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Their name describes their black oilcloth covering, but one could be forgiven for thinking it described their content.

But this was only because he felt that Nazism had betrayed its own promise, and had succumbed to the technological fate that afflicted the modern age overall.

For those who value Heidegger’s philosophy, this interpretation holds an obvious appeal, since it casts the whole business of Heidegger and Nazism in the ennobling light of tragic error.

Some called Arendt an apologist, though her criticism reached well beyond Heidegger and faulted the whole of the philosophical profession for its unworldliness.

One strategy for resolving the dilemma has been to insist on a neat distinction: Heidegger was good at philosophy but bad at politics.

An elegant defense along these lines was developed by Hannah Arendt, his erstwhile student, whose essay “Martin Heidegger at Eighty” (published in these pages in 1971) compared Heidegger to Thales, the ancient philosopher who grew so absorbed in contemplating the heavens that he stumbled into the well at his feet.

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