An Essay on Evil
COSIC'S DEFENSE AND HEIDEGGER'S LAST DAYS
By Zoran Janjic
The name of Martin Heidegger usually associates two things: a
well-deserved reputation of one of the most influential philosophers of the 20th century
and a shameful fact that a period of his life was marked by his voluntary work for the
Nazi regime. Whereas the deliberations about the former are usually left to experts,
idealists and philosophers themselves, Heidegger's Nazi days are mostly referred to as
something episodic, a youthful delusion of a politically naive intellectual, a black spot
in his impeccable career of a teacher, fundamental ontologist and a lover of silence and
tranquility of the Black Woods on the outskirts of which, in the tiny village of
Todnaberg, he had built himself a lonely cottage as a refuge from the noise and vanities
of earthly problems. Chilean Victor Farias's book Heidegger and Nazism /1987/ in Spanish
was firstly turned down by German editors. But then, when the book was translated and
published in France and some other countries they had no choice but to publish it as well.
The book raised a great hue and cry among academic circles in Europe and Americas.
Heidegger's student himself, Farias had been compiling documents for the book for ten-odd
years, digging through all available archives, dairies and correspondence, and talking to
survived witnesses of the era. He even managed to acquire documents from the archives of
the then East Germany (where he also incidentally run into the documents testifying of the
ties between Chile's Socialist Party and German Nazis in 1930s, and some secret agreements
between the Soviet Union and the Salvador Allende government, the material for his another
iconoclastic book the title of which speaks for itself - Salvador Allende: The End of the
In brief, Farias's study reveals the following chronology of Heidegger's
engagement with the Nazi regime: in 1933 Heidegger was firstly rector and then
fuehrer-rector at the Freiburg University (the University is at the state's disposal,
while the fuehrer-rector at supreme Fuehrer's). In his Addressing students for the first
time, he said, "Do not let your being be governed by theories and 'ideas' any more.
Just the Fuehrer and only the Fuehrer will stand for the German reality and its law, today
the same as in the future." Owner of the party card No. 312589 he was regularly
paying his membership fee till Germany's final defeat in 1945. In his capacity as a rector
he manifested a whole range of not exactly commendable traits and personality flaws, from
power corruptness to tendency for informing on his colleagues of Jewish origin or liberal
views (after which all of them were fired and left jobless). In his capacity as a rector
and in line with the laws on "racial pureness" he decided on the scholarships
for which only Aryan students, members of SS or SA, could apply - Jews or Marxists in no
way. And there is the case of Marx Miller, one of Heidegger's most talented students and a
student representative. Because of Miller's staunch anti-Nazi stands Heidegger informed on
him as well in a letter to the Rectorate, quoting his "political unsuitability."
Then he deposed him as an assistant dean and put an end to his career as a professor. And
all that he did duly, in a form of an official letter that informed the faculty
administration that Miller was an excellent scholar but "unsympathetic to the
When the war was over, Heidegger was only logically trying to cleanse
his biography before the Denazification Commission. Fate and world trends obviously had
not favored him or Germany, he said, resorting, as an authentic representative of his own
philosophy and his own Dasain, to authentic lies or pragmatic half-truths (and that was
the first line of his defense). So he said, "I've never attended party meetings or
worn a party badge, the same as after 1934 I've never opened my lectures or public
addresses with the 'German salute' (Heil Hitler!). The truth is, however, quite different
according to Farias's book: there is a photo of Heidegger wearing Nazi emblems, his
student Karl Levitt saw him in Rome in 1936 wearing a swastika on his lapel, and there are
reliable testimonies that till 1936 Heidegger regularly begun and ended his lectures with
a salute to Hitler.
After 1949 when the Denazification Commission banned him from the
university as "a Nazi companion" his colleagues from the Philosophy Department
stood up for him. So, two years later, Heidegger resumes his lecturing and is active at
the university till late 1960s when he retires with honors. That would be the second line
of his defense - small, professional circles in Germany didn't want to have some
embarrassing facts about their respectable colleague disclosed. (The first hearing against
Heidegger began back in 1946, but then he suffered a breakdown and had to be treated in a
sanatorium in Badenweiler for several weeks).
Madness is usually referred to as a companion to the mind of a genius.
And yet is seems that a deliberate and voluntary imbecility of no matter what origin and
justification is a much more frequent companion of great minds (at least there are many
cases testifying of that in history). After the war Heidegger did not speak a word about
his pre-war engagement, his anti-Semitism or Holocaust. He broke that "shameful
silence" (Derrida) only once in a subsequently publicized lecture titled
Con-figuration (1949). Commenting the plague of modern technology he manifests total moral
idiotism (deliberately, to all appearances) by placing concentration camps in the same
context with the problems of agriculture and food production. "Agriculture is now a
motorized food industry, the same thing in its essence as the production of corpses in the
gas chambers and the extermination camps, the same thing as blockades and the reduction of
countries to famine, the same thing as the manufacture of hydrogen bombs" he says.
And in the silence of Black Woods he writes about himself conceitedly, "One who
thinks big, must make big mistakes."
