Chickening Out or Prudence? You Decide

Hannah Arendt, who happened to be Jewish, did her PhD under studied philosophy with Martin Heidegger. She also had a tumultuous affair with him.

Heidegger became probably the foremost intellectual in the world to back the Nazi Party. Arendt went on to write a book called The Origins of Totalitarianism, in which she discusses the rise of Nazism at some length, and talks about Nazi theorists such as Carl Schmitt.

There is no index entry for "Heidegger."

Is this cowardice? Or is it prudent, as any negative comments about Heidegger could be seen as personally biased?

UPDATE: A reader notes her PhD was actually supervised by Karl Jaspers.


  1. The Arendt-Heidegger wasn't widely known about at the time, so is unlikely to be contributory in the either way you suggest. It may also have been too fresh a wound for Arendt to want to think about at the time.

    She does criticise him very sharply, mainly on philosophical grounds, in 'What is Existential Philosophy?', published in Partisan Review in 1946. The PR version of that essay contains a passage which mentions Heidegger's Nazi Party membership; the German-language versino does not. There and elsewhere, her account of him is as an idiot-opportunist who joined for career reasons or because he simply didn't bother to research what the party was really for. This might be why he's not in OT.

    Oh, one other thing: I think it was Jaspers, rather than Heidegger, who supervised her PhD.

  2. AGD, thanks for the correction.

    And how can I be bound to disagree with your blog if there are no posts?

  3. Is it relevant if the affair was know for my questions to be relevant, AGD? I'm not asking whether leaving Heidegger out would be seen as cowardice or prudence, I'm asking was it either?

  4. Oops; didn't realise it'd link through to something I'd not touched in months.

    I think what's happened there is, I've not explained properly want I meant. On the one hand, I don't think it's a case of 'prudence'; Arendt probably wouldn't have expected the general reader to assume negative comments about Heidegger were personal, as the affair was not common knowledge. I'm not sure what she would be afraid of happening if she had mentioned Heidegger in OT; they were back in contact about the time she was writing it, so might have been afraid to have fallen out more comprehensively, I suppose.

    Schmitt's presumably in there because his theoretical work does link to his Nazi-supporting phase. Arendt's account of Heidegger is that his philosophical work failed to protect him from making a dreadful error but wasn't contributory to it.


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