Martin Heidegger

Martin Heidegger was a student of, and assistant to, Edmund Husserl, whom he succeeded as professor of philosophy at Freiburg. Heidegger began his rise in the academic establishment as a phenomenologist, under the guidance of Husserl. In fact, Heidegger's classic work, Being and Time was published in the 1927 Yearbook for Phenomenolgy and Philosophical Research.

One of Heidegger's students was Jean-Paul Sartre, later the most prominent French Existentialist. Sadly, history drove the two men apart, as Heidegger remained in Germany under the National Socialists, even joining the Nazi Party.

Many students of philosophy have difficulty separating Martin Heidegger's brilliance and use of curiously-mystic language from his support of the Adolph Hitler and the National Socialists from 1933 through 1945. It must be understood that Heidegger, like all philosophers, was not immune to the events around him. This observation is a contradiction of the idea that all men are responsible for their actions, regardless of outside influences.

Heidegger, who in Sein und Zeit had spoken much of resolutely facing death, joined the Nazis after Hitler came to power and, as Rektor of his university, delivered an inaugural address which, fortunately for him, is not widely read. If, as he now says, he soon abandoned Nazism, it is the more remarkable that his resolve was kept so quiet that even today many remain unconvinced.
- Existentialism; Kaufmann, p. 47

Professor Richard Wolin and other researches now believe Heidegger was dedicated to the National Socialist Party, indifferent to how Hitler ruled Germany.

Though [Richard] Wolin's grievance with Derrida is not at issue in "Heidegger's Children," one can't help feeling that, indirectly, it is being reprised. the heart of the controversy was Wolin's accusation that Derrida had tailored his "far-fetched and illogical" opinions about Heidegger's Nazism to dodge an important question: by embracing the legendary German thinker's philosophy, had Derrida and other radical postmodern leftists accepted the core of Heidegger's dubious politics as well?
- "Heidegger's Children": Sins of the Father; reviewed by James Ryerson, New York Times on the Web Book Review; December 21, 2001

The Germany in which Heidegger lived was a country in a constant state of war and division. Only a few years before his birth, in 1871, modern Germany was formed out of formerly feuding regions. Germany is a country with few natural borders, leading its leaders to believe that the best way to maintain Germany was a strong military. These military forces often collided.

Heidegger came to desire a state ruled by an elite group of soldier-philosophers. He came to distrust the public tastes, modernity, and democratic institutions. The National Socialists matched his vision of a new, powerful central government. What one must wonder is how Heidegger reconciled his relationships with students of Jewish descent with the Nazi concentration camps.

Before Heidegger became the Nazi rector of the University of Freidburg in 1933, he served as teacher and sage to four gifted students of assimilated German Jewish backgrounds. Hannah Arendt, who at 18 began a three-year love affair with Heidegger, achieved fame as a political thinker. Herbeert Marcuse, denounced by the Pope in the late 1960s, became a philosophical guru for the New Left. Hans Jonas matured into a pioneering theorist of environmentalism, serving as a touchstone for the German Green Party. And Karl Lowith became a distinguished scholar of modern historical consciousness.
- "Heidegger's Children": Sins of the Father; reviewed by James Ryerson, New York Times on the Web Book Review; December 21, 2001

One reason that Heidegger may not have opposed the Nazi conquests of World War II was the long-standing German distrust of the French. Napoleon I had conquered Germany. As a result, many Germans still consider the French culture a threat the German heritage. Later in life, many Germans would view the Soviet Union in the same light. Until his death, Germany was still an important site of the Cold War between Communism and Western democracies.

Heidegger is known to have referred to the "inner truth and greatness" of the Nazi's long after the fall of the Third Reich. German superiority and nationalistic pride obscured Heidegger's views of history.

What makes Heidegger curious as a founder of existentialism is that he strongly objected to being considered one of The Existentialists, which would place him in company with Sartre and Camus. These men, French communists, were not the sort that Heidegger wanted anyone to link to him.


Being and Time, Essay: 1927, (English 1962)
What is Metaphysics, Essay: 1929, (English 1949)
An Introduction to Metaphysics, Essay: 1953, (English 1959)
What is Called Thinking, Essay: 1954, (English 1968)
What is Philosophy, Essay: 1956
On the Way to Language, Essay: 1959