Sunday, 1 January 2017

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

Martin Luther

Martin Heidegger

Black Notebooks

Martin Luther and Martin Heidegger
‘World Jewry’ and the ‘uprooting of all being from Being’
500 years after Luther posted his 95 theses

Francesco Alfieri   Maurizio Borghi
  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’?

Professor Fra Francesco Alfieri and Professor Maurizio Borghi  (both distinguished Heidegger experts) and I, with your help, will give serious and adult consideration to the widespread assertion that these notebooks manifest Heidegger’s alleged ‘anti-Semitism’. We shall use the occasion of the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s epochmaking posting of his 95 theses against the Catholic church to explore whether Heidegger’s profound respect for Luther embraced, among other things, Luther’s ferocious denunciation of the Jews. But our investigation will be based on the accusatorial legal tradition, not on the international inquisitorial method that has condemned Heidegger. That is to say, we shall ask what exactly is the ‘anti-Semitism’ with which he has been vaguely charged and on exactly what evidence he has been summarily convicted. We shall examine varieties of anti-Judaism and ‘anti-Semitism’ over two millennia. And we shall presume that Heidegger is innocent until proved guilty

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 ‘anti-Semitic’ 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 twenty-six remarks about Jews have shaken this view. Peter Trawny, in two influential books, has claimed the Notebooks prove Heidegger was indeed an ‘anti-Semite. But if we take this word in the non-religious sense of Wilhelm Marr in the nineteenth century, or in the pseudoscientific, biological’, ‘racial sense of the Nazis in the twentieth century, then the Notebooks show unequivocally that Heidegger insisted, with justification, that he was not an ‘anti-Semite. In the Notebooks he denounces ‘anti-Semitism’ as ‘foolish and 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’. He sees his teacher Husserl, a convert to Christianity, as handicapped from attaining 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 Heideggerian sense, it is ‘racial’, this is not the Nazi ‘biological’ concept of ‘race’.

Trawny simply disbelieves Heidegger, and calls him an anti-Semite anyway. But why should we not believe Heidegger? Why should we not believe T. S. Eliot, who saw ‘freethinking Jews’ as more ‘deracinated’ than free-thinking post-Christians and thought Judaism a not very ‘portable’ religion, but revered Martin Buber (as did Heidegger) and denounced ‘anti-Semitism’ as, from the Christian viewpoint, a ‘sin’ and a ‘heresy’?

Why should Heidegger and Eliot not criticise Judaism?

Judaism differs from Christianity in many ways. The notion of a ‘Judaeo-Christian tradition’ is a nineteenth-century politically correct euphemism. It blurs the differences between these religions. Christianity, established by Paul, asserts and Judaism rejects: ‘Original Sin’; the Incarnation, Divinity, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus; the overcoming of Torah (law) through faith in Jesus’s saving presence. Why should each of these religions not, in a civil and civilised way, while recognising the right of the other to its position, nevertheless advocate its own position and oppose the other?

Heidegger sometimes opposes Judaic views from a Christian viewpoint and sometimes opposes both Judaic and Christian views from a Greek viewpoint. Sometimes, in traditional Christian or post-Christian fashion, he says things which are almost unthinkingly critical of Judaism. In Being and Time, and also in the Black Notebooks, Heidegger casually uses the term ‘pharisaic’ in its conventional Christian sense, as if the Pharisees had not been one of the most innovative and liberal groups in history. Even after the Shoah, Heidegger’s Christian theologian colleague Rudolf Bultmann, who bravely opposed Nazi ‘anti-Semitism’, gives in his book Primal Christianity (recommended by R. D. Laing in The Divided Self) an account replete with what are, from a Jewish perspective, ignorant assumptions about the inferiority of Judaism. This is standard European culture, even at its most sublime, as in Bach’s Passions. Such ‘anti-Judaism’ is not experienced as a doctrine to be adopted or not: it is an unquestioning presumption about the way things are. It presumes that a Jew can be saved by converting to Christianity; indeed, there must remain enough Jews to be converted at the end of time. ‘Anti-Judaism’ is not yet Wilhelm Marr’s 19th-century invention, ‘anti-Semitism’, far less the Nazis’ development of it into an absolute ‘biological’ doctrine of ‘race’, although ‘anti-Judaism’ undoubtedly prepared the ground for ‘anti-Semitism’. For the Nazi ‘anti-Semite’, the worst kind of Jew is the one who converts to Christianity, or is an assimilated German, because he is tenacious and harder to persuade there is no future for him in Germany. Nazi ‘anti-Semitism’ is absolute, simply because the Jews are an incompatible and unacceptable ‘race’; there is no reason to disbelieve Heidegger’s denunciation of such ‘anti-Semitism’. But when, in the Black Notebooks, he accuses the Jews themselves of traditionally pioneering the same kind of ‘calculative’ manipulation of ‘race’, Heidegger displays the ‘anti-Judaic’ prejudice that the Jews are a ‘race’, forgetting, if he ever registered, that some of the greatest Jews were converts to Judaism, and that there are Jews of all ‘races’.

