Dasein and Der Fuhrer

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

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

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

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

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

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

[fn1] I copied this over to the Wiki article on Dasein, to see if anyone would provide more information, but nothing so far.

10 thoughts on “Dasein and Der Fuhrer

  1. It’s weaselly
    “For the moment, however, it is worth saying that the temptation to offer extreme social determinist or Nazi reconstructions of Being and Time is far from irresistible”

    Cancelling the double negatives, I think this means “some people think Being and Time was pro-Nazi, but they are wrong”

  2. Gee JQ, you go deep. I’d like to know what goal will be achieved by you knowing what you are trying to know with such an enquiry. Current dialoges on this at CT genenerate a lot of discussion, yet very few, imo, practical solutions for our current poly crisis.

    I hope to be corrected.

    I’m with Ikon – “I know little to nothing about Heidegger and have not read this article so it is a blind recommendation.”

    I did 2 searches. Both came up with this post here and at CT. Which indicates a dearth of refereces. And if Wikipedia Talk page isn’t lighting up on this, it indicates to me, the answer you seek will have to be generated by you. A DPhil awaits.

    It would seem “simulating history” is correct. The texts / model is wide open … as Mark Bahnisch says:
    June 4, 2005 at 3:35 pm
          “As with any complex thinker, it’s possible to be a Left-Heideggerian as well as a Right-Heideggerian.”

    Yet I can see no practical purpose to satisfying your curiosity.

    Do you have a goal to satisfy other than your curiosity? Topology of Totalitarianism & Consequences would seem a better study.

    Here are the only two articles I am going to bother to find. Brent Rowley, as I couldn’t find a bio, may have a quasi religious background and may colour his writing, although this is just my antenna twitching. And this is all I could find on -“Edward Q. Earley is a part-time writer based in Chicago exploring areas of Continental Philosophy, Political Theory, and World History”

    Can’t wait to read the result though!

    [Note: paragraphs too long so I inserted a couple]

    “Simulated Histories: The Consequences of Reading “Being and Time” in Light of Origins of Totalitarianism

    By Brent Rowley

    “Hannah Arendt’s Origins of Totalitarianism can be productively read as an historically concrete examination of and response to Heidegger’s thought in Being and Time. However, while Arendt’s description of totalitarianism functions within the overall scope of Heidegger’s philosophy, certain aspects of her account threaten to push his notions of history and truth towards unforeseen and ultimately undesirable consequences.

    “Being and Time formulates the concepts of history and truth in such a way that simulated histories can proliferate without any way to verify their correspondence to an absolute reality. Arendt’s Origins of Totalitarianism demonstrates this problem in a real world situation, wherein the propaganda machines of totalitarian governments create a world where historical facts and reality no longer coincide.

    “Although Arendt’s historical account of totalitarianism exposes serious problems for Heidegger’s philosophy, she offers no explicit answer to this dilemma. Nevertheless, Arendt insists that individuals’ ability to start anew guarantees that totalitarianism will never permanently dominate a society. In what follows, I will present Heidegger’s concepts of historicity, historiography, and truth in order to examine how these elements manifest themselves in the totalitarian society described by Arendt.

    “While Arendt does not directly confront the problems of Heidegger’s philosophy, she does appear to accept the problematic nature of postmodern thought in a way that is heedful of the threats posed by totalitarian governments.


    “The Political Philosophy of Hannah Arendt:

    “Totalitarianism and Theory

    Edward Q. Earley

    “More specifically, Arendt’s conception of action qua authenticity is an existential one; it is human agency as self-defining action (not behavior) within a radically free range of possibilities. Arendt here clearly reveals her debt to her two previous mentors: Karl Jaspers and Martin Heidegger.

    “The radical freedom, “man is doomed to be free,” of Existenzphilosophie is concerned with the authenticity of human agency: Humans must choose and moreover every such act is always within the larger context of Being (Sein) — This is the struggle for an ‘authentic’ existence. The action of the everyday-life of humans within the larger context of Sein (thus in Heidegger’s terminology Da-sein) is the object of study in Being and Time. Moreover, I would suggest that ifDasein is the concern of the early Heidegger, then the authentic action of humans in a political context is the concern of Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism: it studies the “being there” of the politikon zôion.