International academic circles provided the third line of Heidegger's
defense. A large front of outstanding figures - from Hannah Arendt, Karl Jaspers and
Sartre to Claude Levi-Strauss and Derrida - have backed him devotedly for years and more
or less euphemistically referred to his "flirt with Nazism." It was Farias's
book that broke the general silence and all the three lines of Heidegger's defense. It did
it with factual information and to the point, and having bypassed all the strongholds of
his defense as a Maginot Line provided tons of evidence about fascism actually being
inherent to basic postulates of Heidegger's philosophy rather than a chance episode or
peripheral mistake as the official interpretation had it. In eight months only as many as
six publications addressing Heidegger and his relationship with Nazism appeared in
response to Farias's book. No wonder that the strongest response of Heidegger's defenders
came from France where his philosophy influenced so many in the aftermath of the World War
II (Sartre, Claude Levi-Strauss, Foucault, Derrida). As it seems, only in France was it
possible to accuse Farias for "staging Stalinist processes against Heidegger."
The argumentation of his advocates ranged from total negation of the facts and quotes
published in Farias's book to Derrida's claim that the books "tell nothing that has
not been already known."
And so it happened that many interesting facts about the outstanding
figures from the circle of Heidegger's longstanding and devoted associates, followers and
propagators saw the light of day. In France, Jean Beaufret, translator of Heidegger's
works, who had promoted the philosopher for the last 35 years of his life (and even
published several books of his interviews with Heidegger), enjoyed full credibility as a
former member of the Resistance until his correspondence with revisionist historian Robert
Furison, known for his denial of Holocaust, was revealed after his death in 1982. The same
as this historian, Heidegger's translator was expressing his doubts about the existence of
gas chambers and concentration camps. In America, it was posthumously revealed that Paul
de Man, well-know theoretician of deconstructionism and one of major propagators of
Heidegger in the United States, had cooperated with Nazi invaders of his native Belgium
during the World War II and had even been writing anti-Semitic articles for their papers.
In this context the support from Ernst Nolte, another revisionist historian, comes as no
surprise. Nolte does not even question Heidegger's cooperation with Nazis - for him that
was only a necessary and logical response to the Russian Revolution of 1917, a response
that even justified Holocaust and concentration camps. "It should not be ruled out
that national socialists and Hitler went for the 'Asiatic' method (Holocaust) because
their saw themselves and their nation as potential or actual victims of that 'Asiatic'
method. Wasn't Archipelago Gulag a precursor to Auschwitz?" he writes.
But what Farias's book probably achieved the most was that it revived
the interest in an earlier study on Heidegger by Pierre Bourdieu titled Political Ontology
of Martin Heidegger. Bourdieu linguistically analyses the political discourse of the
German extreme right in 1920s and places it in the context of Heidegger's vague
philosophical jargon. His analyses shows that Heidegger's speech literally brims with the
phrases taken as normal in the political discourse of the German right of the time.
Prompted by this analysis Johannes Fritsche goes even further - in a study Historical
Destiny and National Socialism in Heidegger's Being and Time he proves that Heidegger's
most famous work reflects the ideological dirt of the time. Moreover, those thick
ideological layers were visible, close and understandable to original readers, the
generations of the rightists in 1920s, and it was only later that they turned opaque.
Through a comparative analysis Fritsche even reveals the similarity between the idioms
used in Mein Kampf and Being and Time.
And here we come to the point where the nationalistic discourse of
Dobrica Cosic - that self-taught ontologist of death and phenomenologist of pits and mass
grave - and the shameful maneuvers meant to hush up the embarrassing aspects of
Heidegger's philosophy and political thought converge. And what they share in common
(despite the fact that as a self-though philosopher and an author of extremely authentic
cosmogony of banality Cosic exceeds Heidegger and all the philosophers worldwide) are the
things unsaid that indicate hidden truths. Cosic's "state-building" thought
tacitly pictures Serbia's ideal state organism as some vitalistic entity that perseveres
all historical times, often changing its shape, size and place (like some giant, movable
ameba). And that's what his readers, themselves molded by the "state-building"
idea, perfectly understand without words or hints ("we look at one another and say
nothing, but we understand each other"). And, so book by book, interview by
interview, Cosic's wise speech by Cosic's wise speech, the author and his readers, as one,
give shape to the empire of their dreams and draw the borders of "the Serb national
being." In her report on Eichmann's trial in Jerusalem Hannah Arendt coined her
famous "the banality of evil." But there is not only one side of the evil, the
evil is evil because it always promptly reappears in some shamefully changed, utterly new
and unimaginable form. With its bottomless capacity for radical transformation the evil
always comes as a surprise. (Had, say, Mengele been arrested instead of Eichmann and had
she attended his trial the phrase "banality of evil" would hardly occur to
Arendt) The same as there is no such thing as one evil and one form of the evil, there is
no such thing as one "Nazism" inherent to a locality and a specific ethnic
group. There are "Nazisms and Nazisms" and endless opportunities for
reappearance of various "Nazisms." The history of Europe in 1990s is the history
of Serb Nazism, autochthonous and authentic. And it is no coincidence that the
"state-building" writer, Cosic, was the president of FR of Yugoslavia (1992-93)
at the same time when another writer ("a poet") named Radovan Karadzic began
implementing his poetic program in Bosnia with mine throwers, cannons and riffles to
emphasize the power of his liciencia poetica. Probably these two are the only writers in
the whole world whose conversations were tape-recorded by intelligence services and had
them published at the official site of the International Court of Justice in The Hague.
