My summer reading project has been to work through the books that I own written by the German philosopher Martin Heidegger. The title above is an allusion to the book by Allen Scult called “Being Jewish/Reading Heidegger” – a book which I haven’t read because of its price tag. The juxtaposition present in Scult’s title and my own is important given Heidegger’s connection with National Socialism, a political ‘mistake’ which has marred his public image considerably.
Two biographies that I am aware of offer separate perspectives on Heidegger. The first is the more balanced one, Safranksi’s “Martin Heidegger: Between Good and Evil,” and the second is by Emmanuel Faye, who certainly has an axe to grind in “Heidegger: The Introduction of Nazism into Philosophy in Light of the Unpublished Seminars of 1933-1935.”
I draw attention to these works and this issue because I believe that we encounter a truly ethical problem when we read the works of not only Heidegger but also Frege, and Yoder, and even Barth. I do not mean to equivocate these figures, but I do mean to draw attention to the fact that each of these figures has a skeleton in their closet.
Heidegger is one of the most prominent figures in Continental philosophy, and yet his support of Hitler remains a stumbling block when reading his works.
Frege, the founder of contemporary formal logic, was given a similar black mark when his anti-Semitic journal entries were uncovered.
Yoder, the most notable Mennonite theologian, was disciplined for his sexual experimentation out of wedlock and yet remains an incredibly important figure for Anabaptists.
Lastly, perhaps the most ambiguous case, is Karl Barth whose questionable relationship with Charlotte von Kirschbaum is not often discussed in theological circles.
My question, as I read Heidegger with a Mennonite hermeneutic, is what should I make of this? I am not a fan of the line of thinking that would say that the writing of these thinkers is contaminated by their personal mistakes. This only leads to the reading of perfect people – and flawless people don’t exist. On the other hand, I am not in agreement with those who ignore these problematic biographical facts about thinkers favored in the various discourses mentioned above. So I am left to read Heidegger’s “Introduction to Metaphysics” and soon his “Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics,” wondering whether the search for the contamination of fascism in these writings doesn’t reflect a purist impulse in the first instance…
I welcome any reflections from the reader below-