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Remembering Martin Heidegger:
September 26, 1889–May 26, 1976

[1]4,645 words

Translations: Russian [2]Slovak [3], Spanish [4]Ukrainian [5]

Martin Heidegger is one of the giants of twentieth-century philosophy, both in terms of the depth and originality of his ideas and the breadth of his influence in philosophy, theology, the human sciences, and culture in general.

Heidegger was born on September 26, 1889, in the town of Meßkirch in the district of Sigmaringen in Baden-Württemberg, Germany. He died on May 26, 1976 in Freiburg and was buried in Meßkirch.

Heidegger was from a lower-class Catholic family. His family was too poor to send him to university, so he enrolled in a Jesuit seminary. But Heidegger was soon rejected by the Jesuits due to a heart condition. He then studied theology at the University of Freiburg from 1909–1911, after which time he switched his focus to philosophy. Eventually Heidegger broke entirely with Christianity.

In 1914 Heidegger defended his doctoral dissertation. In 1916, he defended his habilitation dissertation, which entitled him to teach in a German university. During the First World War, Heidegger was spared front duty because of his heart condition.

From 1919 to 1923, Heidegger was the salaried research assistant of Edmund Husserl at the University of Freiburg. Husserl, who was a Jewish convert to Lutheranism, was the founder of the phenomenological movement [6] in German philosophy, and Heidegger was to become his most illustrious student.

In 1923, Heidegger was appointed assistant professor of philosophy at the University of Marburg. There his intense and penetrating engagement with the history of philosophy quickly became known throughout Europe, and students flocked to his lectures, including Hans-Georg Gadamer, who became Heidegger’s most eminent student, as well as such Jewish thinkers as Leo Strauss, Hannah Arendt, and Hans Jonas. In 1927, Heidegger published his magnum opus, Being and Time, the foundation of his world-wide fame. In 1928, Husserl retired from the University of Freiburg, and Heidegger returned to replace him, remaining in Freiburg for the rest of his academic career.

Heidegger was elected rector of the University of Freiburg on April 21, 1933. Heidegger joined the ruling National Socialist German Workers Party on May 1, 1933. In his inaugural address as rector on May 27, 1933, and in political speeches and articles from the same period, he expressed his support for the NSDAP and Adolf Hitler. Heidegger resigned as rector in April 1934, but he remained a member of the NSDAP until 1945. After the Second World War, the French occupation authorities banned Heidegger from teaching. In 1949, he was officially “de-Nazified” without penalty. He began teaching again in the 1950–51 academic year. He continued to teach until 1967.

A whole academic industry has grown up around the question of Heidegger and National Socialism. It truly is an embarrassment to the post-WW II intellectual consensus that arguably the greatest philosopher of the twentieth century was a National Socialist. But the truth is that Heidegger was never a particularly good National Socialist.

Yes, Heidegger belonged intellectually to the “Conservative Revolutionary” milieu. Yes, he thought that the NSDAP was the best political option available for Germany. But Heidegger’s view of the meaning of National Socialism was rather unorthodox.

450px-Grab_Heidegger [7]

Heidegger’s grave

Heidegger viewed the National Socialist revolution as the self-assertion of a historically-defined people, the Germans, who wished to regain control of their destiny from an emerging global-technological-materialistic system represented by both Soviet communism and Anglo-Saxon capitalism. This revolt against leveling, homogenizing globalism was, in Heidegger’s words, “the inner truth and greatness” of National Socialism. From this point of view, the NSDAP’s biological racism and anti-Semitism seemed to be not only philosophically naive and superficial but also political distractions.

Heidegger knew that Jews were not Germans, and that Jews were major promoters of the system he rejected. He was glad to see their power broken, but he also had cordial relationships with many Jewish students, including extramarital affairs with Hannah Arendt and Elisabeth Blochmann (who was half-Jewish).

In the end, Heidegger believed that the Third Reich failed to free itself and Europe from the pincers of Soviet and Anglo-Saxon materialism. The necessities of re-armament and war forced a rapprochement with big business and heavy industry, thus Germany fell into the trammels of global technological materialism even as she tried to resist it.

