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Stranger from Abroad: Hannah Arendt, Martin Heidegger, Friendship and Forgiveness, by Daniel Maier-Katkin. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2010. 384 pp. $26.95.
It is Hannah Arendt who gives herself the title of a “girl from afar,” “Mädchen aus dem Fremde,” claiming Schiller’s words for her own. And Heidegger echoed this claim, writing a poem for her, as only Heidegger could and as only Arendt would be able to hear: “Stranger from abroad, du, / may you live in the beginning” (p. 22).
Daniel Maier-Katkin’s Stranger from Abroad tells the story of Hannah Arendt and Martin Heidegger not only as a love-affair but as a friendship, which, given the peculiar resistances of Heidegger’s character, means that Maier-Katkin writes about forgiveness. This latter dual emphasis makes this book as profound a contribution as it is to the debate on Arendt and Heidegger, but this profundity will doubtless make the book difficult reading for those who turn to such a book just to read of their love-affair, perhaps for the frisson that such a common fact of academic life can still exert, or else to wonder at the durability of any love and any friendship that lasted until Arendt died in 1975, half a year before Heidegger in 1976.
And yet there are few things that are so commonly mistrusted as the story of a friendship. Thus we suspect Tom Sawyer and Huck Flynn, Schiller and Goethe, Adorno and Benjamin. Even in the age of Facebook, where the one or two or four or six friends in the course of a lifetime (and that only for some lucky souls) routinely morphs into hundreds (more for younger users), we tend to wonder about friendship, its basis, its truth. Were Arendt and Heidegger really friends? Better to ask, what kind of love-affair was it that they shared? Are there details? And again, and above all, how did it manage to last?
Like friendship, love is always needing to beg forgiveness, even as it “keeps no record of wrongs. . . . It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails” (1 Corinthians 13). Thus, like Aristotle, we count as real or true only those friendships and loves that outlast utility or survive the fading of sensual fancy (and of this Elfriede was never sure). At the same time, it says something about Heidegger that in spite of his character, transparent as he was to his friends, as Karl Jaspers tells Arendt (“. . . here we are, the two best friends he has, and we see right through him” [p. 175]), he had friends like Jaspers and especially like Arendt.
That Maier-Katkin traces the nature of such a love and friendship means that he does not offer a full biography. Nor do we learn very much about Heidegger (as if one needed to ask) or Jaspers or even very much about Arendt’s two husbands, Günther Stern (later Anders), whom she married in 1929 and divorced in 1937 and Heinrich Blücher, whom she married in 1940. Maier-Katkin does tell us that Heidegger did not hold Anders in high esteem “and in the end neither did Hannah” (p. 52). We do read of Anders’ beauty and athleticism, significant of course as a German Jew at the time but also significant for what it tells us about Arendt. And there is more: unlike Heinrich Blücher, who was not formally educated, Anders sought to complete his habilitation in Frankfurt under a committee including Tillich, Horkheimer, Adorno, Wertheimer, and Mannheim. Maier-Katkin blames Adorno for blocking Anders’ as insufficiently Marxist. But Anders himself, who never courted the academy on its own terms, told a different but recognizable story: as a Jew, he would be given the academically common “run-around” by his superiors in the 30s: “We just have to let the Nazis go through for a year or so, then you can be habilitated.” Anders went on, although Maier-Katkin does not tell us this, to become a passionate theorist of the human condition in the current technological age, emphasizing, as a student of Husserl and Heidegger might well do, that we were, as Anders writes, “born rather than manufactured.” Given Arendt’s own focus on natality, given her own critical interest in technology, the second of which interests resonates as it does with both Heidegger’s and Anders’ focus on technology, such issues are perhaps more significant than simply a matter of parity. For his part, Blücher almost necessarily becomes the loyal husband, a counterpart to Heidegger’s wife Elfriede. We learn that Heidegger found Blücher congenial because of his insights into Nietzsche. Regrettably the point is not developed, but given Arendt’s own interest in Nietzsche (it can be argued that she studs her footnotes with references to Nietzsche, as she does in the latter pages of The Human Condition, to appeal to Heidegger) one wonders if these references were also addressed to Blücher.
The point here is that Arendt could appeal to Heidegger while knowing that he would not read her work. The point is a sensitive one even where she was clear about the concessions she made to him on just this level. As she wrote to Blücher, “I am, as you know, quite prepared to act with Heidegger as if I had never written a line and was never going to write one. And that is the unuttered condition sine qua non of the whole affair’” (p. 222).
One of the strongest sections of the book is its discussion of the complex reception of Arendt’s own problematic relationship to Zionism (distinguishing Theodor Herzl and Bernard Lazare’s definitions of Zionism and gently clashing with Gershom Scholem) and nationalism (p. 137ff) especially given her “calls for the active pursuit of peaceful coexistence with Palestinian Arabs” (p. 147) and her opposition, shared as Maier-Katkin reminds us with Sidney Hook and Albert Einstein, to “acts of terrorism by Jewish groups,” as Arendt writes in a letter to Jaspers: “If the Jews insist on becoming a nation like every other nation, why for God’s sake do they insist on becoming like the Germans?” (pp. 149–150). Maier-Katkin tells us that this is said half-jokingly, but it is serious enough, given Jacob Taubes’s account of the role played by the Nazi Catholic jurist Carl Schmitt’sVerfassungslehre or Constitutional Theory, brought into Israel in 1952 for the use of Pinchas Rosen, the then Israeli Minister of Justice, in drafting the constitution of the new state of Israel.
Given the subtlety of what the book sets out to do, it succeeds. Maier-Katkin also illuminates academic life in Germany before and while the Nazis came to power, including the complexities of Heidegger’s Rectorate. Thus, although it is true that Heidegger blocks the appointment of Eduard Baumgarten as being “too closely aligned with the Jew [Eduard] Fraenkel” (p. 96), not only does the ultimate appointment go to Werner Brock, himself a Jew, but Heidegger will appeal to the Nazi authorities on Fraenkel’s behalf “as a ‘Jew of exemplary character . . . whose extraordinary scientific standing was beyond doubt” (pp. 96–97). If the book comes up short in any way, it is on the theoretical level of Heidegger’s thought, a regret because Maier-Katkin rightly sees that the love between Heidegger and Arendt begins with and remains philosophy, that is, a passion for what Heidegger and Arendt call thinking.