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Re-assessing the Affair


The Affair and the rhetorical rules since the

Second World War
Heidegger possessed a willingness to question the supposedly indisputable which John
Caputo correctly locates at the epicentre of his thinking; yet Caputo sees this as exclusively Heideggerian, and exclusively so to its unequivocal detriment since it involves
a thinking that is willing to question the putatively indubitable, putting our much
revered Western, democratic, liberal, and, in that sense, somewhat localized sensibilities to radical question.5 A recurring theme in this controversy and one which has
stymied promising studies is the tendency to take it as a given that, as a result of the
Second World War, democracy and liberalism are indubitable. There is a kind of futility
then in spending so much time debunking Heideggers anti-democratic sentiment
as is the case in such influential studies, heavily relied on by non-philosophers, as
Richard Wolins various contributions.6 Heidegger was avowedly sceptical concerning
democracy throughout his life, but to locate such anti-democratic sympathies within
his work is not sufficient reason to dismiss the same work as so much fascist ideology.7
That is not to say that there are not serious problems with just how far Heidegger wants
to take his challenge to modernity. But it simply is not sufficient to conflate Heideggers
anti-modernism with Nazism and, in one clean sweep, to dismiss everything he wrote.
Heideggers philosophy is far more sophisticated than that and the problems that mire
his project run far deeper. In effect, what precipitous critics of Heidegger have done is
allowed Heideggerians to hide behind Fortress Heidegger, easily rebuffing such rash
and poorly conceived objections!
Since the end of the Second World War, or perhaps nowadays one should say
since the Holocaust, it is, perhaps, not alone the fact of Heideggers silence which
should scandalize us but the ensuing heteronomy which has oppressively framed
the discursive rules when it comes to discussing the Heidegger affair. The discursive
currency restrictions we have been levied with are suffocating and have little purchase
philosophically.8 The Salem-like mentality so often in evidence functions as a telling
indictment of our mindset when it comes to the Heidegger controversy. For many
commentators the only acceptable response is condemnation and boycott; we are
to send anyone who does not conform to a moral Coventry! The repugnancy of
Nazism is, I believe, beyond dispute, but the subsequent vilification of everyone and
everything associated with that period in Europes past is not a move which I endorse
so readily.9 Nor am I convinced that everyone who fought against the Germans were
faultless paragons of virtue public and private;10 indeed as soon as the war was over,
so the West would have us believe, the Russians became the villains. One is reminded
here of Alastair Cookes both eloquent and salutary warning concerning the perils of
romanticizing history in his address before the House of Representatives in 1974 to
commemorate the Bi-centennial of the First Continental Congress in Philadelphia: