Heidegger: Philosopher or Undercover Nazi?

Dr. Brian Gilchrist, a communications professor and Dr. John Hersey, a philosophy professor, held a discussion entitled “Inglorious Basterd” on Oct. 26. It centered on a famed German philosopher, Martin Heidegger and his involvement with the Nazi party and Adolf Hitler.  

This discussion had a very good turn out – more than half of Laughlin was filled. It brought students, seminarians and professors together.

Hersey began the discussion by explaining what black notebooks were. These notes were written by Heidegger from the 1930’s to 70’s in oil black covered books, hence the name. There are 34 volumes in total, but the first is missing. “Ponderings” is the only published works thus far by an editor and these are volumes 2-6.

Heidegger was appointed as a teacher at The Rectory in Germany. During the time of the Nazi regime, one had to be a Nazi to teach. He was under constant watch by Nazis because he taught a Jewish theory called phenomenology.

Gilchrist then took a communications route by explaining what Media Ecology is and how it connects to Heidegger. He gave an overarching definition of “the study of media environments, concerning relationships between media and technology.” Anyone can be engaged in media ecology and it can be a form of writing that changes a culture.  

Heidegger was heavily interested in how technology influenced relationships but he also rejected technology.

“Nature becomes a thing to be controlled and technology allows this,” Gilchrist explained about Heidegger. One of Heidegger’s most known philosophies is that we are the only beings that can question our being-ness.

The rise of Adolf Hitler created an opportunity to Heidegger. He saw him and the Nazi regime as taking down technology and Heidegger sought to be Hitler’s advisor.  

Hersey then continued the discussion with explaining that when volumes 2-6 were published in 2014, it greatly stirred up and created conversation. Of all 34 volumes, there are a total of 14 passages expressing anti-Semitism.  

“The real scandal was that the editor of the notebooks released them,” Hersey stated. In 536 pages, there was one mention of Jews.  

Hersey questioned, “To what extent can we go into statements when they are past our time? Should we still read him?”

After the discussion, Gilchrist expressed that it was wonderful to see so many students present, especially during advising week. He thought it was good for students to have exposure to such a complex thinker that Heidegger was.  

Hersey said, “The release of the notebooks makes us engage with the life of the man, the writer and the work.”


Photo courtesy of Peyton Courtney.

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