Hannah Arendt and Martin& Elfriede Heidegger

Fearlessness is what love seeks… Such fearlessness exists only in the complete calm that can no longer be shaken by events expected of the future… Hence the only valid tense is the present, the Now.” – Hannah Arendt

The story of Martin and Hannah; it can be a story like any other story about lovers; except that they are known for being famous  philosophers of XX century.

Born in Hanover in 1906,  Hannah Arendt studied philosophy at Marburg from 1924—26 under Martin Heidegger, with whom she notoriously had an affair. Their relationship—including her subsequent forgiving of his Nazi associations after the war—it is the most frequent remark of critics of Hannah Arendt. It was, a complicated, messy relationship. Their correspondence oscillates between deep engagement with the most serious of philosophical themes, to glutinous and sickly-sweet baby talk.

One should not call Heidegger’s influence on Arendt’s thought decisive—an intelligence such as hers would no doubt have flowered in any number of directions—but one aspect of it was pivotal. Heidegger had lectured on Saint Augustine in 1920; in 1929, Arendt would present her doctoral thesis and first book-length work, “On the concept of love in the thought of Saint Augustine.” 


Martin Heidegger (September 26, 1889–May 26, 1976). A philosopher as influential as he is controversial, Heidegger made monumental contributions phenomenology and existentialism; he also joined the Nazi party and took an academic position under Nazi favors. Although he resigned a year later, stopped attending Nazi party meetings, and later told a student that he considered taking the position “the greatest stupidity of his life,” he never publicly repented. That he should fall in love with a Jew — Arendt saw the power and privilege of being an outsider as central to her identity — exposes the complexity and contradiction of which the human spirit is woven, its threads nowhere more ragged than in love.

Hannah Arendt began her studies in Marburg, but again hinted he left this university center around 1925 at the request of Martin Heidegger to protect the secrecy of their relationship because they had nevertheless been married. To go to Heidelberg and later habilitate with Karl Japers on “The Concept of Love and Thought in St. Augustine” in 1929. Her thesis was not officially published and she failed to gain the status of professor at the University of Germany. After a long exhausting  journey, she became the first female professor in the United States. She died of a heart attack in 1975. A few months before her death, she saw  Martin Heidegger’s.  Arendt and Heidegger remained in each other’s lives for half a century, until Arendt’s sudden death. Heidegger outlived her by six months. Letters: 1925  1975 survives as the extraordinary record of this enduring relationship, brimming with timeless wisdom on nearly every aspect of life and culture.

In his first letter to Arendt, penned in February of 1925, Heidegger implores:

Dear Miss Arendt!

I must come see you this evening and speak to your heart.

Everything should be simple and clear and pure between us. Only then will we be worthy of having been allowed to meet. You are my pupil and I your teacher, but that is only the occasion for what has happened to us.

I will never be able to call you mine, but from now on you will belong in my life, and it shall grow with you.

We never know what we can become for others through our Being.

Hannah Arendt will remain friends with Jaspers and his wife for the rest of his life. But something that marked her childhood and youth will forever remain spiritual in her being. Hannah as secular Jew for which it will suffer a lot of criticism, especially after the work “On the Banality of Evil, a Report from Jerusalem at the Trial of Eichmann“. Where she sees the paradoxically of the system of destruction and deportation of Jews during WWII, which was carried out in a planned, bureaucratic manner without any psychopathology. Eichmann in Jerusalem, was an intensively personal work. As she wrote in one her letter, it was “cura posterior”, the delayed cure of pain that weighed upon her as Jew, as former Zionist, and a former German.  But Hannah, in a sense, remained a perpetual loser and a refugee. She was born in Königsberg to parents who were also secular Jews. Growing up in a German language country, she was forced to leave Germany one day and wander all her life. She had her own home and a husband in New York, but where you were born, you always come back.

