Heidegger's thought is derived from a variety of sources, but for our purpose the importance he
gave to the work of Nietzsche is particularly illuminating. He said that the most important
concept underlying Nietzsche's work was his concept of "The eternal return of the same." As
Heidegger explained it, since time is infinite and events are finite, every event must be repeated an
infinite number of times. Obviously that time is infinite and that events are finite are both
assumptions, thus the "eternal return of the same" is pure conjecture. If, as Heidegger said in his
work on Nietzsche, this is the fundamental basis of all of Nietzsche's work, then that work was
built on conjecture. But this is not a problem once we reject reason as a source of truth. As we
saw, Nietzsche's approach was literary and not philosophical in the sense that it was the impact of
the words that were important for conveying the message and not the logical connections between
them. We might say the same for Heidegger also, but that would not be accurate. He was a
brilliant and stirring speaker at a time when Germany was rebuilding itself in the aftermath of the
first world war. He was also a brilliant philosopher who based his ideas on a thorough knowledge
of ancient Greek language and philosophy, However, we must be wary as we examine his
thought because he was as aware of the meaning of his ideas as accepted by the typical German as
he was of their deep philosophical significance.
Heidegger was also a phenomenologist. He parted with his former mentor by rejecting the
transcendental ego and replacing it with an ego-in-the-world, or Dasien as he called it (although
he modified the concept in his later writing to be closer to Nietzsche's overman). Once we stray
from Husserl's transcendental ego as the only ground for scientific knowledge, we must explain
the world that the ego is immersed in using phenomenological terms. And we must do this while
suspending judgment concerning the existence of the world. This makes Heidegger's work both
difficult to understand at times and easily misunderstood.
Suspending judgment on the existence of a physical world does not entail the rejection of our
fundamental Western assumption, that the world is rational. Nor of the fundamental implication
of this assumption that man as a reasoning animal can understand it. It only changes the method
by which our reason is applied in order to reach our understanding. Heidegger's approach was
from the standpoint of a consciousness that existed in a world. Since we are suspending
judgment on the existence of the world itself and looking only at the knowledge existing in this
consciousness, we must first determine what it means for evidence of an unacknowledged world
to enter into the consciousness. In the simplest terms it is through the emergence of awareness in
the consciousness. Heidegger called this simply presencing, or unconcealing. By this he meant
the coming into presence, or unconcealing of the awareness of the world in which the
consciousness is embedded. To see how this works we can examine his description of some
extremely important concepts put forward by Parmenides.
As you may recall, while studying the Presocratics, we examined Parmenides ideas from the description provided by WKC Guthrie. His description allowed us to see the meaning of Parmenides work as they
impacted later Greek philosophy. However, Heidegger made an important point that this was not
a true picture of the Eleatic's ideas. He said that Plato actually changed the way the Greeks
looked at the ideas of Parmenides. Perhaps this explains why in the dialogue Plato avoided
discussing these ideas and instead commented on Parmenides pupil Zeno. But as we look at
Heidegger's analysis, it is clear that this view becomes
understandable to us as modern Westerners only because he put it in phenomenological terms.
We can begin with the two paths outlined by Parmenides and pretty much as explained
Here, for the present, two paths are sharply marked off from one another:
1. The path to being; it is at the same time the path to unconcealment. This path is
2. The path to non-being; to be sure, it cannot be revealed, but for this very reason it must
be made known that this path is unviable, particularly in view of the fact that it leads to
nonbeing. This fragment provides perhaps the oldest philosophical statement to the effect
that along with the way of being the way of nonbeing must be specially considered, that it
is therefore a misunderstanding of the question of being to turn ones back on nothing with
the assurance that nothing is obviously not. (For that nothing is not an essent does not
prevent it from belonging to being in its own way.)
Aside from the phenomenological language, the only difference we find in this explanation is the
point, missed by the traditional view of Parmenides, that bringing up the fact of nonbeing, that it is
nothing, does in fact provide a way for it to be and therefore be considered. And this is the point
that Heidegger is trying to make, that therefore Parmenides considers this important.
