Heidegger at the End of the World Monographs

HEW #4: Peine forte et dure

These pages are meant as an accompaniment to the experience of reading The Basic Problems of Phenomenology, a number of lectures delivered by Martin Heidegger in 1927 at the time of his ascension to academic and philosophical success in the final days of the Weimar Republic. You’re highly encouraged to read along with the lectures themselves; section markers are provided. If you are unable to find a copy of the lectures, either in German or English, write to me and I might have something up my sleeve. As for myself, I’m not a philosopher, nor do I aspire to be one. What I am is an avid interrogator of the relation between thought and violence. This space is thus to become a garden in which various commentaries on thought, history, violence, and our lives will grow. Put aside the fast-paced horror of today’s live-streamed unraveling of reality and come consider another, quieter time when – jokes. Things were pretty fucked then and they’re fucked now. Come, whether tired or angry, and join the attempt at understanding philosophy’s place in this madness.

Introduction §4.

“It’s a mess, ain’t it Sheriff.”
“If it ain’t, it’ll do till one gets here.”

No Country for Old Men

I know. There’s a lot going on. I don’t think that you or I have it in us now to so quickly turn to something as mundane, as innocent as another preparatory lecture at the University of Marburg in 1927, and which Heidegger only green-lit for publication shortly before his death. So let us be brief as we do our obligated diligence and maybe at the end of this head towards something softer for the later part of the day. As for the actual bit of the text for this round, the actual content is mostly a roadmap and some more of that sweet pedal repetition with few new harmonic phrases thrown in. I think it’s fine to keep it short, as most of what’s addressed here is just ear-marking topics for later, and right now with the US as it is, I’d rather not waste too much time on bookkeeping. Remember gang, we’re only getting on the entrance ramp. So among the usual Sein vs Seinde, we’re introduced to the crucial component of time. This is apparently going to be part of the wrench that’s going to help us tear Being from the beings. And once we tear away from the realm of the extant, Doc promises us we’ll be in the clouds of a transzendentale Wissenschaft, a transcendental science dealing with earthly things no more.

For that to work, we’re going to have to do a bit of rummaging in the ol’ ontological drawer and dust off some earlier contenders. Specifically, we’ll be taking four points in the history of philosophy – but remember you, there’s no history being done so keep all hands and other parts inside the ride at all times – which Doc aggressively insists seem unrelated but are actually related. I wasn’t really going to argue, but alright. Anyway, the dogs in this fight are going to be… drumroll please, but maybe somehow less martial after all:

1. Kant’s thesis: Being is not a real predicate.
2. The thesis of medieval ontology (Scholasticism) which goes back to Aristotle: To the constitution of the being of a being there belong (a) whatness, essence (Was-sein, essentia), and (b) existence or extantness ( existentia, Vorhandensein).
3. The thesis of modern ontology: The basic ways of being are the being of nature (res extensa) and the being of mind (res cogitans).
4. The thesis of logic in the broadest sense: Every being, regardless of its particular way of being, can be addressed and talked about by means of the “is.” The being of the copula.1Heidegger, p. 15; “1. Die These Kants: Sein ist kein reales Prädikat. 2. Die These der auf Aristoteles zurückgehenden mittelalterlichen Ontologie (Scholastik): Zur Seinsverfassung eines Seienden gehören das Was-sein (essentia) und das Vorhandensein (existentia). 3. Die These der neuzeitlichen Ontologie: Die Grundweisen des Seins sind das Sein der Natur (res extensa) und das Sein des Geistes (res cogitans). 4. Die These der Logik im weitesten Sinne: Alles Seiende läßt sich unbeschadet seiner jeweiligen Seinsweise ansprechen durch das >ist<; das Sein der Kopula.” Martin Heidegger and Friedrich-Wilhelm von. Herrmann, Die Grundprobleme der Phänomenologie (Frankfurt am Main: V. Klostermann, 1997), p. 20.

Difference, Articulation, Modification, and Truth. I don’t remember those being the names of the horsemen, but I didn’t pay attention in Sunday school. Well, not much we can say there other than I hope you’re ready to deal with Kant in a way that’ll get you laughed at if your friends happen to be neo-Kantians. Which, these days, is frankly on you.

I hope you’re ready for the fight. Feeling the intensity. The lust. To arouse is to stir, to begin to find movement where it wasn’t before. While the rest of the world lies in ruins, shocked by the never before seen levels of human destruction of the War, Doc’s head is elsewhere. Remember, then was also a time Before, as we now still cling to this ledge which, as we speak, crumbling into something darker, unknowable, and it was then that:

the reservist soldier Heidegger has discovered a new intensity. It is not war itself, but that which remains when the catastrophe all round burns up everything else. It is not the bath of steel of victory but the great slag removal through defeat. This is his way of believing “in the spirit and its power – he who lives in it and for it never fights a losing battle” (November 6, 1918).

R. Safranski, 1999. Martin Heidegger: Between Good and Evil, p. 87

Prelude, perhaps overdue

We’re all waiting and watching. Shit’s a mess but it’s been a mess for a while now. Question is what kind of mess it’s gonna be down the road. It’s been making a lot of people ask themselves why the hell they started mainlining CNN for days to no avail. Gotta hope the next hit brings you that sweet relief. But in reality, things aren’t going smoothly and people don’t know what to say. A lot of hot air, and undoubtedly some good bits in there too, but they’re pretty hard to find among the chaos. As for this series, we’re barely nearing the end of the introduction and I’ve been allowing myself to speak quite loosely, jumping around too much into little pools of narrative indulgences. It’d do good for us to place ourselves here. The end of the beginning. Seems somehow appropriate. These lectures were given, to speak with a sloppy historical gesture, on the cusp. This was before the camps,1 the gulags, the Bomb, the supposed end of biological-Darwinism, before the flower-emoji international order of the liberal nation-state and so much more. Yet make no mistake, despite the spectacle of Corona and the US election, we are also now only in the time Before; whatever is coming is only now being built, perhaps is already slowly lifting it’s tired wicked wings from the earth again. In fact, looking out over the city, I don’t think it’ll be that long before the first ripples of the impact start to shatter the frame beyond repair.

It might at this point be worth my throwing a glance in the rear-view mirror of this hermeneutic clown car and ask the passengers if they – you, that is – are sure they want to go on this trip. Roadtrips always sound nice, but then you’re 16 hours in, broken down in some flatlands Iowa rest stop wishing to God or some greater might of fury that everyone would just shut the fuck up. That and stop taking so long in the bathroom.2That is, in Europe. I exclude the concentration camps of the British and other colonial forces not out of oversight, but because mainland philosophy hadn’t yet been yet forced to confront them. For a good explanation of how the supposedly objective horror of fascism relates to the choice of its victims, see

A reminder then that our goal, the final point on this map that’s starting to look a bit queasy itself, is a phenomenological foundation of the knowledge of being itself. Let me ask you, again with a straight face if this is something you really care about? Even from the driver’s seat I can’t help but wonder when facing this task in its sobriety and enormity something which perhaps Heidegger never had the pleasure of being asked to his face: who really gives a shit? I guess it’s actually right to say there are two flavors to this question: first, who gives a shit in the philosophical sense – what does it mean to us to answer this metaphysical question. Then there’s the second, and more obviously relevant social-historical flavor of the question.

Regarding the former, here we’ve already brushed up on some of sense of impasse regarding today’s ability to really grapple with an ontological question as pure as Doc’s over here. Unsurprisingly, this is the implied refrain of this series – a constant opportunity for a present perspective to grapple with a question and its resolution posed at the time of Heidegger’s ascendance to Husserl’s throne as phenomenologist-in-chief. Come to think of it, even a look at Doc’s place on the historical bookshelf would suggest some difficulties with this question. Poor Edmund Husserl’s monomaniacal pursuit of an insurmountable ground for phenomenology showed very much the need for The Outside World. Somehow just bracketing it and putting it away for the lesser mortals to chew on feels a bit disingenuous, considering that “consciousness is at no moment severed from Being. There is no empty consciousness confronting objects with which it would fill its emptiness.”3Safranski 1999, p. 77 It’s worth looking at Sartre’s description in encountering this idea in Husserl, if anything because it’s damn good writing:

If, impossible though it may be, you could enter “into” a consciousness, you would be seized by a whirlwind and thrown back outside, in the thick of the dust, near the tree, for consciousness has no “inside.” Precisely this being-beyond-itself, this absolute flight, this refusal to be a substance is what makes it be a consciousness. Imagine for a moment a connected series of bursts that tear us out of ourselves, that do not even allow to an “ourselves” the leisure of composing ourselves behind them, but that instead throw us beyond them into the dry dust of the world, on to the plain earth, amidst things. Imagine us thus rejected and abandoned by our own nature in an indifferent, hostile, and restive world – you will then grasp the profound meaning of the discovery that Husserl expresses in his famous phrase, “All consciousness is consciousness of something.” No more is necessary to dispose of the effete philosophy of immanence, where everything happens by compromise, by protoplasmic transformations, by a tepid cellular chemistry. The philosophy of transcendence thrown us on to the highway, in the midst of dangers, under a dazzling light.

