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Being, in Love
by Waller R. Newell

The dust-jacket blurb gives us a taste for what is to follow. "This book is the first to tell in detail," we are breathlessly informed, "of the passionate and secret love affair.that lasted for more than half a century." By uncovering this "dramatic love story" to reveal "the emotional lives of two intellectual giants", we will part with our images of Heidegger "as an austere and abstract thinker" and Arendt "as a consummately independent and self-assured personality."
Indeed, no particular knowledge of or even interest in Heidegger and Arendt as thinkers is essential to the reader's enjoyment of this book; it will "fascinate anyone interested in the complexities of the human psyche." To top it all off, as a kind of flaming backdrop for this drama of secret obsession, there's the Third Reich. We will learn how Arendt "struggled to forgive" Heidegger for his involvement with the Nazis. We also learn "how Heidegger's love for Arendt and fascination with Nazism can be linked to his romantic disposition." Professor Ettinger expands upon this claim: "It may well be that scholars should look for the origins of Heidegger's involvement with Nazism not only in his philosophy but also in the specific needs of his emotional life. His relationship with Hannah Arendt provides a glimpse into the world of his feelings, which he carefully kept out of sight."
I struggled for a long time to figure out what it could conceivably mean to derive both Heidegger's involvement with Arendt and his involvement with Nazism from a "romantic disposition". "Romanticism" has both a high and a low meaning. German romanticism puts us in mind of such noble figures as Schiller and Goethe, neither of whom could possibly have fallen in love with the Third Reich. Heidegger dismissed Goethe's humanism as "mere cosmopolitanism", and reserved the same disdain for the liberal-democratic republic named after Weimar in honour of Germany's most famous man of letters. So we cannot be meant to think of Heidegger as "romantic" in this sense. It wouldn't matter anyway, because the book provides virtually no discussion of his connection to the illustrious nineteenth-century tradition of German philosophy and literature, a tradition in which (like Arendt) he was steeped even when he repudiated it. We learn far more from Professor Ettinger about his "mystique" than we do about the evolution of his thought: "His looks, his costume, his lecturing style, all created an aura of uniqueness," Professor Ettinger writes. "He usually dressed in knickerbockers and a folksy Black Forest peasant coat with wide facings and a semi-military collar, both made of dark brown cloth."
The other meaning of "romantic" is the familiar everyday one of someone who gets soft and sentimental about his or her partner. Not only is it difficult, to say the least, to picture Heidegger in this way, but how a weakness for sending Valentine's Day cards or bouquets of flowers would predispose one to support Hitler is anyone's guess. The most sense I can make of Professor Ettinger's claim is that the "specific needs" of Heidegger's repressed "emotional life" were jointly satisfied by Hannah Arendt and Adolf Hitler, and that, if he had been less uptight, he would have been nicer to her and not have fallen for him.
As one reads this book, one is tempted very early on to begin referring to Arendt and Heidegger as "Hannah" and "Martin", in the tone of those celebrity bios whose authors refer to their subjects as "Liz," "Frank", or "Jackie" in order to convey a feeling of peeking-through-the-keyhole intimacy. Altogether, Professor Ettinger is the first academic I am aware of to assimilate scholarship into the genre of the "tell-all" biography. Hannah Arendt-Martin Heidegger reduces the relationship of two of the most interesting thinkers of this century to something out of Vanity Fair. Even the title suggests that it is the individual personalities themselves, in all their "drama" and "passion", who should compel our attention, with no explanation necessary of what they thought or their place in contemporary philosophy. On the cover, we see the young Hannah looking appropriately soulful and mildly bohemian. Heidegger, by contrast, is shown striking a macho pose, hand on hip, leaning against a lectern with an air of stern command. Discreet white lettering against a tasteful sky-blue background give the book the air of a Bloomsbury biography, suitable for the coffee table.
It was probably inevitable that scholarly writing would begin to meld with the Baby Boomer style of intellectual consumerism embodied in magazines like Vanity Fair and the films of Woody Allen. Allen is especially relevant to understanding the debasement of taste culminating in a book like Professor Ettinger's. Starting with Annie Hall, he flattered his audiences with a vision of life in which one could become an intellectual by adopting the approved style of an intellectual through carefully guided shopping, in-jokes, and name-dropping. One did not actually have to read difficult books or think anything through. It was enough to assemble a list of breezy, cultured likes and dislikes, a kicky mixture of high-brow and low-brow (Potato Head Blues and Sentimental Education). Allen's characters are invariably writers, editors, professors and other kinds of culturati, but it's uncool to ask what they actually write about or study. So, too, in Professor Ettinger's book, from the very outset, names are dropped without the slightest explanation or context provided. On page 5, Arendt's "mentor", Karl Jaspers, makes his first of many unexplained appearances. Who is Karl Jaspers? Why is he important? But, my dear, surely you know...
