In Martin Heidegger’s existentialism, two centuries of German philosophy have culminated in an unexpected, almost scandalous way. Since Immanuel Kant, at least, this philosophy was bent on finding proofs that Being is unknowable, or that it is not God but the World Spirit, History, the Will to Power, the Proletariat, whatever. Heidegger went back to a tradition before Socrates, which means before discursive reason, and attached himself to Being. Not to this or that to be (Seiende), but to Being itself (Sein). Eliminated were Plato, whose Being, Heidegger maintains, is an idea, Aristotle, whose being is energy, and of course Christianity, whose being is God. (“I Am Who Is,” Yahwe said.)

Heidegger appeared thus as the thinker who demolished the Christian God and Christianity itself, a good enough reason for the post-1945 intelligentsia to raise him to the pedestal occupied by Nietzsche. Even more deserving than the erratic and often self-contradicting hermit of Sils-Maria, Heidegger accumulated a number of advantages: unlike Nietzsche, he could be cast as a Herr Professor—a magician with meta-etymology in a semantically sensitive intellectual milieu, obviously a “pagan,” he was so Olympian that he could despise Sartre as an amateur philosopher. The one thing standing between Heidegger and apotheosis (or its equivalent, the Nobel Prize) was his short Rektorat at the University of Freiburg during the Third Reich. He was Rektor for less than a year, but his inaugural discourse and short exhortatory texts in the student paper established him as a bona fide National-Socialist.

Why, then, has he been adulated for four decades, when his past ought to have turned him into a nonpersOn in the postwar climate (which, in this respect, has persisted)? It is obvious to anybody who can read that Heidegger was an antimonotheist, anti-Christian, and anti-Jew; yet the intelligentsia loved him and treated his every word like the pronouncement of an oracle. His affair with Hitlerism was incontrovertible and documented, and, in a sense, he never denied it. A whole library of articles has appeared between 1945 and today, saying essentially this: True, Heidegger praised the National-Socialist ideals, gave the Hitler salute, and never recanted. But he was not a racist, nor did he believe in biological superiority; he may have been a reactionary, but he believed in man’s freedom. This was also the conclusion of a long interview, conducted by Der Spiegel in 1966 and published 10 years later after his death.

So much nonsense put forth by eager whitewashers must have a reason, particularly since among these pious embalmers there are many Jews (George Steiner) and many non-Jewish Nazi-hunters like Rudolf Augstein, publisher of Der Spiegel and a super-leftist of excellent standing.

Heidegger’s reputation would have remained inviolate had not a new book by a certain Victor Farias, an unknown Chilean refugee living in France, thrown a bomb among cultists. The book, Heidegger et le nazisme, chronicles the hero’s life and thought from beginning to end and concludes on the basis of massive evidence that the philosopher’s life and thought were thoroughly compatible with the Hitlerist ideology. Immense embarrassment in the Heideggerian camp! Suddenly, nobody cares to reexamine the master’s writings for possible anti-Semitism (but he was an antimonotheist, a cause which naturally had effects). His disciples are shying away from his suddenly putrid corpse—but they, the ex-worshipers, knew it, didn’t they? Well, they did, but as long as only monotheism was at stake, or mere Christianity, it didn’t matter. Now Farias unearthed, no, not any particular diatribe against Jews, but tidbits like a book Heidegger sent in 1960 to a certain Eugen Fischer, director in 1927 of the Institute of Racial Hygiene, inscribed “cordial greetings for the New Year.”

Watching the Heideggerian tribe jump nervously away from the master’s heritage is not edifying. Like Trotsky before, the German philosopher is now being fought over, and like Trotsky, he is on his way to becoming an unperson, erased from encyclopedias and doctoral dissertations. Here are some alarmed utterances by professors who did not or could not jump away fast enough since the publication of Farias’ book, last fall: “Heidegger’s adherence to Hitlerism was not a philosophical act” (Pierre Aubenque); “We gain nothing by transforming Heidegger into a kind of Rosenberg” (Gerard Granel); “Heidegger refused obstinately to acknowledge Auschwitz as a break in contemporary history” (Ph. Lacoue-Labarthe); “Let’s not speak, in Heidegger’s case, of Hitlerism but of a national-estheticism” . . . and so on and on, filling, for example, the January/February issue of the prestigious journal le Débat. Professors who made their career by writing, lecturing, paraphrasing, plagiarizing, and paneling on, about, around, and (alas!) in favor of Heidegger as the greatest philosopher of all times find themselves in a terrible dilemma: their fame and royalties will collapse if they abandon the storm-tossed (sinking?) ship; yet, if they remain on board, they too will be tarred with the brush of Nazism, and the fact that some Jewish academics will be too does not help.