A translation (by Joseph P. Fell) of “Une idée fondamentale de la phénoménologie de Husserl: l’intentionnalité,” in Situations I (Paris: Gallimard, 1947)

And then Heidegger even takes issue with Husserl’s reliance on the so-called transcendental ego as something too artificial. I’ve got to be honest here; I don’t understand how we’re supposed to be taking a philosophy that’s so mired in the world of Things, of the existing realities, and somehow isolating ourselves from it and finding something… apart from but a part of it. I guess that’s the point of these lectures though – setting this shit up. Considering that this part of my question is the most unresolved on my end, it’s something that’d likely be improved with input from you. Maybe this way we can crowd-fund a greater pleasure, a sort of co-working lust space to have this exercise of reflection become harmonic, polyphonic, if also unavoidably at times harsh, with the inclusion of your own opinions on the material of each section. My own goal is to provide a lineage of parallels tending towards early 20th century social thought, psychoanalytic developments, and, most particularly, a variety spread of contemporary intellectual history of the brutal and absurd. A charcuterie of violence. But violence alone can leave a bad taste on the tongue. The Ortus community has more to offer than this, however, and it’d be interesting to see if the colorful background of its contributors and readership can itself grow into a proper philosophical chorus.

And as for the second flavor, better expressed by the old philosophical adage: why should I really give a shit. This is the meat of why we’re here, and to be honest with you, I’m not sure if I have an answer. Look outside, look at The News; you probably don’t even have to know what’s going on out there. Why read philosophy in these times? I know I know I sound like a TA on the first day of an intro to philosophy course, but seriously? Have you looked into what your favorite philosophers did when the weather forecast indicated severe storms of lead and hail of mortar fire? Well before being drafted into the role of wartime weatherman at the very end, Marty got by during most of the Great War due to a heart defect and so got to really do that thing you imagine you’ll one day achieve where you park yourself in that coffee shop and really crank some things out. His superiors even had to pass over appointing him to a post because it wouldn’t be great optics to have someone the same age and general bodysize as the boys used as exploding meat balloons on the front get a cushy gig, no not at all. And what about Sartre, Kant, Hegel, whoever? Some philosophers went to war, Wittgenstein jerked in the trenches to the thic numbers, Sartre somehow also got the weatherman gig – there’s apparently something holy and contemplative about the making of meteorological maps for division commanders – and others notably avoided blood at all costs, but the thing is it’s hard to reconcile the lived reality of real destruction and the metaphysical projects we say we’re interested in. Sure, a number of people quoted Lenin or maybe even Locke when put against the wall as the unfortunate party to a one way gunfight, but more screamed, pleaded, and pissed, and I can’t think of a single one that yelled out a line about Descartes’ method in that final moment before lead slapped brutally into flesh.

Among the strongest and most brutal interrogations of the justification of philosophy in the face of brute reality is Jean Amery’s statement on intellectuals in Auschwitz. There the brutality of daily violence of existence assaulted the human to such a degree that, Amery writes, “it is clear that the entire question of the effectiveness of the intellect can no longer be raised where the subject, faced directly with death through hunger or exhaustion, is not only de-intellectualized, but in the actual sense of the word dehumanized.” It’s no coincidence that this essay is given the title “At the Mind’s Limits;” we are shown that all heroics and inspiration aside, there exists a hard limit to thought. Most of us, however, at the time of this writing don’t face such a degree of dehumanization; in no uncertain terms should the historical idiocy of equating today’s political situation with the life of concentration camps be condemned – with the exception of the actual instances, such as on the southern US border or Mediterranean islands, of privately owned, government sanctioned camps in which people designated politically unviable are detained, held in inhuman conditions, medically endangered and experimented on, and brutalized in a legal sadistic purgatory beyond the reach of mainland civic guarantees. Unfortunately with the rise of Covid restrictions and other forms of liberal welfare state measures, many western countries are seeing a rise in this brand of illiterate analogy. Yet the presence of this limit should not be disregarded.

Until it was abolished in 1772, common law statutes designated a procedure of peine forte et dure for persons accused yet who refused to enter a plea. Said sorry persons, who for whatever reasons of fortitude or madness took it upon themselves to refuse the reality of the Crown and its meat-space enforcers, would be crushed under increasing weight until they either agreed to cooperate or attained the final victory eternal silence. In this case, the limit being approached is directly that of life and the human body that struggles to sustain it as it is crushed into itself. It is not only the final silencing that matters but the increasing perversity and difficulty of maintaining the status of human thought in the face of mute crushing force. Amery himself saw this ugliness that rises out of the bloodied frozen mud as one approaches it: the intellect which, in attempting to face the power which crushes it must, to avoid its complete annihilation, chooses to cooperate and thereby rationalizes its own destruction. Because the SS implemented “a logic of destruction that in itself operated just as consistently as the logic of life preservation in the outside world,” it often came that the philosopher then attempted to adjust to the new reality implement by the SS. After all, when the brutal feedback of your senses allows no successful connection to earlier ideal concepts, the only chance to sustain a concept at all is to account for the deathly data available to it. Accordingly,

The intellectual in the camp was lamed by his historically and sociologically explicable deeper respect for power; in- fact, the intellectual always and everywhere has been totally under the sway of power. He was, and is, accustomed to doubt it intellectually, to subject it to his critical analysis, and yet in the same intellectual process to capitulate to it. The capitulation became entirely unavoidable when there was no visible opposition to the hostile force. Although outside gigantic armies might battle the destroyer, in the camp one heard of it only from afar and was really unable to believe it. The power structure of the SS state towered up before the prisoner monstrously and indomitably, a reality that could not be escaped and that therefore finally seemed reasonable. No matter what his thinking may have been on the outside, in this sense here he became a Hegelian: in the metallic brilliance of its totality the SS state appeared as a state in which the idea was becoming reality.

Perhaps such thinking feels unreasonable to you or me today. There’s something morally repugnant in admitting that anyone, not to mention one of us Smart Thinking Philosopher Types or however you justify your opinions to yourself, could rationalize and believe something as ludicrous thinking that the SS are justified. You’re not that stupid; you’re not that bad.

Am I so marked as well?
I doubt it not; I believe it less. “No, surely not I,” in my
sucrose sleep I’m prone, I’m told, to cry.

Some repugnant thinkers, maybe. Nick Land, the entire generation of youthful post ’68 leftists who turned into Neo-cons of the worst stripe and similar transformations come to mind. Are they just capital-d Dumber than you and me? Or is there a darker reason for the complaint from John Gray that most so-called great philosophers did little more than patch up the ruling beliefs of the time.4Straw Dogs. In his praise of Schopenhauer, Gray contrasts him with Kant who “like most philosophers… worked to shore up the conventional beliefs of his time.” I’m starting to feel that an attempt at philosophy during times composed of violence is going to have to be questioned a little more intensely as to its motivation as much as its contents. We are, after all, trying to avoid being crushed.

There is a difference though, between supposedly pure thought and belief. Amery noticed that it was much easier for Christians and Marxists to continue believing in their Thoughts than the so-called non-believer. Telos granted Eros, even if in the most minute of dose. “For the unbelieving person reality, under adverse circumstances, is a force to which he submits; under favorable ones it is material for analysis. For the believer reality is the clay that he molds, a problem that he solves.” Reading that, my friends, I guess I have to ask you – what do you believe in?

