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The German Student as Worker: Matriculation Ceremony Speech November 25th, 1933

Martin Heidegger

Translated by Christian Struck, Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures, Harvard University

German students and teachers!

Dear guests!

Matriculation is the act by which students join the ranks of the academic community of the university. Thereby, the student becomes an “academic citizen.” He* acquires rights, including the following: to enroll in lectures, after payment of the mandatory fees, and to make use of the departments and clinical institutions. He assumes duties, including the following: to attend, if not to enroll in a minimum of lectures; to be in residence, to follow the house rules, and so forth.

The rights and duties of a student, as well as the totality of a student’s Dasein, emanate from the prevailing objectives on the part of the university and its relation to the State. The task of the university is academic instruction that is grounded in scholarly research, which, in turn, shapes the academic qualifications for free and public [staatlichen] ‘higher’ vocations. The university’s relationship to the State is limited by its quality of being a public body. Wilhelm von Humboldt formulated the standard interpretation of this relationship between university and state.

In preparation for the founding of the University of Berlin—the model nineteenth-century university —Wilhelm von Humboldt, then director of the Prussian education system, wrote an essay on “The Internal and External Organization of the Higher Scientific Institutions in Berlin” (1810). There, one reads the following: “It [the State] must thus always remain conscious that it […] is always an impediment as soon as it interferes [in matters of the university], that the matter itself would proceed infinitely better without it […]”.[1]

On the other hand, according to Humboldt, the State has the “duty” to “procure” the means for the “treatment of science.”[2]

Thus, the Dasein of the German student is defined through the “domains” of science and State. And from both, matriculation receives its meaning and its form.

But then how! if the State is in total upheaval? How then! if science transforms itself root and branch? And how! if both are produced by the relentless drive of a new German Reality? In that case, the very Being of the German student will change. Then, matriculation also acquires a new meaning.

Precisely this act—if we consciously perform it differently—forces us to ask: Who is this—the German student in the new German reality?

For us this question is so essential that its unfolding must turn into a celebration. With this question, the German student embarks to a new, if unbloody act of self-sacrifice, so that, henceforth, we will turn this celebration into reality under the sign of Langemarck.

Who is that—the new German student? Is he an “academic citizen”? Of course not! The German student now passes through the Arbeitsdienst; he serves in the SA; he carries out his Geländedienst [rural service]. That is new. And we wholly welcome this—even more so, when it is guaranteed that the student now really “studies”. “Study” now goes by the name of “knowledge-service” [Wissensdienst].” Soon, it will be arranged that all these services are coordinated with one another.

The new student rejects all that: No—that is not our reality; that is merely the consummated and warmed-over and renamed old reality, which is increasingly slipping away from us.

Because of the way that the current situation has been portrayed, it has become impossible to experience who we are. The new German student will not simply be present-at-hand [vorhanden]. He is just beginning to advance. Thus he is not yet and therefore has no boast. Far from it! The new student is—and precisely this advancing, this pressing forward defines the Being of that student. This Being does not simply, gratuitously, or suddenly emerge from nowhere. It responds to the commanding power [Befehlkraft] of the new German reality.

Only when we learn to understand what occurs [geschieht] in this reality, will we learn who that is—the new German student.

What is occurring? The Germans are becoming a historical Volk. As if they had not already had a long checkered history! Certainly—but “having” history does not yet mean being historical; for this means: knowing as a Volk that history is not the past, and even less the present, but the acting and bearing that reaches through the present on the basis the future. The future of a Volk does not consist of that which is not yet. It is precisely as arriving. It is arriving, and arriving it is there in the knowing decision by which the Volk arrives at itself, thereby extending into the pressing approach of its destiny.

“Being historical” means: acting knowingly by reaching ahead to what is arriving in order, thereby, to free the past of its power of constraint and to sustain it in its changing Greatness. This knowledge, however, realizes itself in that the Volk becomes the State; this knowledge is the StateIt is the waking and binding edifice in which the Volk, by an act of submission, is subjected to all great powers of human Being. The State is becoming and is through enforcing those powers within the Dasein of the Volk.