We witness a huge, fin-de-siècle mystification, a pseudoenigma that nobody dares solve. Heidegger had been deliberately turned into a sphinx, with enough interpreters around to veil his real philosophical obscenity, while his relatively insignificant faux pas is displayed as the century’s major crime. Once again, the intellectuals are too cowardly to face facts and to apportion sin and virtue according to merit.

What are the facts? The most important is that if not directly Hiderist, at least pagan/atheistic sympathies are built into Heidegger’s philosophy. A thinker who sees Western philosophy as a 2,500-year-long betrayal of Being must expect Time to restore being to its rightful place. Keep in mind that Heidegger’s major opus is called Being and Time (Sein und Zeit!). After the many betrayals and false approaches, Being will be unveiled (not “revealed,” that would be too Christian-sounding), to and by the Philosopher. The latter’s task is to be himself on the way to Being, to “shepherd” Being in man’s world, to let Being manifest itself through him, the Philosopher. As Martin Buber clearly saw it, the Being that is coming among men was, for Heidegger temporarily. Hitler—the embodiment of the movement which was to create conditions for Being to appear. Heidegger wrote repeatedly (his repetitious style had the effect of an incantation) that we are now in an in-between era; the old gods, those of the pre-Christian world, had left, the new ones have not yet arrived.

What kind of gods will the new ones be? Like the Greek gods of Hölderlin, whom Heidegger regards as the greatest German poet/prophet, they will be superhuman heroes smashing the materialist, commercial, technological modern society. This is an old German myth, going back at least to Armenius, who defeated the Roman legions, and to Luther also, who shook his fist at another Rome. For Heidegger, too, Germany is the new Greece, the new pagan world causing the mutation of the West, and first of all the Western ideal of learning, with the professor’s function being to serve as an oracular prophet, speaking from the depth of Being. Or rather, a prophet to whom Being unveils itself, a post-Zarathustra seeker. Is it not obvious now why Martin Heidegger accepted the appointment as university Rektor and conceived his inaugural address as a manifesto of philosophical renewal?

Greek history, Parmenidean wisdom built around the self-unveiling One, the Hellenic pantheon—and the betrayal of all these by Plato, Christ, and the Western bourgeois—form Heidegger’s philosophico-mythical universe. We understand now Heidegger’s receptivity to Hitler: mover of masses, vates of antibourgeois values and of the thousand-year super-empire. Hitler was for Heidegger the demigod, the Coming One who brings reality and dispels appearances, the oracular orator who names Being when he speaks new words: race, nation, youth, marching, adventure, Deutschtum. He was interviewed soon after the war ended by a fascinated Frenchman, Jean Beaufret. He spoke of fishes suffocating on dry land as a simile for statements we make about being, each time we use the verb to be. To say merely that something is, is an adulterated manner of treating Being, the only authentic form. Not even the philosopher can speak as reverentially of Being as we should—only the Poet can who then becomes the priest bringing sacrifice. Philosophy and mysticism meet in the unspeakable, the unutterable.

It would be a vast exaggeration to say that Heidegger found in Hitler’s rhetoric and crowd-flattering slogans more than the usual democratic political prose, with a few twists. Heidegger was enamored with words and their precision; he could not admire their mechanical public uses. For some time, however, he could see himself as Hitler’s teacher of truth, the way Plato hoped to teach truth to Dionysius, the Syracusan tyrant. Let us not underestimate philosophers’ memories; Plato is a prototype of thinkers wanting to celebrate the marriage of ideas with political rule. This is also what the intellectuals sensed in Heidegger: politics tending to metapolitics, an unveiling of the genuine Logos.