The third person in this triangle is Martin’s lawful spouse Elfriede, woman with whom he had two sons and who remained with him throughout his life, despite his confession of a relationship with Hannah Arendt . The marriage was in the Catholic Church, to which Elfriede, a protestant, knew how deep the division between German Catholics and Protestants was. Martin Heidegger was a Catholic, prepared for service in the church, but nevertheless opted for philosophy. One day Martin renounced that church by renouncing the baptism of his sons in the Catholic Church: “For God was dead.” Elfriede saw in him the future and security, a man who was not attractive in appearance and origin, but whose mind radiated. It is interesting that some hints from far away  from tell us that Hannah was not the only student chosen by this professor, If there were others. The bottom line is, however, that the relationship between these two philosophers has remained strangely ambivalent, passionate and imbued with the intellectuality of the spirit. Maybe it wasn’t about sexuality itself, but what Jung would say is the merging of Anime and Animus, Spirit and Soul.  When she was a 19-year-old university student, Arendt fell in love with her 36-year-old married professor, Martin Heidegger, about 1924. Then begins the writing of the oeuvre Being and Time in a specific German language. It was difficult to understand, but as some would say as commemorative as  poetry  of Friedrich Hölderlin.  The publication of Heidegger’s masterpiece, Sein und Zeit (Being and Time), in 1927 generated a level of excitement that few other works of philosophy have matched. Despite its nearly impenetrable obscurity, the work earned Heidegger promotion to full professorship at Marburg and recognition as one the world’s leading philosophers. The extreme density of the text was due in part to Heidegger’s avoidance of traditional philosophical terminology in favor of neologisms derived from colloquial German, most notably Dasein (literally, “being-there”).

Heidegger practiced it by gathering his students around his hut, which he had built together with Elfriede as a replica of his peasant origins. A reminiscence of everything that represented the past. The whole story or breaking the circle of the perfect family and marriage breaks Hannah. Martin chooses her as his mistress one day in the corridors of the University of Marburg. She was a petite, first-time Jewish woman with an oval face and with irrepressible hair. It was as if he knew that it was in the nature of a Jewish woman to love passionately and to surrender infinitely to the end. In every relationship, one always loves more than the other. One takes what he needs and the other gives to infinity because his spirit is free and his soul is angelically pure. Such was Hannah, young and sincere when she taught herself in village stations to Professor Martin Heidegger, waiting for his call. The relationship lasted about four years. One day it stopped because Martin hadn’t come to the arranged meeting, as mysterious as ever, and Hannah realized she didn’t need to wait for him anymore. She then married in 1929 to a colleague whom Heidegger himself suggested to her. How much passion Hannah burned so young and how much she matured in the arms of her professor no one will ever know but it is clear that Martin fed from her springs by taking her during those four years, subjugating her like any female in order to find the strength within himself to return to her hut in the morning and write. Surrounded by his family and wife? While Hannah remained abandoned and woke up alone at dawn in the still sleepy Heidelberg.

 A few questions arise:

 First one: The subject of seduction in Baudrillard sense is Hannah here, a girl nineteen years old, imposed by the divine professor, the undisputed authority Martin, in his forties . Could she have refused? No, there was no chance. Heidegger, the way he looks as some would say he was so ugly physically. Yet he had something irresistibly attractive for a young philosophy student who did all she could do without sin to love like a real woman, without shame, proudly and consistently. Apparently, he used all the strategies of seduction to protect himself and his privacy to get what he needed. Seduction is, in a sense, for the conservative Heidegger a challenge to the existing order of things and relationships. The result is equal to the “release” of excess energy. 

Second one: At the primary level this was a sexual relationship with an intellectually conscious level in Hannah, while Heidegger lived his unconscious animal part. There were kind words, brilliant moments, but an infinite amount of selfishness that went so far as to allow her to find another lover! Would a loving man do that? Suspect. A man who loves his mistress would not allow such a thing, no matter how great an intellectual. It was an apparent freedom of speech. What Foucault would say is that there is no and there has never been a suppression in our culture. He seduced her with intent, but sex is something like healing from lack of inspiration, creativity… outside of some consequential-causal relationship.

 Third one:  This is another process that simultaneously bases the psychic and sexual, spiritual and erotic, bases the second scene, the scene of phantasms and the unconscious, as energy that will enter the stage – psychic energy that is in fact, only the immediate effect of stage hallucination and suppression and which will be hallucinated as a sexual substance, met aphorized at different levels. Hallucination is the most beautiful state of the dream world in which love is celebrated as a goddess: Aphrodite, Hera and Demeter. While the story of Heidegger might fit into that mythology of the narcissist myth. Love here is just an energetic and stage simulation, a kind of psychodrama in which the psyche of one is subordinated to the psyche of another. A distinct superiority with all logic will one day be turned in Hannah’s favor but it may be too late for her. The executioner in the first person will forever remain here Martin Heidegger, raw at heart, proud of himself, as we said the real German Narcissus, who was raised by another woman, the mother of his children Elfriede. And everyone admired him, he was charismatic until the fall of that ’45. He even suffered a nervous breakdown and spent time in a sanatorium. Hannah will not have children. But behind her will remain a great philosophical  work for which she will be remembered by generations. But her relationship to Heidegger will never be a relationship based on what Moravia would call born “indifference”, after love.