Publishers have understood for some years now that large numbers of people are willing to buy biographies of writers whose books they haven't read, because the writers themselves have taken on an aura of melodrama or chic. The trend probably began back in the early fifties when people who had little interest in Dylan Thomas's poetry were fascinated by the spectacle of a suitably tousled, angry-looking man drinking himself to death while "tormented" by his art. It continued through those numerous Bloomsbury biographies which, beginning with the principals, churned out fat volumes on every tangential connection, finally reaching their maids and butlers. How many of the people who bought those books read the works of Lytton Strachey or Leonard Woolf? It didn't matter, because the logical culmination of the intellectual-as-consumer was a fascination with their houses, clothes, and love affairs, peaking in the Masterpiece Theatre production of Brideshead Revisited and the British government's travelling encomium to executive real estate, The Treasure Houses of Great Britain.
Hannah Arendt-Martin Heidegger extends this puffy genre to the most recondite reaches of continental philosophy. The author, or perhaps whichever editor at Yale University Press helped steer the manuscript through, obviously decided from the outset that prospective readers would neither understand nor wish for an extended discussion of Arendt's and Heidegger's philosophical speculations and influences. Hence, there is no comparison between this book and, say, Elizabeth Young-Bruehl's For Love of The World, which quite impressively interweaves Arendt's complicated intellectual evolution with the twists and turns of her personal and professional life; or Ray Monk's fascinating biography of Wittgenstein, a man who appeared to combine authentic philosophical genius with a strikingly nasty, ambitious, and manipulative personality. Instead, as the dust-jacket suggests, we are promised something like the philosophical equivalent of one of those "Roman Empire" epic movies from the fifties and sixties with Sophia Loren and Victor Mature embracing against a backdrop of Rome in flames. A love bigger than the Third Reich! A love even Hitler dare not stop!
For all that, the book is sometimes engrossing, and contains a number of interesting revelations. Moreover, it does serve as an occasion for looking once again at the endlessly disturbing and intriguing question of Heidegger's commitment to Nazism and what Arendt thought of it-the latter of special interest because of Arendt's own considerable reputation as an analyst of Nazism and totalitarianism in general. Indeed, we learn from the correspondence that, precisely at the time she was writing Eichmann in Jerusalem, she was trying to re-kindle her personal relationship with Heidegger, the man who, as rector of Freiburg University, had given the Nazi salute in public, appeared on speakers' platforms with Nazi officials, and thwarted the careers of colleagues he considered enemies of the regime.
And yet, this is precisely where Professor Ettinger's book, despite tantalizing us with titbits of this kind, fails so markedly to contribute to our understanding of these grave and troubling issues. This failure is not accidental, but proceeds directly from the reduction of the two thinkers to a personal obsession. The most important thing about Hannah Arendt and Martin Heidegger is that they spent most of their time thinking. This was not only the source of their attraction for their students, but for each other. Apart from their devotion to reading, teaching, and writing, their lives after World War II were outwardly not especially dramatic or adventurous. As the correspondence reveals, the remainder of their lives pretty much followed the academic's regular annual cycle of lectures and seminars punctuated by summer travel.
To pitch this book as one that will "fascinate anyone interested in the complexities of the human psyche" is therefore rather dubious. The only people who could be fascinated by Arendt and Heidegger are people (doubtless there are many) who are fascinated by the relationship between the quest for wisdom and the quest for political influence-a theme as old as Western thought, going back to Plato's Republic and its hypothesis that philosophers should rule. Arendt and Heidegger are not interesting because they fell in love with the wrong people, or were capable of self-delusion, vanity, betrayal, or emotional sophistry. All that establishes is that they were in these respects like the rest of us-hardly surprising, and not worth writing a book about. What compels our interest in the otherwise purely personal story of their love for each other is the fact that both were major thinkers, that he derived from his philosophy a commitment to one of the worst tyrannies in human history, and that she continued to love him while devoting her energies to a diagnosis of the depravity that saturated that regime and the people who served it. Professor Ettinger's book has little to say about these quandaries.