Heidegger was not, however, a Luddite. He was not opposed to technology per se, but to what he called the “essence” of technology, which is not technology itself, but a way of seeing ourselves and the world: the world as a stockpile of resources available for human use, a world in which there are no limits, in principle, to human knowledge or power. This worldview is incompatible with any sort of mystery, including the mystery of our origins or destiny. It is a denial of human differentiation — the differentiation that comes from multiple roots and multiple destinies.

Yet, as Heidegger slyly pointed out, the very idea we can understand and control everything is not something we can understand or control. We don’t understand why we think we can understand everything. And we are literally enthralled by the idea that we can control everything. But once we recognize this, the spell is broken; we are free to return to who we always-already are and destined to be.

But on Heidegger’s own terms, it is still possible to combine a technological civilization with an archaic value system, to reject the essence of technology and affirm rootedness and differentiation. This is what Guillaume Faye calls “archeofuturism.”

Ultimately, Heidegger’s philosophy — particularly his account of human being in time, his fundamental ontology, his account of the history of the West, and his critique of modernity and technology — is of greater significance to the project of the North American New Right than his connection with National Socialism. It is a measure of the embryonic nature of our movement that we are just beginning to deal with his work.

Heidegger is widely cited [8] in our pages.

So far, I have published the following books, articles, and reviews on Heidegger:

Other Counter-Currents authors have also published a significant number of texts on Heidegger:

Substantial reference to Heidegger is made in the following:

Greg Johnson’s From Plato to Postmodernism [114] contains material on Heidegger.

There is also some discussion of Heidegger in Trevor Lynch’s review essay [115] on Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight.

Finally, Collin Cleary’s Summoning the Gods [116], is deeply influenced by Heidegger.

Recommended Reading

Eight Essential Books by Heidegger

Heidegger was an amazingly productive philosopher. His Complete Edition runs to more than 100 volumes, and there will be many more volumes of correspondence. We can, however, arrive at a list of essential volumes by looking at the works that Heidegger published in his own lifetime. Heidegger’s posthumous works are, of course, important for documenting the development of his ideas and deepening our understanding of his published works. But, nevertheless, Heidegger had ample time and motive to publish all of his essential ideas during his lifetime, so that is where we should look first.

Heidegger is a notoriously difficult stylist. But he was a brilliant lecturer, and his lecture courses are far more accessible than the works he prepared directly for publication. Thus I have included four volumes of lecture courses in this list.

My first three recommendations are Heidegger’s magum opus, Being and Time (1927), and two lecture courses that provide essential context.

  1. History of the Concept of Time: Prolegomena, translated by Theodore Kisiel (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1985).
  2. Being and Time, translated by John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson (New York: Harper & Row, 1962).
  3. The Basic Problems of Phenomenology, translated by Albert Hofstadter (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1982).

Eventually, every reader of Heidegger will have to conquer Being and Time, which made Heidegger’s reputation and is the most influential work of twentieth-century philosophy. But despite its wealth of exciting and suggestive ideas, actually reading Being and Time is a terrible slog.

A useful preparation for reading Being and Time is the 1925 lecture course History of the Concept of Time: Prolegomena, which is extremely helpful in situating the project of Being and Time in terms of Edmund Husserl’s phenomenology and also covers with greater clarity many topics that Heidegger treats in Being and Time in his crabbed and ponderous academic style. History of the Concept of Time is the only volume in this list that was published after Heidegger’s death in 1976, but before he died, he had put it on the fast track to publication, and it appeared in 1979. It is one of Heidegger’s most exciting works.

There are two English translations of Being and Time: John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson (1962) and Joan Stambaugh and Dennis Schmitt (2010). (Avoid Stambaugh’s solo translation from 1996.) Neither is perfect, but I got much more out of Macquarrie and Robinson’s translation. It is stylistically thornier than Stambaugh and Schmitt, but for some reason it made a stronger impression.

