. I often passed the time by reading, and began delving into philosophy for the first time—there is something about sitting by the side of the road for 11 hours that enables speculation. Heidegger’s dense and strange books were often infuriatingly opaque, but once I began to understand them I was thrilled. Here was someone who thought and wrote in a way that no one else seemed to, and who was emphatically unafraid of tackling the biggest and most novel philosophical questions. As a critical young man, I was also enraptured with his damning critique of modernity and especially technology. I was so absorbed by it that I identified as a Heideggerian well into my early PhD, writing an undergraduate thesis on “authenticity” and my L.L.M thesis on Heidegger, Wittgenstein, and Anglo-American legal theory.

Unfortunately, this admiration was always tempered by a significant counterweight; the awkward matter of Heidegger’s politics. My father was a human rights lawyer who made his living prosecuting ex-pat Nazis hiding in Canada, and I was brought up in a household in which the evils of the Hitler regime were transparently visible. When I was 12 years old, I started to volunteer for a number of human rights groups, and learned more about the horrors of Nazism from survivors and commentators. This shocked my young conscience. How could my philosophical hero, a man who embodied all the intellectual virtues I admired—critical mindedness, creativity, an emphasis on authenticity—relate himself to Nazism? This question only became more challenging as the depth of his association with Nazism and anti-Semitism became clearer to me.

Heidegger and Politics

In this series so far I have written pieces analyzing the work of Rousseau, Marx, and Nietzsche. Each remains a controversial thinker, and with good reason. But, unlike these earlier figures, Heidegger is not simply peripherally or problematically associated with a damning political movement. Rousseau wrote many worrying things about the authority to be ceded to the “General Will,” but never lived to see the Jacobins unleash the terror in its name. Karl Marx was a revolutionary who was certainly unafraid of violence, but would most likely have been horrified by the totalitarian movements erected in his name. Nietzsche was, of course, no liberal or egalitarian, but he also was an unrelenting foe of German nationalism who would have found the Nazi appropriation of his writings comical were the consequences not so devastating.

But Heidegger not only joined the Nazi party, he remained a member until it ceased to exist at the end of the Second World War. He attended conferences for Nazi intellectuals, at which he delivered speeches. Heidegger infamously reported faculty members to the gestapo if he regarded them as insufficiently loyal to the new regime. And, even after the war, when the full horrors of the Nazis’ crimes became apparent, he had little to say in repentance or critique. Heidegger’s most public attempt to explain his support for Nazism—a 1966 interview with Der Spiegel magazine—was detailed but notably free of self-examination. This raises a serious problem, as Richard Rorty pointed out in his essay on Heidegger in Philosophy and Social Hope. How could one of the greatest thinkers of the twentieth century ally himself with its most sinister and monstrous political movement?

To understand this development, it helps to understand Heidegger’s critique of modernity and modern life. This Heidegger presented for the first time in Being and Time and subsequently developed in Introduction to Metaphysics and his later work on technology and the history of Western thought. For Heidegger, modern thought is in some respects a regression from the truly epochal thinking of earlier ages. Where the Greeks, especially the pre-Socratics were willing to tackle the biggest questions of human life, most modern people were largely unconcerned with such seemingly abstract and uncommercial questions. Figures like Parmenides pondered questions such as “What is Being?” and associated the answer with a whole range of issues pertaining to the meaning of existence and, by extension, human life.

By contrast, later thinkers like Descartes asked a narrower set of questions. Rather than concerning themselves with Being itself, they asked instead “How can I think what is true?” This may seem like an innocuous shift, but it heralded a movement towards what would later be called technical reason. As modernity continued on its course, questions about existence and its meaning were increasingly dismissed in favor of “technical questions” such as “How can I understand the empirical world accurately, so it can be manipulated in my interests?” Modern people were unconcerned with “Why there is something instead of nothing at all,” which for Heidegger was the key question of metaphysics, and indeed for the human life of Dasein—that being for whom Being is a question. Instead, they wanted to generate ever more powerful systems of knowledge, such as the technical sciences, so the world could be more easily broken down and instrumentalized. The “enframing” of the world which results from technical reason blocks us from developing our more authentic selves. As he put it in “The Question Concerning Technology“:

Enframing blocks the shining-forth and holding-sway of truth. The destining that sends into ordering is consequently the extreme danger. What is dangerous is not technology. There is no demonry of technology, but rather there is the mystery of its essence. The essence of technology, as a destining of revealing, is the danger. The transformed meaning of the word “Enframing” will perhaps become somewhat more familiar to us now if we think Enframing in the sense of destining and danger. The threat to man does not come in the first instance from the potentially lethal machines and apparatus of technology. The actual threat has already affected man in his essence. The rule of Enframing threatens man with the possibility that it could be denied to him to enter into a more original revealing and hence to experience the call of a more primal truth.

The ascendancy of technical reason and instrumentalization, Heidegger thought, generated highly inauthentic individuals who were unable to live meaningful lives. This is because the primary purpose of existence was regarded as the pursuit of a kind of materialist satisfaction. This was true across political forms, which is partly why Heidegger claimed that the hyper-partisan distinction between Left and Right is actually trivial. Both liberal capitalism and its great rival communism are equally devoted to the modernist pursuit of materialist satisfaction. The only difference between them is over the most efficient means to pursue that goal. They are “metaphysically the same” in their efforts to “enframe” the world using technical reason, and result in the same belief about the point of existence.

