Martin Heidegger was one of the 20th century’s most influential philosophers. His ideas continue to have a profound effect on modern thinkers and are taught in philosophy classes the world over. He was also a Nazi.
“There’s a popularized version of his theories that’s extremely widespread today among far-right intellectuals,” says Richard Wolin, an intellectual historian and the author of the book “Heidegger in Ruins.” That’s no accident, he tells New Lines magazine’s Danny Postel. It was a strategic choice. The embrace of Heidegger in mainstream academic philosophy allowed them to cloak their ideas in respectability: “The most significant philosopher — according to some — of the 20th century comes, of course, with a lot of intellectual prestige and cachet.”
But that’s not to say that the substance of the philosopher’s ideas had nothing to do with it either, adds Wolin. “Heidegger was an arch critic of Western civilization. And, along with that, goes, of course, the heritage of the Enlightenment, liberal democracy,” he explains. It isn’t just that Heideggerianism was useful for the New Right that emerged in the 1970s and the decades after — his work also played a genuine role in the formation of their political project. “The connections are much, much thicker and much more significant than would meet the eye.”
“The most significant philosopher of the 20th century comes with a lot of intellectual prestige and cachet.”
Of Heidegger’s acolytes among the New Right, the Russian fascist thinker Alexander Dugin, who has written multiple books about the philosopher, might be the most prominent. “After Russia’s invasion of Crimea in 2014, Dugin was dubbed ‘Putin’s brain,’” says Wolin. “The extent of his influence on Putin is debated, but there’s no question that he’s a leading intellectual figure, not only amongst Russian ultranationalists but across Europe.”
The influence of Dugin and other New Right thinkers has become increasingly apparent in recent years. One of their most pernicious ideas is the “great replacement theory,” which alleges a conspiracy among elites to replace white European populations through non-white immigration and has inspired terrorist attacks, pogroms and genocide. It has traveled far beyond its European origins — from Tucker Carlson’s primetime show on Fox News to the speeches of Tunisian President Kais Saied.
“It was the New Right who took up this cudgel and began using the phrase ‘population replacement’ in favor of the idea of an Aryan or white nationalist Europe,” says Wolin. “And it has, in recent years, been reborn in rather insidious ways.”
Produced by Joshua Martin