Being and Time itself was never finished, but one can get a sense of how the book would have been completed by reading another highly lucid 1927 lecture course, The Basic Problems of Phenomenology, which deals with the question of Being in Kant, Aristotle, Medieval Scholasticism, and Descartes. The Basic Problems of Phenomenology was the first volume of Heidegger’s Complete Edition. It was published in 1975, the year before he died.

The next three volumes collect Heidegger’s major essays and lectures after Being and Time.

  1. Basic Writings, edited by David F. Krell (New York: Harper & Row, 2008).
  2. Off the Beaten Track, edited and translated by Julian Young and Kenneth Haynes (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002).
  3. Poetry, Language, Thought, edited and translated by Albert Hofstadter (New York: Harper & Row, 1971).

These essays vary in difficulty from moderate to extreme, but all of them are richly rewarding. I recommend fourteen essays in particular.

Heidegger’s Basic Writings are not basic in the sense of elementary or simple, but basic in the sense of foundational. The following eight essays are essential.

Note that “The Origin of the Work of Art” is abridged in the 1977 first edition of Basic Writings but is complete in the subsequent (1993 and 2008) editions.

Another anthology, The Heidegger Reader, edited by Günther Figal, translated by Jerome Veith (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2009), is an interestingly conceived and useful work, but it cannot rival Basic Writings, simply because Basic Writings includes genuinely basic writings that The Heidegger Reader excludes.

Off the Beaten Track contains six long essays, including another (somewhat improved) translation of “The Origin of the Work of Art,” which I have already recommended in Basic Writings. Of the five essays that remain, the most essential are:

“The Age of the World Picture” deals with modernity. It is one of Heidegger’s clearest and most exciting essays, and it should be read before “The Question Concerning Technology.”

“Nietzsche’s Word” is the fruit of Heidegger’s intensive study of Nietzsche in the 1930s and 1940s.

“Anaximander’s Saying” tells us more about Heidegger than Anaximander, but that’s fine. It contains some of Heidegger’s most precise formulations of his concepts of Being, truth, and the history of Being; if it weren’t so long, I would recommend that you read it first.

Heidegger’s essays on language and poetry are some of his richest. In Poetry, Language, Thought, the essential essays are:

Finally, there are these essential lecture courses:

  1. Introduction to Metaphysics, translated by Gregory Fried and Richard Polt (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000).
  2. What Is Called Thinking?, translated by J. Glenn Gray (New York: Harper & Row, 1968).

Introduction to Metaphysics is a lecture course given in 1935 and published in 1953. (Avoid the earlier translation by Ralph Mannheim). I imagine many casual browsers have purchased Introduction to Metaphysics thinking it is for beginners, only to have their minds blown—in a bad way. If you know what you are getting into, it will blow your mind in a good way. For me, this book best captures Heidegger’s reputation for classroom wizardry. For a commentary on Introduction to Metaphysics, see Collin Cleary’s essay “Heidegger: An Introduction for Anti-Modernists” in his What Is a Rune? & Other Essays, ed. Greg Johnson (San Francisco: Counter-Currents, 2015).

What Is Called Thinking? (1954) collects Heidegger’s last two lecture courses, from 1951 and 1952. The first course deals with Nietzsche, the second with early Greek philosophy, but both also serve as overviews of Heidegger’s late thought, which had attained its full maturity. Written with great clarity, it is something of a swan song. Hannah Arendt’s blurb for J. Glenn Gray’s excellent translation is no exaggeration: “For an acquaintance with the thought of Heidegger, What Is Called Thinking? is as important as Being and Time. It is the only systematic presentation of the thinker’s late philosophy and . . . it is perhaps the most exciting of his books.”

Reading these books and essays is equivalent to an upper-level undergraduate survey of Heidegger plus a graduate-level seminar on Being and Time.

More Advanced Reading in Heidegger

If you work your way through the eight volumes above, you will be able to explore the rest of Heidegger’s works on your own, based on your particular interests. But don’t miss the following volumes. This list is evenly divided between works Heidegger published during his lifetime and his posthumous lectures and notebooks.

