Prophets of Extremity
He tells his listeners that he carries out his work in a small ski hut in a wide valley of the southern Black Forest. And why here? As he explains it:
Philosophical work does not take its course as the aloof business of a man apart. It belongs in the midst of the work of peasants. When the young peasant drags his heavy sledge up the slope, and then guides it, piled high with beech logs, down the dangerous descent to his house, when the herdsman, lost in thought and slow of step, drives his cattle up the slope, when the peasant in his shed gets the countless shingles ready for his roof—then is my work of the same kind. It is intimately rooted in and related to the life of the peasants.Heidegger lauds the thoughtfulness and sense of remembrance that prevail in peasant life. Moreover, he regrets that 'the world of the city runs the risk of falling into a destructive error,' for a 'very loud and very pushy and very fashionable obtrusiveness' is abroad, passing itself off as 'concern for the world and existence of the peasant.' But precisely this threatens to destroy the peasant's world. The peasant, Heidegger declares, must be left alone; he does not want or need this 'citified officiousness,' but rather a 'quiet reserve with regard to his own way of being and its independence.' Finally, Heidegger notes how, after receiving his second call to Berlin, he withdrew from the city and returned to his hut: 'I listened to what the mountains and the forests and the farms said. I came to my old friend, a 75-year-old-peasant. He had read about the call to Berlin in the newspaper. What would he say? Slowly he fixed the sure gaze of his clear eyes on mine, and keeping his mouth tightly shut, he placed his true and considerate hand on my shoulder—ever so slightly, he shook his head. That meant—absolutely no!'
Heidegger's idealization of the fixed world of the peasant is by no means original. On the contrary, such sentiments were a commonplace in European, and especially German thought in the period. One notes, as perhaps the most famous example of this, Spengler's characterization of the peasant as historyless, eternal, having a mystical soul and a dry, shrewd, practical understanding, the source of the culture and history that grows up within the cities, but always separate from that culture and history. have argued that those disturbed by the 'crisis of the European spirit' could move in either a nostalgic or an imaginative direction. That is to say, they could respond to the presumed dereliction of the present by looking toward either a mythic past or a mythic future. In the wake of World War I, many Germans opted for the former. There was much in German thought and society to incline people this way. One set of comparative statistics is perhaps worth citing: in 1871, 5 percent of the German population lived in cities of 100,000 or more; by 1925, the proportion had grown to 27 percent. Inevitably, many Germans looked back to the serene and joyful, but (alas) largely imaginary period before the city had taken over. Indeed, the whole idea of the Volk, which in its more extreme versions idealized the primeval world of the ancient Germans, was nostalgic in bearing.