It’s starting to look like philosophy is going to remain strangely, even perversely coupled with something Freud might call drive and which Kierkegaard would call faith. And if we try to determine either the structure or the substance of this driving faith – our working philosophical portmanteau – we’re going to have to take a look at our places in history. In fact it’s something that Marty himself seemed to steel himself against in his youthful days. At the end of the Great War, seeing his nation shattered and the broken bits of humanity remaining at the front until the end, he contrasted his frankly inappropriate sense of vitality and arousal with the other schmucks who just played around with philosophy with no substance to it:

Certain and unshakable is the challenge to all truly spiritual persons not to weaken at this particular moment but to grasp resolute leadership and to educate the nation toward truthfulness and a genuine valuation of the genuine assets of existence. To me it is indeed a pleasure to be aIive-even though some outward deprivation and some renunciation lie ahead–only inwardly impoverished aesthetes and people who until now, as “spiritual” people, have merely played with the spirit the way others play with money and pleasure, will now collapse and despair helplessly-hardly any help or useful directives can be expected from them.

Safranski, Rudiger. 1999. Martin Heidegger: Between Good and Evil, trans. by Ewald Osers (London, England: Harvard University Press), P 86. “Sicher ist und unerschütterlich die Forderung an die wahrhaft geistigen Menschen, gerade jetzt nicht schwach zu werden, sondern eine entschlossene Führung in die Hand zu nehmen und das Volk zur Wahrhaftigkeit und echten Wertschätzung der echten Güter des Daseins zu erziehen. Mir ist es in der Tat eine Lust zu leben wenn auch manche äußere Entbehrung und mancher Verzicht kommen wird – nur innerlich arme Ästheten und Menschen, die bisher als >geistige< mit dem Geist nur gespielt haben, wie andere mit Geld und Vergnügen, werden jetzt zusammenbrechen und ratlos verzweifeln – von ihnen wird auch kaum Hilfe und wertvolle Direktiven zu erwarten sein.

This coming from his personal exchanges, it’s a reminder of the question touched on in the last dispatch about him really wanting you to feel what’s going on. Remember the Yo-Yo Ma face. He’s jazzed at whatever’s going on, but I’m still not convinced that makes him different from the other metaphysicians at the time who he so quickly condemns as empty. This really is starting to take a distinctly Freudian turn – the drive, the power-source of something inhuman, prehumen below the skin which is then inevitably translated into the human sphere. Is metaphysics only worth doing if you’ve got the Lust for it? Christ, I think I’m going to need a different kind of pill for this then.

The only answer I can offer to this question of why, beside mere compulsion, is the hope of creating a resonance reading this lecture series in a sense doubly – once in 1927, once in 2020, almost a full century later. An oscillation between points not unlinked and perhaps tuned to the same perverse key. A lot has happened between 1927 and 2020, but for all stuff about Godwin’s law, today is not the same as 1933, 1945, or any other time than today. Seems obvious, but apparently bears repeating. It’s easy to get lost in the many-paged histories and let the enthusiasm of analogy blind us to the withering loneliness of present reality. But there are, can we say, similarities. Something about the early 20th century, the Weimar Republic, the rise of absurdism and industrio-paranoid bravado, it just vibes with what whatever mess is going on today. Something in the streams of history have pressed us up against an obstacle in the current and leaning against this submerged bulkwark, forces us to gaze up into the face of the fact that the very organs of this vague body of the social are being recruited in the dismantling and vicious discrediting of the same body which gave rise to them in the first place.

If we look more closely at the exact time of these lectures, simultaneous to Being and Time comin’ down from the mountains and onto this century’s best seller lists, we can see a series of factors, events, confluences, characters, coming to a particular head. I’m not the only one who seems to think so; in a refreshing new look at the questions of Heidegger’s philosophical *ahem* relations with fascism published last year, Adam Knowles5Knowles (2019). Heidegger’s Fascist Affinities: A Politics of Silence, Stanford University Press actually takes a lecture on Aristotle in 1930 under the knife, wherein he makes connections with particular greek-phil arguments that seem to really like Us and not Them. Now, I didn’t know about Adam’s project at the time I naively started this exercise in historical speculation, but from my point of view it vibes with what I’m saying. If his work locates the more developed end of this Emergent period of Doc’s in which he starts to show his cards, our Basic Problems of Phenomenology can be seen as the earlier questioning end where he sets himself up in the context of earlier German phenomenological tradition – mind you he’s about to piss off a number of fans of Husserl, along with of Kant, the scholastics, and well pretty much everyone. That, in combination with the lecture’s introductory sort of tone, makes it prime fodder for, say, a prime-time internet series for anyone interested in philosophy, fascism, and apocalyptic thinking.

And why all this talk about annihilation? To save time: no, nowhere in this series will you find me or any loosely cogent straw-man arguing that Marty was somehow directly responsible for the Holocaust or any subsequent violent shocks to human life. In fact, this sort of clears the spares us the necessity of any sort of suspenseful build-up of a “is Doc’s philosophy going to end up being revealed as fascist?” If you want the answer to the is he/isn’t he , I’d highly recommend you turn to the work The Political Ontology of Martin Heidegger by sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, who we’ve already encountered earlier in this series. He places Doc’s work in the context of the broader intellectual currents, particularly the Völkisch ones which will come up in our work as well. Now, if you’re the voyeuristic kind of reader I think you are and still want some real juice, I’d point at our menu section with more feisty takes, particularly Adorno’s Jargon of Authenticity and Victor Faria’s Heidegger and Nazism. You might not be surprised that these aren’t exactly well-received in today’s circle of Heidegger fan-boys and, well, I can’t blame them. Still, each work does highlight some pretty crucial concerns if we’re gonna let Marty into the car.

Alright, I know you’re not here to get a reading list on Marty and the Fashies; there’s literally a whole-ass wiki just for Heidegger’s relation to Nazism. Which has got to be a sort of achievement in the world of red flags in its own right. But if we take a look at two of the most recent contenders in this hallowed debate, we’ll see what to do and not to when breaking the seal on Godwin’s law. Adam Knowles & Ronald Beiner6Beiner (2018). Dangerous Minds: Nietzsche, Heidegger, and the Return of the Far Right have both published works in the last year or two on – you know. Of the two, the former being much more philosophically substantial than the latter, the latter nevertheless points us towards a more practical way of questioning philosophy. Beiner’s analysis, due to his pedigree as a political scientist, renders the question of Heidegger and his influence as one of strategy. It is prescriptive. We shouldn’t stan his philosophy because it’s right wing. #CancelMarty. Both of these works will be given a bit more of their due as we actually get into the meat of this work.

To be frank, this idea of arriving at a yes or no conclusion is mostly the fodder for agonizing righteousness among academic types that surely serves nobody, least of all the speakers themselves. In a recent online interview, Prof. Beiner gets into an argument with the grad-student-turned-online-philosopher that demonstrates how mind anesthetizingly unhelpful this question really is. Beiner does his thing, arguing that Nietzsche’s work is infused with a fascist political project, while the host – who makes clear that he’s not even a fan of Nietzsche’s – insists that no, he’s mostly an aesthetic creative type to whom no such project can be attributed. Back. And. Forth. There’s serious emotional investment going on here, while to anyone with a foot in this disappointing sinkhole we have to call reality should be screaming “sure, you’re both right. You’re both wrong. Whatever, who’s paying for the drinks because I definitely didn’t have as many wine coolers as you all.” We’re past the Newtonian age of linearity and find ourselves in the confused realm of possibilities, pluralities, simultaneities, superposition, super-soakers, and lord knows what else. Multiplicty. This should be the starting premise of any serious look at someone like Heidegger.

Let’s look at someone who gets it. The following is an excerpt from McKenzie Wark’s discussion of a recent Marx scholar, except I’ve switched the names for our narrative continuity – never say I don’t do anything for you crazy kids:

The mark of a major body of work is that it will support more than one interpretation, all of which are coherent and persuasive, and each of which is open-ended enough for still further elaboration. So it is with [Heidegger]. Rather than squabble over what is the true and total interpretation, it seems to me more useful to think of the [Heidegger]-field that he enables. The [Heidegger]-field would then be a matrix of variations on themes, each more or less useful in particular situations. On that view, there may be as yet unexplored quadrants of the [Heidegger]-field that might be of more help in constructing a critical thought for the times.

