1. Carlin Romano has written a screed against Heidegger that I skimmed the first two paragraphs of, felt sick, and immediately stopped reading. I’m not linking to it here – his essential point is that Heidegger was a Nazi and shouldn’t be taken seriously, and recent scholarship seems to show how much hate he was filled with.
I don’t want to be in the position of defending Heidegger, because he was a Nazi and that’s not some small thing – he absolutely should be considered infamous and his work taken with a grain of salt. Some of you have probably noted that hate is something I take very seriously: we are witnessing the ugliness that is fascism rise again in certain circles, and it needs to be combated, and I know I don’t have enough allies in this fight right now. Also, I’m not entirely sold on the Continental philosophy post-Heidegger that traces much of its critique back to him.
But I am going to say this: it’s hard for me to tell you how much I’ve learned from Heidegger, because it is an enormous amount. Introduction to Metaphysics starts off slowly: one might be able to skip the whole first part or two, really, and just cut to the part entitled “The Restriction of Being.” It’s there that he brings a Greek philosophical vocabulary back to life – logos, phusis, telos, ta onta and many others aren’t just fancy words one throws around to sound smart. They actually help build a metaphor that pre-Socratic philosophy, Plato, Aristotle and a host of others took seriously, and if you spend any time with the Greeks and find yourself scratching your head, you realize just how brilliant this discussion is. Truth be told, I had been reading Plato and Aristotle for a number of years and only after Heidegger did a number of issues fall into place: textual commentary tends to presuppose knowledge of how those words work. I bought a copy of “Four Seminars” recently because the discussion and translation of Heraclitus and Parmenides was not only enjoyable, but done with the utmost seriousness: Heidegger is a very original reader with whom translators would have issues; he’s an original reader because he turns the text over and over again in his thinking, he doesn’t just contend something and disfigure issues in order to fit them into his worldview (yes, Strauss would argue with me here. But Strauss’ critique of Heidegger, which implores us to take seriously that Heidegger was a Nazi, is far more subtle than Romano’s: see “Philosophy as Rigorous Science and Political Philosophy” in Studies in Platonic Political Philosophy for what is essential).
If you’re interested in political philosophy, a list of what I’ve read so far by Heidegger that’s pretty important:
- “The Concept of Time” – a very short lecture by Heidegger that actually opened up some metaphysical issues in Augustine for me.
- Introduction to Metaphysics – there are parts of it that drone on and on, but after struggling with Plato for some years it was a relief
- “The Question Concerning Technology” – it’s important, even if one finds the logic a bit strained.
- “Building Dwelling Thinking”
The last two I’ve cited are really about how one can see the world differently merely by reflecting on words, and that is a point of no small significance for Heidegger: it creates much of the thought I disagree with, it leads him into what Strauss calls “historicism,” where one’s vocabulary and its thematic import are bequeathed to one by one’s time. But my disagreement is a discussion for later. Right now, I want to stop people from going “oh you read Heidegger? That means you love Hitler,” and the related “Heidegger says ‘Man acts as though he were the shaper and master of language, while in fact language remains the master of man,’ what he really means in that sentence is that he loves Hitler,” which is what Romano is clearly trying to provoke.
2. Also: there is a link to this WSJ piece on Norman Rockwell that says his “Freedom of Speech” is his greatest painting of the “Four Freedoms.” I saw the “Freedom of Worship” one in person: I can tell you that people cried in front of it. When crap libertarian rhetoric used to defend the tea parties and town halls is brought out at the expense of everything else – the “Freedom of Speech” painting is quite excellent, don’t get me wrong, and may be Rockwell’s best – we have a serious problem. One should not have to be a political scientist to have an open mind, and not use everything in the world around one to score cheap political points.