Heidegger in Ruins: Between Philosophy and Ideology

Richard Wolin

My review 2023-04-15

Martin Heidegger was an influential existentialist philosopher who lived from 1889 to 1976. He was also a member of the German Nazi party from 1933 to 1945. Some of those who consider him to be a great philosopher have tried to find ways of explaining away or isolating his Nazism, either as a regrettable necessity in German academia of the day, as a lapse of judgement, or as political naivety. The present book by Richard Wolin demolishes these attempts. Heidegger's Nazism was wholly congruent with, even strongly influenced by, his philosophical outlook. As the so-called Black Notebooks amply illustrate, his antisemitism and German imperialism were genuine expressions of his philosophical analysis of the world situation. Wolin presents many quotes and arguments from Heidegger's writings and makes his case forcefully.

Even though I therefore think this is an important book, I am not entirely happy with its presentation. The terminology inescapably must refer to and use Heidegger's own words, which is bad enough, but Wolin's own arguments are too often couched in phrases that are too much Heidegger for their own good. Words such as "idiolect" and "caesura" litter the text, which is also at times repetitive, sometimes using the same quote to make similar points in different chapters. I understand that the choice of a thematic structure, rather than, say, a chronological one, leads to this kind of problem, but it hasn't been minimized sufficiently.

Apart from the main discussion of Heidegger's thinking in relation to world events, the book contains a very useful and enlightening chapter on the influence of Heidegger on the New Right in recent times. Wolin traces the relationships between Heidegger and New Right thinkers, politicians and terrorists: among those discussed are the Italian hyperfascist Julius Evola, the Russian reactionary ideologue Alexander Dugin, Brenton Tarrant (the 2019 Christchurch mosque murderer), the American Neo-Nazi Richard Spencer, and Anders Behring Breivik (the 2011 Norwegian terrorist and mass murderer). The themes and preoccupations of Heidegger recur again and again, sometimes by direct influence, sometimes in other ways. Wolin's book is worth a read.