Sunday, October 25, 2009

On Romano on Heidegger

Carlin Romano attacks Heidegger:

How many scholarly stakes in the heart will we need before Martin Heidegger (1889-1976), still regarded by some as Germany's greatest 20th-century philosopher, reaches his final resting place as a prolific, provincial Nazi hack? Overrated in his prime, bizarrely venerated by acolytes even now, the pretentious old Black Forest babbler makes one wonder whether there's a university-press equivalent of wolfsbane, guaranteed to keep philosophical frauds at a distance.


The whole essay is itself something of a hatchet job. There are two extremes with regard to Heidegger; one is the camp Romano attacks, and one is the camp Romano is in. It is, on the one hand, absurd to suggest that the fact that Heidegger was a Nazi, and himself connected his interest in Nazism to his philosophical work, is something that can just be ignored. I have myself sharply criticized people who try to play down this feature of Heidegger: it is dishonest, a transgression against truth. It is equally absurd, however, to think that Heidegger can be dismissed as a "provincial Nazi hack," a "pretentious old Black Forest babbler," or a "philosophical fraud"; to do that, you have to distort and twist the truth, and that's the one surefire way to make onself into a philosophical fraud, and is almost as much a transgression against truth as the former. Both trivialize the question of Nazism, the one by treating it as if it were easily ignored, the other by treating it as if it were not parasitic. But it is a matter of serious concern, and it was indeed parasitic: detaching the parasite from what it tried to use is precisely the sort of thing that calls for serious thought. Part of the evil of Nazism was that it insinuated itself into all sorts of areas it had no right to be in the first place, twisting otherwise good things in perverse directions.

I think Hunt has more-or-less the right approach in his comments on Romano's essay.

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