By contrast, Heidegger stressed that materialist satisfaction can never provide a truly meaningful existence. On the contrary, it can only produce tremendous anxiety as we recognize that the limitations of our lives and the inevitability of death will one day bring the party to an end. At that point, our pursuit of material satisfaction and wealth will turn out to have been meaningless. Heidegger argues that many of us realize this, and feel contempt for the vulgarity and emptiness of our societies. Nevertheless, rather than acknowledge this uncomfortable fact, we retreat into the inauthentic world of “das man” or the “they.” We try to ignore the inevitability of our annihilation by conforming to the expectations of consumer society, disregarding the deeper questions that drive us, and believing that, as long as we go about our business, death—and the confrontation with our own inauthenticity—can be postponed indefinitely.

For Heidegger, this frightened retreat into the world of the “they” was symptomatic of the impact of technical reason and instrumentalization across the world. Being and Time was a call for authenticity in an age apparently dedicated to running from it. Authenticity would mean facing up to the reality of our own future annihilation, and to try and live beyond the “they” by committing ourselves to a truly great project which will provide our lives with a worthy end. This project will of course be doomed to ultimate failure, because the finiteness of time available to us will ensure it is never fully completed. But the meaning of our lives comes from choosing as worthy a project as possible and pursuing it with as much dedication as one can muster.

This is an immensely inspiring critique, and I can only gesture at its power in this short article. Many commentators, myself included, tend to interpret Being and Time as a call for a unique form of individualism. This isn’t what one might call liberal individualism, which Heidegger associated with technical reason and the world of the “they.” Liberal individualism meant little more than mindless conformity, as each indistinguishable figure went about pursuing their menial pleasures in cooperation and competition with one another. It is also philosophically implausible for Heidegger. The atomistic conceit of figures like Jefferson or Mill, that we are “born free” and use technical reason to analyze the world from scratch, was a vulgarization of true philosophy. Heidegger repeatedly stressed that we are always “thrown” into a world of social meanings that fundamentally shape our outlook on the world. The authentic individuality Heidegger favored comes from making use of these meanings to shape something fundamentally new, but which grows organically out of what came before. But this of course means that a decadent and damaged society will not provide its members with the tools necessary to live authentic existences. It must therefore be condemned and refashioned as necessary.

This hostility to liberalism and communism explains a great deal of the attraction Heidegger felt towards Nazism. Its reverence for the traditional practices and beliefs of the German volk and its call for the liberal individual to surrender himself to a greater collective cause must have appealed to him a great deal, both in its conservative and radical dimensions. There also seems to be a sense in which the earlier anti-liberal individualism of Being and Time gives way to a more social vision. The most obvious example of this was the way his concept of Dasein—which he had earlier used to refer to a singular “being” who questioned the nature of “Being”—is given a twist in the Rectoral address. Now it referred to the nation and its destiny.

Heidegger’s writings during that period seem to reflect this new emphasis, reaching a pitch in his criticisms of liberalism and communism, and his suggestion that Nazi Germany had a unique destiny in rescuing the Western world. Some of this may also be attributable to personal arrogance on Heidegger’s part, and his belief that a totalitarian political movement could carry out the kind of sweeping philosophical reforms he wished to see take place on a grand scale. Heidegger later admitted that he was naïve when it came to politics, though I think his lover Hannah Arendt expressed it better. He was a great fool to think that Nazism, a hyper-modern totalitarian movement bent on world conquest and the submission of all individual wills to Adolph Hitler, was an ideological instrument useful to the project of creating a more authentic world. It is likely that his own life-long attraction to German traditionalism and national identity blinded him to the extremism of its policies. Ironically, in his efforts to escape from the world of the “they,” he submitted his immense philosophical intelligence to the most inauthentic movement imaginable.

Conclusion: What Can We Learn from Heidegger

Heidegger was one of the greatest philosophers in the twentieth century, despite his contemptible politics. There remains much we can learn from him, if we take care to isolate the gems of insight from the dangerous currents underneath. This is often a challenge whenever one is dealing with a critique of modernity that is powerful enough to be convincing. One must always take care not to trade the imperfect for the tyrannical.

Heidegger’s analysis of authenticity remains more pressing than ever in our postmodern culture. Many people believe that our purpose in life remains a form of self-satisfaction. Today, however, this includes an emphasis on the expression of a given identity, various forms of left-wing agitation, and the emergence of postmodern conservatism. At his best, Heidegger would warn us that this emphasis on identity can lead us to live inauthentic existences. The efforts of postmodern conservatives to provide stability for their sense of identity by excluding those who are different reflects this tendency; a temptation Heidegger himself fell into against the better inclinations of his philosophy. We long for a sense of stability in our identities, but this longing is antithetical to the quest for true authenticity. What we must recognize is that identity is always unstable because it is framed by the tasks we set for ourselves. Our identity is always unstable because an authentic person is always seeking to become something greater than they were before. The choice available is to accept this instability or retreat into the world of the “they.”