For example, nature reveals itself as the space for a Volk, as landscape and Heimat, as ground and soil. Nature is released as power and law of that concealed tradition of heredity [Vererbung] of essential predispositions and instinctual directives. Nature is turning into the decisive rule as health [Gesundheit]. The more freely nature prevails, the more noble and measured the formative power of authentic technology must be made subject to her. Bound to nature, borne and sheltered by nature, catalyzed and limited by her, thereby, the history of the Volk is realized. In the struggle to forge a path for its essence and to secure its perseverance, the Volk  grasps its Self within the growing constitution of the State. In the struggle to prefigure its potential greatness and destiny as essential truth, it represents itself decisively in art. The latter only attains stylistic greatness insofar as it absorbs the entire Dasein of the Volk within the imprint of its essence. 

What then occurs when the Volk becomes a State? Those powers—nature, history, art, technology, and the State itself— are being implemented [durchgesetzt], and through their implementation their boundaries are determined. Thereby, that which renders a Volk secure, bright, and strong becomes manifest. The manifestation of these powers is the essence of truth.

By implementing these powers, the developing State transposes the Volk  back into its authentic truth. On the basis of this truth arise the authentic capacity- for-knowledge, obligation-to-knowledge, and will-to-knowledge [Wissenkönnen, Wissenmüssen, und Wissenwollen] However, knowledge means: to clearly master the essence of things and, by virtue of this mastery, the determination to act [zur Tat entschlossen sein].

Hence, the claim to this knowledge only becomes a reality by virtue of the implementation of these great powers in the State itself. This claim-to-knowledge establishes the standard for all that is worthy of knowledge and all that is not. What is worthy of knowledge defines the limits in terms of which authentic questioning is grounded and preserved.

Science, however, does not create the original knowledge of the powers of the Volk’s Dasein. It merely brings this knowledge to maturity and solidifies it, and prepares the way for it under the aegis of the grown concept.

The prerequisite of all science is, therefore, the awakening and implementation [Durchsetzung] of the power of an authentic claim to knowledge. The implementation of this claim and thus the creation of those prerequisites is what occurs in the becoming of our State.

How and where are these measures achieved? Clearly, it can only take place where the Volk, unspent, reaches down to the roots of its Dasein, where it audaciously presses towards itself—in German youthGerman youth has no choice. It must. It knows — in accordance with its own knowledge— the goal on which it is fixated: to implement its new claim to knowledge within the becoming of the State.

To be focused on the conquest of this goal—that is what it means to be a German student.

Who then is this, the new student? An “academic citizen”? We dare not persist in uttering this appellation.

How then can the student take on that hidden mission in order to implement this new claim to knowledge? In principle, he still has much to learn! When will we, at long last, cease taking youth so seriously and refrain from elevating it to an exaggerated importance? Yet we know how things are! How incurably “primitive” are the students, especially today?

Yes, “primitive”, certainly and fortunately. For does “primitive” merely mean: having far less competence than the savants, being less adroit in their long-practiced methods? Does “primitive” not mean: to stand present where something is beginning, to stand present with what is first and most simple, borne and driven by its force? Precisely because the student is “primitive”, he is qualified for and summoned to implement the new claim-to-knowledge. –

Good! If the new student already is “primitive”, then he should “study” after all. Yet whence do we derive the definition of this vocation?

“To study”—is that the stolid eagerness of undertaking a well-defined pedagogical task we call a “lesson”? To study—is that the harmless diligence of those who are gifted, those who never take leave of the over-stuffed cage of books, apparatuses, and scholarly disputes in order to arrive at the things themselves?

“Studying” is the vocation of the student. Indeed. Yet, what the student does is defined by what he is. And he is what he becomes by subordinating himself to the commanding power of the new German reality for the sake of implementing the new claim to knowledge.

How does the student serve this process of implementation? He challenges us by asking, for instance: What is your relation to nature? In your research, where and how does the force of nature break into our world? The student challenges us by inquiring: What is your relation to Kant’s philosophy? Is he really merely the “Chinese from Königsberg”, or did his work effect a rupture in human Dasein that can still be felt today?

