Sunday, May 20, 2012

Heidegger Circle, Third Post: The "Inner Truth and Greatness" Scandal

Julia Ireland: Heidegger and the "Inner Truth of National Socialism": A New Archival Discovery

As I had suggested previously, there was a moment during this year's meeting of the Heidegger Circle that I believe is historically important. This is the case not simply because the work presented by Julia Ireland carries important implications for the study of Heidegger's thought generally but more because it is also an intercession into a larger debate concerning the status of Heidegger's thought within world historical events generally.

Although Ireland presented, along with her archival discovery, an impressive philosophical interpretation of the content of the discovery and its suggestions about the nature of Heidegger's thought in the 1930s, I will limit myself here to presenting the historical facts presented by Ireland alone along with some explanation of the larger context amongst which these facts form a conclusive end to at least one of the many strands of the ongoing controversy concerning Heidegger's relation to Nazism.
As is well known, Heidegger included the following statement in his 1953 edition of the 1935 lecture course Introduction to Metaphysics:

"In 1928 there appeared the first part of a collected bibliography on the concept of value. It cites 661 publications on the concept of value. Probably by now there are a thousand. All this calls itself philosophy. In particular, what is peddled about nowadays as the philosophy of National Socialism, but which has not the least to do with the inner truth and greatness of this movement [namely, the encounter between global technology and modern humanity], is fishing in these troubled waters of 'values' and 'totalities'." (Introduction to Metaphysics Fried and Polt trans. p. 213 brackets are Heidegger's own)

The controversy surrounding this statement consists, at least partially, in the question of the meaning of this "inner truth and greatness". The bracketed statement, according to Heidegger, was written at the time of the lecture course but not delivered to the class for fear of Nazi informers. If this is the case then the meaning of the phrase is explained by the bracketed material and we are left with the, probably much more weighty consideration, of how to assess this estimation of the Nazi party by Heidegger. At the very least, however, we can suggest that it seems to have nothing to do with approving of the most horrific aspects of Nazism in general. On this reading the statement would likely be mistaken, there was no "inner truth and greatness", but at least it isn't a sign of any real identification with the content of Nazi ideology. 

But the most controversial part of this bit of text has not, in fact, turned around how we are to understanding the status (ethically, politically, philosophically) of this claim concerning "the encounter between global technology and modern humanity". Instead some of the most intense debates surrounding this passage have revolved around, not the content of the brackets, but the status of the brackets and Heidegger's own honesty in relation to his thought of the 1930s period. For example, as presented in Fried and Polt's introduction to their translation of Introduction to Metaphysics, Christian Lewalter published the following interpretation of the passage: "...the Nazi movement is a symptom for the tragic collision of man and technology, and as such a symptom it has its 'greatness', because it affects the entirety of the West and threatens to pull it into destruction..." to which Heidegger responded by stating that Lewalter's "interpretation of the sentence taken from my lecture is accurate in every respect." (p. xvi) However, the issue is complicated when we realize that the text from which Introduction to Metaphysics is drawn contains both parenthetic and bracketed texts. Heidegger himself states that the bracketed texts were added later during the reworking of the text in preparation for its 1953 publication. Scholarly work on this topic has revealed that the bracketed section concerning technolology, although it appears in the manuscript in parenthesis, should have been in brackets (as Fried and Polt present it) and was conclusively not part of the original manuscript from which the course was presented, as Heidegger claimed.

The story, seen in light of what we have just said, reads as follows: In 1935 Heidegger speaks of the inner truth and greatness of National Socialism without qualifying this statement further. In the lead up to 1953 he adds in parenthetical text that alleviates some of the more horrific possibilities of the ambiguous text which he then claims, consistently for years, were in the original manuscript. When the parenthetical text is positively interpreted he then publicly states this is precisely what he was thinking at the time. Hardly an inspiring story, one must admit. We are left to wonder whether we are looking at what Heidegger thought at the time but didn't write in the notes, what he wished in retrospect he had thought, or what he wants others to think he had thought with the mark of his dishonesty casting a shadow over the entire question.

What Ireland has uncovered can, in a sense, put the debate about the status of the bracketed remark conclusively to rest. It may not have been in the text originally but the importance of this fact dissolves almost entirely when we realize that it was part of another earlier text Heidegger is echoing here in a later lecture course. Ireland has uncovered that in the "Der Rhein" lecture course directly preceding Introduction to Metaphysics in 1935 Heidegger had already referred to the "inner truth" of National Socialism in relation to the question of the status of science and the technological enframing which rules within it. Again the text appears within parentheses that were not read in class. But this time we can confirm that the comments were conclusively written before the course was completed. In other words, they represent Heidegger of 1935 and not that of 1953. The key part of the text reads, in Ireland's translation, as follows:

"And then by modern science, which dissolved Nature into domains of power belonging to the mathematical ordering of world commerce, industrialization, and technology, which in a special sense is machine technology. Events that for their part in turn impacted our view of science in general, thus not only natural science, and that led to what we have today: science as the organized business of procuring and transmitting knowledge. (Whether this business is kept in operation in the stance taken by so-called liberal objectivity, or in one that merely rejects that stance, alters nothing with regard to the shape of contemporary science as such.) (This purportedly new science is new only by virtue of the fact that it does not know how antiquated it is. It has nothing whatsoever to do with the inner truth of National Socialism.)" 

So, the factual conclusion: although the brackets of Introduction to Metaphysics may have been added later they nonetheless seem to appropriately represent the content of Heidegger's thought at the time. Heidegger's references to the "inner truth" of National Socialism show up in the context of trying to think the status of science, technology and the mathematization of existence in relation to humanity's essence. What the text above adds, which Ireland herself stressed in her own interpretation, is the sense that the "inner truth" Heidegger had in mind required a rejection of the "new science" i.e. Nazi Science. In seeking to expand upon this point we could turn to Heidegger's lecture courses from the summer of 1933 and the winter of 1933-1934, translated and edited by Fried and Polt as Being and Truth. In these courses, along with moments that arguably represent Heidegger at his very worst and most ideological (see, for example, his utterly horrifying interpretation of Heraclitean polemos in terms of a war against those individuals who offer an essential threat to the Dasein of a people, a war with the goal of "total annihilation", at the very start of the winter course) we also find Heidegger's most direct and unconcealed opposition to Nazi racist biologistic science (which he compares to those staring at shadows in Plato's cave and calls, amongst other things, "reactionary, nationalistic, and folkish" in tones meant to imply that each of these things is to be understood negatively) as well as a dismissal of "blood and soil".

The question of the status of Heidegger's thought in the early 1930s must inevitably remain open and troubling. This trouble, I feel, can not and should not be pacified. But, the question of whether the content of the brackets in Introduction to Metaphysics represents Heidegger's attempt to rewrite his history can be conclusively answered with a "no". It is far from easy to interpret what Heidegger was thinking at the time, and Ireland's own interpretation on which I haven't touched here went a long way to aiding us in this difficult work, but Ireland's discovery has made clear that the brackets can be trusted to reflect his thought at the time and, more, has provided us with a broader view from which to attempt to understand this thought. For this we are deeply in her debt.


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