5 - Heidegger's war  pp. 140-170

Heidegger's war

By Julian Young

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A common understanding among those who take fascism to be written into Heidegger's philosophy of the early thirties (misunderstanding I argued in the last chapter) is that the philosophy of the late thirties and early forties is of sharply different character. Though by no means immune to criticism of a political nature, this later philosophy, it is held, can be no longer regarded as entailing fascism.

A leading representative of this widespread point of view is Richard Wolin. According to him, as we have seen, Heidegger's philosophy undergoes an ‘abrupt’ transition coinciding with the beginning of the Nietzsche engagement in 1936 (see chapter 4, section 2). In this engagement a new version of the History of Being appears. No longer is it a history of human failing and falling–of Seinsvergessenheit, our forgetting of Being. It becomes, rather, a history of Seinsverlassenheit – of our abandonment by Being. History, that is, ceases to be something human beings make as (according to Wolin) the dynamic, activist philosophy of the early thirties supposes. It becomes, rather, something ‘sent’ by Being in such a way that human beings are powerless to influence its course.

The historical point of reference for this transition, Wolin continues, was Heidegger's eventual realisation that the Nazi revolution was never going to proceed in the direction he had mapped out for it. In effect, Wolin suggests that, finally realising his inability to achieve his megalomaniac ambition ‘to lead the leader’, Heidegger went into a grandiose philosophical sulk: his inability to gain philosophical dominion within the Nazi movement became inflated into man's impotence in the face of world-history.