What we’re looking at here is the sphere of possibilities inscribed in the ontology in question. A good example of this being done was in the 70’s when sociologist Richard L. Rubenstein took a closer look at the work of German sociologist and foundational theorist of modernity in the 20th century Max Weber. Rubenstein, in the commendable spirit of those who have pushed back against the unassailable optimistic belief in an morally unambiguous sense of the post-enlightenment human progress,7see metaspinozas recent review of Straw Dogs pointed at a darker pragmatic reality, suggesting

that in Weber’s exposition of modern bureaucracy, rational spirit, principle of efficiency, scientific mentality, relegation of values to the realm of subjectivity etc. no mechanism was recorded that was capable of excluding the possibility of Nazi excesses; that, moreover, there was nothing in Weber’s ideal types that would necessitate the description of the activities of the Nazi state as excesses. For example, ‘no horror perpetrated by the German medical profession or German technocrats was inconsistent with the view that values are inherently subjective and that science is intrinsically instrumental and value-free’.

Z. Bauman 1989 Modernity and the Holocaust, 27.

The point here isn’t to call Weber a closet Nazi. Nobody’s getting cancelled. It’s the fact that in the social ontology Weber brought into being, there just might be something wicked lounging in the dark we all haven’t yet noticed. It’s worth first of all trying to shine a light on what we have before us in the first place before any discussions of dumping metaphysical babies out with fascist bathwaters. We might need a whole new metaphor here.

Here on the road we have to a pretty screeching 180, yanking that handbrake like your life depends on it because, however much we deny the diagnostic approach outlined above, if we’re going to be asking about issues of the social, I think it’s going to be much more important to step back here and consider, hell even acknowledge first, that there might be something to the fact that one of the incontestably biggest philosophical influences of the 20th century leant heavy into the stuff of fascism even down to the philosophical bone. If we step outside the limited perspectives of the philosopher’s catfight, accepting this turns the arguments of the apologists on their heads; the fact that Heidegger unhitched his horse from the cart of the NSDAP simply meant that he, along with the likes of his pen pal Junger and co. were allowed to continue on relatively unhindered long after Adolf faced the music. This has been recognized by historians of politics as relatively obvious: accounts of the New Right and it’s variously translated siblings almost unanimously identify the likes of Evola, Junger, Spengler, and other Nazi adjacent thinkers, among which Heidegger figures prominently, as having, you know, sown the seed.8E.g. Matthew Feldman, 2005: “Mohler’s thesis, therefore, was clearly not intended as a detached investigation of analogous inter-war figures, but a ‘manifesto’ of intellectual forerunners who understood the cultural primacy of their mission. And in a spiritless post-war age dominated by the ‘ideas of 1789’ – where belief in a post-liberal order had been all but extinguished in favour of egalitarianism, humanism and materialism – the renewal looming so imminently during the revolutionary 1930s had been deferred; at least, until supplanted at some point by a new unifying force: The old structure of the West as a synthesis of classical culture, Christianity, and the impulses of peoples entering history for the first time has broken down. A new unity, however, has not yet emerged. We stand in this transitional period, the ‘interregnum’ which leaves its mark on every spiritual activity. The Conservative Revolution is conditioned by it, and at the same time sees itself as an attempt to overcome it. Besides locating Heidegger firmly within this tradition, the other pertinent feature to emerge from Die Konservative Revolution is the recognition that German fascism’s positive ideals had been corrupted by Nazism, which in turn ensured an indefinite preponderance of liberal values and their monopoly over the post-war political spectrum. Mohler’s answer to this dilemma rested with his CR case studies: by polishing the tarnished image of metapolitical fascism, while presenting its discourse as a unified and reasonable alternative to modernity, the struggle for a future renewal of the West by discerning Europeans could proceed from a purely cultural standpoint. In moving beyond decadent politics and condemning the excesses of National Socialism, Mohler bequeathed an essential legacy to the European Nouvelle Droite.” Notably from a study of Politics, Religion, and Ideology; this exercise in philosophical investigation wouldn’t be possible under the strict yet impractical limits purebred philosophers seem to put on themselves. One curious exception which definitely merits more attention is the case of Schmitt, whose refusal of either intellectual or personal denazification was so unrepentant as to verge on the comic, yet who today is widely acknowledged as a Guy With Some Good Ideas by writers of all stripes. It might be that what I’m saying about Heidegger also applies directly to him, but that’s for another time. Putting him aside for now, let’s return to a fact so simple its obviousness makes it easy to forget: the military defeat of Nazi Germany bears no inherent connection to the status of the ideas behind it. To pretend otherwise is disingenuous; “only someone miraculously innocent of history could believe that competition among ideas could result in the triumph of truth. Certainly ideas compete with one another, but the winners are normally those with power and human folly on their side.”9Straw Dogs, 35.

Anyway, what I’m saying here is that I think a lot of folks have been looking at this backwards. Tempered by the understandable nudge of that little voice some folks still call a conscience, questions of Heidegger’s Nazism tend to be of a purifying nature. How do we exculpate, how do we really dig in there and separate the Bad Boy from the Smart Stuff. Really purify him, you know? Get rid of the contaminants. You know the saying about cleanliness. One contemporary author unwittingly describes the hoops philosophy tries to go through when it takes this approach:

It means that one accepts at least the bulk of Heidegger’s conception of Being and wants to push this conception further. To some extent it means that one wants to rethink Heidegger’s “ontological difference,” to radicalize his antisubjectivism, and to escape from the limitations of his worldview. And, politically, it can also mean that one wants to evade or go beyond Heidegger’s Nazism, beyond the philosophical anthropology that his political theology entailed, beyond the stigma associated with it.

Again, we’re talking strategy here. This is what should be done if we want to excise the tumors and then do Good Philosophy. There we go, the usual good and bad breast, the pervy psychoanalytic way of dividing the whole world. It all comes down to tits.10Forgive my absolute bastardization of the Kleinians for the sake of the joke. Still, I’m worried she meant a bit too much her stuff as biological reality and that does deserve a bit of a laugh. No wonder no one believes this shit.

The other hand of this is that when people these days do acknowledge the issues with Heidegger in his philosophy today, it’s often in context of his less than scrupulous acolytes: de Benoit, Dugin, Spencer, who really don’t do themselves any favors when it comes to PR. So somehow this has brought us to the point where the commonly accepted question about Doc is, as another contemporary regurgitation puts it, “whether the essence of his ideas leads inexorably to fascistic thinking or whether, in that aged refrain, the life can be separated from the work, so that we are free to forage as we please.” Here I want to yank the break and yell. What about all the widely acknowledged influence on the good guys? Whenever we talk about Heidegger’s negative sides, it’s assumed we’re talking about the Bad Guys. But this isn’t kindergarten anymore, nor a John Wayne movie. If we think that the world we’re living in is good just with the exception of the Bad Guys, well… you probably think the Democrats are the Good Guys. I want to introduce a passage at length from the work of Zygmunt Bauman which suggests that conceptions of our society shouldn’t be allowed to on as easily as they seem to have after the Holocaust:

Although other sociological images of the civilizing process are available, the most common (and widely shared) is one that entails, as its two centre points, the suppression of irrational and essentially antisocial drives, and the gradual yet relentless elimination of violence from social life (more precisely: concentration of violence under control of the state, where it is used to guard the perimeters of national community and conditions of social order). What blends the two centre points into one is the vision of the civilized society – at least in our own, Western and modern, form – as, first and foremost, a moral force; as a system of institutions that co-operate and complement each other in the imposition of a normative order and the rule of law, which in turn safeguard conditions of social peace and individual security poorly defended in pre-civilized settings. This vision is not necessarily misleading. In the light of the Holocaust, however, it certainly looks one-sided. While it opens for scrutiny important trends of recent history, it forecloses the discussion of no less crucial tendencies. Focusing on one facet of the historical process, it draws an arbitrary dividing line between norm and abnormality. By de-legitimizing some of the resilient aspects of civilization, it falsely suggests their fortuitous and transitory nature, simultaneously concealing the striking resonance between most prominent of their attributes and the normative assumptions of modernity. In other words, it diverts attention from the permanence of the alternative, destructive potential of the civilizing process, and effectively silences and marginalizes the critics who insist on the double-sidedness of modern social arrangement.

