Peter Trawny : ‘German Academy is not Germany’

Peter Trawny is a German philosopher who published the Black Notebooks of Martin Heidegger, in 2014.

Could your tell us about your childhood in Westphalia and how you became a philosopher?
I grew up in a now quite poor and industrial area of Germany, coming from a family of coal-miners. I myself used to improve my money-condition by working in a coal mine when I was young. Philosophy appeared at school, when a teacher of German literature let me read Thomas Mann. With 16, I skipped to Nietzsche and was fascinated. Today I think that my childhood and youth in a world of lower-middle-class-workers was important. On the one side, in Germany, it is still an academic stigma, on the other side I can see the hippocratic character of academic philosophy. The “German Professor” will never change.

Were the Heidegger’s Black Notebooks, you published in 2014, translated abroad and how would you describe the impact of these revelations, a posteriori?
The “Black Notebooks” are translated into, for instance, English and Italian. There will be more translations, for instance into French. The antisemitic passages in the first volumes of the Notebooks are, of course, painful. The problematic character of them lies in Heidegger’s attempt, to connect his thinking with a view of “world-Jewry,” which can only be interpreted as antisemitic. In this time, between 1938 and 1945, Heidegger seems to be highly influenced by Nazi-propaganda, which tried to mobilize the Germans for the project of the so-called “Final Solution.” The historian Peter Longerich for instance could show, that newspapers like the “Voelkische Beobachter” spoke quite frankly about the actions against Jews in the east. After the war Heidegger never spoke in public about the Shoah. There are some in my eyes problematic phrases about the “annihilation-camps,” but they can not be taken as a real interpretation of the Shoah. Thus we have to understand Heidegger’s silence.

What do you think of French philosopher Emmanuel Faye that criticized the Nazis sources of Hannah Arendt philosophy as Carl Schmitt or Martin Heidegger?
Emmanuel Faye’s project is, no question, decent. But I do not share his philosophical presupposition to make of morals the rigidly judging queen of philosophizing. This is a kind of philosophic Jacobinism. Hannah Arendt was shortly after her publication of the Eichmann-book at the beginning of the sixties criticized by for instance Gershom Scholem. It was then, when friends of her saw “antisemitic” traits in her thinking. Faye rewarms this discussion. Who really would think that Hannah Arendt’s philosophy is intrinsically organized by anti-Semitism? With Schmitt and Heidegger this problem is different. But also here we can not solve the problem of anti-Semitism by banning the texts from a philosophical context. On the contrary: to understand the threat of anti-Semitism, we have to understand, how thinkers like Schmitt and Heidegger could be influenced by it.

How do you analyze French president, Emmanuel Macron claiming German philosopher, Jurgen Habermas’s heritage?
Well, I am not really a Macron-connoisseur. I support his view of Europe. I myself published a small text “Europa ins Leben rufen” (Matthes & Seitz: Berlin 2016) with similar ideas. But I actually would be more careful with neo-liberal economy. In difference to Germany, France still has a leftist way of life, even if Didier Eribon describes its decay. Neo-liberal economy is a slow death of the idea of equality, which, of course, was never really realized. The reform of the French economy is represented as “without alternative,” we know this slogan very well…

German extreme right from the AFD party found an unprecedented and alarming success this week since the end of World War II. Could you describe the collusion between this populist tendancy and the actual German University?
German Academy understands itself as nonpolitical. We have an important document of this self-interpretation in Max Weber’s lecture “Science as a Vocation” from 1917. In this nonpolitical self-understanding the German Professor thinks and acts morally and politically indifferent. This for instance was one of the conditions of the “Gleichschaltung” after 1933. In this sense I would not speak of a “collusion.” A morally or politically protesting “German Professor” is a contradictio in se. But on the other side we should not be hysterical about the AfD. Do they really have to say something? We will see. But one thing is for sure: they are not Hitler. There is an abyss between him and them. The German democracy today is strong enough to prevent a catastrophe like 1933. Thank God then that German Academy is not Germany…

About the Author
Alexandre Gilbert is the director of the Chappe gallery.