  1. Towards the Definition of Philosophy, translated by Ted Sadler (London: Continuum, 2000).
  2. The Phenomenology of Religious Life, translated by Matthias Fritsche and Jennifer Anna Gosetti-Ferencei (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2004).
  3. The Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics: World, Finitude, Solitude, translated by William McNeill and Nicholas Walker (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995).
  4. Nietzsche, 4 vols., edited by David Farrell Krell, translated by David Farrell Krell, Frank A. Capuzzi, and Joan Stambaugh (New York: Harper & Row, 1979, 1982, 1984, 1987).
  5. The End of Philosophy, translated by Joan Stambaugh (New York: Harper & Row, 1973).
  6. Pathmarks, edited by William McNeill (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998).
  7. The Bremen and Freiburg Lectures: Insight into that Which Is and Basic Principles of Thinking, translated by Andrew J. Mitchell (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2012).
  8. On the Way to Language, translated by Peter D. Herz with Joan Stambaugh (New York: Harper & Row, 1971).
  9. On Time and Being, translated by Joan Stambaugh (New York: Harper & Row, 1972).
  10. Ponderings II–VI: Black Notebooks 1931–1938, translated by Richard Rojcewicz (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2016).

The list begins with three of Heidegger’s most fascinating volumes of lectures.

Towards the Definition of Philosophy collects two early lecture courses from 1919. They reveal a surprising unity and maturity to Heidegger’s thought, even in his earliest lectures. For instance, he already uses “Ereignis” as a technical term.

The Phenomenology of Religious Life contains two lecture courses, plus notes for a third undelivered course, dating from 1918–1921, in which we see Heidegger’s ideas of Dasein, facticity, formal indication, and the temporality of human existence emerging from a dialogue with Christian thinkers like Saint Paul and Saint Augustine.

The Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics from 1929–30, like Being and Time, is a magnificent torso of an unfinished work. The best part is the phenomenology of boredom, which is at least in part autobiographical. After publishing Being and Time, Heidegger seemed to suffer a sort of post-partum depression and to be at a loss as to how to continue its outline by shifting from a transcendental to a historical approach to meaning. It is tempting to regard his plunge into politics, which took place around the same time, as a kind of respite from this impasse.

The original German edition of Nietzsche was published in two volumes in 1961. It collects four lecture courses on Nietzsche from the late 1930s and early 1940s, plus supplemental lectures and essays. Originally published in English in four volumes, the Nietzsche lectures are now available in two large paperbacks: Nietzsche: vols. 1 and 2 and Nietzsche: vols. 3 and 4. Three of the supplementary essays from the original German edition have been published in The End of Philosophy.

In addition to dealing with metaphysics and Nietzsche, these courses also document Heidegger’s increasing distance from National Socialism. The Nietzsche lectures are quite readable. The essays are tough going. But, all told, the Nietzsche volumes are a magnificent intellectual achievement and must be read by everyone who takes Heidegger or Nietzsche seriously.

Pathmarks, The Bremen and Freiburg Lectures, On the Way to Language, and On Time and Being collect some of Heidegger’s most important essays and lectures from the 1930s to the 1960s. The Bremen Lectures are the basis for Heidegger’s classic essays “The Question Concerning Technology,” “The Thing,” and “The Turn.” On the Way to Language is particularly important for understanding how our participation in evolved linguistic and cultural practices is the horizon in which we encounter the world. It really deserves a new translation. There is some overlap between these volumes and collections like Basic Writings and Poetry, Language, Thought, but that is unavoidable.

I am not a fan of Heidegger’s unpublished treatises like Contributions to Philosophy, Mindfulness, The Event, and The History of Beyng. They strike me as belabored, repetitive, needlessly obscure, and often merely provisional. Moreover, they don’t throw that much light on Heidegger’s published works.

