Heidegger Read Barth...

Did Heidegger read Barth? Did Barth influence Heidegger?  In my last book on Protestant Metaphysics, I noted an unsubstantiated citation to that effect in Graham Ward’s Barth, Derrida, and the Language of Theology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995) p 80 n1, which cited George Steiner’s Heidegger (London: Fontana, 1992) p 73. It turned out there were no references to Heidegger actually reading Barth in Steiner's work.

More recently Rudy Koshar noted Barth’s explicit influence upon Heidegger in his essay “Where is Karl Barth in Modern European History?,” p 345 n 51, which can be found in vol. 5 no. 2, of the 2008 edition of Modern Intellectual History. Koshar cites Benjamin Crowe's Heidegger's Religious Origins (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2006)  where Barth is referred to over 8 times. At one point on page 75, Crowe notes that “Heidegger was familiar not only with their [Barth's] biblical and Lutheran sources, but also with the work of these young theologians.” The relevant footnote 10, however, references Heidegger’s Supplements: From the Earliest Essays to Being and Time and Beyond (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2002) p 110. Here, one of Heidegger's early lectures on Luther is reproduced. However, this lecture never refers to Barth. Rather it makes a vague reference to the inadequacies of “contemporary Protestant theology.” 

Again, to my knowledge, no claim of Barth’s direct influence upon Heidegger has been substantiated.

26 October, 2013

In a follow up to the notes above, a quote from Christophe Chalamet's Dialectical Theologians: Wilhelm Herrmann, Karl Barth and Rudolf Bultmann has come to my attentionHere, Chalamet cites a letter from Bultmann as follows: "Heidegger, besides having an excellent knowledge of scholastic theology and of Luther, is 'in particular an admirer of Hermann - he also knows Gogarten and Barth and estimates the former in the same way as I do'" (pg. 165)

This is helpful and gets us closer to the events. The quote provides Bultmann's assessment of Heidegger's appreciation of Hermann. It then links Gogarten and Barth by association. Herrmann's prominence in Marburg and his direct engagement with Herman Cohen and neo-Kantianism makes him a likely candidate for Heidegger's interests. However, to my knowledge, Heidegger does not reference Herrmann in any of his works. For instance, in Phenomenology of Religious Life, he writes on Troeltsch, Schleiermacher, he cites Bultmann at one point, and discusses a range of concerns he has with contemporary Protestant theology, but nothing on Herrmann, much less Barth. So, is Bultmann claiming that Heidegger knew of Barth in a way akin to Herrmann? Is this the way he understood Barth? This would be interesting but problematic, given Barth's distanciation from Herrmann over the 1920s.

Nonetheless, on the precise details, Bultmann's note here is also unsubstantiated. We need some comment from Heidegger which indicates both what of Barth's work he read, and how he did so. 

24 December 2013

It is the strange world we live in where a brief comment on an obscure website such as mine can connect people, however tangentially, around seemingly simple questions in philosophical theology. A few months ago I was reading again on whether Heidegger read Barth in his early formulations of the relation between theology and metaphysics (noted above). In my earlier research I had noted that although oft cited that Heidegger read Barth, the specific citations did not substantiate the claim, e.g. no one cited the point at which Heidegger says he read Barth, what of Barth he read, nor what impact it had upon him. This led to a question from a student in Cambridge, which I followed up on in October. Then, again in November 22, where the smoking gun was found. My email response was as follows:

I am at the AAR in Baltimore this week and just walked downstairs to Oxford Press's stand. They had one display copy of Judith Wolfe's book, Heidegger's Eschatology: Theological Horizons in Martin Heidegger's Early Work, which I couldn't buy until the end of the conference. So, they kindly let me stand there and read chapter five where Wolfe discusses the precise issue of what of the early twentieth century protestant theology Heidegger read. More to the point, after sifting through this material it turns out there is one citation from a letter from Heidegger to Bultmann where Heidegger dismisses Barth as a "lightweight."

So, we finally have something from the pen of Heidegger saying he knew something of Barth's work. I'll retract my statement, therefore, that there are no substantiated citations that indicate that Heidegger actually read Barth. Rather, it seems Heidegger never read Barth very well, nor paid much attention to him, thus undermining the various claims to the contrary. I hope to write about this more formally in the future, as this is a helpful way to summarize a number of issues in the contemporary debate about the question of metaphysics and theology. A few further notes may be relevant while this is fresh on my mind.

  1. Wolfe's chapter 5 focuses on the 1920s and Heidegger's letters to and from Bultmann. She then corroborates Bultmann's letters to and from Barth. She also cites some notes by Gadamer. The chapter is mainly driven by Bultmann's attempt to draw Heidegger into his dialectical theology project as he saw it (which Barth later breaks from). Whatever Heidegger knows of Barth seems to be on the basis of those conversations. My contention remains that Heidegger likely misunderstood Barth due to this context and the early nature of Barth's work.
  2. I'll have to go to the Briefwechsel to see if there is any more on what precisely Heidegger read, but it is likely that it was the 2nd edition of Barth's Roemerbriefe. That is what Wolfe implies. Again, most of Wolfe's chapter is on Bultmann and reads the relation through Heidegger's letters to Bultmann and then cross references with Bultmann's letters with Barth.
  3. Heidegger's dismissal of Barth seems rooted in the line Heidegger was drawing between philosophy and theology at this time. I'm in strong agreement that this is what Heidegger gains over the 1920s, and it's why he ends up parting with Bultmann, and why I think Bultmann later misread Heidegger on these matters, i.e. in an existentialist mode. It is likely that Heidegger would not have found much help understanding Barth through his debates with Bultmann.
  4. However, Wolfe briefly notes that she thinks that Barth also totally separated philosophy and theology. This is predicated on an acceptation of McCormack's thesis that Barth's thought is fixed from 2nd Roemerbriefe onwards, and that it is essentially anti-philosophical throughout. The heart of my research disagrees with this assessment. 
  5. My own contention is that Barth also found the Roemerbriefe inadequate, and that his mature work does not separate theology from philosophy, but inverts the relation, i.e. he develops a theological ontology in a way utterly contradictory to Heidegger. This happens in the Church Dogmatics, after his work on Anselm.
  6. Crucially, although there is now a substantiation that Heidegger read Barth, and that there are better reasons to think that it is dialectical theology that Heidegger is thinking of in his lecture on Luther and sin in Supplements, it seems that it is still Bultmann that is the primary target. So too, the note on Barth in particular is so cursory that it should prove why Heidegger was not influenced by Barth (i.e. he is a lightweight), rather than that he was shaped by Barth's theology in some significant way.  In other words, the aspersions derived from this cursory note, e.g. Barth and Heidegger were kindred ships passing in the night, are still wrong. Although focused on the 1920s, Wolfe still links the McCormack readings of Barth as anti-philosophical with the Heideggerian post-onto-theological readings. My main point is that this is a misreading of Barth. 
  7. On the positive side, for my own argument at least, Wolfe's chapter does enhance my contention that Bultmann's letters to Barth did intensify Barth's sense of the seriousness of the Marburg ontological critiques of those like Heidegger. It would add further weight to my contention that Barth was highly attuned to rethinking the question of being in the late 1920s, and explain why Przywara's lectures inspired him to write on Anselm. That is, Barth was well aware of the way these ontological questions were hanging in the air, and the Church Dogmatics is, in part, a response to them.