    “Arendt’s ontological conception of man as authenticating political animal is a theory created to resist the abstract rights of man: And it is here that Arendt shows a curious alliance with Edmund Burke. Indeed Arendt remarks that “a man who is nothing but a man has lost the very qualities which make it possible for other people to treat him as a fellow-man” (OT 300). “…

    View at Medium.com

  3. Serendipity – the next article I see is;

    “Escaping the Algorithms
    The question concerning AI

    By Alexander Stern

    ” In his magnum opus Being and Time, the philosopher Martin Heidegger wrote about “das Man”—man being not the German word for “man,” but the impersonal pronoun “one” or “they,” as in “it’s just what one does” or “that’s what they say.” In Heidegger’s analysis of human existence, “the they” represents the average, everyday background mode of collective being that we all depend on to make ourselves understood, to make small talk, to get by. But there is a risk of falling completely into the everyday, getting lost in “the they” and living effectively unfree lives, where people just do “what one does” and their “ownmost possibilities” are never taken up authentically, to say nothing of being realized.

    “The language of “the they” is what Heidegger calls “idle talk” (Gerede). This is language not as it belongs to any individual expressing herself, but the average, everyday sentiment that circulates more or less thoughtlessly—that belongs to everyone and no one. It is the background talk against which genuinely original expression can emerge. “Idle talk” is not a problem in itself—it’s part of how language works. Life would be unbearable and exhausting if we had to express ourselves at every chance with fresh insight and constantly come to grips with the utterly original outpourings of others. The average expression and intelligibility of idle talk is a necessary default.

    ” In a later essay, “The Question Concerning Technology,” Heidegger adopted a term to describe what he took to be the essence of modern technology: Gestell, which is variously translated as “enframing” or “positionality.” He uses the word to refer not to any particular product of technology, but to the way technology overall imposes a particular order and way of being on things—how it “reveals” or “discloses” the things that it comes into contact with. In a famous example, Heidegger counterposes a hydroelectric dam on the Rhine with a much earlier form of technology, a footbridge crossing the river:”…


  4. JQ, this is my concern which I was unable to articulate properly above – as per usual.

    Alexander Stern says in “Escaping the Algorithms. The question concerning AI”

    “New variations on the same theme are developed; new mash-ups and remixes proliferate; and new objects are subjected to the near-industrial cycle of interpretation, dissemination, and reaction. But this production is involuted and self-referential: it is driven by motivations and incentives internal to “the discourse” and increasingly disconnected from the outside world.”


  5. Hmmm, so the question is if people that showed a particular strong leaning towards evil/stupidity are also much more likely to produce crappy abstract base theories? Or is the idea that the philosopher is still put up on a pedal with lots of original text adoration that more than just the abstract base concept which might be ok is still used. I´d say for worse or better, the Adam Smith of modern economics has little to do with the historical person and complete work. The Freud of modern psychology in contrast still seems to do damage by being put too much on a pedal in its whole, including all the rather obvious nonsense no new research would get away with for being an old star (pretty much as a singularity in that sector). I´m on thin ice here, so correct me with a different impression.

  6. hix,

    You seem mainly on target to me. Where the abstract base theory is usable, and used, by the creator to justify self-interested or oppressive ideology then the answer to your question is “yes”. Such people produce or recruit “crappy abstract base theories” to justify what they want to justify via motivated reasoning. Moving on, Adam Smith is significantly misinterpreted, especially by market fundmentalists. Freud is largely a fraud (psychoanalysis is a pseudo-science) but he wrote some interesting cultural base theory.

    The English word you are looking for is “pedestal” as in “put on a pedestal. You clearly know 100 to 1,000 times more English words than I know German words, so no criticism is intended there. 🙂

  7. Freddo,

    Thanks, for the link to a good little review of Beiner’s book. I won’t be reading that book or Heidegger / Nietzsche anytime soon. My self-set reading list is already too long. But I take Beiner’s basic points from the review as good ones.

    My current self-set project is to read John Locke’s “Essay Concerning Human Understanding” and “Essay Concerning the True and Original Extent and End of Civil Government” in sequence and take notes. The long bow I intend to draw (if I can) is to find if errors in his conceptions of empiricism flow through as logical errors into his theory of apologia for property (propertarianism), servitude and slavery. The more common dualist theory would be, I guess, that our philosophical views on empiricism would be immaterial (reverse or antonym pun intended) to the development of our views on ethics. But substance monism plus consequentialsm could have something to say about that. This is all speculative on my part at the moment. I have no idea if I will find anything valid or compelling. And it’s really just to occupy myself.

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