Heidegger focused our attention on mysterious questions that are too frequently ignored. In particular, the questions of ontology: What does it mean to be? What does it mean to say this or that particular thing exists? Why is there something instead of nothing at all? And so on. He was wrong to criticize scientific technical reason for its indifference to these questions. Indeed, many seminal figures, from Einstein to Lee Smolin, were preoccupied by these ontological issues. But we are no doubt still prone to ignoring them in favor of questions that permit clearer answers. Indeed, our economically minded society often dismisses apparently unanswerable ontological questions with the claim that they’re a waste of time that could be spent more wisely on more efficient tasks.

But Heidegger also pointed out that asking ontological questions can and does play a fundamental role in our personal lives, and that dismissing them may prevent us from reflecting on what is truly important. Each of us is indeed “thrown” into the world for a short period of time. No one truly knows from whence we came, and each of us fears the annihilation to which we must inevitably return. Pondering these issues, as well as the more general question of where anything came from and what it is moving towards, can help us bring deeper focus to life.


Matt McManus is currently Visiting Professor of Politics and International Relations at Tec de Monterrey. His forthcoming books are Overcoming False Necessity: Making Human Dignity Central to International Human Rights Law and What is Post-Modern Conservatism? He can be reached at or followed on Twitter @MattPolProf


  1. Donald Tikkala says

    Haven’t read this piece yet, but it looks interesting. I didn’t buy my copy of Time and Being until middle age. This article may motivate me to finally open it once I finished Proust’s magnum opus (one book left). I have (so far) only read Mr McManus’s opening paragraph. I find it very difficult to believe he became enchanted with Heidegger whilst employed as a callow 19 year old traffic counter working 11 hour days – reminding me of a friend at uni who used to carry around a thick leatherbound copy of Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment. It still looked remarkably pristine at the end of term. But perhaps Michael was not actually and faithfully doing the job he was being paid to do that summer.


  2. Donald Tikkala says

    Apologies, Dr McManus, for mistakenly referring to you as Michael instead of Matt.

  3. Donald Tikkala says

    I see that Dr McManus’s e-mail address includes the name one of my old alma maters. When I was there, the residential floors in my college were separated by sex. Those were the days. Sort of.

  4. Farris says

    Fascinating dichotomy of a man concerned about the destructive properties of materialism yet enamored one of the most materialistic regimes in history. Another valuable but hard to live lesson contained herein is judging a person solely upon his or her associations does not ensure one won’t miss out on some valuable information. Said another way people with disreputable reputations may still have ideas worth pondering.
    Thank you to the author for the insights contained within.

  5. Grant says

    Heidegger confuses government with spirituality. The former is hopefully designed to ease the pain of human existence. Heidegger had no idea, nor did he care to observe, what people actually think. It’s the hallmark of totalitarianism thought and impulse, to discount the intelligence and spirituality of people they deem the common man. Heidegger thought he knew better when he had no greater insight to why and how we exist, or to what purpose we might strive, then the person, now lost to history, that was murdered while he fiddled.

    • Rev. Wazoo! says

      Very good point. It also illustrates why Descartes left the question of Being after. ” I think, therefore I am. ” not much more to be said, really, despite two thousand years of fruitless speculation. You can either get stuck or move on to thinking about things which could lead us somewhere. Which he did and they have.

      • David of Kirkland says

        It’s fruitless because so many think others lead “inauthentic” lives or “with meaning” as it these are real and not just delusions. What’s the meaning for the life of the bacteria on my hands?

      • Grant says


        Einstein said that the miracle of human existence is the ability at all to perceive the nature of the universe. But I agree. There seems to be a lot of fruitless naval gazing into things we really can’t know.

    • jimhaz says

      I was just reading some of Heidegger’s quotes and found nothing of interest – nothing that seemed at all profound. I think he could be a fraud.

  6. Grant says

    BTW, no one I’ve ever known on the verge of death has given much weight, if any, to the things they materially achieved during their lives. Their materialism was a product of their creativity, desire and work, but not how they gauged their existence. They counted their worth on how they conducted themselves in life in regard to other living beings.
    Heidegger knew very well what Hitler was up to, and was witness to the fleeing of many of his colleagues, who were Jewish, and thus feared for their lives, but determined that his comfortable existence was more important.
    Much of his work seems to be impenetrable, and thus often nonsense. What great inroads to philosophy is lost on me. I’ll stated tuned to be enlightened.

    • Rev. Wazoo! says

      I’m not sure you can so easily divorce ”materialism” from gauging one’s own existence in moral terms. For most people, having wrested a materially supporting environment for their children to flourish out of an unforgiving and difficult world provides a deep sense of spiritual accomplishment as they face death.

      I’m 60 and it works for me.

    • David of Kirkland says

      The you find meaning in interactions with other humans who will also be dead soon enough thereafter is fine, but is it really anything more than an opinion, a preference, a faithful belief?
      What of the child you raise who then becomes Hitler? Or perhaps your child is just the parent of someone who becomes Hitler.

