Home > Philosophy > Heidegger and the Nazis, again

Heidegger and the Nazis, again

June 4th, 2005

Continuing on a European theme, and on recycled debates, the hardy perennial issue of Heidegger and the Nazis has re-emerged.

Back in the Pleistocene era of Australian blogging (2002), there were some interesting discussions of how we should react to the political mistakes and crimes of philosophers. Examples included Heidegger’s involvement in Nazism, Hayek’s support for Pinochet and Sartre’s adherence to the Stalinist French Communist Party . Don Arthur (site long gone, alas), Tim Dunlop (can’t find a link, but maybe still in the archives), Jason Soon and Ken Parish all had some interesting things to say.

Most contributors to the debate were more willing than I was to separate thought and action. I don’t think the idea that the arguments of a political theorist or philosopher can be treated in isolation from their life and work as a whole is, in general, sustainable. There are exceptions to this: a philosopher might collaborate with a dictatorial regime out of fear or ambition, even though this was the opposite of the course of action implied by their philosophical views. But that doesn’t appear to be the situation in any of the cases I’ve mentioned.

Much closer to the centre of the action, controversy over Heidegger has been reignited by the publication of Emmanuel Faye’s Heidegger, l’introduction du nazisme dans la philosophie, which also includes an attack on Carl Schmitt, another thinker associated with the Nazis but now popular on the left (Mark Bahnisch gives some background here). Not surprisingly, Faye’s book has produced a reaction, in the classic form of a manifesto (in 13 languages!). The manifesto announces this site, with many contributions (all in French), , with lots of references to to rprevious contributions to the debate, but without a systematic organisation, which makes it all a bit hard to follow. Some of the arguments focus on the details of the historical evidence, and others on the more general question of whether this kind of attack is legitimate.

I haven’t read Faye, and it sounds as if he pushes his case too far, but I’m not ready to acquit Heidegger of collaboration with the Nazis or to conclude that his philosophical views are untainted by his own apparent interpretation of them as a guide to action. Comments appreciated.

Categories: Philosophy Tags:
  1. S Brid
    June 4th, 2005 at 14:30 | #1

    John:

    The opposite of “Hayek’s support for Pinochet” is the the left’s support for Allende, appointed by a plebesite (not voted in) who tried to turn the country into another Cuba.

    John, who would have you supported? Allende’s attempt to create Cuba, or Pinochet who returned the country to posperity and democracy after saving the country froim the dirty clutches of the hard left. Oh let’s not forget the compare Chile’s economic performance to Cuba. And Hayek was wrong?

    So tell us?

  2. June 4th, 2005 at 14:54 | #2

    I don’t think there’s any saving Heidegger (on his own words, despite what Hannah says), but the general principle that a meritorious idea etc stands regardless of who dreamed it up is surely the only way to go.

  3. June 4th, 2005 at 15:35 | #3

    Heidegger indeed can’t be acquitted, as the evidence is there. He joined the Nazi Party, and as Rector of his university, made a speech in effect lauding the Fuhrer-prinzip, and was complicit in the silencing and dismissal of Jewish academics. His behaviour towards his own Jewish mentors also warrants condemnation.

    This is why he was prohibited from teaching after WW2, and he never spoke of his actions or repented of them. He also left intact a positive reference to Nazism in a 1953 reissue of “What is Metaphysics?”.

    However the attempts to argue that the political implications of his philosophy are fascist have never been convincing. As with any complex thinker, it’s possible to be a Left-Heideggerian as well as a Right-Heideggerian. Attempts to smear later philosophers who’ve appropriated some of his work are pathetic.

    I find much of his early reflection on ontology quite convincing. FWIW I think the politican trend of his later writings is in the direction of reactionary conservatism more than anything else.

  4. Peter
    June 4th, 2005 at 17:17 | #4

    To S Brid –

    Allende became President of Chile through due constitutional process; Pinochet did not. The choice of anyone professing belief in democracy and the rule of law should be clear.

  5. Martin
    June 4th, 2005 at 17:32 | #5

    To S Brid (off topic): Allende was elected democratically. I suppose if you are imprecise enough, anyone left of George Bush is another Castro. Allende’s problem, as much as anything, was that he did not have a majority in Congress.

