Before Christmas, I blogged about the impending publication of the latest volume of the Gesamtausgabe, the complete works of the German philosopher Martin Heidegger (1889-1976). The revelation that the Schwarzen Hefte (Black Notebooks), due to be published in Germany in March, contained explicitly anti-semitic remarks revived interest in the question of the nature and extent of Heidegger’s flirtation with National Socialism in the 1930s (particularly when he was rector of Freiburg University, under the aegis of the Nazi minister of education). The reaction to this news was especially anguished in France, where, as I pointed out, for complex historical reasons, “the murky subject of Heidegger’s political affiliations convulses the intellectual class roughly once a decade”.
In that earlier blog, I observed that the German editor of the notebooks, Peter Trawny, had written an as yet unpublished essay in which he argued that the manuscripts, assembled between 1931 and 1946, contain ideas that are “clearly antisemitic, even if it is not a question of antisemitism of the kind promoted by Nazi ideology”. Trawny’s essay (“Heidegger: ‘The Black Notebooks’ and Historial Antisemitism”) remains unpublished. But he has recently taken to the pages of the German weekly Die Zeit in order to pronounce on the content of the Black Notebooks. His piece was published in French in Le Monde last week, under the title “Heidegger et l’antisémitisme”. In it, Trawny unpacks the notion of “historial antisemitism” (seinsgeschichtlicher Antisemitismus) and defends the claim that Heidegger’s philosophical antisemitism had little to do with Nazi race theory. Which is not to suggest that Trawny intends to excuse Heidegger. This is not, he writes with good reason, some “absurd exercise in [Heideggerian] apologetics”. One will have to wait for Heidegger’s more fanatical French followers for that.
Trawny begins with an anecdote told by the philosopher Karl Jaspers in his autobiography. Jaspers remembers discussing the “pernicious Protocols of the Elders of Zion” with Heidegger. But far from treating the Tsarist antisemitic hoax with the contempt it deserved, Heidgger expatiated on the threat posed by a “dangerous international alliance of Jews”. Although Trawny says it’s impossible to establish the veracity of this story, the publication of the Black Notebooks suggests that it “contains a kernel of truth”.
There’s at least circumstantial evidence for Trawny’s claim. For instance, nowhere in the notebook from the mid-1930s does Heidegger make any reference to the…