Perhaps the most surprising thing about this book is its denigration of Arendt. Hannah Arendt has understandably become an inspiring figure for subsequent generations of women who wanted to become scholars and writers . Ostensibly, Professor Ettinger's book continues in this vein, taking us rapidly through the chronicle of her many triumphs as an author and social critic. But when it comes to explaining her attraction to Heidegger, Professor Ettinger reduces her motivation to a combination of sexual obsession, a wish to impress an older and powerful patron, and Arendt's supposed insecurity over her Jewish origins:
"As [Heidegger] recalled, she would whisper `if you want me,' or `if you like,' for intuition and experience told her that modesty and mute idolization pleased and excited him. Perhaps she was trying to obliterate the stereotype of a Jewess-loud, self-assured, clever-and...was seeing the phantoms of her ancestors standing in her way."
According to Ettinger, a relationship with Germany's most distinguished thinker enabled Arendt to overcome her Jewish insecurity by grafting herself onto a father-figure with impeccably German credentials:
"Neither her past-that of a fatherless, searching youngster-nor her vulnerable, melancholic nature prepared her to withstand Heidegger's determined effort to win her heart. She shared the insecurity of many assimilated Jews who were still uncertain about their place, still harbouring doubts about themselves. By choosing her as his beloved, Heidegger fulfilled for Hannah the dream of generations of German Jews."
I must confess that I was taken aback when I read these parts of Professor Ettinger's book. They struck me as rather offensive characterizations. By paying virtually no attention to Arendt's and Heidegger's mutual interest in ideas, Ettinger reduces her to the stock parody of the neurotic graduate student, throwing herself at an older father-figure like a philosophical groupie.
Of course, I am not arguing that Arendt's relationship with Heidegger was purely intellectual. Obviously it was not, and I could not help but be touched by their correspondence in their later years, where the fire of youth had given way to a kind of wistful remembrance by two old people of their former, distant lives. But Professor Ettinger's reduction of Arendt's original attachment to Heidegger to a kind of groupiedom shows, in my view, how derogatory certain strains of academic feminism can end up being. The lesson Professor Ettinger wants to unfold is that a woman cannot live authentically if she makes herself the appendage of a man. This is true, but Hannah Arendt is the last person one would intelligibly choose to illustrate it. I can think of few women (or men) who were more successful at defining their personal and professional lives on their own terms. But Professor Ettinger cannot help turning Arendt into a caricature of the clinging, dependent appendage, because, at bottom, she reflects the contemporary cant according to which all personal relationships are about power.
In this bleak view of friendship and love, one partner is always bent on exploiting the other, and the only response is to "empower" yourself and strike back. Professor Ettinger's book may appear, at first glance, to be making the perfectly unexceptionable point that people should avoid exploitative relationships. But, upon inspection, the central and much more questionable point proves to be that every human relationship in which one partner voluntarily allows the other to act as a guide or mentor (as Arendt initially did with Heidegger) is necessarily exploitative. Hence, even a woman so manifestly independent in her thoughts and emotions as Hannah Arendt is turned into a mere puppet of a powerful male, likened at one point to Anna Karenina "hidden in the crowd at the train station, ...observing her departed lover, unseen, unneeded."
Although Arendt contributed more to modern thought and history than the vast majority of academics, Professor Ettinger adopts a remarkably patronizing tone toward her subject: "Slowly she learned that love in itself, no matter how passionate, can be destructive if it is isolated from the realities of life and based solely on sexual drive and the exercise of power." Somehow, one suspects that Hannah Arendt, author of The Origins of Totalitarianism and The Life of the Mind, knew this from early on. But if you believe that no-one possessed wisdom about human relationships before around 1975, then of course it becomes quite easy to look down pityingly on someone born earlier than yourself.
One of the ironies consequent upon Professor Ettinger's assumption of a wisdom superior to that of her subject is that Heidegger comes off looking much more respectable in her portrait of the two thinkers than does Arendt. To return to the jacket blurb, although the correspondence may indeed "challenge" our "image of Heidegger as an austere and abstract thinker," as presented by Professor Ettinger, it does not rob Heidegger of his identity as an austere and abstract thinker; it merely rounds him out as a human being. By contrast, Arendt's image as "a consummately independent and self-assured personality" is not merely challenged, it is destroyed.