Fragment 6 starts by sharply opposing the two paths indicated in fragment 4, the path to
being and the path to nothing. But then a third path is indicated, counter to the second
which leads to nothing and is therefore without issue.
It is this third path that the traditional view of Parmenides misses. Therefore we can look at this
part of the poem with the Phenomenological translation of Heidegger.
Needful is the gathering setting-forth as well as the apprehension: the essent in its being;
For the essent has being; nonbeing has no "is"; This I beg you consider.
Above all avoid this way of questioning.
But also that other which men, knowing nothing, two headed, cut out for themselves, for
is the guide to their erring understanding; they are thrown hither and thither,
dull witted, blind, perplexed, the brotherhood of those who do not differentiate,
whose dictum is that the essent and the nonessent are the same and also not the same--to
them in all ways the path is contrary.
Seen in this phenomenological language new facts about the meaning behind Parmenides words
begin to emerge. "The path now indicated is that of doxa in the sense of appearance." Sliding
back and forth from one opinion to another, men lose themselves entirely. But, the poem also
made it necessary to know this path "...in order", as Heidegger said, " that being may disclose
itself in appearance and against appearance." While all three paths are necessary for a complete
understanding of truth, each by itself has its own shortcoming.
The path to being is inevitable.
The path to nothing is inaccessible.
The path to appearance is always accessible and traveled but no one can go around it.
Heidegger thus concludes that;
A truly sapient man is therefore not one who blindly pursues the truth, but only one who is
always cognizant of all three paths, that of being, that of nonbeing, and that of appearance.
Superior knowledge―and all knowledge is superiority―is given only to the man who has
known the buoyant storm on the path of being, who has known the dread of the second
path to the abyss of nothing, but who has taken upon himself the third way, the arduous
path of appearance.
This is more than simply a new exegesis of Eleatic thought. It demonstrates quite well
Heidegger's view of being as "being in the world." Since knowledge is a gathering of appearances
into an emergence of being, being is a living essent. But if we recall our studies on Greek
philosophy we should remember that the essence of anything includes all that is true of it during
its entire existence. The relationship between time and being in Heidegger's phenomenological
view is complex and beyond the scope of this work. But two concepts derived from Nietzsche
are important for us. The first is "The Eternal return of the same." If we remove from this idea
the sense of irrationality mentioned earlier, it can be seen as a sense that nothing is new, that
everything has been done before and will be done again. Couple this idea with the second, or
"The eternal return of the Will to Power" and it leads to Heidegger's idea of destiny as an open
possibility. And finally to the idea of the road to authenticity through his later version of
"Dasien", or being in the world. The Authentic person, then, is reminiscent of Nietzsche's
overman. These are the points that are important for our narrative because it was here that he
voiced the best thought of his time.
This is also where we meet the enigma of Heidegger. The distrust of reason, the longing for
authenticity, the disparagement of the common man, we have been following these threads in
Europe since Rousseau. We see where Heidegger has expressed them in deeply philosophical
terms, barely outlined in this short treatment. But, when we turn to his activities, particularly
between 1933 and 1935, we see a rejection of learning, a call for a turn to discipline over study.
And finally, the emergence of Dasien as a kind of religious rebirth.