  6. S Brid
    June 4th, 2005 at 18:23 | #6

    Peter and Martin:
    Allende was not elected. He was appointed. Let’s be factual about this rather than create myths. Allende was a lunatic who wanted to move the country to a communist dictatorship and Pinchet stopped it. I am glad he did. I am also glad Allende got a bullet, otherwise we would be looking at another Cuba.
    Truth is that both sides were terrible to each other. Let’s not believe the myth that Allende was a saint. He was the devil. Hayek was right and Chile is the better place that Allende was done away with. Like Pol Pot the sooner these evil swine are executed the better for all.

  7. June 4th, 2005 at 18:59 | #7

    S Brid, in the 1970 Chilean Presidential election, Allende received 36% of the vote, while rivals Allesandri and Tomic received 35% and 28% respectively. Chile had no provision either for a runoff election or preferential voting. Allende was not “appointed” but certified as elected by Congress under the first past the post system.

    His election has more legitimacy than Bush’s to his first term – as Bush was not the winner of the popular vote (and almost certainly not the winner of Florida’s electoral vote).

    As to whether Allende had a mandate, that’s another question. But Allende was really more of a reformist socialist than anything else.

    What this has to do with Heidegger, I have no real idea. But I suggest you don’t make untrue assertions with such vehemence in future.

  8. June 4th, 2005 at 19:20 | #8

    The same point can be made of Robespierre, Danton et al. The National Convention was highly democratic (so democratic, they actually got to vote for the execution of King Louis XVI!) and allowed the creation of the Committee for Public Safety and the Committee for General Security, to function as the effective executives (France did not really have a head of state from 1792 until Napolean was crowned). Radical democracy, of course, soon descended into tyranny and mob rule.

  9. Ian Gould
    June 4th, 2005 at 20:11 | #9

    >

    Refresh my memory. Mr Brid, how many peopel did Allende have tortured to death?

    What’s the going rate in human lives for a given increment in economic growth these days?

    As for “democracy” Pinochet fought tooth and nail to prevent it.

  10. Ian Gould
    June 4th, 2005 at 20:14 | #10

    Also can someone explain to me how a plebiscite – a popular vote – can be said to “appoint” rather than “elect” someone.

    I suppose George Bush in 2000 could fairly be said to have been appointed by the electoral college rather than elected by the public.

  11. S Brid
    June 4th, 2005 at 21:27 | #11

    Ian,
    George Bush won by 400 odd votes in Florida. That was verified by the four largest newspaper groups in the country in addition to all the other audits performed at the time of the election. Stop believing or creating myths will ya.
    Scotus came in after the Florida supremes thought it was a good idea if Al Gore only went to those counties which were likely to hold votes informal that could be turned into votes by indicating intent. Scotus disagreed and overruled them.
    Immediately after Al Gore did the right thing for once in his miserable existence by conceeding, the newspaper groups went in and checked all the votes in every county, not just those preferred by AlGore with the result that showed Bush winning by 400 votes.
    Myths are easy to believe.

    As to Allende:
    Allende was never, never voted in as leader. He was appointed by the congress after no candidate could reach the required 50% plus one vote.
    I believe Allende was not even one of the candidates in the election. The crud was appointed and then tried to take over the country and turn it into a dictatoship while his goons were out killing opponents. Hence the bullet in the head. One less little Stalin wannbr is not such a bad thing in reasonable people’s books. After all Allende was never appointed to go on a killing spree.

  12. S Brid
    June 4th, 2005 at 21:42 | #12

    Ian:
    The estimates of those killed by the military junta was about 3,000. The goon squads sent out by the Stalinist Allende killed about 5,000. Bad shit happened on both sides, that I can’t deny. But when the choice is a military dictatorship or a little Stalin wannabe it is best to go with the generals. As it turns out history proves that the Chilean military did the right thing.

    Look the truth is South America with the possible exception of Chile, which seems to have joined the humanity, is a rotten place. Always was and it still is. Look at Columbia, a truly rotten little country, where the Marxist guerillers kill village people for the simple reason that they don’t support them.

    Hayek was right. Out of the two choices, both bad, he chose to go with Pincochet.

    Most of us here don’t know what it is like to live in South America. I spent some there in the 80′s and I can tell you there are no good choices in the horrible continent. Statism is the governing ideology. Take Argentina for instance as a place which decided it was going to commit suicide after reaching the top of the wealth leagues in the 20′s.

  13. Ian Gould
    June 4th, 2005 at 22:11 | #13

    >

    Once again we see the fallacy of the excluded middle.