Z. Bauman 1989 Modernity and the Holocaust

If we take this premise of a sociological reality seriously – and these days who the fuck doesn’t? – we might have to consider the same when it comes to the philosophical reality. Who says there’s no permanent alternative built into our systems of thought with annihilatory power which silences anyone who tries to speak its name? What about all the non-goose stepping readers who shaped the second half of the 20th century who were constitutively influenced by Heidegger? All our favorites in the French department, all the Lacanians, the Deleuze people, all the Conties, all the artists, the poets, the whole damn band. And here comes the bit that I’m really getting at: What makes us so sure that they took him in despite of the substance of this thought that links him to what emerged as fascism, and not because of it?

Facing the real question of our investigation, a choice lies before us – the philosophical peine forte et dure: either we succumb to silence entirely, or we cave *crack* and agree to give breathe to a philosophy that may ultimately contain a greater, deeper horror than we can perhaps bear. So, to end, let’s steel ourselves and face unblinking Amery’s direct encounter with the ideas of Heidegger:

All those problems that one designates according to a linguistic convention as “metaphysical” became meaningless. But it was not apathy that made contemplating them impossible; on the contrary, it was the cruel sharpness of an intellect honed and hardened by camp reality. In addition, the emotional powers were lacking with which, if need be, one could have invested vague philosophic concepts and thereby made themsubjectively and psychologically meaningful. Occasionally, perhaps that disquieting magus from Alemannic regions came to mind who said that beings appear to us only in the light of Being, but that man forgot Being by fixing on beings. Well now, Being. But in the camp it was more convincingly apparent than on the outside that beings and the light of Being get you nowhere. You could be hungry, be tired, be sick. To say that one purely and simply is, made no sense. And existence as such, to top it off, became definitively a totally abstract and thus empty concept. To reach out beyond concrete reality with words became before our very eyes a game that was not only worthless and an impermissible luxury but also mocking and evil. Hourly, the physical world delivered proof that its insufferableness could be coped with only through means inherent in that world. In other words: nowhere else in the world did reality have as much effective power as in the camp, nowhere else was reality so real. In no other place did the attempt to transcend it prove so hopeless and so shoddy. Like the lyric stanza about the silently standing walls and the flags clanking in the wind, the philosophic declarations also lost their transcendency and then and there became in part objective observations, in part dull chatter. Where they still meant something they appeared trivial, and where they were not trivial they no longer meant anything. We didn’t require any semantic analysis or logical syntax to recognize this. A glance at the watch towers, a sniff of burnt fat from the crematories sufficed.

Previous dispatch

Heidegger at the End of the World Monographs

HEW #3: Yo-Yo Ma Plays the Soundtrack for the St Vitus Dance

Introduction, § III: Philosophy as the Science of Being

October, 2020

Despite all appearances – and let me clear, those are unabashedly terrible – now is not the time for misanthropes. Oh you hate people? Kids screaming on the subway, dumb opinion havers, non-self-awareness practicing chakra wreckers, we all see them. But in the face of such a time that reaches out and grabs everyone by the groin and wrenches this hard, surely no type could seem less helpful than the holier-than-thou ugly saints in the lineage of the malicious shade Houellebecq or its diluted americana cousin a la unhelpful science gnome deGrasse Tyson. 

What to do then, when the weight of an existence careening the wrong way up a one-way street with the throttle locked in starts to creak at the rivets in your head? For me these days it’s Bach. What a guy. In an apparent act of foresight some 300 years in advance, he wrote his music intricately enough that the voice of a single instrument requires nothing else nearby to support it. Independence is, albeit tragically, a good trait in a vicious age that threatens all collectivity. Man was into his self care.

Why all this waffle about the baroque?

Take a breath. I’m just here to talk about repetition. Any fan of the cello suites knows they repeat themselves. A lot. A musician worth their salt, say Rostropovich1Highly recommend everyone watch Rostropovich talk about his music.
, will immediately confront you with the question: why? If we just heard that bit, even that note – think that pounded pedal note in the first prelude – what good does it do to constantly go back to it? Is it because we’re stupid? It’s because we’re stupid, isn’t it.

Don’t get too angry if I tell you there actually isn’t an answer. One answer, that is. The thing is, it’s up to you as a musician to do something with the repetition to make it speak. Play louder than before, emphasize different parts, use different bows. Make the same different. Go back to that breath you were holding and watch it swell again and again. There’s a certain creative sweet spot dozing in the terrain of difference and repetition. Someone should write a book about it.

This is a thought that creeps into my rummage bag of a mind as I’m reading these lectures and it feels like an insight worth tagging along. We’re still in the introduction and it already feels like I’m slowly turning back in on the same words save that they just feel a little bit different each time through. Unfortunately, it’s only text so I don’t have some soviet sex-cellist like Mischa Maisky to really make me tingle. All I have is a muddle of phrases telling me that philosophy is about being (Sein) and not beings (das Seiende). That’s the pedal note. On top of that – layered structure. “Philosophy is not a science of beings but of being or, as the Greek expression goes, ontology.”2Heidegger, p. 11; “Philosophie ist nicht Wissenschaft vom Seienden, sondern vom Sein.” Martin Heidegger and Friedrich-Wilhelm von. Herrmann, Die Grundprobleme der Phänomenologie (Frankfurt am Main: V. Klostermann, 1997), p. 15. Pedal. Now add that this is what the Greeks were talking about with when they coined the term which would go on to become the bane of suburban parents sending their kids to dubious humanities programs across the world – Ontology. Harmonic layer. Ad infinitum. Someone call Yo-Yo Ma.

Armed with a nice new word, we return to another iteration of the root note: the defining of philosophy as the study of being. “Philosophy is the theoretical conceptual interpretation of being, of being’s structure and its possibilities. Philosophy is ontological”3“Heidegger, p. 11; “Philosophie ist die theoretisch-begriffliche Interpretation des Seins, seiner Struktur und seiner Möglichkeiten. Sie ist ontologisch.“ Heidegger and Herrmann, p. 15. A few more new words: theoretical, conceptual, interpretation, structure, possibility. Seems alright. Grad school scrabble. But what do we do with this? Alas barely is another corner turned that we are back with our faces in the same mess from the last section about Weltanschauungen. (How do I write German plurals in English? What an unwieldy language. It feels like I’m going to crunch somebody’s nose swinging these long coarse words around. Nietzsche’s hammer indeed). Remember how I got jerked around in Dispatch 1 where I thought we’d get into perspectives and some stuff about historicity? I’ve barely regained my dignity after taking the bait too soon and now I’m supposed to take it again, except now we’re mixing around the words of philosophy and science again so that this time we are calling philosophy a science; all the earlier stuff about science taking the Seiende as its object is corralled into the conceptual time-out that we’re calling “positive science.” So so so, look who’s calling everyone a positivist normie. Harkens back to my undergrad days where I baffled my perfectly reasonable sociology faculty by calling them all positivists and refusing to do anything actually resembling what the kids call sociology. Next he’s gonna start smoking weed and talking about the military industrial complex.

It feels we’re coming out swinging with a particular vigor considering this has already been covered in the last chapter. Our guy is taking no prisoners – get it? Because they’d have to exist. Look, it’s not easy trying to fit jokes into this teutonic sermon. I’m doing my best. In this corner we have all sciences with an extant “positum” as object, the Weltanschauungen, the “ontic,” the “vulgar,” among others. It seems Heidegger’s still got some destructive juices left over and he’s squaring up with pretty much everybody today. Think of a philosopher that’s hip and still kicking. Isn’t this nightmarish moniker “cultural theorist” almost always stuck on? The entire neoliberal clown car that is the European Graduate School where, for just a decent fraction of a small nation’s GDP, students can lick a chair Agamben once farted in or if they’re lucky, watch Judith Butler or Slavoj Zizek struggle with a coffee machine while the Italian autonomists scoff in the designated smoking space. Not contemporary enough for you? Maybe you want me to look at some neo-Deleuzian flow theorists – we get it, you do ketamine – or if you studied politics as an undergrad, maybe some ethics or communication theory stuff. God, at this point we might as well call Joe Rogan or the Beeperson a “cultural theorist.” It’d serve the rest of us right. The moral is these days it really does seem impossible to find philosophy untarnished with glossy bits about aesthetics, psychology, history, or that horrible plebian pursuit closeted Schmittians insist on calling politics.

