Sunday, 1 January 2017

Luther and Heidegger’s Black Notebooks: The role of ‘World Jewry’. Inner Circle Seminar 238 (24 September 2017)

Martin Luther

Martin Heidegger

Luther and Heidegger’s Black Notebooks
‘World Jewry’ and the ‘uprooting of all being from Being’

An investigation, 500 years after Luther posted his
95 theses (31 October 1517), into the influence of
Martin Luther on Martin Heidegger

Anthony Stadlen
Inner Circle Seminar No. 238
Sunday 24 September 2017
10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

In eight Inner Circle Seminars over the last few years we have immersed ourselves in the detailed reports of the seminars that the philosopher Martin Heidegger gave between 1959 and 1969 in the home of the Swiss psychiatrist and Daseinsanalyst Medard Boss at Zollikon near Zurich, retracing them after fifty years almost to the day. We have also started to explore the discussions between Heidegger and Boss which were the ground from which the seminars sprang.

In today’s seminar we step back even further and look at Heidegger’s Black Notebooks. It is here that, according to his brother Fritz, Martin Heidegger is most authentically himself and his real philosophy is to be found. Yet twenty-six short entries in these Notebooks have been the occasion of yet another Heidegger scandal. How seriously should we take this scandal’? 

It has long been known that Heidegger was a paid-up member of the Nazi party from 1933 to 1945; that he was Nazi Rector of Freiburg University; that he told students: The Führer alone is the present and future German reality and its law’; and that in 1949 he said: Farming is now a motorised food-industry, in essence the same as the manufacture of corpses in gas chambers and extermination camps.’ Was he ‘philosophically’ trivialising Nazi mass murder? But did he not have warm relationships, and even at least two love affairs, with Jewish students and colleagues? Did he not have a friendship, even after 1945, with Martin Buber? Granted, he had complained before the war about the Jewification’ of Germany, but perhaps he meant this metaphysically’? Heidegger was, it was said, a great thinker, and not an antisemite’ as his granddaughter Gertrud says his wife Elfride was to the end of her life.

The rumours, rather than the reading, of the Black Notebooks with their sprinkling of remarks about Jews have shaken this view. Peter Trawny, in two influential books, has claimed the Notebooks prove Heidegger was indeed an antisemite. But this is a confused allegation. If we understand this word strictly, in its pseudo-scientific, biological’, racial sense as used by the Nazis, then the Notebooks show unequivocally that Heidegger was not an antisemite. In the Notebooks he specifically denounces ‘antisemitism’ as ‘reprehensible’, and he attacks Nazi ‘racial’ doctrine as itself part of the same destructive ‘calculative’ ‘machination’ and ‘uprooting’ of which he accuses not only Weltjudentum (‘World Jewry’) but also the Bolsheviks, the Americans, the English, in fact almost everybody except traditional non-Bolshevik Russians, Martin Heidegger, and of all people Lawrence of Arabia, an enemy of Germany in the first world war! He insists that his discussion of the role of ‘Weltjudentum is not to do with ‘race’, but is ‘a metaphysical questioning of the kind of humanity that can with downright abandon undertake the uprooting of all being from Being’. On the other hand he sees his teacher Husserl, a convert to Christianity, as ultimately precluded from true insight by the inescapable fact that he is, still, a Jew. But this is presumably a cultural, not a racial, judgement. Or if, in some spiritual’ Heideggerian sense, it is racial’, this has nothing to do with the Nazi biological concept of race’.  

In this seminar we try to get beyond simplistic categories. Just how does Heidegger’s critique of ‘World Jewry’ differ from Nazi ‘scientific ‘racial’ ‘antisemitism’ or, for instance, the religious anti-Judaism of T. S. Eliot (who also denounced ‘antisemitism’ and insisted it was a ‘sin’ and a heresy’ in the eyes of the Church)? What is the reality of Christian and post-Christian anti-Judaism? How did it prepare the ground for Nazi ‘racism’ and for Heidegger’s opposition to both Nazi ‘racism’ and ‘World Jewry’? It is important to understand that even Heideggers Christian theologian colleague Bultmann, who explicitly opposed Nazi antisemitism, even after the second world war and the Shoah in his book Primal Christianity (recommended by Laing) gives an account replete with ignorant unexamined assumptions about the inferiority of Judaism. This is standard European culture.     

Here it is crucial to examine the role of Martin Luther in Heidegger’s (and European) thinking. Heidegger began as a Catholic theologian, but married a Protestant woman and underwent a religious crisis. At the beginning of Being and Time, he lists the current crises in the foundations of the natural and human sciences: for example, the dispute between formalists and intuitionists in mathematics, and the questions raised by relativity in physics. But he does not mention the names of the protagonists in these crises: Hilbert, Brouwer, Einstein. Only in relation to one of the sciences does Heidegger mention a proper name: the  ‘science’ of theology and its transformation by Luther’s  ‘insight’ into the primacy of faithWe shall study the importance of Luther, as well as of his precursor Paul, in Heidegger’s thinking, five hundred years after Luther posted his ninety-five theses at Wittenberg. For Luther, of course, the Jews were the archetypal children of the devil, whose essence was evil calculative machination. Did this also influence Heidegger?   

And what, if any, are the implications of all this for the everyday practice of psychotherapy? Can Heidegger’s thinking help us improve our practice, as the Zollikon seminars make clear he hoped? It would seem so. But is he correct that  psychoanalysis is in essence ‘calculative machination’, as many existential psychotherapists also seem to think? In the Black Notebooks he writes of it in these terms, but in the Zollikon seminars he is more nuanced, presumably under Boss’s influence. Existential therapists generally seem closer to his Black Notebooks position. If ‘calculative machination’ is all they can see in psychoanalysis, are they not by that token guilty of it themselves? Is this an unacknowledged anti-Judaic tendency of existential therapy in general?

The Daseinsanalyst Gion Condrau expressed irritation that people mentioned what he called Heidegger’s ‘political error’. Condrau told me that Boss told his trainees they must not, in the Zollikon seminars, question Heidegger about his Nazism. But Heidegger, if only for a short time, saw his so-called ‘political error’ (and is ‘error’ the right word for a grave moral wrong?) as grounded in his philosophical thinking. Might not existential or daseinsanalytic therapy, also explicitly grounded in his philosophical thinking, be a ‘therapeutic error’? In this seminar, I do not wish to argue this, but rather to be open to this possibility. I hope that the consensus of participants in our seminars on Heideggers Zollikon seminars, that his thinking is indeed a fundamental contribution to psychotherapy, will survive such questioning and be confirmed by todays seminar also. Your contribution to the discussion will be warmly welcomed.

Venue: Durrants Hotel, 26–32 George Street, Marylebone, London W1H 5BJ
Cost: Psychotherapy trainees £120, others £150, some bursaries; coffee, tea, biscuits, Durrants rock, mineral water included; payable in advance; no refunds or transfers unless seminar cancelled
Apply to: Anthony Stadlen, ‘Oakleigh’, 2A Alexandra AvenueLondon N22 7XE
Tel: +44 (0) 20 8888 6857  +44 (0) 7809 433 250
For further information on seminars, visit:

The Inner Circle Seminars were founded by Anthony Stadlen in 1996 as an ethical, existential, phenomenological search for truth in psychotherapy. They have been kindly described by Thomas Szasz as ‘Institute for Advanced Studies in the Moral Foundations of Human Decency and Helpfulness’. But they are independent of all institutes, schools and universities.

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