Influential book: Heidegger’s Children by Richard Wolin

An influential book we read in 2022 is Heidegger’s children by Richard Wolin. Anders Buch had written a thoughtful review of our new book Learning to make a difference, in which, at the end, he questioned why we do not connect our work more explicitly with the work of Heidegger.

Anders is right that our emphasis on practice as a locus for learning has parallels in Heidgegger’s emphasis on practice as a locus for the experience of being. And while our intellectual lineage is from social theory and cultural anthropology, we still found it useful to articulate for ourselves why we don’t connect more with Heidegger.

Reading Wolin’s book was part of this exercise. Wolin traces the influence of Heidegger through the careers of his Jewish students. Wolin uses this approach to build an argument that the philosophical work of Heidegger cannot be separated from his politics, in particular his decision to join the Nazi party and to the dismay of his most prominent disciples who were Jewish.

Professionally, the book confirmed our sense that it is complicated to connect our work with Heidegger’s more closely. Not only do we find Heidegger difficult to read, but the specialized vocabulary in which he casts his perspective also makes it difficult to build on his work without embracing it wholesale. Wolin’s book helps us clarify our resistance to doing so. It also reminds us to remain vigilant about the political implications of theoretical work. 

On a personal level, the book gave us important insights into the thinking of German intellectuals during Hitler’s rise, something that had always remained a mystery to us. Wolin argues that a portion of the German intellectual elite saw American-driven modernity as cultural decay threatening the German philosophical tradition that had flourished in Romanticism. This led them to see Hitler as a potential hero to counter the threat of decay.

For us, this insight represented a frightening example of how identification with a philosophical ideology can blind one to the  dehumanizing thrust of its practical implications. 

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