    Why did Hayek have to support either side?

  14. Peter
    June 4th, 2005 at 22:23 | #14

    Dear S. Brid –

    It seems you are not a believer in democracy and the rule of law, since you support the violent and illegal overthrow of a constitutionally-elected Government. Given this, why would you be posting to a list devoted to social-democratic perspectives on events? And given this, why would any reasonable person listen to you?

  15. June 4th, 2005 at 22:24 | #15

    S Brid, in the 1970 Chilean Presidential election, Allende received 36% of the vote, while rivals Allesandri and Tomic received 35% and 28% respectively. Chile had no provision either for a runoff election or preferential voting. Allende was not “appointed� but certified as elected by Congress under the first past the post system.

  16. gr
    June 4th, 2005 at 22:46 | #16

    “However the attempts to argue that the political implications of his philosophy are fascist have never been convincing.”

    I don’t know much about Heidegger. But I suspect that part of the reason why such attempts can always be dismissed as not doing justice to someone like Heidegger is that fascism was never much of an intellectual movement. There was no such thing, really, as a coherent Nazist ideology, at least not if we take the term to refer to a fully worked out, intellectually appealing system of thought. Hitler disdained intellectuals and those who jockeyed for the position of Nazi philosopher had no real political influence. Action was considered more important than thought by the Nazis. This is why there are many Marxist thinkers but hardly any fascist philosophers.

    But this, of course, was something that Schmitt and Heidegger were perfectly aware of. It was part of what attracted them to Nazism. Hence, there is a clear relation between their philosophical attacks on Enlightenment ideals and their practical support for Nazism. It seems to me that the right question to ask about a philosophy that is either openly political or that at least claims to have social philosophical implications is whether it provides you with a non trivial reason not to embrace a movement like Nazism.

    I find it unconvincing to exonerate Heidegger or Schmitt by saying that their work cannot be reduced to Nazism. Nothing much can be reduced to what one finds in ‘Mein Kampf’. But this doesn’t mean that Schmitt’s or Heidegger’s philosophical ideas were unrelated to their practical commitments.

  17. abb1
    June 4th, 2005 at 22:56 | #17

    I believe Allende was not even one of the candidates in the election.

    Salvador Allende certainly was a candidate and he received a plurality of the votes. Then the congress (controlled by the opposition) elected him a president, just like it’s done before in cases like this. There was no such thing as required 50% plus one vote.

    In fact the declaration issued by the opposition in 1973 admits that much:

    Considering:…4. That the current President of the Republic was elected by the full Congress, in accordance with a statute of democratic guarantees incorporated in the Constitution…

    The goon squads sent out by the Stalinist Allende killed about 5,000.

    Could you substantiate this, please. Thanks.

    George Bush won by 400 odd votes in Florida.

    It would be funny to have two governors of Florida simultaniously, both called ‘Bush’.

  18. June 4th, 2005 at 23:25 | #18

    gr, yes both Schmitt (more successfully) and Heidegger sought to be come court intellectuals for the Nazi regime.

    I don’t argue that their philosophical ideas were unrelated to their practical commitments as this would be an absurd argument. Clearly any thinker’s ideas will be conditioned by a range of factors – their politics, social status, conditions under which they write, the intellectual and social culture of the period and so forth. It’s quite wrong to see ideas existing outside the social conditions of their possibility. I do argue that their thought doesn’t lead in a straight line towards fascism. Schmitt, in particularl, is a very challenging figure – on questions such as homogeneity and democracy, the relationship between democracy and liberalism, the status of international law as opposed to force, and a host of others. That’s why his thought remains influential – despite the fact that almost everyone who writes about him abhors his politics. It’s very clear indeed that Schmitt’s understanding of politics is powerfully evoked in Bush’s political practice (and indeed the debate between Schmitt and Strauss was an influence on intellectual neoconservatism).

    I’m not interested in exonerating Schmitt or Heidegger. The trick is to regard them as acute sociological and philosophical observers respectively, without taking on board their thought in its normative sense.

    Incidentally, S Brid has given us a good demonstration of how to derail a thread into irrelevance. And the usual RWDB tactic of making unsubstantiated assertions which are manifestly false. It’s very close to trolling IMO.

  19. June 4th, 2005 at 23:25 | #19

    Anyone who can reduce the history, mystery and drama of South America, not to mention slandering the Allendes, to “a rotten place’, is to be pitied. Sad. Hope it clears up eventually Brid.