But I do recommend the so-called Black Notebooks, the ongoing series of essays, aphorisms, and reflections that will occupy the last nine volumes of the Complete Edition. The Black Notebooks contain many ideas that Heidegger never published in any form, including his reflections on the Third Reich, World War II, and post-war Germany. In style, they are usually accessible, often candid and unpretentious, and sometimes quite angry and acerbic. The first three volumes of Black Notebooks have been translated into English by Richard Rojcewicz. I have listed the first above. If you read it, you will want to read more.

Indiana University Press published its last volume in the set in 2017. I hope the project has not been abandoned. All nine volumes should eventually be translated.

Six Essential Books About Heidegger

There is an immense secondary literature on Heidegger, but most of it is no more accessible than Heidegger himself. These books are significant exceptions.

  1. Graham Harman, Heidegger Explained: From Phenomenon to Thing (Chicago: Open Court, 2007).
  2. Rüdiger Safranski, Martin Heidegger: Between Good and Evil, translated by Ewald Osers (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1999).
  3. Thomas Sheehan, Making Sense of Heidegger: A Paradigm Shift (New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2014).
  4. Graeme Nicholson, Illustrations of Being: Drawing Upon Heidegger and Upon Metaphysics (Atlantic Highlands, N.J.: Humanities Press, 1992).
  5. Michael Zimmerman, Heidegger’s Confrontation with Modernity: Technology, Politics, and Art (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990).
  6. Richard Polt, Time and Trauma: Thinking Through Heidegger in the Thirties (New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2019)

Graham Harman’s Heidegger Explained is the best introductory book on Heidegger. It is short (around 180 pages), clearly and engagingly written, chronologically organized, explains all of Heidegger’s most important technical terms, identifies his basic thought patterns, gives a tour of his most important books, and never loses sight of the essential.

Harman is correct about Heidegger’s conception of Being as the presence and absence of that which is present and absent (beings), but he does not deal with Heidegger’s distinction between ontology (which deals with Being) and fundamental ontology (which deals with the meaning, truth, clearing, or event of Being, i.e., how Being is given to us).

The best biography of Heidegger is Rüdiger Safranski’s Martin Heidegger: Between Good and Evil.

Thomas Sheehan’s Making Sense of Heidegger is one of the most important books ever written on Heidegger because it deals squarely with the essential distinction for understanding Heidegger: between Being and the meaning or “sense” of Being. This distinction is overlooked by most Heidegger scholars. Sheehan’s book is discussed extensively in “Making Sense of Heidegger [39].”

Graeme Nicholson’s Illustrations of Being is one of the best books on Heidegger and the metaphysical tradition. Nicholson correctly understands Being (the presence/absence of beings) and the meaning of Being (the presence/absence of Being itself). Contra deconstructionists who would simply dispense with metaphysics altogether, Nicholson stresses that on Heideggerian terms, the metaphysical tradition contains truths of permanent validity.

Michael Zimmerman’s Heidegger’s Confrontation with Modernity: Technology, Politics, and Art is one of the best books ever published about Heidegger. It is clearly written and thrilling to read. It deals with Heidegger’s critique of modernity in the context of the Conservative Revolution, extensively discusses his relationship to Ernst Jünger, deals with Heidegger’s relationship with National Socialism, and situates it all in the context of the development of his fundamental ontology.

Richard Polt’s Time and Trauma is the most up-to-date account of Heidegger’s political engagement and philosophical ideas during the Third Reich. I discuss it extensively in “Richard Polt’s Time and Trauma [37].”

Six Specialized Books on Heidegger

If you really get into Heidegger, here are some more advanced pieces of scholarship that I have found helpful.

  1. John van Buren, The Young Heidegger: Rumor of the Hidden King (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994).
  2. Theodore Kisiel, The Genesis of Heidegger’s Being and Time (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993).
  3. Jeffrey Malpas, Heidegger’s Topology: Being, Place, World (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2008).
  4. Charles Bambach, Heidegger’s Roots: Nietzsche, National Socialism, and the Greeks (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2003).
  5. Robert Mugerauer, Heidegger and Homecoming: The Leitmotif in the Later Writings (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2008).
  6. Bret W. Davis, Heidegger and the Will: On the Way to Gelassenheit (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 2007).