One of the greatest theorist of love, Jacques Lacan says:” There is no such as sexual relationship.”Lacan doesn’t say that love  is disguise for sexual relationships; he says that sexual relationships don’t exist, that love is what is comes to replace that non – relationship. That’s more interesting. This idea leads him to say that in love the other tries to approach “the being of other”. In love the individual goes beyond himself, beyond the narcissistic.In sex, you are really in relationship with yourself via the meditation of the other. The other helps you to discover reality of the pleasure.” – Alan Badiou 

In love, on the contrary, the meditation of the other is enough in itself.

Like two extinguished stars radiating towards each other, Martin and Hannah will stay in a relationship for the rest of my life. There is a rich love correspondence between the two, erotic, philosophical, poetic based on Heidegger’s poem dedicated to battle. Hannah knew how to answer that. Regardless of their two marriages, she loved her second husband. And yet she admits to him for correspondence with Martin the only and true love, her life seems to remain Martin Heidegger. It is known that Martin became rector of the University of Freiburg, and that he reformed and centralized the entire university in Germany in 1934. He turned a blind eye to persecution. He also participated in the demonstration and dismissal of some Jews colleagues as his former mentor Edmund Husserl. After the fall of the Fourth Reich, he was struck by lustration and remained without a professorship and without a pension. He was among the first to be criticized by Hannah Arendt at the end of the war, and then other voices came forward, including Jaspers who testified against his former friend. But that same Hannah returned to Germany and returned to Martin after the war. She tried to defend him, even of his Nazi tracks. What Heidegger did not accept in his soul was her success on the philosophical level. She became more famous and was read as a thinker. She worked diligently for his rehabilitation, but this stubborn, patriarchally educated German could not accept that the roles had changed. Since 1950, she has been trying to bleach his biography as if he were Martin’s mentor, or agent, but breakups and silence occur sometime around 1952 and will last in their relationship until 1957. Elfriede remained silent about this because she knew it was a way for Martin to experience his philosophical rehabilitation. And how Martin defended himself to accusations that he was at heart loyal to Nazism, as a Hitlerite Salon’s philosopher. Silence. The bottom line is that Heidegger believed that the horrors of Nazism were purely monumental oblivion of battles, for which the Germans bear no responsibility. Maybe it is just European thing intrinsically but how is it possible that this only happened in Germany? Heidegger believes that this is where the inner truth and greatness of National Socialism rests. Tragedy should be sought in the intellectual limitations of Nazism. Hannah believed in man, in Martin.

In this triangle, Elfriede, Martin’s wife, will live the longest, 98 years (21.03.1992). Martin dies at the age of 86 (26.06.1976). Hana died at the age of 69 (4.09.1975). Who’s the loser in this story? Did Hannah, as the third member of the circle, remain in the shadow of her great teacher and lover, seeking pardon for him? Was worthy of such love at all, or was it Hannah’s inner demon that forced her to live the life she lived? Subtle, consistent love requires a great price and a game of Eros and Thanatos. A student never distances herself from her teacher. No matter how much she is interested in this story, she loves unconditionally until the end. “O Heavenly Father, you who dispose of life and death. You who appear to us as a God of love and almsgiving, give the souls of your servants light and peace.”


Hannah Arendt died of heart attack, relatively young for today’s lifetime, and wrote about love as follows:

Sentimental memories are the best way to forget one’s own destiny, it assumes that the present has already been converted into a sentimental past… The present is the first to rise above memory, and it immediately leads us to the inner abysses, where everything is eternally present, or converted into virtuality. Thus the power and autonomy of the soul are secured. Secured at the cost of truth, because it is necessary to know all this again, because without the reality that we share with other human beings, truth loses all meaning. Introspection opens up space for lies.

Hannah Arendt on Love and How to Live with the Fundamental Fear of Loss
“Love, but be careful what you love,” the Roman African philosopher Saint Augustine wrote in the final years of the fourth century. We are, in some deep sense, what we love — we become it as much as it becomes us, beckoned from our myriad conscious and unconscious longings, despairs, and patterned desires. And yet there is something profoundly paradoxical about such an appeal to reason in the notion that we can exercise prudence in matters of love — to have loved is to have known the straitjacket of irrationality that slips over even the most willful mind when the heart takes over with its delicious carelessness.”

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