How many scholarly stakes in the heart will we need before Martin Heidegger (1889-1976), still regarded by some as Germany's greatest 20th-century philosopher, reaches his final resting place as a prolific, provincial Nazi hack? Overrated in his prime, bizarrely venerated by acolytes even now, the pretentious old Black Forest babbler makes one wonder whether there's a university-press equivalent of wolfsbane, guaranteed to keep philosophical frauds at a distance.
Pretty tough language, especially coming from someone who is, himself, a fraud, but put that to one side. Is there an actual argument here? The answer, perhaps unsurprisingly given the author, is "no." Mr. Romano relies wholly upon a recent book by Emmanuel Faye, Heidegger: The Introduction of Nazism into Philosophy. But as Iain Thomson, an actual Heidegger scholar at the University of New Mexico, points out in the first comment:
It took Faye's supporters a long time to get this book published in English, because it was rejected by unbiased scholars as the irresponsible hatchet job that it is. (It has been almost universally panned in France.) Faye's book concludes by calling for the criminalization of the teaching of Heidegger -- not exactly a resounding defense of freedom of discussion! (Dare we say, closer to the fascism Faye confidently denounces?!) Faye's book begins, worse, by quoting from my book (Heidegger on Ontotheology: Technology and the Politics of Education), in a totally reductive and misleading way. I'm embarrassed to be mentioned in it. The whole thing is a tissue of mostly already well-known details plus tendentious guilt-by-association attacks.
Certainly there's nothing Romano adduces from the book that contradicts that assessment. Heidegger was a very bad man, with disgusting moral and political judgment, who spent the rest of his career whitewashing his romance with Nazism: but everyone knows this. What does any of this have to do with his philosophy? That really is the question, and there is literally only one sentence in Romano's silly piece that could be taken as trying to answer that question: "Faye's leitmotif throughout is that Heidegger, from his earliest writings, drew on reactionary ideas in early-20th-century Germany to absolutely exalt the state and the Volk over the individual, making Nazism and its Blut und Boden ("Blood and Soil") rhetoric a perfect fit." OK, so how do these "reactionary ideas" about exaltation of "the state and the Volk" figure in the main themes of Being and Time? I have no idea, and Mr. Romano apparently has none either, or at least none that he shares with the readers. That argument might be interesting, if it could be made out, but there isn't even the pretense of such an argument in Romano's hatchet job. Even if one is no fan of Heidegger (I am not, since I think most of what is interesting is highly derivative of earlier figures in German philosophy), it is hard not to agree with the assessment in the comments of another philosophical scholar of phenomenology, Taylor Carman (Barnard College/Columbia University) who remarks:
It's scandalous that the CHRONICLE could publish this kind of ill-informed and intellectually empty rant. Romano clearly has no idea what he's talking about. ...Romano's juvenile performance here is unworthy of a respectable academic journal. The editors should be ashamed.
There is something worthwhile to be written about relations between Heidegger's Nazism and his philosophical work--George Steiner took an interesting stab at it in a short book on Heidegger he wrote in 1978, and Iain Thomson offers a more philosophically ambitious account in his book, mentioned above--but Romano's "ill-informed and intellectually empty rant" obviously isn't it. There is also something interesting to be written about the ways in which the Heidegger cult and its temporal and cultural kin, the Strauss cult, have operated in similar, quasi-fascistic, "in group" vs. "out group" ways: esoteric terminology, hostility towards dialectic engagement, worship of the master, and so on. But that exercise in the sociology of the pathologies of German academic culture in the second quarter of the 20th-century wouldn't license the crackpot dismissals in Romano and Faye, and they would not touch the efforts of many philosophers since to engage dialectically and philosophically with Heidegger's ideas, in ways that Heidegger himself, to be sure, did not encourage. The ideas that Heidegger's books should be banned and that anyone who studies Heidegger is a Nazi sympathizer are so ludicrously offensive as to defy belief--it's the kind of puerile crap one would expect to find on the website of some obscure crank, not in the Chronicle of Higher Education.
Here's a funny anecdote about Romano's earlier travesty about Rorty: asked to appear at an APA memorial session for Rorty, Romano began by noting my (apt) characterization of his piece ("total ignorance of philosophy is no obstacle to opining about Rorty") and then proceeded to deliver the exact same set of remarks! Only someone who is deeply unserious could see no need to revise his remarks after their incompetence is exposed. I also have to note that my little commentary was a model of generosity by comparison to what several philosophers who listened to his repeat performance at the APA had to say about it afterwards.
Which returns us to the original question: why is CHE permitting this intellectual lightweight to write about philosophy? And one other suggestion for the CHE editors: perhaps it is also time, at least for the sake of the Philosophy Department at the University of Pennsylvania, to prohibit Mr. Romano from using a by-line that describes himself as teaching "media studies and philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania." As far as I can gather, Mr. Romano has an undergraduate degree in philosophy and a law degree, and has some kind of affiliation, but not a regular academic appointment, at the Annenberg School of Communications at Penn. This wouldn't matter if his writing were less incompetent, but under the circumstances, some truth in advertising seems warranted.