To begin with Martin Heidegger was a Nazi. He didn't become one, he was one. Attempts to
defend Heidegger's political actions both before and after 1934 were doomed to failure by
Heidegger's actions during and after the war. Those who were doing so were attempting to
separate Heidegger the Nazi from Heidegger the philosopher. If, as the opening statement in
Richard Wolin's preface says, Heidegger is this century's greatest
philosopher and at the same time that he "succumbed" to the belief that the National Socialist
revolution represented the "saving power" of western humanity, then his Nazism would
represent an evaluation of Heidegger as a man. It would have little, if any, affect on either his
philosophy or our understanding of it. However, if his absorption in the revolution as the ultimate
answer to nihilism was a natural outcome of his philosophical thought, then it casts an
on twentieth century continental philosophy in general and French philosophy in particular. Thus
this is the controversy that Wolin was attempting to clear up by bringing in the best evidence
available so that the perceptive reader could decide for himself what is most likely the case. The
difficulty is that the words Heidegger spoke and those articles he published that expressed his
political feelings do not help us to understand what lies behind them for the simple reason that the
emotion behind the words is as meaningful as the words themselves. For this we need to dig
down into his deepest thoughts, into the background out of which his political and philosophical
The tone of Heidegger's rectorship address is one of a dedicated believer in the National Socialist
revolution. Standing before the students and faculty of
the University at Freiberg, he looked and felt every bit the spiritual leader of National Socialism
he believed himself to be. Self-governance, he said, means determining the means for becoming
what we ought to be. But the idea of self-governance he was putting forward was very different
from anything in the past experience of German Academia. How are the faculty and students to
determine what it is they should be? Is what one ought to be something that lies hidden, awaiting
our discovery? Or is it a matter of choosing from a wide realm of possibilities? The answer to
this question lies in Heidegger's concept of destiny, and to understand this is the beginning of the
road to understanding Heidegger's fascination with National Socialism. For knowledge of this we
need to step further into the background of Heidegger's thought, to the wellsprings of his
philosophy, to the poet Holderlin.
Heidegger, living in that period after the first world war when Germany was attempting to bring
herself back into the world, spoke often about their world being in "darkness." In his poem
"The Spirit of the Age," Holderlin, who lived during the end of
the period of Napoleon's reign over Germany approached this same problem of emerging from
darkness, as one of the poet searching for himself. As all about him things are becoming too dark,
he appealed to the god of time symbolized as his father, in order to see through the turmoil of his
day to the clear source;
Let me finally, father! meet you with open
Eyes! did you first awaken the spirit
From me with your ray? gloriously
Bring me to life, o father!
It is the god of time, then, who holds the key to destiny. This idea shows up more prominently
when we examine another source of Heidegger's philosophy, the pre-Socratic. Although
Heidegger's conception of "being" is highly complex, this one attribute of it that is so important
for us is brought out in his comments on a fragment taken from Anaximander. To put his idea
across Heidegger used a text from Homer where Achilles commanded the seer Kalchas to
interpret the wrath of god that has brought on the plague. Heidegger found most important to be
Homer's description of the seer as one having a unique
Whoever belongs in the realm of seers is such a one who knew. Only when a man has
seen does he truly see. To see is to have seen. What is seen has arrived and remains for
him in sight.
Thus the seer is standing in the sight of the present, as Heidegger puts it, in its unconcealment.
But in this case the unconcealment has cast light on what is absent. The seer sees and is able to
lead the Achean ships to Troy only because he has seen everything as present. He can do this
because he is a mad-man. He is outside himself. He is away from the sheer oppression of what
lies before him. He is away to what is absent, to that solitary region of the presencing of
everything that in some way becomes present. At this point we must be very careful not to read
into Heidegger's language more than is said. If the unfolding of presence is simply an
unconcealment of what is absent, then it would appear that being is an unchangeable entity in the
sense that man has no input into his own future actions. Does It appear that our concept of future
as that which has not occurred simply has no meaning? No, this would be implying a decidedly
non-heideggerian fatalism. But how do we avoid this?
If we return to Holderlin we find another idea that
Heidegger has fashioned into his philosophy. Holderlin described man as lost through his
dependency on reason. He has lost his place in being. Guided only by reason, man threatens to
become "too wise," that is, sanctimonious, alienated from his instincts, his needs, and his ancestry.
Then Holderlin turned to man's divinity, his relationship with the gods, and in particular with the
divine night. As we have seen from our study of Western thought, night, darkness, has always
been aligned with ignorance But in this case the divine night is beneficent. It has within itself a
return to the past, a remembrance which can rescue man from his blindness in spite of "the light" of
reason, and enable him to summon a relationship with his gods. A relationship lost through an act of forgetting brought on by his
reliance on reason.