The volumes by van Buren and Kisiel are detailed studies of the development of Heidegger’s thought up through Being and Time. The volumes by Malpas, Bambach, and Mugerauer deal with the central importance of place and roots in Heidegger’s thought, which is essential to his critique of philosophical and political universalism and his advocacy of ethnic nationalism. Bret Davis examines the development of Heidegger’s critique of the will, which is essential to understanding his critiques of modernity and totalitarianism.

Two Important Pieces of Background Reading

The ideal preparation for reading Heidegger is to spend at least five years intensely studying Aristotle and Husserl. But who has time for that? The next best thing is to find some good secondary literature.

Thomas Sheehan’s Making Sense of Heidegger includes an excellent discussion of Heidegger’s debts to Aristotle, as does Kisiel’s The Genesis of Heidegger’s Being and Time.

As for Husserl, I highly recommend two books by Robert Sokolowski:

  1. Robert Sokolowski, Husserlian Meditations: How Words Present Things (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1974).
  2. Robert Sokolowski, Presence and Absence: A Philosophical Study of Language and Being (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1978).

Husserlian Meditations is about Husserl, whereas Presence and Absence is a Husserlian study of language and being. Like Heidegger, Sokolowski does Husserlian phenomenology without the language of transcendental subjectivity. Sokolowski gives the clearest introduction I know to the deep thought patterns of Husserlian and Heideggerian phenomenology. Once you know Heidegger’s basic moves, you always have a sense of where he is taking you. Otherwise baffling texts suddenly become intelligible. (Graham Harman’s Heidegger Explained performs a similar function by emphasizing the importance of Heidegger’s recurring twofold, threefold, and fourfold schemas.)

Three additional works that help situate Heidegger in terms of the transcendental tradition of Kant and Husserl are:

  1. Steven Galt Crowell, Husserl, Heidegger, and the Space of Meaning: Paths Toward Transcendental Phenomenology (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 2001).
  2. Chad Engelland, Heidegger’s Shadow: Kant, Husserl, and the Transcendental Turn (New York: Routledge, 2017).
  3. Steven Crowell and Jeff Malpas, eds. Transcendental Heidegger (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2007).

Five Fun Books on Heidegger

You’ll learn something from these books, but I recommend them simply because they are fun.

  1. Heinrich Wiegand Petzet, Encounters and Dialogues with Martin Heidegger, 1929–1976, translated by Parvis Emad and Kenneth Maly (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993).
  2. Hans-Georg Gadamer, Philosophical Apprenticeships, translated by Robert R. Sullivan (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1987).
  3. Digne Meller Marcovicz, Martin Heidegger: Photos, 23. September 1966, 16. u. 17. Juni 1968 (Frankfurt: Vittorio Klostermann, 1985).
  4. Adam Sharr, Heidegger’s Hut (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2006).
  5. Jef Costello, Heidegger in Chicago: A Comedy of Errors [117] (San Francisco: Counter-Currents, 2015).

Heinrich Wiegand Petzet’s memoir Encounters and Dialogues with Martin Heidegger, 1929–1976 gives a vivid sense of the highly cultivated people in Heidegger’s generally Right-wing and National Socialist milieu.

Hans-Georg Gadamer, Heidegger’s most distinguished student, relates many endearing anecdotes about Heidegger in his memoir Philosophical Apprenticeships.

Digne Meller Marcovicz’s photos of Heidegger, both at his home in Freiburg and his vacation cottage, the “hut,” are quite charming, in a Tolkienesque sort of way.

Adam Sharr’s Heidegger’s Hut is about Heidegger’s cabin in the Black Forest. If someone writes an entire book about your vacation cottage, that’s a pretty clear indication that you have a cult following.

Jef Costello’s Heidegger in Chicago: A Comedy of Errors is an absurdist novel about what might have happened if Heidegger had visited the United States and bumped into the Duchess of Windsor, Michael Jackson, Charles Manson, Yukio Mishima, Savitri Devi, and others. Naturally, he would have been misunderstood.

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