  7. Russell says

    If my memory is correct, I think that McManus gets Heidegger’s connections with the Nazi party incorrect in this article. I read Being and Time in college with the guidance of a very credible professor, and I seem to remember him saying that Heidegger was never a member of the party. He did socialize with the Nazi party and run in those circles in the 30’s. However, I think the Nazis actually rejected him in a way, and he remained uninvolved as of around 1939 (perhaps his writings were not sufficiently Nazi-oriented for him to be welcomed into the party). If I’m correct, this does not mean criticism of his tendency towards the Nazis shouldn’t be mentioned, of course, but it does change the nature of the criticism. He did show a desire to be apart of the party, but since he wasn’t a member in the early 40s we can’t say for certain that he would have supported the party’s actions at that point.

    Having said all that, I could be wrong about this as my studying of him is not fresh in the mind. Does anyone have supporting or refuting information?

    • Allan Revesz says

      He joined the Nazi party May 1,1933 and stayed a member till the end.

      • dirk says

        And not allowed to teach uptil 1950 (by the French occupation), but his Jewish discipel and onetime lover Hannah Arendt visited him after the war a few times, last time 1975 just before they both died. Would she have avoided to talk with him about his nazi sympathy? I wonder if this is possible at all! After her preoccupation (invention of??) with the banality of evil.

      • johnhenry says

        My grandfather has a bronze swastika medallion awarded by a grateful nation imbedded in his gravestone; but he was never a Nazi, nor did he ever fight on their side.

        I think I will use my blog pseudonym when posting this comment rather than my real name. Ta.

        • dirk says

          Neither was my father, John, but, yes, he fought at his side (he had to, otherwise??), was responsible for logistics and transport and almost reached Stalingrad before being sent home. So, survived, unlike his best friend (my second name is named after him, my father wanted it to be my first name, but my mother thought dirk was better, the name of her grandfather).

    • Grant says

      He was a dues paying member until the party disbanded. Heidegger’s black notebooks, published in 2014 and other research illuminates his anti-
      Semitic views and his relationship to German National Socialism that are disturbing. He was a German nationalist who believed that only Germans, who had an ancient connection to the soil could really ever be German. Jews please don’t apply.
      It seems to me that Heidegger hoped that with the control of National Socialism, coupled with a kinda of mass re-education through philosophy would help mankind enter a new consciousness of being. I’m sure he saw all this coming off the rails but the notebooks written during the war haven’t been published yet.
      All the ‘reading’ now among scholars now seems to be aimed at salvaging something useful from the NAZI Heidegger.
      The problem with totalitarian thinkers and philosophers , is that they are totalitarians lol.

      • Grant says

        Heidegger wrote to his son in 1945 explaining his decision to become Rector at the University of Freiburg,
        “The rectorate was an attempt to see something in the (national socialist) movement that had come to power, beyond all its failings and crudeness, that was much more far-reaching and that could perhaps one day bring a concentration on the Germans’ Western historical essence.”
        His predecessor at Freiburg, and his mentor, Edmund Hesserl, who was a proponent of Heidegger, was ousted following when Jews were banned from public office and universities.
        Heidegger did not attend his funeral in 1938, and removed a dedication to him in his 1941 printing of ‘Being and Time’.
        He wrote in his black book in 1939 of Husserl,
        “The more original and inceptive the coming decisions and questions become, the more inaccessible will they remain to this [Jewish] ‘race’.”
        I think the question is what did Heidegger leave us that is meaningful, and of those ideas how do we interpret them in light of his biases?

      • It would seem that there could be an improvement to liberalism that would create a more collective sense of belonging and meaning than we have today. National socialism or just nationalism might get us closer.

  8. Allan Revesz says

    Quite enjoyed Being and Time some 25 years ago. It is on my short list of books to re-read.
    I generally put Heidegger as third in my philosophical influences –Wittgenstein and Nietzsche far more so as I read a greater breadth of their works.
    I guess there will be no ‘Why You Should Read Wittgenstein’ as nobody (that I know of) yet has tried to use his philosophy to justify totalitarianism.

    Heidegger is certainly not for everyone…..the effort to define his various terms that are so close to one another in appearance and meaning while understanding the subtle differences — is quite a task.

    One thing: I refuse to vet my reading, music, movies….by my moral standard/belief of what I think is good/bad. I doubt I would be able to read/watch/listen to anything otherwise. If one digs deep enough, one can always find something to be outraged about (doesn’t mean I go in blind to biases or other nefarious trickeries, nor just read anything willy-nilly).

    Over the years I watch incredulously as people disavow what they used to love over some perceived assault to their moral beliefs…

    From a very short piece –‘Borges and I’– contemplating the difference between public and private persona, “perhaps because what is good belongs to no one, not even to him, but rather to the language and to tradition”

    • Jim Matlock says

      i wonder how many people who call themselves Heideggerians do so because they refuse to admit that they wasted all that time trying to understand his hair-splitting definitions and extremely convoluted prose.

      Did you read him in German? Friends who read German tell me that Heidegger is hard to translate. One friend originally read him in French and said that it was much more interesting and useful to read him in German.