But she [night] must also, in the interval of hesitation,
Grant us forgetting and the holy drunkenness, so that in twilight something tenable should
Grant us the flowing word, slumberless like lovers,
A chalice more full, and life more daring,
Holy remembrance, too, to keep us awake by night.
A chalice more full, a life more daring, the basic ingredients for a concept of destiny that is not
only a possible, but an excitingly possible aspect of being. The poet in these verses has assumed
the role of a God leading man out of his confusion. In the act of forgetting the poet is made
receptive to "what is tenable", that is to a dimension of existence that is not transitory like the day
and the common affairs of men. The condition is one of holy drunkenness, not mere intoxication,
for the personified night fills the poet with its divine liquor, making him capable of a holy
remembrance of the past out of which he has grown. This sleeplessness by night is also seen as the
introspection of the poet, which makes him more full and grants access to a bolder life, to
dimensions of his own life that that are outside of time and thus border on the divine and so are
not normally accessed. Thus destiny is not just a promise or a hope, it is a divine opportunity
born in the past.
What did Holderlin mean by "divine"? In
Approval" We will find the answer along with the birth of the "Volk" that plays so important
a part in Heidegger's philosophy and politics. The crowd, Holderlin said, likes what is dished up
in the market place. The divine believe. Those who believe in the divine are not merely believers
"on faith" who might otherwise not believe. They are individuals who recognize the kinship
between mortal and divine. Holderlin said that we can believe in the divine because we ourselves
are divine. Those who believe in the divine are themselves divine because they also believe in
themselves. Thus Holderlin made belief in the divine a condition of being per se. Holderlin made
nature, too, a manifestation of the divine, and Christianity a historical moment of the divine. In
"Celebration of Peace" the prince of peace is not Christ,
but another of unknown identity. Mankind must work toward an understanding of itself and its
deepest motivations, to the very limits that we commonly deem mortal.
In "Man," Holderlin linked the divinity of nature with
the advent of man. "Man" sets up a relationship between the Father (Helios) and the Mother
(Earth), whose most beautiful child is man. Man, not yet of age, chose from among all fruits the
"holy grapevine" as his nurse. When he became of age Man, a hybrid of his parents aspired to be
like his mother, "the mother of Gods, "the all-encompassing." He concluded;
Is he not the most blessed of all
living things? But deeper and wilder
grasps fate, the all balancing one,
even the strong man's kindled heart.
When the Gods are not present, then, if there is no possibility for their arrival among men, being
itself, in particular the deeper and wilder being of divine destiny is threatened, thus man cannot
come of age. In this sense, both men and Gods may continue in relative stages of other-knowing.
The divine that encompasses them both allows one to retreat momentarily from the other, while
the divine itself is not affected.
These are the images that must have run through Heidegger's mind as he stood before the faculty
and students and said, To know this self-governing will require the most uncompromising and
The concept of self has been developed by Heidegger and Nietzsche, as well as Holderlin. For the
self, Holderlin said, there is a state of being that is not yet selfhood, but which bares the potential
to be self. On this score Nietzsche had a lot to say, and Zarathustra is brimming with allusions to
the self and positive selfishness, which must be created in the face of adversity represented by the
collective―which, for him at least, is the nonself. In very ordinary language, we frequently say of
a given action: "I apologize, I was just not myself that day," or some such, which means that, even
after achieving selfhood, there are times when it retreats, when it lapses in such a way that an
uncharacteristic action may ensue. The communal event of being, in similar fashion, cannot take
place without its constitutive elements, so that communal being is not always present. First it
must be established. Then it must be maintained, and here all those factors of other-knowing
come into play. But as we have seen, this self has been lost through reasoning and thus science,
reasoning, must be put in its place.