If I read one more book where in place of good writing I’m told to consider a scene from Hitchcock… On the other hand, there’s the growing sense that legitimate philosophy not taking into account the reality of ecology and other non-human spheres seems a bit cramped, a bit selfish. Why you always gotta talk about yourself? In the words of McKenzie Wark, “it seems rather old fashioned to speak only of the human and not what Haraway calls the multispecies muddle we actually exist in and as.” After all, if it’s true that “the Anthropocene makes even nature historical and temporary,”4McKenzie Wark, General Intellects: Twenty-Five Thinkers for the Twenty-First Century ([n.p.]: , 2017). it might end up being impossible to leave the kids alone at home long enough to go on this ontological cruise. No offense to the now highly venerated climate scientists, immunologists, and Green party activists, but it doesn’t seem like y’all are able to get the house under control yet. Babysitting is hell of a gig, especially when the toddlers have been getting into the candy. Especially when the candy was from those guys from the Heritage Foundation during 80s; that shit has now morphed into some hell-spawn of paranoid & weaponized reactionary sugar-fueled mania during its time in the online disinformation era of the 2010s.5Jonathan Mahler, ‘How One Conservative Think Tank Is Stocking Trump’s Government’, New York Times, 20 June 2018 At least I heard they have a low-carb version in the works.

Chaotic as the State of Things today might be, for now the year is still 1927, Richard Nixon is barely getting the hang of shaving, and Doc Martin over here is still allowed to pontificate unawares of the effect of greenhouse gasses and of the mass murder of his political affiliates. Thus, in seated in his lecture hall, we see this growing pile of naïve ontic trash contrasted with the glorious proper philosophy, which is ontological – concerned with Sein. He can even prove it; apparently he’s already given semesters’ worth of lectures on this history from Aquinas to Kant. It seems I’m behind. Prof, will this be on the exam? No? Ok, thanks. Again ensuring that we’re free of anything remotely resembling relevance, Martin insists on denying any inclination towards a historical reading of philosophy. “We shall not now refer to this historical demonstration of the nature of philosophy, a demonstration having its own peculiar character.”6Heidegger; p. 12; “Wir nehmen jetzt auf diesen historischen Beweis des Wesens der Philosophie, der seinen eigenen Charakter hat, nicht Bezug.” Heidegger and Herrmann, p. 16. This ensures that we have nothing to get a grip with except this phenomenological cool-aid he’s selling us. Reminds of the company stores in the late 19th century where workers could only use their company wages to buy company goods from stores owned by said company. This association is unfair though, Marty assures us, because if we just sit here and listen to him for a while, he’ll ultimately deliver unto us a work of true human freedom. No one ever accused him of rhetorical modesty. “Let us rather in the whole of the present course try to establish philosophy on its own basis, so far as it is a work of human freedom. Philosophy must legitimate by its own resources its claim to be universal ontology.”7Heiddeger, p. 12; “Vielmehr versuchen wir, im Ganzen der Vorlesung die Philosophie aus sich selbst zu begründen, sofern sie ein Werk der Freiheit des Menschen ist. Die Philosophie muß sich aus sich selbst als universale Ontologie rechtfertigen.Heidegger and Herrmann, p. 16.

If I can jump in here speaking as an editor, Doc – can I call you Doc? – have you considered cutting some material? I don’t mean to play Gordon Lish to your Raymond Carver8Gaby Wood, ‘Raymond Carver: the kindest cut’, The Guardian, 26 September 2009, but if you already did this whole spiel about how all philosophy has always been ontological, why are we starting another whole course on it? Or maybe I should be asking why, if we shan’t be historical, are we about to take a deep dive into Kant and other certifiably Old Shit? Did you run out of material? Look, it’s best to be honest and not try to squeeze out a sequel just for the cash. Look what it did to J.K. Rowling. All she had to do was shut the fuck up. Then again, she’s loaded and my bank account is desolate, so who am I to cast a stone.

Back to the text. “Philosophy is the science of being.”9Heidegger, p. 13;“Philosophie ist die Wissenschaft vom Sein.“ Heidegger and Herrmann, p. 17. Pedal. You know what – I want you to see the image of Yo-Yo Ma’s face every time we hit that pedal note. Guarantee you’ve never seen human bliss incorporated until you see this guy railing that pedaled G. Can we do this? Do we have a graphics team?10Sourced from

There we go. This guy is feeeeeling it, Mr. Krabs. Every time Doc tells us to go back to the sole purpose of philosophy, Sein, think of this face. Better yet, make this face yourself. Really let yourself get into it. This might turn out to be fun after all. Anyway, I’m curious why we backpedaled a tiny bit and now want to call ourselves scientists after all. Maybe it’s something in that German word Wissenschaft. Wissen zu schaffen. To create knowledge. To conceive it. Got a ring to it. To be on par with the god of genesis. Let’s see where this science thing takes us.

For now, this whole show is getting a bit old. How long is this class anyway? To his credit, here comes another moment where Martin sounds almost like he’s got enough wit to realize he’s on the verge of hilarity. This stuff’s ridiculous right? To separate being from that which is? You’re dizzy – did you get knocked on the head too hard? “Can something like being be imagined? If we try to do this, doesn’t our head start to swim? Indeed, at first we are baffled and find ourselves clutching at thin air.”11Heidegger, p. 13; “Kann man sich so etwas vorstellen wie Sein? Faßt einen beim Versuch dazu nicht der Schwindel? In der Tat, wir sind zunächst rat-los und greifen ins Leere.Heidegger and Herrmann, p. 18. I knew the babysitter was a bad idea. We should have listened to McKenzie. For a second Doc himself looks like he might be coming around to calling this whole thing off. “At the outset of our considerations, without raising any false hopes and without mincing matters, we must confess that under the heading of being we can at first think to ourselves nothing.”12Heidegger, p. 13; “Wir müssen uns beim Ausgang unserer Betrachtung ohne jede Vorspiegelung und Beschöni-gung eingestehen: Unter Sein kann ich mir zunächst nichts denken.“ Heidegger and Herrmann, p. 18. There’s the bell. Class dismissed. Let me grab my bags and let’s grab a coffee at –

Goddammit. ‘The bell doesn’t dismiss you; I do’. Remember that teacher? On the other hand, it is just as certain that we are constantly thinking being. We think being just as often as, daily, on innumerable occasions, whether aloud or silently, we say “This is such and such,” “That other is not so,” “That was,” “It will be.”13 Heidegger, p. 13; “Andererseits steht ebensosehr fest: Wir denken das Sein ständig. Sooft wir ungezählte Male jeden Tag sagen, ob in wirklicher Verlautbarung oder stillschweigend: das und das ist so und so, jenes ist nicht so, das war, wird sein.“ Heidegger and Herrmann, p. 18. Alright. So to sum up what we have so far, we can’t think being but we constantly think it. Makes sense. I’m starting to see why folks say that “Heidegger is the only world-famous philosopher of the 20th century about whom it can seriously be argued that he was a charlatan.”14Samuel Earle, ‘Heidegger, the homesick philosopher’, New Statesman, 11 September 2019 I guess said folks missed Derrida, Lacan, Deleuze – oh shit. They’re all Heideggerians. Well not Heideggerians but, you know, Heideggerians.

