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Heidegger, Geography, and Politics

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image of Journal of the Philosophy of History

It is often argued that there is a connection between certain forms of environmental or place-oriented thinking and conservative or reactionary politics. Frequently, the philosopher Martin Heidegger is taken to exemplify this connection through his own involvement with Nazism. In this essay, I explore the relations between Heidegger's thought and that of certain other key thinkers, principally the ethologist Jakob von Uexküll, and the geographers Friedrich Ratzel and Paul Vidal de la Blache, as well as with elements of Nazi ideology. While Heidegger, Ratzel and Vidal de la Blache are shown to have a similar commitment to a holistic conception of the relation between human being and the world, and to also give priority to ideas of geographic space, or, as we may also say, to place, this is shown to run counter to the essentially subjectivist and biologically determinist position that is associated with Nazi thinking on these matters, and that can also be seen as a key element in the work of von Uexküll. It is argued that the clarification of these issues is not only important for matters of intellectual history alone, but also to ongoing discussions about the role and significance of place. Given the influence of geographical considerations on contemporary historiography, as well as in a number of other disciplines, and given also the role played by Ratzel and Vidal de la Blache, as well as Heidegger, in the rise of such 'place-oriented' thinking, the exploration and clarification of the differences at issue here is especially important.

Affiliations: 1: University of Tasmania, Hobart, Australia and La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia


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