For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

Heidegger and Nazism

by Farías, Víctor (1989)


In part, the importance o f the book depends on the importance attributed to Heidegger, who, as this century draws to a close, looms ever larger as one o f the principal philosophers o f our age— perhaps, as some argue, the author o f the most important philosophical work since Hegel’s Phenomenology. There is no question that Heidegger is a most significant thinker, although the nature o f his contribution has been called into serious question since the end o f World War II because o f his link to Nazism. Heidegger stands before us as a singular case, philosophically sui generis, the source o f one o f the most influential cur­rents o f philosophical thought in our century, the only major thinker to opt for Nazism, the main example o f absolute evil in our time— possibly o f any time. The combination is without any known historical precedent.

Key Passage

The  administrative  changes  adopted  by  Heidegger  were  com­pleted  by  a  series  o f measures  intended  to  make  adjustments  in  the  lives o f the  students,  whose  habits  up  to  19 33  were  to  live  an  easy  life  with  no thought other than  professional  and  material  success,  concerns  now judged decadent  and  individualistic.  The  eagerness  with  which  Heidegger  took on  this  task  in  a  university  where  the  students  were  almost  entirely  from the  middle  and  working  classes  is  certainly  a  sign  o f  his  decision  to  im­pose  the  nationalist  program  in  its  most  radical  populist  variant.  Wolf­gang  Kreutzberger  has  brought  out  clearly  how  the  social  origins  o f the Freiburg  students  worked  against  the  rector’s  decision.  The  actual  partic­ipation  o f the  students  in  voluntary  work  was  in  fact o f little  account.  The majority  o f  those  attached  to  this  service  belonged  to  the  least  favored classes  and  frequently demanded  as a condition o f their participation  that the  work  details  have  some  connection  with  their  professional  training. At  the  same  time,  they  refused  to  do  any  “ nasty  work.”  Most  often  those who  “volunteered”  were  moved  more  by  anti-internationalist  ideas  and National  Socialist  convictions  than  by  any-identification  with  the  working classes. Heidegger  saw  in  this  transformation  o f student  life— which  would  be attained  thanks  to  its  concrete  links  with  the  world  o f work—the  accom­plishment  o f one  o f  the  points  o f the  SA  program.  This  is  clearly  stated in  his  speech  o f  November  26,  1933,  “T h e  German  Student  as  Worker,“ delivered  during  registration.  The  ceremony  and  the  speech  were  broad­cast  and  elicited  much  commentary  on  the  radio  at  Frankfurt,  Freiburg, Trier,  Cologne.  Stuttgart,  and  Mühlacker.36  T h e  new  student  does  not become  a  student  (of  the  state),  Heidegger  says,  simply  by  the  fact  o f his entry  into  the  university,  nor  by  other connections  thereby  made  with  the state,  but  by  his  integration  through  “work  service,  with  the  SA .”  “The new  German  student  proceeds  through  work  service;  he  is  in  the  SA .” 37 The  true  sense  o f  the  service  to  knowledge  is  to  integrate  the  student into  the  “ workers’  front.”  It  is  only  by  becoming  a  “ worker”  that  the  stu­dent  can  authentically  become  tied  to  the  state,  “ because  the  National Socialist  state  is  a  workers’  state” (Arbeiterstaat).38  This  speech,  in  fact  a statement  o f  principles,  finds  its  complement  in  the  article  “The  Appeal to  Work  Service,”  published  by  the  student  paper  on Jan u ary  23,  1934.39 This  article  was  printed  alongside  another  one  that  defended  the  book- burning  organized  by  the  immediate  political  superiors  o f  those  editing the Deutsche Studentenzeitung.  The  fires  lit  to  burn  books  “ written  by Jew s are  fires  against  intellectual  delinquents;  they  will  not  burn  out  until  the last  o f their  writings  will  become  ashes,  until  the  last  o f the  parasites  who wrote  them  will  be  interned  in  a  work  camp,  and  when  these  beasts  will be  clean  and  shaven.” 1*0Heidegger’s  article  is  meaningful  in  political-historical  and  philosoph­ical  terms.  According  to  the  spirit  o f the  variant  National  Socialism  he  is defending,  Heidegger  develops  and  transforms  a  series  o f  themes  that he  had  treated  in  a  general  and  abstract  manner  in Being and Time:-The  new  educational  mode  o f our  German  youth  proceeds through  work  service.Such  service  affords  a  basic  experience  o f  toughness,  o f closeness  to  earth  and  tools,  o f the  rigor  and  severity  o f the  most simple  physical  work,  and  thereby  o f what  is  most  essential  within the  group.41-In  this  way  Heidegger  reconsiders  the  relationship  between  existence (Dasein)  and  world (Welt)  by  linking  them  in  terms  o f one’s  proximity  to the  earth  at  the  same  time  he  finds  a  new  way  o f explaining  the  meaning o f  “ tool” (Zeug,  Zuhandenes)  and  the  data  o f  immediate  experience (Vor­handenes).  When  Heidegger  affirmed  in Being and  Time  that  the  tool  as such  would  disappear  precisely  in  order  to  become  efficient,  he  had  to specify  its  nature  within  a  form  o f  inauthentic  existence.  The  possibility o f an  authentic  “ use”  o f  tools,  not  developed  in Being and Time,  now  ap­pears  to  be  grounded  in  that  cognitive  and  transcendental  act  that  is  pub­lic  service. (p.121)


Heidegger, Student, Academic Work, Nazi, National Socialism


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