Apparently, there’s a kerfluffle going on about whether Martin Heidegger’s philosophy should be shelved alongside Nazi history books and Mein Kampf. See, Heidegger was an ardent member of the Nazi party, and the argument is that his philosophy is NaziÃ¯sh, too, and Nazis are bad so his books shouldn’t be available without a warning label! Or something.
Tim Black at Spiked! does a great job of exploding that argument in this article, showing how the philosophy has no fascistic trend in it at all, and in fact lends itself more to left-wing, anti-modern thought. In my experience, Heidegger’s pretty difficult to explain in layman’s terms, but Black does an admirable job of portraying both Heidegger’s philosophy and the impact it had on 20th century thinkers.
What is “my experience,” you ask? Well, despite having virtually no background in philosophy, I studied Heidegger’s main book, Being And Time, for a semester at my wacky hippie-trippy progressive college. Our professor, Tsenay Serequeberhan (now at Morgan State), was late to class every single time, leading us to rename the course to Being On Time.
Given Heidegger’s dense prose (translated from German, the densest language known to man), my aforementioned inexperience, and our professor’s Eritrean accent, I did not have an easy time of things in that class. Still, Tsenay did his best to convey something of Heidegger’s philosophy to a novice like me. (He also told us at the outset that he didn’t want to discuss Heidegger’s role in the Nazi party, especially since Being and Time was published long before Hitler’s rise, and should stand on its own.)
In one of the more concrete (albeit limited) examples, Tsenay addressed Heidegger’s contention that animals do not have emotions. “Here, I disagree with him,” he said. “You see, I believe animals have strong emotions. However, Heidegger is right to say that animals are not people, not da-sein; that is because they do not possess anxiety, the awareness of being-toward-death.
“When I was a Ph.D. student at Boston College, I had a little cat in my apartment. Every morning when I headed out to class, he would follow me out the door and down the street for a while. But every Tuesday, the garbage men would be outside with their bigbig trucks! And my cat would hear them and runbackinside as fast as she could.
“So, you see, when she runs from the garbage men, here the cat is demonstrating fear. But she is not evincing anxiety. If she were, then she would be sitting up every Monday night, worrying about the garbage men!”
For the rest of the session, I envisioned a housecat chewing away on its claws all night. I was not exactly living up to my utmost potentiality for being.
Just kidding: see, utmost potentiality for being is actually Heidegger-code for death! Now you’ve learned something! So go read Tim Black’s article already!
(Bonus Tsenay anecdote! He and I talked about Israel’s airlift of Jews out of Eritrea following the civil war there. I marveled over the concept of taking all the seats out of a 747 and jamming as many people as possible in per flight. He said, “They don’t understand, the Israelis. Eritrea is not Europe. In Africa, we do not have a revolution and then decide to kill all the Jews.” He had a way with words.)