  20. S Brid
    June 4th, 2005 at 23:50 | #20

    Mark:
    If you know so much about Chile why did you conveniently leave out the part that was central to the appointment of Allende by the Congress. He signed and agreement drawn up by the Congress that he would leave democratic institutions alone, not injure industry and would accept the independence of the military.
    Allende, the little Stalinst wannabe, virtually tore up that aggreement the moment he signed it. What followed was mass nationalizations at confiscatory levels, attempts to thwart democratic institutions and the jailings of many opponents. He also invited Castro to spend a little time in Chile. It wasn’t for the ski season I believe.

    That’s why the military intervened and Allende got the bullet he deserved. Just like any dictator deserves. Read up the history of the place and then come back.

    Mark: I am glad you said this:
    Clearly any thinker’s ideas will be conditioned by a range of factors – their politics, social status, conditions under which they write, the intellectual and social culture of the period and so forth.

    So Chile in the context of the war the West was fighting at the time- the cold war- must have some relevence I guess if you wrote that. I am glad w can agree on that.

  21. abb1
    June 5th, 2005 at 00:11 | #21

    He also invited Castro to spend a little time in Chile. It wasn’t for the ski season I believe.

    Oh. My. God. Now even I can see that he deserved a bullet in the head and that fascism is the only answer.

  22. Ian Gould
    June 5th, 2005 at 00:12 | #22

    “Just like any dictator deserves”

    Except Pinochet apparently.

    Your defence of Pinochet on the grounds that he brought economic growth is remeniscent of the arguments of Castro’s apologists that he brought improved social services.

    Personally I prefer to condemn both dictators.

    It’s part of this radical way-out theory I have that murder and torture are bad.

  23. gr
    June 5th, 2005 at 00:15 | #23

    mark,

    Thanks for the reply. I’m actually more interested in Schmitt myself than in Heidegger. I guess my view is that he is an interesting, important, and challenging author precisely because his views lead pretty straight into (something like) fascism.

    I don’t believe that Schmitt himself would have recognized any distinction between his thought and his politics. As a matter of fact, he believed that anyone who makes such a distinction is a hypocritical fraud. One can disagree with his politics, in his own view, only in the very limited sense that one does not have to be a Nazi to be truly political. Lenin, say, was a genuine politician for Schmitt because he was willing to cut off a few heads (= take the political decision). But clearly, one cannot be a liberal or a social democrat or a pluralist (for that matter) and not run afoul of what Schmitt sees as the fundamental conditions of consistency between theory and practical commitment. If Schmitt is right, there can be no politics which isn’t ultimately based on the willingness to cut off other people’s heads if push comes to shove.

    I don’t see how one can make the conception work – and avail oneself of what some see as its attractive features – unless one takes seriously Schmitt’s emphasis in “The Concept of the Political” of Kampf as actual killing. The kind of coexistence Schmitt advocated between political communitys, for example, is possible only because the act of war as including the possibility of real killing is not just another struggle for recognition. And I’m somewhat disconcerted by the fact that people like Chantal Mouffe think they can simply disown this part of Schmitt’s work and go on to happily buy into his critique of liberalism, parliamentary democracy, etc.

  24. June 5th, 2005 at 00:22 | #24

    Strewth, according to Brid, Allende was a Howardian forerunner, core promises and all. Where’s the bullet?

  25. Protagoras
    June 5th, 2005 at 00:23 | #25

    I think addressing a connection like this requires looking at exactly how the philosopher’s unacceptable views are related to the rest of his philosophy; I don’t think there’s an a priori answer that applies to every case. And I have an unorthodox theory about the case of Heidegger in this respect. I believe that Carnap’s interpretation of Heidegger is substantially correct, namely that Heidegger didn’t really say much of anything at all in his philosophy. I further believe that the fact Heidegger himself was able to interpret his own philosophy as supporting Nazism, when it clearly does no such thing, supports this thesis, by indicating even Heidegger didn’t know what he was saying.