What they admired was exactly what religious thinkers like Etienne Gilson, Hans Jonas, Cornelio Fabro, and others have condemned. Gilson speaks of Heidegger’s “metaphysical immaturity,” his incomprehension before the Logos made flesh as the solution of the ontological question. Jonas writes (10th essay in The Phenomenon of Life) that for Heidegger, revelation is immanent in the world since the world is divine. It is thus, for Heidegger, a permanent revelation, Jonas adds, so that the very idea of a true doctrine vanishes. Truth is always on the way; it is a self-unveiling process: yesterday the Greek gods, tomorrow those called forth by German national revival. For Fabro (God in Exile), Heidegger wants to make place for a “preontological experience,” before the birth of concepts and the discourse which integrates them as philosophy. In sum, there was a remarkable unanimity facing Heidegger, but without the hysterics of intellectuals. The philosophers’ verdict has been in for quite a while; why was Heidegger not criticized before on the intellectual forum place?; why only upon the appearance of a mediocre book by a Victor Farias?

“If I had religious faith,” Heidegger, the one-time student of theology, wrote, “I would close up my philosopher’s shop; if I prepared a theology book, I would never use the word Being.” This distinction swept the intellectuals off their feet, for they saw in it the final emancipation of philosophy from belief They could forgive the statement “Nazism is a humanism” because, if true, their own ideologies also had a chance, in the radical but real sense of the label “no God, only man.” They were ready to applaud when Heidegger spoke of God as “the one before whom David sang and danced,” that is a God of no consequence for philosophy, calling forth only emotional responses, not reflection. Pronouncing God dead, Heidegger became an ally, whether of neo-pagans, process theologians, Teilhardians, or simply of atheists with a lemon twist. Francis Guibal speaks of Heidegger waiting for a “truly divine God,” one who (which?) is beyond God; not that of the Bible, not incarnate. Heidegger himself had rallied long ago to Meister Eckhart, who “had weakened God’s figure as a creator for the benefit of a higher sort of intimacy [between God and man] in which God dissolves himself” (“ent-wird ja sogar Gott,” as Eckhart put it). If God is not Being, this is of course a possibility. Only man remains.

So we always return to the same proposition: the real god is man, whether individually, or as a race, a class, an esoteric sect, or a biological superman. This is why for a long time Heidegger was forgiven by the intelligentsia—its Jewish, Christian, pagan, humanist, and other members. Before Victor Farias cried out that the philosopher was naked, that Heidegger was a Nazi, the embarrassing episodes could be hidden. Yes, he was Rektor in 1934, but was he not also the Jewish Husserl’s disciple and Hannah Arendt’s lover? True, he never actually recanted, but, after all, was he not looking for a revived pagan Hellas like so many other opponents of the Church, among them Hegel and Nietzsche? True, he scoffed at Raymond Aron as a representative of democracy and Das Kapital, but did he not also predict the Great Mutation of the West, away from bourgeois values? True again, he disparaged democracy, stating that it suits only the exasperatingly shallow technological age, but did he not leave the future open to “authenticity” and “selfovercoming”? For every minus a plus was found, because condemning Heidegger meant the dismissal of the chief contemporary form of atheism, its academically most prestigious manifestation. Condemning Heidegger would have meant the restoration of religion and faith in God.

Where will the present debate lead? Most probably to a spate of books and symposia on “Heidegger’s political thought.” The hidden purpose—and the interest of the participants in the debate—is to separate Heidegger’s philosophy (jealously guarded treasure) from his politics which would be unanimously cursed. What will therefore be underemphasized is the hardly deniable core of the controversy—that his politics follows from his philosophy, in other words that a thoroughly atheistic speculative system engenders totalitarian rule, whether of Robespierre, Lenin, or Hitler. This is, of course, the best-guarded secret in our intellectual marketplace, which has adulated Heidegger, not because of his merits as a speculative genius, or even as a metaphysician, but because of his sophisticated atheism. In Paris, where, after all, Heidegger was invented (like Hegel, Lukacs, and Gramsci), booksellers told me that by far the most popular books are Nietzsche’s and Heidegger’s. We may wonder what will happen now that Heidegger risks becoming taboo. Too many people have invested too much in his reputation as the century’s oracle for them to go back on their enthusiastic and rash commitment.