Heidegger's New Beginning: History, Technology, and National Socialism
Martin Heidegger is arguably the most influential philosopher of the 20th Century. He was also a card-carrying member of the Nazi Party. Debate over the relation between Heidegger’s thought and his political engagement has raged since Heidegger officially joined the Nazis in 1933. However, the recent publication of Heidegger’s private notebooks offers scholars new and detailed insight into Heidegger’s intellectual development and political commitments in the interwar period. In this essay, I examine Heidegger’s involvement with the Nazis in light of the philosophical account of Western history (Seinsgeschichte) that Heidegger introduces in his 1927 edition of Being and Time, develops in his notebooks and other writings from the 1930s, and finalizes in his lectures on technology in the 1940s. Specifically, I start with a summary of Heidegger’s stated aim in Being and Time, namely, to “raise anew the question of the meaning of being” through a “phenomenological deconstruction of the history of ontology” (BT1/19, 39/63).I then demonstrate that Heidegger’s early enthusiasm for National Socialism was partially based on his belief that the Nazis represented a radical break from the Western tradition that begins with Greek metaphysics and culminates in the environmental degradation and human dislocation in our modern, technologically driven societies. From here, I show that Heidegger came to realize that, far from a break with Western history, National Socialism represented the apotheosis of modern technology. At this point, I also explain how Heidegger’s later critique of technology develops out of his disillusionment with the Nazis, and so amounts to an implicit and occasionally explicit critique of National Socialism. Finally, I object to Heidegger’s philosophical account of the Western tradition by pointing out that his focus on the general trends of history overlooks the concrete suffering of individual human beings, but then I illustrate how this criticism is addressed by one of Heidegger’s most influential students: Emmanuel Levinas.