Newly revealed letters from Heidegger confirm his Nazism—not that there was any doubt.
Martin Heidegger never apologized for his support of the Nazis. He joined the party in 1933 and remained a member until the bitter end, in 1945. First, he spoke out enthusiastically in favor of a conservative revolution with Hitler at its helm. From about 1935, he found his own ambitions disappointed, and grew more silent. Yet, when he called his dalliance with National Socialism his greatest mistake after the war, he was upset not at his crime, but at the fact that he got caught.
Not that Heidegger has had to apologize, either. For the past seventy years, his many apologists and acolytes have gone to astounding lengths in trying to prove that his philosophical oeuvre exists independent of what was, they avowed, a mere weakness of character, an instance of momentary opportunism. In 2014, a group of French philosophers even tried to halt the publication of Heidegger’s Black Notebooks, his philosophical diaries. But if antisemitic references in his philosophy are oblique and, as some would have it, coincidental to his critique of modernity, the Notebooks leave little room for such charitable reading. Even after the war he would bemoan the Jewish “drive for revenge,” with their aim consisting in “obliterating the Germans in spirit and history.”
And yet, the Black Notebooks haven’t lain to rest one of the more irksome debates around continental philosophy. Perhaps that’s what the release of Heidegger’s correspondence with his lifelong confidante, his brother Fritz, will achieve. His heirs, having held back these letters for many years, have finally caved to the pressure that began to mount following the release of the Black Notebooks. The excerpts released in advance by Die Zeit and Le Monde last weekend show Heidegger for what, apparently, he was: the real deal, a dyed-in-the-wool Nazi who bought into Hitler’s ideology wholesale. And he wasn’t a particularly sophisticated one. In his letters, the forefather of deconstruction voices his impassioned belief in Volk and Führer, perpetual German victimhood, “world Jewry,” the threat of Bolshevism, and American decadence.
Perhaps it’s inconvenient, but it’s hardly shocking: Heidegger was not just a member of the Nazi party, but also a Nazi. Nor was he just a “metaphysical antisemite”—he also just really disliked Jews. Let’s hope this settles the matter.
Below, translated excerpts of Heidegger’s letters, first published by Die Zeit’s Adam Soboczynski and Alexander Cammann this weekend.
18th of December, 1931
Dear Fritz, dear Liesl, dear boys,
We would like to wish you a very merry Christmas. It is probably snowing where you are, inspiring the hope that Christmas will once again reveal its true magic. I often think back to the days before Christmas back at home in our little town, and I wish for the artistic energy to truly capture the mood, the splendor, the excitement and anticipation of this time.
It would appear that Germany is finally awakening, understanding and seizing its destiny.
I hope that you will read Hitler’s book; its first few autobiographical chapters are weak. This man has a remarkable and sure political instinct, and he had it even while all of us were still in a haze, there is no way of denying that. The National Socialist movement will soon gain a wholly different force. It is not about mere party politics—it’s about the redemption or fall of Europe and western civilization. Anyone who does not get it deserves to be crushed by the chaos. Thinking about these things is no hindrance to the spirit of Christmas, but marks our return to the character and task of the Germans, which is to say to the place where this beautiful celebration originates.
13th of April, 1933
Dear Fritz! I would like to wish you and yours a very happy Easter!
Thank you for your long letter. With each day that passes we see Hitler growing as a statesman. The world of our Volk and Reich is about to be transformed and everyone who has eyes with which to watch, ears with which to listen, and a heart to spur him into action will find himself captivated by genuine, deep excitement—once again, we are met with a great reality and with the pressure of having to build this reality into the spirit of the Reich and the secret mission of the German being […]
18th of August, 1941
Dear Fritz, dear Liesel, dear Boys! […] It is not Russianism that will bring about the destruction of the earth but Americanism, not just the English but all of Europe has fallen prey to it as it represents modernity in its monstrosity.
23rd of July, 1945
Dear Fritz, dear Liesel, dear Franz!
Thank you for your words. It is not very nice here. We have had to host people from the concentration camp. […] What the French intend to do is unclear. But it doesn’t seem as though they want to dispense with me. It is mostly the Center Party that is rallying against me, which all the theologians and all reasonable people are resisting. But everything is miserable and much worse than it was under the Nazis. I haven’t managed to do even an hour of work: the heat and the state of the city are bad for my heart; I can’t go out to the cottage. […]
Translated from the German by Luisa Zielinski.
Luisa Zielinski is a writer and translator based in Berlin.