Self-examination leading to self-governance can take place only on the strength of self-assertion,
Heidegger said. "Science and German fate must come to power at the same time in the will to
essence. This can happen only if teachers and students expose science to its innermost necessity.
This means asking questions concerning the very existence of science." That is of knowledge
developed through reasoning, through the labor of man. Thus if knowledge is less powerful than
necessity, if what is reveals itself in its unfathomable inalterability, then science as questioning will
know of its impotence in fate. But fate is destiny, an exciting divine promise of the possible. He
said that only then would questioning become the highest form of knowledge. Then it would
ground science in man's historical existence. From this will come the will to essence, an essence
founded on divine destiny. It will create a spiritual world of the Volk. This is a power that comes
from preserving the forces that are rooted in the soil and blood of the Volk.
If the German students place themselves under the new student law, Heidegger went on, the law
of their essence, they will then delimit this essence and thus give law its highest freedom. The
concept of "academic freedom", was false because it was only negating, it meant lack of concern,
arbitrariness of intention, and lack of restraint. When compared with the divine promise of the
destiny of the Volk, this gives the appearance of being the ultimate in nihilism. Freedom, he went
on, returned to truth, forming three bonds of service. To the ethnic and national community, to
the honor and destiny of the nation and to the spiritual mission of the German Volk.
The teachers will to essence must awaken to the simplicity and breadth of the knowledge of the
essence of science and grow strong,
Heidegger said. The
students' will to essence must force itself into the highest clarity and discipline of knowledge and
must shape, through its demands and determinations, the engaged knowledge of the folk and its
state and incorporate this knowledge into the essence of science. Both wills must ready
themselves for mutual struggle. All capacities of will and thought, all strengths of the heart, and
all capabilities of the body must be developed through struggle, must be intensified in struggle,
and must be preserved as struggle.
Struggle alone will empower resolute self-examination to true self-governance only if we as a
historical Volk will ourselves. Each person has a part in deciding this.
Albert Leo Schlageter was a German spy who was put to death by the french for espionage.
Heidegger called Schlageter a hero who died a tragic
death. But Holderlin said What matters is not death
but the consummation of life, and with the fullest experience of life comes the celebration of a
beautiful death without remorse. In his most difficult hour Schlageter achieved the greatest
thing of which man is capable, Heidegger said, awakening the Volk to honor and greatness. The
gods have enough with their immortality, Holderlin said, but still require one thing more, the
experience of human life through heroes and other mortals. Thus Heidegger called on the
Students of Freiburg! German student! When on your hikes and outings you set foot in
the mountains, forests, and valleys of this black forest, the home of this hero, experience
this and know: the mountains among which the young farmers son grew up are of
primitive stone, of granite. they have long been at work hardening the will.
He called on the students to let the strength of this hero's native mountains flow into their will, the
strength of the autumn sun of his native valley shine into their hearts! Schlateger was not
permitted to escape his destiny so that he could die the most difficult and greatest of all deaths
with a hard will and a clear heart. Thus he showed that the mortal's life has a greater value than
men are willing to recognize, as Holderlin put it, man
has what the gods cannot have on their own. As long as the mortal honors his gods and does not
strive to be like them, Holderlin said, the gods will in turn share themselves and impart higher life
Not since Alexander the Great has any man stood so close to the Gods as did Martin Heidegger,
as he stood before the faculty and students at the University of Freiburg.
Wolin best described this point by referring to the impossibility
of the "they" of making the transition to Dasien, to awakening, to Neitzsche's superman.
Heidegger, he said, claimed that those who dwell in the public sphere of everydayness are
essentially incapable of self-rule. Thus, since the majority of men and women are incapable of
ruling themselves, we do them a service by ruling them from above. Wolin saw in this a
reference to the authoritarianism in Heideggers speech. But it is not authoritarianism that stirred
the students before him, nor was Heidegger reaching for it. What Heidegger saw was an attempt
to trigger an awakening in the students before him. This, he realized, would come only with total
commitment. In his poem "Death for the Fatherland,"
Holderlin cries, In battle just youths, like magicians, fall upon the enemy, "And their songs of the
fatherland Lame the knees of the honorless." What Heidegger was calling for was nothing less
than the divine destiny of the German Volk. As Holderlin said:
O Bellarmin! where a people loves the beautiful, where it honors the genius in its artists,
there a common spirit blows like the very air of life....Where such a people lives all people
have their homeland, and gladly would the stranger linger.