      • allan revesz says

        My German isn’t good enough…..what’s that old saying on translations….translation is like a lover….if it is pretty it is not faithful, if it is faithful it is not pretty. Whenever I read a translated work I go into it knowing that I am an extra step away from the original. Thus I make no claim to ‘know’ Heidegger.

        While I don’t consider it a waste of time, I agree with you that there is a certain tendency for people to overvalue things they worked hard on. I’m not claiming immunity to this, I’m pretty sure I slogged though it back in the day with some expectation of a greater reward for the effort.
        Yet 25 years after I read Being and Time, certain thoughts and observations from it stick with me. Maybe in a re-read I’ll consider it bunk and throw it away, I have to do the reread to find out.
        I don’t think I have ever called myself a Heideggerian, just influenced by. Wittgenstein is far far more of an influence to me.

        I also learnt differential calculus, never really used it since….it is full of hair-splitting definitions and convoluted prose. I also don’t consider this to have been a waste of time. (perhaps for the same overvalue tendency)

        Some writers are terrible, even though they have good ideas. Buck Minister Fuller is a great example for me. Would I consider (translated) Heidegger a good writer…nope. Did reading (translated) Heidegger open a point of view I likely wouldn’t have found otherwise…sure.

  9. Euan MacIsaac says

    Abandon the great man in history, cleave to the great mind in history?Is this the true form of philosophy? Is the circular rhetoric of questioning questions going to lead me out of ” the cave”? Can I too be a philosopher king? Will the view from the ivory tower be authentic?

    Damm I’m feeling superior already, the plebs must be impressed. If not, off with their empty heads.

  10. the gardner says

    Why We Should Read Heidigger? Well, I do have occasional bouts of insomnia.

  11. johnhenry says

    Nice, “gardner”. I prefer reading mortgages and homilies by Pope Francis when trying to sleep.

  12. This sounds like sense-free random noise disguised as profoundity. But yes, probably a very good insomnia treatment!

  13. Heike says

    “Heidegger infamously reported faculty members to the gestapo if he regarded them as insufficiently loyal to the new regime.”

    What’s wrong with this? This sort of reporting goes on all the time on our university campuses today and has been documented several times on Quillette.

    • Petrosz Amadeus Xrzistosz says

      Nothing worse than a rat, though

  14. mitchellporter says

    I am a Husserlian, but I found the following to be of interest in Heidegger:

    his revival of the question of Being (e.g. why does existence exist, why is there something rather than nothing)

    his history and “genealogy” of the concept of existence in western philosophy, from antiquity to Nietzsche

    his phenomenology of everyday life (this is the ‘existentialist’ part which talks about inauthenticity and death)

    and his final stage, as a critic of technology and technocracy (which are described as a new stage in the eclipse of Being by preoccupation with beings), and prophet of a renewed awareness of Being, of the kind that some of the ancient Greek philosophers possessed.

    In my opinion, all of that would make him intellectually important, no matter what his character or politics were.

    Then there’s the question of his fascism and antisemitism, and how they relate to his philosophy. It seems to me that Heidegger was primarily an antisemite with respect to culture rather than race. His mentor Husserl was a (Catholic) Jew, and he had many Jewish students, so he did not seek to separate himself from all Jewish persons. But he presumably objected to a Weimar culture of commerce and tabloids in which Jews played a prominent role, perhaps preferring a culture more aristocratic and feudal. He clearly hoped briefly to become the leading philosopher of Hitler’s Germany, but the regime preferred to keep biology rather than ontology as its master science, so to speak, and Heidegger apparently spent the war refining his ontological interpretation of Nietzsche.

    • dirk says

      I fear, Mitch, all this is rather un-american, difficult to grasp by our american friends, but quite logical in a European context of evolutionary humanism (read Harari about this, about his secular, socialist and evolutionary humanism).
      When I was young, there was no other philosopher as Heidegger, he was all overpowering, the man also behind the French existentalism, in fact he gave Shakespeare’s To Be or Not to Be more substance. His later critique on cold technnology and consumerism (the heart of capitalism, and maybe his antisemitism??), his emphasis on CARE (Die Sorge) as the essential of all being (so, not trade, banking and economics) also impressed me. Where I see now this new trend of growing your own vegetables in city gardens (working the soil with your hands, to produce your first succesful cauliflower, to empty your head), I see clearly Heidegger’s influence. He wrote most of his work in a rustic cabin (his wife’s idea) near the mountain village Todtnauberg, also that says a lot!

  15. Corrie says

    Excellent article, though I do fear the phrase “dangerous undercurrents underneath” will be abused. I don’t think there is any particular connection between nazism and his philosophy (as you explain), just the rejection of Das Man, which can lead anywhere.

  16. dirk says

    Thinking somewhat more about it, I find it completely irrelevant what the political aspirations of Heidegger were, to evaluate his philosophy ,poetry and reasoning. Is Michael Jackson’s music or dance any better or worse if he is yes or not a pedophile? What hell! Heidegger himself about philosopher Aristoteles ” Er wurde geboren, arbeitete und starb, und jetzt gleich zu seine philosophische Ideeen “. Indeed, don’t park to long (or not at all) at such irrelevant details!!

