Heidegger’s Politics

Marcuse, Herbert and Frederick Olafson. “Heidegger’s Politics.” Graduate Faculty Philosophy Journal, 6 (Winter 1977): 28-40.


Olafson: Professor Marcuse, you are very widely known as a social philosopher and a Marxist; but I think there are relatively few who know that Martin Heidegger and his philosophy played a considerable role in your intellectual career. Perhaps we could begin by just laying out the basic facts about that contact with Heidegger and with his philosophy.

Marcuse: Here are the basic facts — I read Sein und Zeit when it came out in 1927 and after having read it I decided to go back to Freiburg (where I received my Ph.D. in 1922) in order to work with Heidegger. I stayed in Freiburg and worked with Heidegger until December 1932, when I left Germany a few days before Hitler’s ascent to power, and that ended the personal relationship. I saw Heidegger again after the War, I think in 1946-47, in the Black Forest where he has his little house. We had a talk which was not exactly very friendly and very positive, there was an exchange of letters, and since that time there has not been any communication between us.

Olafson: Would it be fair to say that during the time you were in Freiburg you accepted the principle theses of Being and Time and that you were in some sense, at that time, a Heideggerian? Or were there major qualifications and reservations even then?

Marcuse: I must say frankly that during this time, let’s say from 1928 to 1932, there were relatively few reservations and relatively few criticisms on my part. I would rather say on our part, because Heidegger at that time was not a personal problem, not even philosophically, but a problem of a large part of the generation that studied in Germany after the first World War. We saw in Heidegger what we had first seen in Husserl, a new beginning, the first radical attempt to put philosophy on really concrete foundations — philosophy concerned with the human existence, the human condition, and not with merely abstract ideas and principles. That certainly I shared with a relatively large number of my generation, and needless to say, the disappointment with this philosophy eventually came — I think it began in the early thirties. But we re-examined Heidegger thoroughly only after his association with Nazism had become known.