Far from soothing our suspicions, Doc throws fuel on the fire as he makes clear that philosophy has accepted the simplicity of the “is”-word in no small thanks to that stupid stupid thing we call sound wisdom. By taking the word “is” for granted, common usage has made even the best and brightest forget to question it. The rabble is good for nothing, especially those lazy, dirty ones that have no respect for our customs, amiright? Again, the English “common sense” doesn’t have the same insistence on not being crazy that the German does: “gesunder Menschenverstand.” Healthy human ability to reason. If we had more time here I’d crack open my copy of the DSM V and go through this diagnostic checklist top to bottom. Alas, with no time for medical quackery, I ask you, respectable members of the jury, does this sound healthy?:

“But wherever common sense is taken to be philosophy’s highest court of appeal, philosophy must become suspicious. In “Uber das Wesen der philosophischen Kritik iiberhaupt” [“On the Essence of Philosophical Criticism”], Hegel says: “Philosophy by its very nature is esoteric; for itself it is neither made for the masses nor is it susceptible of being cooked up for them. It is philosophy only because it goes exactly contrary to the understanding and thus even more so to ‘sound common sense,’ the so-called healthy human understanding, which actually means the local and temporary vision of some limited generation of human beings. To that generation the world of philosophy is in and for itself a topsy-turvy, an inverted, world.” The demands and standards of common sense have no right to claim any validity or to represent any authority in regard to what philosophy is and what it is not.”15Heidegger, p. 14; “Man beruft sich auf den gesunden Menschenverstand. Aber allemal, wenn der gesunde Menschenverstand zur letzten Instanz der Philosophie gemacht wird, muß diese mißtrauisch werden. Hegel sagt in »Über das Wesen der philosophischen Kritik überhaupt«: »Die Philosophie ist ihrer Natur nach etwas Esoterisches, für sich weder für den Pöbel gemacht noch einer Zubereitung für den Pöbel fähig; sie ist nur dadurch Philosophie, daß sie dem Verstände und damit noch mehr dem gesunden Menschenverstände, worunter man die lokale und temporäre Beschränktheit eines Geschlechts der Menschen versteht, gerade entgegengesetzt ist; im Verhältnis zu diesem ist an und für sich die Welt der Philosophie eine verkehrte Welt.« Die Ansprüche und Maßstäbe des gesunden Menschenverstandes dürfen keine Geltung beanspruchen und keine Instanz darstellen bezüglich dessen, was Philosophie ist und was sie nicht ist.Heidegger and Herrmann, p. 19

Read that a few times. Best read it aloud to your friends and unsuspecting neighbors. Let it soak in. Maybe make the face again, Doc. Christ, stop being so weird, can you? Philosophy, as those hapless humanities parents from before well know, has little respect for that thing called Common Sense. No one ever accused this stuff of being too easy. Imagine Plato’s apologia if he just stopped being obtuse and got a job at IBM as a creative tech consultant. I heard Apple’s got a new take on the classic forms. If philosophy were common, what’d be the point of a PhD, you know? Next you’re gonna tell me those Capuchin monks aren’t any closer to god than those kids at the bar. I think I can hear Bourdieu scratching through the clay above his grave somewhere.

Now, good friends, we come to the end for today. Right before you go, Doc’s got something to say. We’re all shuffling our papers and getting ready to head out, listening to him lay out the plan for next week. The usual teasers. “What if being were the most complex and most obscure concept?”16Heidegger, p. 14; “Wenn Sein der verwickeltste und dunkelste Begriff wäre?Heidegger and Herrmann, p. 19 Pedal. Wait, did you catch that turn towards the darker. A note of urgency for the cliff-hanger; que the trailer music and dramatic narration: “What if arriving at the concept of being were the most urgent task of philosophy, a task which has to be taken up ever anew?”17Heidegger, p. 14; “Wenn das Sein auf den Begriff zu bringen die dringlichste und immer wieder neu zu ergreifende Aufgabe der Philosophie wäre?“ Heidegger and Herrmann, p. 19 Alright buddy. But here’s something that tickles my ear in a way I’m not sure I like. In claiming we’ve all forgotten something Aristotle apparently said, he describes the contemporary times and his tone reaches for something insidious:

“Today, when philosophizing is so barbarous, so much like a St. Vitus’ dance, as perhaps in no other period of the cultural history of the West, and when nevertheless the resurrection of metaphysics is hawked up and down all the streets[.]”18Heidegger, p. 14; “Heute, wo man so barbarisch und veitstänzerisch philosophiert, wie vielleicht in keiner Periode der abendländischen Geistesgeschichte, und heute, wo man gleichwohl auf allen Gassen eine Auferstehung der Metaphysik hinausschreit“ Heidegger and Herrmann, p. 19

Today is a time of barbarity. It is the time of the St. Vitus dance. The West is burning. The Occident is at stake. Cheap resurrection hacks abound and the dead are come, it is said, back for thrills and filthy gossip. Is this the language of an academic philosopher? Or is it something heavier, a voice more kin to the Apocalypse of John, the final revelations. Don’t tell me that all which is has ever been can be so easily done away with. Don’t promise there won’t be any victims. I can hear the voice somewhere nearby of Spengler.19You’ll be hearing more about Spengler in future reports. He’s unfortunately relevant to the nonsense today in Germany. Of Barth. Of Hitler. Further back, the Anabaptists & the holy violence of the 16th century peasant furies.20“Between 1918 and 1927, within nine short years, there appear in German half a dozen books that are more than books in their dimensions and manner of extremity. The first edition of Ernst Bloch’s Geist der Utopie is dated 1918. So is volume one of Oswald Spengler’s Decline of the West. The initial version of Karl Barth’s Commentary on Romans, of Barth’s reading of St. Paul, is dated 1919. Franz Rosenzweig’s Stern der Erlösung follows in 1921. Martin Heidegger’s Sein und Zeit is published in 1927. The question of whether the sixth title forms part of this configuration, and, if so, in what ways, is among the most difficult. Mein Kampf appears in its two volumes between 1925 and 1927. […] These works are, in a sense which is also technical, apocalyptic. They address themselves to “the last things.” […] We know of the dread foresight, of the contract with apocalypse in Mein Kampf. Like their leviathan counterpart in Austria, Karl Kraus’s The Last Days of Humanity, these writings out of the German ruin are, indeed, meant to be read either by men and women doomed to decay, as in Spengler, or by men and women destined to undergo some fundamental renovation, some agonizing rebirth out of the ash of a dead past. This is Bloch’s message, Rosenzweig’s, and, in a perspective of eternal untimeliness, that of Barth. It is Hitler’s promise to the Volk. Massive scale, a prophetic tenor, and the invocation of the apocalyptic make for a specific violence. These are violent books. There is no more violent dictum in theological literature than Karl Barth’s: “God speaks His eternal No to the world.” In Rosenzweig, the violence is one of exaltation. The light of God’s immediacy breaks almost unbearably upon human consciousness. Ernst Bloch sings and preaches revolution, the overthrow of the existing order within man’s psyche and society. The Spirit of Utopia will lead directly to Bloch’s fiery celebration of Thomas Münzer and the sixteenth-century insurrections of peasant-saints and millennarians. The baroque violence, the rhetorical satisfaction in disaster — literally “the falling of the stars” — in Spengler’s magnum have often been noted. And there is no need to detail the raucous inhumanity in the eloquence of Herr Hitler.

And below that, perhaps something more primordial, the screaming engine of huge affliction and dismay, mixed with obdurate pride and steadfast hate21John Milton, Paradise Lost (1667), Book 1., the pit itself, that knot of Gordian horror that you’ve always been carrying with you.

Don’t be too fast to call me paranoid. This voice doesn’t get to tell me to simply lay my life, the human details of connection and living aside when I can hear such a tremor in his voice. For someone who claims to be doing nothing but pure ontology, there is a human malice in these closing words. Is this what philosophy is going to be? A clearing of the barbarous, an encounter with the inhuman horror of the dancing body beyond redemption – remember the mad dancers in front of the statue of St. Vitus who himself was boiled to death? I don’t think I’m quite ready to give Doc here permission to be absolved from all guilt when it comes to worldly horror.

You might think I’m jumping the gun here, but step aside with me for a moment. We’re still in the introduction, so there’ll be philosophical minutia aplenty to come. Right now we’re still talking big picture. An attempt at elevating this mythical Sein doesn’t look like it’s going to leave space for the relations between particulars, all that stuff of the positum; the primacy of the ‘existential’ question is starting to feel like a massive act of arrogant personal self-affirmation. Yet there’s still somehow this note of disdain towards all which is currently around us.

I wouldn’t be the first to note that this works suspiciously well as a metaphysical panacea for the prickly questions about anti-Semitism and affiliations with National Socialism.22Pierre Bordieu, The Political Ontology of Martin Heidegger ([n.p.]: , 1988), p. 54. A get-out-of-jail-free card for the black notebooks. After all, don’t you see he’s telling us that he’s not talking about history or party politics? He’s not a dirty sociologist or pundit. Ignore all the growing sounds of Nazis being unearthed in German police networks.23‘350 cases of suspected far-right sympathy found in German security forces’, DW No, the issue at hand is not (only) his particular national or cultural associations. That’s not what we’re here for. If he wants to talk pure philosophy, I’m game. Following his lead, I’m starting to feel the tremor in reality as I try to take on his premise of cleaving being from that which is. I can’t tell what I’m looking at though, and it’s making me queasy. Quoth the raven who hates jazz, “the penetrating look and the one that goes past you, the hypnotic and the disregarding gaze, are of the same kind; in both, the subject is extinguished.”24Max Horkheimer, Theodor W. Adorno, Dialectic of Enlightenment ([n.p.]: , 1944), p. 158. “The meaning of this “is” remains closed to us.”25Heidegger, p. 14; “Der Sinn dieses >ist< bleibt uns verschlossen.” Heidegger and Herrmann, p. 18. I’ll certainly drink to that.