Even Heidegger's wife, an ardent Nazi commissar who refused to exempt sick and pregnant women from trench-digging duty during the winter of 1944, is described in terms more flattering than anything accorded to Arendt. "Elfride Heidegger was a woman of independent mind, great vitality, and considerable inner resources," Professor Ettinger writes. She continues what one cannot help but take as an unflattering contrast with the slavish acolyte Arendt: "[Elfride] neither idolized nor underestimated her husband; she respected him and demanded respect in return." The truth is that Arendt, exactly like Heidegger's other admirers, was attracted to him primarily because of his existentialist ontology, and their evasions or delusions about the link between Heidegger's Nazism and his philosophy derived from that same attraction. Most preferred to regard his Nazism as a mere personal aberration or act of naivety, lest existentialism be linked (as Heidegger clearly did link it) with a philosophical justification for the people's "return to Being" under the leadership of its "hero", Adolf Hitler. One may fault Arendt for lack of insight, but since we do not reduce Sartre's or Kojčve's interest in Heidegger to the pathological, we ought to pay Arendt the same compliment, and address what we believe to be her shortcomings on the level of her ideas, not her alleged neuroses. Arendt avoided the issue of Nazism with Heidegger, and criticized him explicitly in print only when he reached the age of eighty in 1971. But, reading the letters in Professor Ettinger's book, and seeing how Arendt's scholarly work on totalitarianism intertwined with the ups and downs of her relationship with Heidegger after the war, one wonders whether she didn't try to atone in some way for her continuing affection for the former Party comrade by devoting such energies to explaining what the Third Reich had been about. Altogether, her record on the issue of totalitarianism is a lot better than that of a number of her contemporaries like Sartre who were also influenced by Heidegger's philosophy.
Heidegger had argued in Being and Time and An Introduction to Metaphysics that "peoples" could achieve authenticity by "resolving upon" their primordial origins. Being was a polemos (the ancient Greek word for war), a field of strife and struggle, in which peoples were challenged to make a stand, opening themselves to the risk of death so as to be charged anew with life's energy and vitality. Surrounded by the "pincers" of modern progress-the technological avatars of modernity, America, and Russia-the German people (Heidegger argued in 1935) were fated to fight back against the degraded materialism, philistinism, and rootless cosmopolitanism of the twentieth century and shatter the managerial control of technology over the Volk. As the anti-party bent on sweeping away the rotten Weimar system of political compromise in the name of the underlying primordial unity of the people, Heidegger believed that the Nazis were the best hope for leading "the encounter between global technology and modern man." This is what he meant by the infamous phrase "the inner truth and greatness of National Socialism", left unchanged by him in all subsequent editions of An Introduction to Metaphysics.
Many rubrics of Heidegger's thought passed into the marriage of Marxism and existentialism effected by the Frankfurt School and French thinkers like Kojčve and Sartre. They rejected Heidegger's identification of the people's return to Being with fascism, and they retained the proletarian internationalism of the left. But, after the socio-economic conditions specified by Marx as necessary for a proletarian revolution failed to materialize in the capitalist heartland of Europe, neo-Marxists were deeply attracted to Heidegger's expansion of the meaning of alienation from the merely socio-economic to nothing less than an alienation from life, from meaning, from the primordial currents of existence, myth, and time. In this view, liberalism becomes the main impediment to a restoration of our disrupted mytho-poetic unity with Being. It is no longer the material deprivation of industrial workers that forms the basis for the critique of liberalism, but the spiritual, aesthetic, and emotional dissatisfactions of academics, writers, artists, and students. The proletariat gives way to the counter-culture as the bearer of the revolutionary mission.
Later on, with Frantz Fanon's The Wretched of the Earth (introduced with an admiring preface by Sartre), Heidegger's idea of the people's return to its primordial origins through an act of violent resolve was transferred to a version of Third World socialism. Now the left parted with its proletarian internationalism, and instead celebrated the organic wholeness that would flower in a people after a therapeutic act of revolutionary violence shattered the grip of the colonial oppressor (the local agent of global technology).
Heidegger had maintained in 1935 that, from the viewpoint of the German destiny, America and Russia were "metaphysically the same." The notion that liberal democracy, with all its flaws, might nevertheless be preferable to communism-that one might prefer a regime headed by Franklin Roosevelt to one headed by Stalin-was naive from Heidegger's perspective. All such distinctions were trivialized and swallowed up by the monolithic category of technology, the fundamental and sole reality driving all modern political and social development. This view, too, passed into post-war neo-Marxism. Third World socialism of Fanon's sort shared with the New Left of the sixties and the peace movement of the eighties the conviction that the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. were morally equivalent ("metaphysically the same") and that both systems stood in the way of human peace and happiness. Alleged differences between liberal-democratic and Marxist-Leninist regimes paled into insignificance in comparison with global technology's relentless dynamic of exploitation and expansion. In the Heideggerian understanding of technology, which deeply influenced the post-war left in Europe and America, the similarities between Auschwitz and General Motors far outweighed their differences. In their pursuit of maximum efficiency and control, they were distinctions along a continuum rather than different in kind.