  26. June 5th, 2005 at 00:35 | #26

    I’m not quite sure that’s a fair criticism of Chantal Mouffe, gr, in that she does distinguish between agonism and antagonism in adapting Schmitt for her radical democratic purposes. She’s not obliged to agree with his entire theory and her appropriation of it seems relatively internally consistent to me. Schmitt IMO does have a point – in that attempts to bring peace through war are intellectually and politically dishonest according to his thought. It’s also possible to read him as saying that it’s necessary in the final instance to be prepared to defend one’s preferred politics with violence. I’d have thought that’s unobjectionable in that it could also apply to the actions of Roosevelt for instance in deciding well in advance of WW2′s breaking out that Germany and Japan were enemies. I think that you need to remember Schmitt’s debt to Weber and read his statements more as sociological observations rather than as normative criteria. That’s partly defensible in relation to his own oeuvre if you have a look at what he writes in his texts on political theology, for instance. I do concede that in turning Schmitt into a sociologist, I’m doing violence to his intentions, but that doesn’t trouble me. I’m not interested in being a Schmittian but rather in appropriating him for what insights he can give me in what is essentially a democratic critique of liberalism.

    You might therefore be interested in this paper of mine on Schmitt though my thinking on him has changed in the last 3 years. He’s a major focus of my soon to be completed PhD thesis, btw. I’m also very interested in Merleau-Ponty’s thought on political violence and politics. M-P’s take on Lenin would be not dissimilar to Schmitt’s in a way. That is to say, Lenin realised the necessity of violence in defending and creating his political vision and the final arbiter of Lenin’s actions in political terms is history. Both M-P and Schmitt are influenced by Weber, who identified politics with force, and (rightly I think) disclaimed the relevance of private ethics to political life in favour of an ethics of responsibility. Weber wrote that if you wanted to save your and others’ souls, you should not enter politics.

    None of that is a justification for violence or for disregarding the human costs of political decisions (in Weber that is, I’m certainly not of the belief that Schmitt was overly troubled by it) but rather a recognition that in the final analysis – contra classic liberalism and its late modern incarnations such as Habermas’ theory – the outcome of political decisions is not decided through rationality but through force.

    It’s also the case that Schmitt shares a strong anti-Kantianism with all these other thinkers. The relevance of Schmitt’s theory was recognised by Leftist intellectuals with a similar Weberian and anti-Kantian heritage such as Walter Benjamin and Georg Lukacs, whose politics was diametrically opposed to his (and Benjamin, a Jew, in effect lost his life because of the Nazi regime Schmitt supported).

    S Brid – I’m not able to judge whether we’re in agreement because I can’t understand your final point.

  27. June 5th, 2005 at 01:04 | #27

    Wikipedia has this on Chile:

    The junta’s efforts to restore the market economy created extreme hardship. The regime’s wage controls did not abate the world’s highest rate of inflation; between September 1973 and October 1975, the consumer price index rose over three thousand percent. Exchange rate depreciations and cutbacks in government spending produced a depression. Industrial and agricultural production declined. Massive unemployment, estimated at 25 percent in 1977 (it was only 3 percent in 1972), and inflation eroded the living standard of workers and many members of the middle class to subsistence levels. The underemployed informal sector also mushroomed in size.

    The economy grew rapidly from 1976 to 1981, fueled by the influx of private foreign loans until the debt crisis of the early 1980s. But despite high growth in the late 1970s, income distribution became more regressive. While the upper 5 percent of the population received 25 percent of the total national income in 1972, it received 50 percent in 1975. Wage and salary earners got 64 percent of the national income in 1972 but only 38 percent at the beginning of 1977. Malnutrition affected half of the nation’s children, and 60 percent of the population could not afford the minimum protein and food energy per day. Infant mortality increased sharply. Beggars flooded the streets.

    So much for Pinochet’s “economic credentials.”

  28. June 5th, 2005 at 01:30 | #28

    Isn’t even Friedman saying it was a mistake now?

  29. June 5th, 2005 at 02:02 | #29

    Hi -

    Back on topic! :-)

    In a previous life (i.e. 25 years ago) I went to Germany from the US to do a doctorate in Philosophy at the University of Freiburg, where, of course, Heidegger taught pre-war and where he was the Rektor.

    As a result, I met a number of people who knew Heidegger, and met some of Heidegger’s family as well. Nice folks.

    The consensus is that philosophers make really, really bad politicians, especially when they are dealing with really, really duplicitious politicians. Heidegger, as many Germans were, was dismayed by the collapse of Weimar and the coarseness of interwar German politics. Given the chance to try and recover some semblance of culture back into politics, he went for it and was just as duped as millions of Germans were.