The student challenges us by inquiring: What is your relation to the State? Are we supposed to acknowledge only what has previously been thought “about” the State? Should the reality of our State be imposed on us by means of a network of dead concepts, or, alternatively, do your questions place us in the center of the force field of this reality?

The student challenges us by inquiring: What, generally speaking, is your relationship to the various domains of science? Are they solely areas of the most meticulous, individual research and textbook summaries? Or are they not instead the source of what is essential: something that impresses itself upon us and forces you to make decisions that you yourselves, like a confession, adventitiously or belatedly add to your private Weltanschauung?

With these challenging questions, the up-and-coming student will, unfailingly and incessantly, maintain the spirit of the new claim-to-knowledge; thereby, a new pedagogical will arises. By virtue of these challenges and “attacks,” the will of youth has opened itself up to the forces that shape the State.

By virtue of such challenges and attacks, youth follows the lead of its own self-assured Will. By his willingness to follow, the individual no longer feels himself to be isolated—he has surrendered his individual will to the powers-that-be [Mächte]. Thereby, everyone who aligns himself with these “attacks” will already be linked with everyone else.

Following a leader [Gefolgschaft] produces comradeship—not the other way around. Such comradeship educates those nameless and unofficial Führer who do more, insofar as they endure and sacrifice more.

Comradeship forms the individual beyond himself. It shapes [schlägt] him into the mold of a very distinct “type” [Schlages] of Jungmannschaft. We recognize the firmness of their facial characteristics, the taut clarity of their gaze, the decisiveness of their handshake, the recklessness of their discourse [Rede].

The solitary individual as well as the inchoate and directionless masses will be shattered by the punch [Schlagkraft] of this “type” of youth.

This “type” of student no longer “studies”, i.e., he does not remain seated somewhere in comfort while merely “striving” to be somewhere else. This new “type” of knowledge-seeker [Wissenwollenden] is always on the move. This student then becomes a Worker.

Alone—has he not always been alone? Work means “occupation” and effort. “Studying” means exertion of the brain. And thus one speaks today of the “intellectual worker” [Arbeiter der Stirn] and places him adjacent to “manual worker” [Arbeiter der Faust]. However, is “Worker” merely a broad, collective term? And the discourse of an “intellectual worker,” is that merely a contemporary concession to those Volksgenossen who were formerly referred to simply as “workers” and who were regarded as a lower caste of the Volk? Or, conversely, has the essence of work and the worker also changed with the new German reality? 

It has, indeed! Consequently, the negative concept of work [Unbegriff der Arbeit], which was both racially foreign [volksfremde] as well as racially destructive [volkszerstörerische], has been swept away. With the negative concept of work , the worker was degraded to a mere object of exploitation; he was destined to join the class of the disenfranchised and to disappear in the logic of class struggle. Also anachronistic is that concept of work that understood work merely economically as the production of goods and as opportunity earning a wage. Moreover, work is not a concept that has been inherited from the old regime that separates “the workers” from other “estates.” Finally, work is not merely a cultural concept in the sense that the worker could be regarded as in need of a so-called “higher education.”

Yet, on what legal grounds are we entitled to reject all these conceptions of “work” and “workers”? Insofar as they fall short of the essence of work; instead, they merely elevate subaltern or spurious determinations of work to the level of what is essential about the concept.

The term work is ambiguous. On the one hand, it means working as completing an action. But it also means the finished product as something that has been worked on, as a product, and as the end result of that action. In keeping with this broad and twofold meaning, every human action—insofar as it is concerned with something—is “work and “care” [Sorge].

However, what is essential in the essence of work is neither completing an action, nor the result per se, but instead, in that which actually comes to pass: that, as someone who works, a human being places himself in a confrontation with beings as a whole [dem Seienden im Ganzen]. In this confrontation, there takes place the mastery, the implementation, the organization [Fügung], and the subduing [Bändigung] of all the powers that shape the earth. 

