Here is a lengthy reflection on the recently published “Black Notebooks” of Martin Heidegger by Richard Wolin. The essence of the review is that Heidegger’s anti-Semitism and pro-National Socialism are not tangential to his philosophy of being but rather lie at its heart. Hand-in-glove is an anti-rationalism that pervades Heidegger’s work, which translates into an anti-modern, anti-enlightenment, anti-democratic view of the world.
Since Heidegger regarded the history of philosophy since Plato as a “history of decline,” he was not bound by the central concepts and standards of that tradition. Consequently, he characterizes the nature of Being, on which so much depends, in terms that, to all intents and purposes, fall beneath the threshold of sense: “Yet Being—what is Being? It is It itself. The thinking that is to come must learn to experience that and to say it.” But if Being can only be defined as self-identical—“It is It itself”—how might we humans make sense of its various manifestations? Heidegger claims to possess superior insight concerning Being’s modalities. But these insights remain undemonstrable: They transcend—often, in ways that seem entirely arbitrary—the basic capacities of the human understanding, which Heidegger frequently mocked.
Anyway, all this was known for ages about Heidegger, and the publication of the “Black Notebooks” only serves to reinforce our general estimation of Heidegger as an unsavory human being with wretched politics who is still – if we can be at all objective about such a person – a genius.
The trouble, for me, is saying in what exactly that genius really consists.