Heidegger's *Schwarzen Hefte*, or "Leaving Godwin's Law in the rear-view mirror"

In case there was any doubt, this week saw further confirmation of Martin Heidegger's little Nazi/antisemitism problem:

The most controversial passages of the black notebooks are a series of reflections from the start of the second world war to 1941. While distancing himself from the racial theories pursued by Nazi intellectuals, Heidegger argues that Weltjudentum ("world Judaism") is one of the main drivers of western modernity, which he viewed critically.

"World Judaism", Heidegger writes in the notebooks, "is ungraspable everywhere and doesn't need to get involved in military action while continuing to unfurl its influence, whereas we are left to sacrifice the best blood of the best of our people".

In another passage, the philosopher writes that the Jewish people, with their "talent for calculation", were so vehemently opposed to the Nazi's racial theories because "they themselves have lived according to the race principle for longest".

"Freelance philosopher" Jonathan Ree says maybe it's not as bad as all that:

I think that those who say that because he was anti-Semitic we should not read his philosophy show a deep ignorance about the whole tradition of writing and reading philosophy. The point about philosophy is not that it offers an anthology of opinions congenial to us, which we can dip into to find illustrations of what you might call greeting card sentiments. Philosophy is about learning to be aware of problems in your own thinking where you might not have suspected them. It offers its readers an intellectual boot camp, where every sentence is a challenge, to be negotiated with care. The greatest philosophers may well be wrong: the point of recognising them as great is not to subordinate yourself to them, but to challenge yourself to work out exactly where they go wrong.

Ree goes on to talk about how, you know, Being & Time has a lot of good stuff in it. And besides, the stuff Heidegger wrote about Judaism in his Schwarzen Hefte really isn't all that bad anyway.

While it is certainly possible to characterize criticism of Heidegger's affiliation with the Nazis as "He was anti-Semitic, so we should not read his philosophy," such a characterization is a huge over-simplification.

So you've got this philosopher who has a large and complex body of thought/work. You find out at some point that oh, hey–this guy is a jerk, a terrible misogynist, a Nazi, has some really unfortunate views regarding race, whatever. Now you have a choice. You can either decide that, because he's a jerk, his entire body of work should be ignored, or you can start picking through that body of work and try to figure out to what degree his philosophy is infected by his unfortunate social views.

In Heidegger's case, his style is so dense that any investigation of his text is tough. Picking through his texts to figure out exactly what they mean is a daunting task in any case. The Internet is chock-a-block with kooks spouting complicated theories that may or may not be laced with retrograde social views. Am I going to spend time picking the various threads apart to see if there is anything worth keeping? If my answer is no (and in nearly all of those cases, that's my answer), why should I give Heidegger the benefit of the doubt?

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