When understood in this way the essence of work thoroughly and fundamentally determines human Dasein. Our Dasein begins to shift to a different mode of Being [Seinsart], whose character I formulated years ago as care, a designation that was unanimously rejected by the philosophers’ guild in its entirety. Recently, Ernst Jünger, proceeding from a creative understanding of Nietzsche and the experiences of the battles of matériel during the Great War, interpreted the mode of Being [Seinsart] of the man-of the-future through the Gestalt of the worker. 

Work transposes and organizes the Volk in the sphere of activity of all essential powers of Being. The structure of völkisch Dasein, taking shape in work and through work, is the State. The National Socialist State is the work-state [Arbeitsstaat].

The new student knows himself to be set for the implementation of the völkisch claim-to-knowledge: hence, he is a Worker. Previously, students were workers only insofar as they “studied”. Conversely, the new student “studies” because he is a Worker. Henceforth, “studying” means: the unfolding of the Will-to-knowledge in order to solidify and expand that knowledge that makes our Volk a historical Volk.

The new German student is a Worker. But where do we find this student? At any university, there might be half a dozen, perhaps even fewer, and, all-in-all, not even the seven with whom the Führer originally began his work—the Führer who, today, is way beyond the year 1933, and way beyond us, and who has ignited a new movement among all nations [Staaten] on the earth. 

A decade from now – or perhaps it will take a lifetime – the German student of the new “type” [Schlag] will dominate the university, since, at that point, he will have acceded to the ranks of the new Arbeitsfront of the university faculty.

However, it behooves us to acknowledge that the threat to the German university is not that its previous approach to science will descend into barbarism; instead, the danger is that we— beknownst or unbeknownst to ourselves — obstruct the implementation of the new claim-to-knowledge.

It is not that which we can ascertain in the here and now, but instead, the magnitude of unsolved challenges and the gravity of still undeveloped questions that, in the future, must become the yardstick of authenticity and the measure of student Dasein.

We professors measure up to this Dasein as long as we keep in mind what it means to question: for us, questioning is not the ungrounded play of curiosity. For us, questioning does not mean to mindlessly persist, come what may, in doubting. Instead, for us, questioning means exposing oneself to the sublimity of things and their laws; for us, questioning means: to not close ourselves off to the terror of what is untamed and the chaos of the dark. — At all events, for the sake of this questioning we call into question and refuse to subordinate ourselves to those who have grown tired and their complacent addiction to cheap answers. We know: the questioning courage to experience and persist in the abysses of Dasein is in itself already a higher response than the overhasty information furnished by artificially contrived systems of thought.

The new student joins up into the new order of political [staatlichen] Dasein and its völkisch knowledge, in such a way that he himself assists in the co-creation of this new order.

From now on, matriculation is no longer merely admission to a pre-existing entity. It becomes a decision. For the new student, the “examination” does not take place following his studies, it precedes it. This exam challenges him either to demonstrate that he has grasped his Dasein, or else to retrogress to the ideas and customs of a moribund world.

Matriculation is Decision. Every authentic decision transposes us into the immediacy of acting within a determinate situation and environment.

German students! You have made a decision for the University of Freiburg. This city, its land, and its national character [Volkstum] are dominated and colored by the Black Forest. However, in light of the commanding power [Befehlskraft] of the new German reality, for the German student, even the Black Forest has changed its essence. The Black Forest is no longer merely a stimulating winter sport region, or a glorious destination for excursions and summer travels. Henceforth, those of us who hail from University of Freiburg will experience the Black Forest as: the native mountains, the native forests, and the native valleys of [the Nazi martyr] Albert Leo Schlageter.


And now I ask working student [stud. phil. Fischer] to step forward to perform by proxy for all of you the formal commitment:

I bind you to the will and the work of our Führer Adolf Hitler. I bind you to the law of Dasein of the new German student. I demand from you discipline and severity and rigor towards yourselves. I command you to self-sacrifice and an exemplary conduct towards all German Volksgenossen.

Heil Hitler!

*All personal pronouns are masculine in the original, which has been kept for this translation.

[1] Quoted from https://ghdi.ghi-dc.org/docpage.cfm?docpage_id=4222 (access: June 8, 2020)

[2] Ibid.