Arendt was cool toward all of these revamped Marxisms. She saw clearly that the Soviet system was in many ways every bit as bad as Nazism, and remained firmly committed to American and Western European liberalism as the best hope for combining freedom, dignity, and civic life. Although she did draw upon Heideggerian notions of authenticity and risk, she tried to tame existentialism by confining it securely within the boundaries of procedural democracy. She also implicitly repudiated Heidegger's call for the "destruction" of the entire Western tradition of philosophy and culture as hopelessly vitiated by the technological imperative that had reached its culmination in the twentieth century. Like another of Heidegger's students, Hans-Georg Gadamer, she believed that much of modern thought and literature contained possibilities for enriching our personal and civic lives. Life was not, as Heidegger had maintained, a polemos. Prudence, balance, and compromise were still both possible and desirable. Liberal democracy could be humanized and broadened without being destroyed, in part by drawing upon nobler variations relatively close at hand like Jefferson's ideal of township democracy. Moreover, by arguing that Kant's aesthetic philosophy in the Critique of Judgement could form the basis for a social ontology that promoted a richer interpersonal life through civic dialogue, she implicitly corrected her teacher's tendency toward draconian extremes, life-and-death alternatives, contempt for all merely conservative traditions, and lack of sympathy for pluralist secular democracies. Professor Ettinger betrays litttle awareness of Arendt's considerable intellectual independence from her original mentor.
Nevertheless, in my view, Arendt never successfully came to terms with the extent to which Heidegger's commitment to Nazism did flow directly from his ontology of Being. In her brief published criticism of Heidegger's politics, she compared his involvement with Nazism to Plato's with Dion of Syracuse. But this comparison obscured much more than it clarified by making it seem as if Heidegger had behaved no differently than Plato. One senses that, by treating Heidegger's temptation to share in the power of a tyrant as part of an identical pattern stretching back to Plato, she was avoiding any intrinsic connection between the substance of Heidegger's own distinct philosophy and his activities on behalf of the Third Reich. While her equation of Heidegger with Plato at least provides a starting point for reflecting on the relationship between philosophy and political power, it ignores the differences between Dion and Hitler, on the one hand, and Plato and Heidegger on the other.
Plato believed there was a distinction in principle between tyranny and legitimate authority. His flirtation with Dion was a lapse from principles he otherwise consistently espoused. Moreover, Plato never regarded Dion as the candidate of Being, as Heidegger regarded Hitler. Even when deluded into thinking that a tyrant's heir might be educated to rule wisely, Plato did not regard such politically active men as the embodiment of wisdom. The Good transcends any political authority. For Heidegger, by contrast, since Being is to be found in the primordial origins, the spontaneous event, rather than in the transcendental ends, Hitler's revolutionary violence constituted the "creative violence" and "overpowering presence" of Being itself, shattering the inauthentic conventions of everyday life.
Heidegger's assimilation of all distinctions between better and worse regimes to the single overwhelming process of global technology, combined with his equation of the Nazis' brand of revolutionary populism with the resurgence of Being, made him dismissive of the idea that governments were legitimate only in so far as they respected the rule of law, universalistic human rights, and republican institutions. Far from lapsing from standards he otherwise maintained, Heidegger heard in Hitler the voice of Being as such. For Plato, tyranny comes from turning away from the contemplation of the eternal verities and plunging into spontaneity and impulse. For Heidegger, by contrast, the eternal verities are themselves the tyrants, working themselves out in global technology's imperative for imposing a stranglehold of manageability and orderliness on the spontaneity and impulsiveness of Being. By shattering the bourgeois liberal regime, the Nazis opened the sluicegate for the return of Being in all its strife, violence, daring, and glory.
These are just a few of the issues, lightly sketched, that make the relationship between Heidegger and Arendt so troubling and intriguing, a skein that runs through some of the most momentous political upheavals and philosophical ruptures of the twentieth century. Hardly a trace of them is to be found in this book.

Waller R. Newell is professor of political science and co-director of the Centre for Liberal Education and Public Affairs at Carleton University.


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