  17. Bikenski says

    “How could one of the greatest thinkers of the twentieth century ally himself with its most sinister and monstrous political movement?”
    Hitler, Stalin, Mao. How to order in terms of sinister or monstrous (evil)? Do we place other thinkers in the terms of this article and their association to Hitler’s ilk? Do we give Sartre a free pass? What about the associations of intellectual devotees of Mao who seem to be able to swim under the focal point of Matt’s microscope?
    Perhaps Matt doesn’t elevate them to the same intellectual status of Heidegger or perhaps he never found them quite so influential to his growth as a thinker.
    I put them all in a category that is named human. Speaking as a commuter driving to work in Seattle, the imaginary carnage I’ve inflicted on complete strangers at the I-405/SR 167 interchange is pretty brutal.
    I understand that there were only about 9 people present at Husserl’s funeral in 1938. Gerhard Ritter was the only faculty member to attend and he had expressed some early enthusiasm for National Socialism, but discarded that quite quickly and attended the funeral as an expression of dissent. No one else was so intrepid. Brutality on that 20th century scale, whether by Hitler or Stalin or Mao, has a way of separating the Oskar Schindler’s from the rest of us.
    We step into a river at various points in our life but never as the same person. We rarely find ourselves to be unchanged and for very many, and Matt is a sterling example, stepping into Heiddeger is a case in point.
    Jung’s notion of the shadow somehow needs to underscore this fine article.

  18. markbul says

    ” How could one of the greatest thinkers of the twentieth century ally himself with its most sinister and monstrous political movement?”

    You mean communism? He didn’t.

  19. lloydr56 says

    Heidegger seems to have concluded that the pre-Socratics were deep, the Socratics including Aristotle were relatively shallow or dogmatic, or on the road to the shallow moderns. Leo Strauss, who often mentioned that Heidegger was probably the greatest thinker of the twentieth century, spent a lot of time re-exploring the Socratics beyond what Heidegger had presumably done. Philosophic life, exploring the great questions; check. Showing concern for politics, while avoiding political fanaticism; check.

  20. michael says

    Confession. I carried a copy of Being and Time all over campus in my undergraduate years . . . title out, openly, hey look what I’m reading pretty impressive, huh? Philosophy, yeah! But never cracked the damn thing actually open. In my thirities I read Husserl and then Heidegger. Plus all the folks who explained the two of them. Guilty pleasures.

  21. Totally enlightening, thank you, and this goes a long way in reconciling Heidegger’s support for the Nazis with the impressiveness of his ideas.

  22. Caz says

    These articles are weird, the entire run of “authoritarian philosophy”. Quillette is already on the academic shit list, you know. You can probably say much more and it make no difference.

    There is a very basic question regarding being that goes into social philosophy, and that’s the degree to which the individual should be subservient to the being of others, or allow themselves the option of pursuing power that may cost others in their own formation. Intertwined people do not have a choice where they can be anything they care to be, while never risking pain to others. Zero sum games are real and it doesn’t exist.

    So most of our reality, regardless of the regime in charge, is practical: no one wants to live in hell, so we form relationships, empower ourselves where we can, and compromise where we must, but there is no truly good philosophical explanation for it and its relationship to our personal being, any more than there is a philosophically true form of legitimacy in wielding social power. It’s “fate” that you end up with it, a result of endlessly complex, uncontrollable factors. Heidegger shows all the signs of someone who knew all this, and just went along with his government hoping it would not get him killed. We all do it. Nietzsche did it. Marx did it.

    The complexities of dealing with thought policing, which this article is doing and which everyone has had to do in every society ever, are just annoying. If you want to really question the authorities, then a mildly dangerous reputation – but not much attachment to serious action – enables it, makes it part of your character. Let this be a place where you can stretch out a bit.

  23. dirk says

    -Why we should read Heidegger- is the title, but only in the comments of some, we get a (personal) answer on this. Was Heidegger totalitarian? It was the last of a series on philosophers with a totalitarian aspect. What is the lesson now? The piece is mostly on his NSDAP membership and his doubtful relations with the Nazis.
    Something I got aware reading this piece: when attending a philosophy course on Heidegger in my student time, his work and relations with others (Husserl, Sartre, Kiekegaard) was amply dealt with and explained, but NO WORD ON HIS NAZI SYMPATHIES. Why not? Irrelevant? Or shameful, and therefore hidden to protect him? No idea, but I remember that also of other famous authors and scientists, their awkward personal life or doubtful political stances were seldom part of the picture. Why not then? And why now in an often exaggerated form?

  24. Tim says

    Both liberal capitalism and its great rival communism are equally devoted to the modernist pursuit of materialist satisfaction.

    That’s nonsense. Communism is devoted to the project of creating a utopian society on Earth in its ‘final stage.’ It’s a larger than the self project. Communism and fascism are fraternal twins in this way.

    Give me “a nation of shopkeepers” any day, that is, when pressed, able to stand up to these totalitarian fantasies of meanings larger than the self when they take hold in other nations. That’s authenticity. Larger than self movements always seem to end up with a tyrannical despot at the helm armed with the fancy words of clueless philosophers and turn into tribalism on steroids. Shopkeepers aren’t tribal.

