How did Philosophers Contribute to Nazism's Racial and Imperial Projects? On Heidegger's Anti-Semitism

Tuesday Seminar
Event Speaker: 
Adam Knowles, Drexel University and Visiting Faculty in the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences of IIT
Event Time: 
03:30 PM to 05:00 PM
Event Venue: 
HSS Committee Room (MS 610)

How did Philosophers Contribute to Nazism's Racial and Imperial Projects? On Heidegger's Anti-Semitism
A talk by Adam Knowles

The philosophical method of exegetical analysis often involves reading back through a thinker’s influences, i.e. inquiring what preceding works influenced that thinker, or how a particular philosophical figure reworked earlier thinkers. In this paper I will propose to read influences laterally and outside of the discipline of philosophy. As the Nazis came to power in 1933 many prominent professors from the humanities responded to the movement with great enthusiasm. This paper will discuss how philosophers made themselves useful to the Nazi regime, whether through instrumental alliances or ideological support in their professional publications, teaching and administrative activities. Through a re-examination of the case of Martin Heidegger, this paper will address the range of behavior that cast philosophers as either politically reliable or hostile to the regime. Even while the party deemed philosophy an ideologically critical discipline, it did not impose a top-down vision upon it, but instead fostered professors with many competing visions of philosophy’s role in the regime’s racial and imperial projects.

Much of the literature on Heidegger, even from his detractors, portrays Heidegger as suddenly discovering National Socialism in a brief and intense flirtation with party politics in 1933. However, I will show that Heidegger was immersed in the literature of anti-Semitic ethno-nationalist (völkisch) philosophers in the 1920s. By analyzing the affinities between Heidegger’s language and the writings of overtly anti-Semitic philosophers in the Weimar era, I will show that: 1. Heidegger’s philosophical lexicon is deeply imbedded within the anti-Semitic thinking of his day 2. His readings of ancient Greek philosophy were mediated through his immersion in this völkisch thinking. Far from being banal, Heidegger’s anti-Semitism relies on the cohesive body of thought which underpinned “scientific” investigations of the “Jewish Question” in Nazi Germany. What does it say about the discipline of philosophy that a figure such as Heidegger has been so thoroughly rehabilitated? What is Heidegger’s place in the future of the discipline of philosophy?

Biographical Information:
Adam Knowles is an Assistant Teaching Professor of philosophy at Drexel University and Visiting Faculty in the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences of IIT Delhi. His book Heidegger’s Fascist Affinities: A Politics of Silence is forthcoming with Stanford University Press in March 2019. His research has been supported by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, Holocaust Educational Foundation, the European Holocaust Research Infrastructure and German Historical Institute. He is currently translating Heidegger’s Black Notebooks 1942-8 for Indiana University Press and preparing a book manuscript entitled Categories of Complicity: Philosophy under National Socialism.