    Has virtually nothing to do with his philosophy, and I think the attempt to mix the two in a critical manner is probably more indicative of how difficult Heidegger can be as a philosopher, if one is being intellectually honest. I know that I spent three years working on the first section of Being and Time before I really understood the differences between Heidegger and Husserl when it came to the phenomenological epoche.

    And I didn’t do the degree after all: instead I got a life. :-)

    John

  30. June 5th, 2005 at 02:21 | #30

    The technique of arguing that Pinochet was better than Allende could easily be expanded to say that Hitler taking power was better than allowing a German Marxist state to hijack the weak Weimar Republic. In fact, it seems that Carl Schmitt supported the Nazis in part to stave off a leftist option and in part because Hitler was the only opportunity to preserve something like the state-form. I am not a Schmitt apologist, but that is just how it seems to me.

    Of course, making this same argument is impossible because right-wing hacks prefer to associate Hitler with the left (“He’s a socialist! It says right there in the name of his party!”), and because Hitler is so bad that any apologetics for him are completely impossible — people are less knowledgable about Pinochet’s crimes, so you can downplay it more easily. But if we’re going to say “military dictatorship is a better option than communism,” then I think we’re going to have to go all the way and say, “The Nazi takeover of Germany was the least bad of all the options then on the table.”

  31. gr
    June 5th, 2005 at 02:35 | #31

    Mark,

    Some very interesting observations. I’ll check out your paper.

    What do you make of Schmitt’s claim that a totally pacified world without war and politics is possible? If one admits that such a world is possible, then one is taking sides in describing the political as he does. But this is precisely the kind of choice that for Weber must not infiltrate sociological thought. Schmitt’s description of politics is itself based on a friend-enemy distinction. That’s his whole point, in my view: systems of belief are never anything but weapons in political conflict. To say that this is a Weberian idea seems to me to be a gross insult to Weber.

    I’m not sure of the exculpatory relevance of the Benjamin-Schmitt or the Schmitt-Strauss relationships. Benjamin’s stuff on violence is just as obnoxious, in my view, as anything Schmitt ever wrote. Some of the people who were persecuted by the Nazis were themselves totalitarians. Schmitt, when he wrote “The Concept”, thought that the struggle between totalitarianisms was the historically important decision awaiting the world, that liberalism and parliamentary democracy only try to defer this conflict but are fated to be washed away by it. And of course, Marxists would have had reason to agree with this, especially Marxists like Benjamin and Lukacs. But both have been proven wrong.

    I’m puzzled by the reference to Roosevelt, because Schmitt would have thought of him as an evil crusading imperalist who promised to bring peace through war?

  32. Ian Gould
    June 5th, 2005 at 08:16 | #32

    (“He’s a socialist! It says right there in the name of his party!�)

    My standard response to this is to ask the speaker’s opinion of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

  33. Paul Norton
    June 5th, 2005 at 09:23 | #33

    “Pinochet who returned the country to. . . democracy.”

    By this logic we should praise the Communist Parties of the Soviet Union and some of its neighbours (e.g. Hungary) for “returning” those countries to democracy in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and claim that glasnost and perestroika constitute historical justification for all the actions of Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin, Yezhov, Beria, Khruschev, Brezhnev, etc.

  34. June 5th, 2005 at 09:42 | #34

    gr, Schmitt was a better politician than Heidegger, and also an opportunist.

    In fact, he was a legal advisor to the last Chancellor before Hitler came to power and joined enthusiastically in the attempt to prevent Hitler from attaining power – and then shifted sides. He was in effect purged from the Nazi Party in 1939 by the SS but managed to stay alive. After WW2, despite being banned from teaching, he gathered a circle of disciples around him who included Social Democrats and indeed his legal thought is acknowledged to have been very influential in the constitutional jurisprudence of the Federal Republic. He also inspired, and maintained links with Italian Marxists in the late 1960s and 1970s.

    I recommend Jan Werner Mueller’s book ‘A Dangerous Mind’ and Gopal Barakrishnan’s ‘The Enemy’ on all this.

    As I said above, his prime political orientation was anti-Liberal, and he was a conservative reactionary in that he encouraged anything that he saw as bringing back the political.

    As to his view on world peace, it’s important to be precise. He opposed a world state in Kantian terms, on the grounds of realism. Much of his critique was informed both by the ineffectual nature of the League of Nations and by the use of the Treaty of Versailles and Wilson’s programme of self-determination to reinforce British and French imperialism. There is much recent scholarship applying Schmitt’s ideas to the War on Kosovo and the War on Terror, with which I am in almost total agreement.