    • Steve Haber says

      Thanks, Tim
      Yours is a strong and succinct affirmation for free people making free choices. Even on their own terms, Heidegger and his apologists don’t offer any real help for finding what is “authentic” in being human.

      Surely we will do better to stumble our way to lesser ignorance guided by well-argued (yes, philosophical) insights that grapple with rigorous empirical examination and discovery. I think we gain far more from following, say, the ongoing arguments between Dennett and Searle on human consciousness, than from any windy Heideggerian disquisitions on “Being”.

    • Isidore Ducasse says


      this is rather moving, but requires a small correction: nations do not wage wars—states do. States have all the necessary structures for this: armies, conscription logistics, military industrial complices, etc. “Shopkeepers” do not stand up for anything. Instead they are brainwashed from the tender age to believe that dying for the freedom of their Motherland (i.e., the state) is their sacred privilege; then at the due time they are carted in cattle trains and moved into the fields where they rot in the trenches and kill other shopkeepers, who durst to split their umlauts differently. Really, modern day patriotism with the idea of dying for the country curiously appeared at exactly the same time when European governments decided to replace expensive mercenary armies with unlimited cannon fodder provided by universal conscription.

      The difference between larger than self projects of killing millions of Jews and tens of millions of Indians is mostly in efficiency.

  25. Read Heidegger in the late 70s-early80s while I was learning a new language. Understanding him was like understanding classical Greek. Understanding is like coming into the daylight. It’s not so different than understanding financial derivative formulas, very tough stuff. Once you get Heidegger, classical Greek or derivative formulas you do feel special, enlightened. You’ve got the ‘Sprachgefuhl!’

    But there’s nothing to see here! It’s emotive, ‘mystical’, gnostic. No purchase on any world except some interior world, a world convinced that language only among those who speak the same language is the ‘true’ world. (Not sure what ‘true’ means since reason is the creepy enemy for Heidegger.)

    This seems harsh, but I’m really being kind. Just walk by. Nothing to see unless you think you’re one of the ‘special’ folks who get to see how things ‘really’ are. (Again, there’s that ‘really’ and ‘true’ bugaboo.)

    • dirk says

      @Mikko: there you are right, Heidegger himself taught us Die Wissenschaft denkt nicht (Science doesn’t think), and his famous explanation of Truth is hidden in the Greek A-letheia-, to un-discover the underlying, deep essential, what is quite different from the scientific research of some fragment of the material world. Difficult to sense for modern western materialist men (he was more old-greek than western, I fear, think of the old German ideal of Bildung). Also, I see him more as a poet than as a systemic, analyst thinker, but that, I think, is his strength, not a disadvantage. “He that has ears to hear, he heareth”.

  26. Petrosz Amadeus Xrzistosz says

    I’ve always found Heidegger extremely difficult to fathom, though I’ve read several times. I find some of his shorter works more approachable than the hefty Being & Time. Many passages, even his whole approach to some extent, I find inexplicable, and I read a lot of philosophy, metaphysics, neuroscience, and even quantum physics material without too much difficulty. I can’t help but think there is an easier way to state whatever idea it is he’s trying to state.

    I also find it a serious lack, in any modern philosopher really, when the writer does not even attempt to address Eastern approaches to the problem under discussion, especially the Vedantic and other Indian systems, all of whom address the crucial (indeed fundamental) issue of “being” / existence in great depth and have done so since long before the Greeks attempted it.


    0) The author tells us only that he enjoys Heidegger, not that we can learn anything from him. (We can’t learn anything.)

    1) The purpose of the entire continental program (we call it the enlightenment but it’s a counter-enlightenment) is to create secular theology to lament lost naivety. There is nothing more at work there than to replace longing for church, state, and mindfulness, with a less embarrassing equivalent.

    2) There is nothing to be learned from Heidegger (or Kant, or Hegel, et al) that is not better learned from Russian Literature, Shakespearian plays, the work of the great historians, a basic comprehension of tort law and economics, the discipline of stoicism, and a study of the fine arts. None of which requires interpreting pretentious prose that attempts to reverse the noun and verb for action, with inaction.

    3) Insights are either true or false, possible, or impossible, useful or useless, regardless of who makes them – and virtue signaling over Nazi association is nothing more than people with nothing of value to say, grasping at straws of virtue signaling despite the stupidity of the association of his propositions with his temporal pragmatisms.

    Why? The continental project, whether french, german, ashkenazi, or russian, whether catholic, protestant, orthodox, or jewish is nothing more than a counter-revolution against anglo empiricism (personal responsibility for the commons). Why? A long tradition of sovereignty, contractualism, and law, versus a long tradition of submission to norm, church., and state that left the germans the most backward people in western europe. (The longer peoples were under christianity the worse it was for them.)

    I spend all too much of my time deprogramming lost souls who substitute empty (masturbatory) verbalisms of continental secular fantasy psychology (german: kant forward), moral sophistry (french: rousseau thru foucault ) and pseudoscience (ashkenazi: Marx, Boas, Freud, Hirschfeld, Lenin, Trotsky, Strauss, Adorno, Marcuse, Horimer, Fromm, Honneth, Benjamin, Pollack, Derrida, Lyotard Rand/Rothbard.)

