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  • Print publication year: 2005
  • Online publication date: July 2009

3 - Heidegger and the Politics of the University




It is unfortunate but in retrospect undeniable that Heidegger's brief but very public tenure as the first Nazi Rector of Freiburg University in 1933–1934 helped cast an early sheen of intellectual legitimacy over the brutal regime that, less than a decade later, earned everlasting historical infamy for Auschwitz and the other horrors of the Shoah. The question for many of us, then, is this: How do we come to terms with the fact that the man who was probably the greatest philosopher of the twentieth century threw the considerable weight of his thought behind what was certainly its most execrable political movement? This profoundly troubling juxtaposition has haunted intellectuals for seventy years, generating a secondary literature of singular immensity. Although the debates carried on in this literature are multifaceted and complex, an historical examination of this “Heidegger controversy” shows that it has long had the character of a trial, both before it actually became one and after Heidegger himself was no longer alive to stand trial. An “accuse or excuse” dichotomy still structures the field of competing interpretations, obliging scholars to take sides, as though with either the prosecution or the defense. Unfortunately, this adversarial logic increasingly dominates the public sphere in the West, its common spectacle of talking heads talking past one another working to obscure the fact that in complex matters the truth is usually located between the opposing extremes, and so is unfit for the polemical purposes of demagogues on either side.

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