Central and East European
Society for Phenomenology

Conference | Paper

A Way out of Nazism? Heidegger and the “Shepherd of Bein

Guelfo Carbone

Thursday 2 December 2021

11:30 - 12:10

Zoom 1-3

Heidegger’s involvement with the Nazi movement in the early thirties of the 20th century is a renowned as well as an extensively debated topic, which has been recently addressed anew in the light of the publications of the Black Notebooks raising new questions for a long-established issue. Besides the discussions centered upon Heidegger’s active participation in the politics of the National Socialist Workers’ Party during his 1933–1934 rectorship at the University of Freiburg and the ones regarding the controversial charge of anti-Semitism, the philosophical theme that comes to the foreground in reading the Überlegungen (Ponderings) and the Anmerkungen (Notes) from the Schwarze Hefte is that Heidegger’s Auseinandersetzung with Nazism, namely, his critical confrontation with National Socialism as a prominent epiphenomenon of late “machinational” outburst of Modernity, lasts way beyond his “short-lived, though concerted, partisanship for Hitler’s regime” (Löwith). Moreover, what strikes a philosophical, non-ideologically oriented interpretation of the whole “Heidegger Affair,” is that the experiences of both the “error” of the rectorship and of the consequences of the denazification process, which he had to face immediately after the war, merge into a single meditation marked by “despair,” which, as we read in the 1947–1948 Anmerkungen IV, affects Heidegger’s “thinking of being” all along the second half of the forties. In this context, the paper addresses the topic of the “shepherd of being” putting to test the hypothesis that the latter represents a key figure of a philosophical way out of Nazism, concerning not only Heidegger’s own involvement, but also those peculiar transformations of political power brought about by totalitarianisms, which are still recognizable in our present time, as both Foucault and Agamben have pointed out. Methodologically, the paper relies on a combined reading of Heidegger’s 1946 Letter on “Humanism,where the figure of the shepherd of being famously appears, and the Black Notebooks from roughly the same period. Indeed, before the Schwarze Hefte were released, we knew the figure of the shepherd of being only via some important, but rather sporadic and scattered mentions in Heidegger’s published, whereas it gains a central role in the 1947–1948 Anmerkungen III, IV, and V. In the first part, the paper will outline the essential features of the figure of the shepherd, claiming that, rather than a metaphor, this key Denkfigur depicts the role of the human being as a mortal in the overcoming of metaphysics, as Heidegger intended and attempted in the late forties and in the fifties. In the second part, against the interpretations that take the shepherd as a dux gregis, that is, a model for guiding and leadership, and those that tend to include it in Heidegger’s alleged inclination for idealized agrarian past, the paper points out how the shepherd has nothing to do neither with “bucolic idylls” nor with “nature mysticism,” and that the shepherd is not related to any flock whatsoever; rather, it is “essential poverty” as well as mortality that define the “shepherd of being.” Accordingly, the paper argues that this crucial figure of post-metaphysical thinking cannot be understood as a model of leadership or Führerschaft, which might cast new perspectives on Heidegger’s own frail and tentative way out of Nazism, as well as on the enduring resistance against authoritarianisms of all times.