    The thrust of a lot of this scholarship, and of Merleau-Ponty’s is that those who are Kantian ‘beautiful souls’ end up succumbing to the temptation of supporting violence themselves in pursuit of peace. Habermas and Bobbio and other social democratic intellectuals’ support for the first Gulf War and the Kosovo War are cases in point.

    Schmitt originally wrote ‘The Concept of the Political’ in 1927 and did not support totalitarianism at the time. In fact – as I argued above – his views on democracy are quite pertinent.

    I have to go out shortly so I don’t have time to find the reference, but on Weber, I’d refer you to his famous remarks about warring gods and the impossibility of choosing between belief systems in modern politics in rational terms.

    I think you’ve missed my point about sociology. I don’t care about Schmitt’s view on Roosevelt. He hated him and he hated the US. My point is that if Schmitt (and Weber’s) insights on politics tell us something about the way politics works in modernity these insights are valuable despite the intentions of the authors. In my analysis then, Roosevelt’s decision to regard Japan and Germany as enemies long before they began to engage in overt aggression represents a political decision – that is to say, a realisation that the defence of a political form requires the legitimate exercise of violence. You can contrast it with Chamberlain if you like. Roosevelt of couse faced much domestic opposition either of an isolationist stripe or like Joseph Kennedy – calling on him to negotiate with Hitler. The outcome also reinforces Merleau-Ponty’s point about the judgement of history.

  35. June 5th, 2005 at 09:55 | #35

    Just to clarify further, I’m not interested in providing expulcatory evidence in the form of Benjamin and Lukacs. As I’ve been arguing, it’s possible to use Schmitt’s ideas without either supporting his politics or justifying his life. I do neither.

  36. June 5th, 2005 at 19:47 | #36

    To return to earth with a bump…

    the story of Heidegger and the Nazis is complicated a bit by Hannah Arendt. A fugitive Jew, she was able to forgive him his Nazi era – even though she never forgave Brecht for his behaviour as he fled Germany –

    “Just after the war, Arendt had written in public and private blaming Heidegger for his conduct. But when they met in person for the first time in two decades, during Arendt’s trip to Germany on behalf of the Commission on European Jewish Cultural Reconstruction, her reservations seemed to fall away. On February 9, she wrote: “This evening and this morning are the confirmation of an entire life.” Heidegger, too, dwells on the continuity, not the rupture: “I am delighted to have the chance to acknowledge our early encounter as something lasting.”..

    …Arendt’s submissiveness is what allowed the relationship to continue, but it is very damaging to the correspondence as an intellectual document. Worse, Arendt extended it to her public discussions of Heidegger. In her celebrated broadcast on Heidegger’s 80th birthday—helpfully included in the Letters—Arendt spoke indulgently of his Nazi involvement. He “once succumbed to the temptation…to ‘intervene’ in the world of human affairs,” but after “ten short, hectic months,” she declares, “Heidegger recognized this ‘mistake’…and then risked considerably more than was common at German universities back then.”

    On top of the Nazi stuff, Heidegger began an affair with her when he was a married 35 year old professor, and she his 18 year old student. This article’s version of the story provides a text book example of why we disapprove so vehemently in modern times of this kind of relationship. She remained in thrall to him for the rest of his life.

  37. gr
    June 6th, 2005 at 10:12 | #37

    Hi Mark,

    There’s a lot to comment on here. What I don’t understand, for the life of me, how a Schmittian can make this complaint:

    “The thrust of a lot of this scholarship, and of Merleau-Ponty’s is that those who are Kantian ‘beautiful souls’ end up succumbing to the temptation of supporting violence themselves in pursuit of peace. Habermas and Bobbio and other social democratic intellectuals’ support for the first Gulf War and the Kosovo War are cases in point.”

    It’s not as if Schmitt believed that there was anything wrong with violence as such, after all. In fact, he argued that every state necessarily possesses a jus ad bellum to be exercised at its own discretion.