Even this made them immortal.
Over one of their phone talks, like two grotesque incarnations of
Beckett's Didi and Estragon, Cosic and Karadzic exchange rubbish about things they know
nothing about: about Havel and about culture and philosophy of European Middle Ages. The
two destroyers of every culture and entire towns that make Bosnian civilization talk
culture! Here are some excerpts:
Estragon Karadzic, "That Havel destroyed Czechoslovakia."
Didi Cosic, "Oh, that colleague of ours turned such a fool. What a
Estragon Karadzic, "A midge, a midge, that's for sure. So, you see,
that philosophy of Middle Ages."
Didi Cosic, "That was nothing."
Estragon Karadzic, "Nothing, emptiness, no juices." There is
no meat in it at all."
For the "state-building" Cosic, who claims that "history
works at full speed," Czechoslovakia has two writers only: Schweik and Kafka (Cosic
forgets that Schweik is no writer but a character from a novel). For him, Europe and
Kundera are nothing but (erotic) trifles. "All that eroticism, what's the meaning of
it, what is it Kundera and the likes are after.And look at history and arts of that Middle
Europe, you'll find nothing original there," he concludes.
For the two, erotic was replaced by territories and occupation long ago,
and history by SANU memorandums and YPA mine throwers and cannons. Over an earlier
"literary debate" (also tape-recorded) Cosic asks Karadzic's whether his troops
plan to make Sarajevo or Banjaluka a capital.
"That's out of question, Sarajevo is the capital," replies
Cosic, "Yes, yes, but listen, do these four regions touch one
Karadzic, "Everything is in one piece."
Cosic, "And they are all connected?"
Karadzic, "Totally connected, all of them."
Cosic, "Good, good, and Muslims do not try to generalize their
We need neither Freud nor Lakan to interpret the erotized discourse of
the two invaders who penetrate territories with long barrels. All we need is a look at the
verbs and phrases they are using - "touch," "connect," "in one
piece." In his context, Cosic's inapt use of the term "generalize"
associates forced eroticism. When he says "Muslims do not try to generalize their
territory" it sounds more like "do not try to genitalize their territory."
Genitalization of territories with "Serbhood" or, as Cosic
would put it, "exchange of territories and humane migration." The territories
seen as static are imbued with nothing less static and rigid nationalistic discourse that
has lost touch with modern times: hence, the territories are equal to ethnicity and are
used, whenever necessary, as battle cries and alibis for the killing of others (alleged
self-preservation). The bombardment and siege of Sarajevo started in the last months of
the presidency of this state-building writer and his signature is probably under some of
the protected documents (for the time being) of the tribunal in The Hague, referring to
the notions such as arms, trucks, planes, helicopters, ammunition, grenades, commanding
officers, etc. The state-building Cosic was not only the president at the time but also
the commander in chief of the Yugoslav Army - and everybody knows that logistics and arms
for the war in Bosnia were coming from Belgrade. The crimes committed during his
presidency (and there is strong evidence of his personal responsibility) were the
abduction and killing of civilians in Sjeverin and Strpce. Speaking of the abduction of
the passengers from the train in Strpce, the army and the highest state officials had been
informed in writing, a month earlier, about the exact date and time of the crime,
including the names of abductors. So the state-building writer knew what would happen but
did nothing (despite his constant worries). As the president he played a small and
insignificant role of a useful idiot for a year (June 1992 - June 1993) and then Milosevic
discarded him like a sucked orange.
Unlike Heidegger the state-building Cosic may today count on one line of
defense only: his "readership" (the great majority of which have never read a
single book of his), i.e. "the nation" the interests of which he has been
"standing for" throughout his career as a writer. The international public has
hardly ever heard about a writer named Cosic, while the domestic academic circles, the
people of letters and culture are not to be relied on for a simple reason: they completely
failed long ago, twenty years ago. For, genocide, destruction of cities and expulsion of
people do not go hand in hand with some grand idea such as culture. All those unfortunate
readers - as the last defense - and Cosic share together and share among each other is a
sense of guilt and, probably, a burden of complicity, acknowledged or denied (many of them
have been in reserves), the same spiritual myopia and self-perception of a rare, endemic
species in the hostile European environment - Ramonda Serbica (a "phoenix
flower"). What characterizes the ramonda flower, discovered by the famous Serbian
biologist, Josip Pancic, in 1974, is an unusually rare phenomenon: its totally dry roots
revive when watered. The word has it that this is how the Serb ramonda survived the last
Russian botanist Pavel Chernavsky discovered these extraordinary
tenacity and regenerative powers of Ramonda Serbica in 1928 when he accidentally spilled a
glass of water over a herbarium with a sample of this dried plant. Several days later, to
his astonishment, the Russian botanist saw that a totally dry plant came into flower. The
same year he published this chance but major discovery in the Russian Botanic Journal.