Here it is crucial to examine the role of Martin Luther in Heidegger’s (and European) thinking. Heidegger began training 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, the questions raised by relativity in physics, and so on. But he does not mention the names of the protagonists in these crises: Hilbert, Brouwer, Einstein, et al. Only in relation to one of the ‘sciences’ does Heidegger mention a proper name: the ‘science’ of theology, which, he says, is still being transformed by Luther’s ‘insight’ into the primacy of faith’. We 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 criticising the Church at Wittenberg on 31 October 1517. Luther hoped that one result of his criticisms would be that the Jews would convert to Christianity. When they did not, he denounced the Jews as the killers of God, archetypal children of the devil, whose essence was evil calculative machination. Did this also influence Heidegger? Certainly, in an early lecture course on the ‘phenomenology of the religious life’, he extolled the ‘authenticity’ of Paul’s vision of ‘primal Christian’ community life.

But why should Heidegger not be opposed to Judaic ideas? In fact, he is opposed in many respects to both Judaism and Christianity, which, like Nietzsche, he sees as itself Judaic. Heidegger’s religion is essentially Greek. He may be right or wrong, if these terms are applicable here; but why should he not be free to argue his case?

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 Heidegger’s Zollikon seminars, that his thinking is indeed a fundamental and beneficent contribution to a more human and less alienated psychotherapy, will survive such questioning and be confirmed by today’s seminar also.

We are fortunate to have, as invited speakers, Professors Francesco Alfieri, and Maurizio Borghi.

Professor Francesco Alfieri is a Franciscan Monk at the Vatican and personal assistant to Professor Friedrich-Wilhelm von Herrmann, who attended Heidegger’s legendary intimate seminar ‘Time and Being’ in his ‘hut’ at Todtnauberg in September 1962 and became Heidegger’s private assistant from 1972 until his death in 1976; Heidegger entrusted him with the monumental task of bringing out the 102 volumes of his Collected Works. Professors von Herrmann and Alfieri have written a book, already available in German and Italian, and soon to appear in English, in which they seek to do justice to Heidegger’s position in the Black Notebooks.

Professor Maurizio Borghi has edited the Italian translation of Heidegger's 1928-9 lectures (Introduction to Philosophy) and contributed to the journal Heidegger Studies, including a paper on the allegation of ‘antisemitism’ in the Black Notebooks. He is Professor in Law and Director of the Centre for Intellectual Property Policy and Management at Bournemouth University.

Professor Fra Alfieri shows that, for example, an entry of Heideggers in the Black Notebooks that has been read as attacking the Hebrew prophets actually affirms that they were the true prophets while Hitler, who had claimed to be a prophet, was a false one.

Professor Borghi points out that, had Heidegger been antisemitic, he could have proclaimed this publicly to great acclaim during the Nazi era.

This seminar will, it is hoped, make clear that those who signal virtue by attacking Heidegger distract from real antisemitism and thus perpetuate it.

Your contribution to the discussion will be warmly welcomed.

Venue: Durrants Hotel, 26–32 George Street, Marylebone, London W1H 5BJ
Cost: Psychotherapy trainees £132, others £165, some bursaries; coffee, tea, mineral water, Durrants rock included; payable in advance; no refunds or transfers unless seminar cancelled
Apply to: Anthony Stadlen, ‘Oakleigh’, 2A Alexandra Avenue, London 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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