In Heidegger's philosophy Dasien is a personal awakening and the call to it was individual. Every
Dasien has been thrown into existence, determined by a set of inescapable "factical"
preconditions. It is the source of existential disquiet. Does Heidegger tend toward the idea of
divine potentiality as the opening of the excitingly possible? Holderlin's philosophy is not
Heideggers. The gulf that separates the Poetics of being from the philosophy of being is vast in
spite of their common ideologies. For that we need to relate his concept of the "call of
consciousness" with that of "the authentic decision."
explained it, it is the call of consciousness that paves the way for authentic decision. It is
conscience that summons Dasien's self from its lostness in the "they." This call, however, does
not come in the form of words. The call emerges as a deliberate wordless ambiguity. The
ambiguity of the call is important for Heidegger's thesis. If the caller is asked about his name or
origin it does not even provide the remotest possibility of implying something which one can
understand while still in a condition of "worldly understanding." The call is something we have
never planned, prepared for nor voluntarily performed. It calls against our expectation, it appears
as something otherworldly. Wolin compared it with Luther's "calling", or Calvin's elect. The
importance of the ambiguity lies in the target individual as among the "unworldly." Thus the call
is in the form of a force impenetrable to the faculties of human reason, the alien power by which
Dasien is dominated.
The call, then, opens the door to the possibility of authenticity. "They", the unauthentic,
experience time as a serial succession of nows. The authentic is elevated above the routine
temporal stasis in a "moment of vision." Thus, it introduces a "state of exception" into the
condition of bourgeois "everydayness." It provides Dasien with a point of orientation for the
realization of authentic potential-for-being.
This is the point where Heidegger's philosophy and his politics touch and become intertwined.
The category of "authenticity" precludes any separation between ones philosophical outlook and
concrete life-choices, Wolin said. The realization of the
essential determinants of the world outlined in Being and Time, is essential to authenticity.
An authentic Dasien existing unrealized in a state of potentiality would be non-sensical.
Authenticity requires concrete decisions and political commitments.
There is, then, an unfathomable gulf between the Nazi's biological-ethnic structure of the German
Volk, and Heidegger's concept of an authentic people. At the same time the charismatic nature of
National Socialism must have appeared to Heidegger as a form of calling. This, of course
accounts for his short flirtation with the inner circle of the Nazi regime. Still, the answer to the
question concerning whether Heidegger's philosophy led unambiguously to the kinds of attitudes
that would send millions of people to the ovens is not simple. Heidegger's concept of destiny
leaves open the essential question concerning the responsibility of the individual for group
decisions. If we see destiny as "divine opportunity", that is, as an opportunity always offered but
not always developed by man, then genocide of the non-Volk would become entirely acceptable
because of their non-participation.
Pierre Bordieu said that in order to understand Heidegger
one needs to understand not only the "received ideas" which were in the air, in newspaper
editorials, university speeches, and so forth, and which everyone propagated in their own way.
One must also understand the specific logic of the philosophical field itself. The difficulty with
Heidegger is that his philosophy has a dual basis. Two cultures that are rarely united must be
made to function together in an entirely new way which have contradicted the themes that have
determined the philosophers reception. One must be highly professional in order to introduce a
"conservative revolution" into philosophy. It is a question of making something philosophically
distasteful, perhaps obscene socially acceptable. Does conservatism taken to its own logical
conclusion automatically lead to totalitarianism? Perhaps not, but combined with a teleological
underpinning as Heidegger had done, it would be difficult to see how could do otherwise.