the man in the hut


“Wer groß denkt, muß irren. A great thinker is bound to make mistakes,” Board Number One quotes him. Heidegger, the man whose philosophy came very close to the Nazi spirit in the 1930s, is notorious for not apologising for the Holocaust and not removing offensive passages. Accused in his 1929 book on Kant of forcing German philosophy into an alien mould, he insisted postwar on the unaltered text, since “everyone keeps accusing me of force” and “thinking people learn all the better from their mistakes”. If this is one of a number of indirect “apologies”, it seems grudging. Much of the problem was character. He hated confrontation. As his supercritical student Karl Löwith put it: “The natural expression of his face included a working forehead, veiled face, and lowered eyes, which now and then would take stock of a situation with a short and swift glance. If someone temporarily forced him into a direct look by speaking to him, then this extremely disharmonious face, jagging angularly in all its features, would become somewhat reserved, wily, shifting and downright hypocritical…What was natural for it was the expression of cautious mistrust, at times full of peasant cunning.” The emotionally hopeless letters Heidegger wrote to Hannah Arendt, the Jewish political philosopher with whom he fell in love when she was his student, are a key. Evasive in love, he was stubborn in achievement and recalcitrant by nature. Like his semi-literate parents, he was a head-down, uncommunicative type in the old rural mould. The extraordinary thing is that he also gave this stubborn, self-concealing character to truth and philosophised on that basis.

more from Lesley Chamberlain at Standpoint here.