    If you can’t empathize with it (Literature, parable), demonstrated it (history), or explain it (rational material incentives (economics)), then there is zero chance you’re not continuing the Abrahamic program of false promise, baiting into moral hazard, justifying and obscuring (pilpul/rationalizing), and resistance (‘critique’ (undermining)), in order to neither take responsibility for your own mind, your own actions, and the commons upon which you and yours depend for persistence.

    Science is a code-word for the art of producing truthful testimony in that is consistent, correspondent, coherent, and complete. Mindfulness is a code word for psychological and emotional physical fitness. We survived abrahamic christianity. Trying to recreated it is nothing more than a community of intergenerational drug addicts attempting to find a new admixture, to restore their dependence upon an aristocracy that they put to the guillotine.

    Hopefully that was critical enough to suggest alternatives to continental ‘moral fictionalism’ regardless of cultural origins.

    Truth is not complicated. It’s just psychological fitness.

    Curt Doolittle
    The Propertarian Institute
    Kiev, Ukraine

    • dirk says

      Have you been smoking hash or someting before writing all this, Curt? I wonder!

      • Do not question your betters, only their arguments. 😉 (PS: It’s what I do for a living. ‘Twas nothing. )

        • dirk says

          Arguments you call this? Arguments? You are funny guy Curt!

          • mitchellporter says

            This is off-topic, but investigating Curt has led me to one of the more unusual things I’ve seen in the world of net-philosophy, the ongoing discussion-debate between Claire Khaw and Jen Scharf. Khaw is an antifeminist who unironically advocates “secular Quranism” for the UK, and who was once profiled by Vice. Scharf was also once in the news, for having her yoga class at a Canadian university shut down on grounds of cultural appropriation, but turns out to be an Indophile physics grad with a personal theory of everything and an alt-right fanbase. They both criticise Curt, who uses his experience of the Ukrainian Euromaidan revolution to argue that he can get his philosophy of propertarianism taken seriously… Who needs the IDW when we have all that?!

  28. Jens praestgaard says

    We should read Heidegger. But also be mindful that maybe he was, in biographer Rüdiger Safranskis words “Ein Meister aus Deutschland „. Maybe Dasein and “das nichtende Nichts” is a big joke – on us.

  29. CA says

    The great irony of Heidegger is that he failed to recognize that Nazism was not the cure for modern man’s estrangement from Being but the most prominent symptom of the disease. This is quite ironic and tragic since, particularly in his later works, he was very sensitive to the poetic nature of experience. Nietzsche, by way of contrast, had no trouble recognizing the elemental vulgarity and resentful nature of German atavistic tendencies.

    I do think Heidegger’s later writings on technology, thinking and poetry are particularly relevant.
    Heidegger evokes questions about the nature of knowledge and thinking which I find far more profound and insightful than much of what passes for knowledge and thinking these days. Neo-Enlightenment thinkers ignore Heidegger, while postmodernists,claim him as their own where it suits them.

    Heidegger recognizes that there are forces at play in the modern world which transcend all of our conceits of progress. What we refer to as “ideologies” are mostly symptoms.

    Its always useful to keep in mind that reading Heidegger may resemble a kind of intellectual root canal.

  30. clf says

    “The efforts of postmodern conservatives to provide stability for their sense of identity by excluding those who are different reflects this tendency”

    But what if “those who are different” don’t want to be included? Why are blacks quite happy with the African-American Museum of History and Culture, an upside-down ziggurat surrounded by western neo-classical buildings? I think the author is being a bit patronizing.

  31. paulcharlesgregory says

    Authenticity and Ontology are big mistakes. Such my conclusion after decades of reflection. Some thinkers – and Heidegger is a case in point – seen profound because they invent a new language, or code, which it takes a long time to crack. Ecclesiastes is better than the Greeks of Antiquity. There is a time for authenticity, i.e. to be authentic, as there is a time to be courageous. But you cannot be courageous at every turn. It is an occasional virtue, and sometimes a vice as it becomes indistinguishable from egoism. Epistemology beats ontology. Heidegger is a mystic, not a philosopher.
    There were some interesting comments here, better than the main article.

  32. Do you think the concept, Authenticity, is confusing? It imparts a kind of purity, where one is washed clean of all the detritus of life and becomes “free”. Then one can truly choose what to do. But how does one choose, when the reasons for one or another choice are already given before the challenge to act is even presented? How does one free oneself from that except by suicide (a kind of suicide might be self-negation through immersion in a greater (if no well understood) cause? For the intelligent and perceptive German, Naziism presented this kind of suicide?

  33. Pingback: Pourquoi nous devrions lire Heidegger – OWDIN

  34. No Sharia says

    Philosophy explains nothing. Pray to Mother Mary.

    • dirk says

      Maybe, No Sharia, Heidegger would even agree with you. He insisted upon being given a Catholic burying ceremony, and one of his last sentences or writings were” Ohne Gott kan man fast nicht leben”. Small wonder, where ontology, Being-for-the-sake-of-Being, is your preoccupation.

      • dirk says

        I just now read that the precise text was somewhat different: ” Nur noch ein Gott kan uns retten”.

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