Bringing the Rhetorica ad Herrenium to the Rectoratsrede: Considerations on Heidegger's National Socialist Rhetoric
AsPro Matthew Sharpe (Deakin University)

September 29, 2015, 4:00pm - 5:30pm
European Philosophy and the History of Ideas Research Group (EPHI), Deakin University

221 Burwood Hwy
Burwood 3125


  • School of Humanities and Social Sciences


Deakin University


After an introduction (which I won't read due to time) reflecting on the key role of Sein und Zeit's sections 27, 35-38, and their depictions of modern Gesellschaft in literature on the great philosopher's Nazism, Part 2 of this paper justifies a specific look at Heidegger's rhetoric in the period of his most extreme activism as Rector of Freiburg.  This has been skirted but never (as far as I am aware) systematically studied in the growing literature on the interconnection of Heidegger's thought and politics.  Part 3 looks at the arrangement or dispositio of the famous Rectorship speech, drawing on the categories of the Roman rhetorical tradition.  It notes that Heidegger's call to retrieve 'the essence of science' from the Greeks to animate University reform so the German University can assume spiritual Fuhrung in the new Reich enacts the 'authentic historicity' formally described in SZ division II (culminating at sec. 74).  In doing so, we will show, the speech actively calls forth and then enacts in the peroration that Kamfgemeinschaft (battle community) of teachers and students the great philosopher envisages for his Gefolgschaft. Part 4 looks at Heidegger's 'elocutio', if that Roman term can stand for Heidegger's style in the speech.  We note here how the speech exemplifies at least 11 of the 13 features of the "fanatical language" of the Nazi leadership, as analysed by John M. Young in Totalitarian Language, before focusing on Heidegger's (no less than) 16 biconditionals in the 47 paragraphs and the way that, coupled with his extraordinarily otiose language, Heidegger's rhetoric operates by claiming exclusive access to vital but esoteric truths, presented less as contestable 'ontic' validity-claims than hieratic 'ontological' revelations.  The concluding remarks call for further rhetorical analyses of Heidegger's national socialist speeches and lectures, as an under-explored field in understanding both the imbrication of his politics and thought and its continuing fascination, despite everything we (as against scholars two decades ago) now know.

Matt Sharpe teaches philosophy at Deakin, and is the author of Camus, Philosophe (Brill 2015).

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