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Berlin, Again (Credit: Ronni Shalev)

Berlin, Again (Credit: Ronni Shalev)

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Son of Saul

(Credit: Sony Pictures Classics)

At the dinner for the Oscar nominees, Steven Spielberg first glances at László Nemes, then after a moment of contemplation slowly sits up and walks to the young director’s table. “I never thought we would have to wait this long for a film like this” After this first encounter something changes in recent Hungarian cinema and perhaps national self-image as well.

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Colloque Heidegger. © Yann Revol

Colloque Heidegger. © Yann Revol

 

The importance of Martin Heidegger’s work for 20th century philosophy can hardly be overstated. Sartre’s existentialism, Derrida’s deconstruction, Levinas’ ethics, and the political thought of Hannah Arendt, Leo Strauss, and Herbert Marcuse – Heidegger exercised a formative influence on all of them. All the same, Heidegger’s engagement with Nazism in the early 1930s casts a shadow on his reputation to this day. How far this political affiliation reached and what it implies for his standing as a philosopher has been subject to fierce debate for many decades now.

From February 1933 to April 1934, Heidegger was the Nazi-appointed rector of the University of Freiburg. He soon quit over disputes with the party, although he formally remained a party member until the end of the war. By some accounts he later called his political engagement the “greatest stupidity of his life”, but no written record exists of such confession, and after the war he never thought it necessary to issue a public mea culpa. Some say that he did protect Jewish friends and colleagues as rector, while some say that he denounced others. It is clear that in his writing he often condemned Nazism: sometimes subtly, between the lines, and sometimes explicitly alongside communism, capitalism, and science. However, some argue that certain strands of Nazi thought pervade even the deepest strata of his philosophy.

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