    So what exactly is it that folks like you think is so terribly scandalous about Bobbio’s or Habermas’s position problematic in this instance? It can’t be that they advocated violence. One might argue, needless to say, that what was problematic about Kosovo (and is much more problematic still about Iraq) is the fact that these wars were arguably illegal. But this is not a criticism a Schmittian can make since Schmitt rejected the idea of a binding international law of peaceful conflict resolution (not, by the way, for ‘realist’ reasons, but rather because he believed that such law is necessarily incompatible with the kind of claim to independence that he believed is constitutive of true political communities).

    So you’re thrown back into having to say that what’s problematic about the position is not that it justifies violence but rather that it justifies violence exercised to bring peace. Other violence, the ‘pure’ sort (Benjamin!) is o.k.
    I’d be quite happy to hear why this is an attractive view.

    The line you’re pushing on Schmitt’s biography – that he narrowly escaped death at the hands of the SS and was really something of a resistance fighter – is laughably one sided. It is 100% identical to the biographical myth (!!!) that Schmitt himself tried to create after 1945. It took off in conservative circles in Germany, was gobbled up by George Schwab, and now there are surprisingly many people on the left – like Balakrishnan – who swallowed it hook, line, and sinker. There’s a reason why Schmitt wasn’t allowed to teach. In West Germany, where basically all the Nazis apart from those in the very highest echelons, were allowed to continue their careers, people were somewhat embarrassed by the idea of having Schmitt on a pulpit. Now why was that? I recommend Raphael Gross’s “Carl Schmitt und die Juden” as a book providing an answer.

    In any case, most of the ‘scholarship’ (I’m aware that this is not true of Mueller!) that you allude to is written by people who obviously don’t read German. Do you? If not, you’re not entitled to pontificate about Schmitt’s biography. There’s just too much nasty stuff by Schmitt bearing on theses issues that’s not been (and will never be?) translated.

  38. June 6th, 2005 at 11:31 | #38

    gr, but as I’ve said a number of times I’m not a Schmittian and I don’t want to adopt the posture of defending him.

    As to Bobbio and Habermas, have a look at what they wrote. There was a very quick slippery slope from arguing about humanitarianism to defending the actual tactics used by the Americans and NATO. If anyone was arguing that violence is justified to bring peace, it was them.

    On this I recommend Daniel Zolo and Perry Anderson’s article in a recent New Left Review.

    So, no, I don’t think this is an attractive view at all. What I think is an attractive view is a realist scepticism of such claims.

    At the same time, I think it’s nonsensical to argue that legitimately sanctioned violence is never necessary.

    And I’m not arguing that Schmitt was any sort of resistance fighter, and nor do I swallow his myth. I agree with the sanctions he faced, and arguably he got away too lightly.

    All I’m trying to argue is that his thought can be appropriated (in part, as I’ve said a number of times) as useful for contemporary political analysis.

    No, I don’t read German, but I suggest that you read what I actually say rather than construct me as a strawman Schmittian.

  39. June 6th, 2005 at 11:52 | #39

    Castro and Pinochet have more commonalities than contraries. They are both examples of Latin American military dictators, with Castro in alliance with the USSR and Pinochet in alliance with the US. On political economy Castro prefers statism, Pinochet preferred capitalism. In both cases these policies produced some good results.

    Allende was a decent fellow who was in way over his head. He had no right to embark on a program of nationalization after receiving only a third or so of the vote. This plunged Chile into chaos. I always thought that Frei was the proper ruler of Chile but of course the Centre could not hold when the worst were full of a passionate intensity.

    Pinochet, like Castro, have had thousands of people killed in order to consolidate their grip on power. This should disbar them from enjoying the good opinon of civilized men.

  40. June 6th, 2005 at 21:11 | #40

    Another reflection on politics and violence. It was Machiavelli who said that in order to find the road to paradise, we first need to travel the road to hell. Contrast the treatment of Romulus’ mythical foundation of Rome by Augustine and Machiavelli. Augustine saw the history of Rome thereafter as stained by original sin. Machiavelli saw Romulus as justified through the virtu incarnate in Rome’s power and its economy of violence – maintaining the populations of conquered regions rather than wars of extermination. Political theorists have achieved much by disguising the fact that politics rests on force and coercion, and fine judgements about their calculation. A lot of this derives from a theological mindset initiated by Augustine, whose influence on Kant is obvious. History in the end judges. If things had turned out differently in the Middle East, if there’d been a different conjuncture of forces in the Iraq-Iran war, and Saddam was still an ally of the West he’d be applauded as a strong man and the references to his crimes dismissed as the bleating of unrealistic lefties.

Comments are closed.