Thursday, June 10, 2010

And the Heidegger controversy continues...

Recently, Emmanuel Faye issued a polemical call to consign Heidegger's thought to the flames of 'National Socialist literature.' As yet I have not read it, but it remains on the pile to be gone through. More recently, the lectures on which Faye mounts his critique, ones conducted at Freiburg from 1933/1934, have been published. Hopefully I will get my hands on them soon; this Sign and Sight article discusses some of the content. The article also purportedly corrects Faye's accusation, namely that not only did Heidegger actively enmesh his philosophical ideas with the political task of National Socialism, but his ideas were essentially National Socialist. Again without having read either text, but having read a fair quantity of Heidegger, I am deeply suspicious of Faye's project. This is because the ultimate goal of the project, for Faye, is to eliminate Heidegger from serious philosophical consideration both due to his (absolutely) reprehensible political choices and to the philosophical basis for those choices being found in his thought. Faye argues for the idea of "the total identification of Heidegger's teachings with the principles of Hitlerism" (quoted in the Sign and Sight article). I believe that Heidegger's profundity reduces such accusations to straw men; the multitude of philosophical ideas to be found in Heidegger effectively curtails any sort of reductionist labelling. This is not to say that Heidegger is philosophically correct in his description of human existence, of course, and I would argue that he is incorrect about a vast number of things. This does not mean that we are allowed to ignore him or pass him by. Heidegger's thought, like that of all controversial figures, must be engaged, in order to know how and where his thought went wrong and thereby not to repeat the same errors in the future, as well as to extract those ideas which allow for new philosophical horizons to be erected or cause them to come into being. To suggest otherwise amounts to much the same thing as to read only those books which already confirm one's opinions. Continuous confrontation with those ideas which one opposes is, for me, one of the essential elements of liberal education. How's that for a pedantic pronouncement?

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