by George Anastaplo

The troublesome character of Martin Heidegger’s experiment with Nazism is in part due to the fact that it could be seriously said of him that “he is the greatest thinker of our century, and the greatest sophist who ever lived, greater even than Protagoras.” How did he go wrong, and why? He seems to me to be to philosophy what Macbeth is to tragedy. (And, like Macbeth, he is “obsessed” with and consequently led astray by excessive concern for “his own”:    in the one case, the royalty of “his” posterity; in the other case, the historic and hence philosophic mission of “his” country.) Heidegger seems to have moved from the pre-Socratics to the post-Socratics without having been touched as Plato and Aristotle were by the life (including the death) of Socrates, a life which testifies to the realization that there are some things that the truly human being does not do. Even so, he also had at hand a more than respectable German model (provided by Immanuel Kant) which he ignored, one sanctified by the language in which he discerns special powers:    Das Gefühl für Humanität hat mich noch nicht verlassen [The feeling for the sense of humanity has not left me.] Obviously, much more needs to be said about why certain things were and were not left unsaid by him. But it should also again be said:

This castle has a pleasant seat. The air

Nimbly and sweetly recommends itself

Unto our gentle senses.


Shakespeare, Macbeth, act 1, sc. 6, 11. 1-3. (Compare, however, “the view” from within as well as from without after the murder of Duncan, ibid., act 2, sc. 3, 11. 1-19.) See, on the significance of Socrates’ life and death for Plato, Alfarabi’s Philosophy of Plato and Aristotle (New York:    Free Press of Glencoe, 1962), pp. 62-63, 49, 66-67 . . .

Adapted from George Anastaplo, The Constitutionalist:   Notes on the First Amendment (Dallas, Texas: Southern Methodist University Press, 1971; Lanham, Maryland:    Lexington Books, 2005), pp. 738-39. See, also, George Anastaplo, The American Moralist:    On Law, Ethics, and Government (Athens, Ohio:    Ohio University Press, 1992), pp. 144-60 (“Heidegger and the Need for Tyranny”) (posted, May 11, 2011, on See, as well, George Anastaplo, “Further Thoughts on Macbeth and Heidegger” (posted, November 14, 2010, on

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