Post-Script. 1976. Todtnauberg, on the rim of the Black Forest.

Countless were the days that he would in a dread start and with his inaugural breaths could not but curse already the coming of a dawn over him which signaled anew the rising of yet another day he’d live shambling across the charcoal ruins in his memory of that house that only he could see. How often had he, over nothing but the mundanities of breakfasts and weekday traffics felt the unbidden ripples of a scream, now decades aged in his otherwise healthy breast scrape, trudge across his rib, across his tongue, low like beaten oxen. There exists a species of nightmare, one borne perhaps equally of a tortured memory’s truth as much as vivid, infernal invention, which carries behind it a tail that sweeps a final draft of bitter embers and ashen despair, burning and obscuring indiscriminate, into the waking light of those poor men and women who fate chooses for its riders.

It is one such man now that we now see. He has retained his mind in his extended struggle over what must once have been unquestionably sanity, but his heart, so often lurched across the threshold of a present and a psychic world of involuntary recollection, has been dashed to a bloodied fiber, and here, we see this what was bled emerge in his eyes as they open, as he steps out into the street. Little of the man, the civil agent of his responsibilities as husband, as son, as professor and as citizen, little of this is there in what asks him, demands, screams for each step into further oblivion. The city is in flames again. It was so once before.

What can I say unto you, old man, but that I will pray at higher station for some being of still greater order to one day pity you and simply extinguish all that is light in you finally and quickly. For now you are faced with a burning edifice at every angle your heaving, sweat rimmed look will beg to turn. This city is in flames and the screaming you hear matches the screaming you heard when you watched them burn the first time. This is your doing, it always has been, and the meagre prayer, pittance of repentance you now want to deliver is to absolution as one lone maple leaf to an armada.

You have woken again to the horror, and that, in its uncountable voices singing is what begs you speak. Are you looking into a new world of sleep for as again and before – are you dreaming of their disappearance anew, or is this blaze now final, are you ready to walk?

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Heidegger at the End of the World Monographs

HEW #2: Extremely Stupid and Very Well Armed

[§ 2, p. 8-15] September, 2020.

Do you hear me, Lord of Revelations? Call off your men. I was just touched by some deluded smiling freaks who tried, in all honesty, to baptize me on the road in front of a boarded up old-folks home up here in the wooded north of the city. Do I really look so bad, Lord? Have I truly strayed so far? Or was it just more post-hippies? Adults so strung out on COVID-price-gouged molly they can’t tell what was once a soviet sunset from the Berghain techno light show? Either way, evangelicals or hippies turned alt-yuppies, my options don’t look good–both flavors of apocalypse are in terrible taste.

The US election is looming and the first Big March in Berlin since August happened this weekend–anti-corona, fascists, the poorer start-up washouts who want their rent capped. Despite my hopes, it was nothing but an underwhelming trickle of the angry and the dumb and, as always. it was often hard to tell the difference. You’ll hear more about that from me soon.

Between you and me, I’m terrified. Maybe it’s no wonder that I’m turning to questions of faith in these off-brand end times. I did ask the Jesus-freaks if they were Baptists. They laughed and said they didn’t know. Then they mentioned they weren’t sure if Baptists even believed in the healing power of Christ. They laughed some more. In these times, laughter really might be the answer. Or art? Isn’t that what Instagram and exasperated middle school guidance counselors teach us? Maybe I could sink myself into some sort of creative daze, write that script for the scathing political drama about the White House that everybody definitely wants to see . . .

Ah. Shit.

I shouldn’t have been surprised.

If there was ever a mug that you instinctively knew would be the harbinger of buzzkill, it was our man Heidegger’s. Seriously, google the guy. You can unmistakably hear the soft frying of Schnitzel in his aura. Apparently it was Marty’s brother who got the entire genetic dosage of the familial sense of humor; this according to anyone who spent more than a minute with both of them.

Okay, where did we leave off last time? I got all carried away about how this Weltanschauung thing was gonna show we’re all sadists at heart or something. The proverbial hearty potatoes of every good modern critical theory hard-on: something about subjectivity, the subject, imagination, queering multiplicities, etc. Apparently today we’re going to learn what philosophy is by asking how it relates to weltanschauungen.

“Philosophy can and perhaps must show, among many other things, that something like a world-view belongs to the essential nature of the Dasein. Philosophy can and must define what in general constitutes the structure of a world-view. But it can never develop and posit some specific world-view qua just this or that particular one. Philosophy is not essentially the formation of a world-view; but perhaps just on this account it has an elementary and fundamental relation to all world-view formation, even to that which is not theoretical but factically historical.”1Martin Heidegger, The Basic Problems of Phenomenology, trans. by Albert Hofstadter, Revised Ed (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988), p. 10; ” Philosophie kann und muß vielleicht unter vielem anderen zeigen, daß zum Wesen des Daseins so etwas wie Weltanschauung gehört. Philosophie kann und muß umgrenzen, was die Struktur einer Weltanschauung überhaupt ausmacht. Sie kann aber nie eine bestimmte Weltanschauungals diese und jene ausbilden und setzen. Philosophie ist ihrem Wesen nach nicht eltanschauungsbildung, hat aber vielleicht gerade deshalb einen elementaren und prinzipiellen Bezug zu aller, auch der nicht theoretischen, sondern faktisch geschichtlichen Weltanschauungsbildung.” Martin Heidegger and Friedrich-Wilhelm von. Herrmann, Die Grundprobleme der Phänomenologie (Frankfurt am Main: V. Klostermann, 1997), p. 13.

We look at the text and, well, first things first, an admission; I was barking up the wrong tree last week. I got a bit too excited about this Weltanschauung question, I missed that it was mostly a ruse to bring us to philosophy’s favorite narcissistic exercise: defining itself. Defining itself real hard. In one of his lectures on metaphysics, Adorno once joked to the effect that one could most easily be sure one was doing metaphysics simply by discussing whether or not one was doing metaphysics. Funny guy.

And what is philosophy? Here we quickly distinguish ourselves from priests and artists:

“A philosophical world-view is one that expressly and explicitly or at any rate preponderantly has to be worked out and brought about by philosophy, that is to say, by theoretical speculation, to the exclusion of artistic and religious interpretations of the world and the Dasein.”2Heidegger, p. 6; “Eine philosophische Weltanschauung ist eine solche, die eigens und ausdrücklich oder jedenfalls vorwiegend durch die Philosophie ausgebildet und vermittelt werden soll, d. h. durch theoretische Spekulation mit Ausschaltung der künstlerischen und religiösen Deutung der Welt und des Daseins.” Heidegger and Herrmann, p. 8.

Uh oh. None of that artsy shit here. Forgive me, I can’t help but hear a nasal Shapiro: facts don’t care about your feelings, you sentimental lib. “Madam, I swear I use no art at all.” Strap in, though, because we’re only getting started. You see, unlike science, philosophy might ask us to forgo everything we thought was important, useful, visible, hell, actually everything entirely. In its stead, in his steely Teutonic tone—maybe think Clint Eastwood vith a German akcent—he gives us a sort of metaphysical 18th amendment and warns us that the philosophical weltanschauung bars not only booze but any real-existing object, any “this or that” (Seiendes als dieses und jenes) so to speak. Spooky. After going out of his way to rub our faces in the worldly, in everything you’ve ever known and cared about—psych!—Marty yanks it, chucks it, and washes his hands of it.

I’ll admit, at this point, I’m feeling whatever it is he’s been putting in the water; I’m confused. What are we talking about then? What are we even doing? Where am I? Who are you?

Apparently anticipating the naïve clamor of the rabble, the city kids and their quick thrills and sexual promiscuity, Heidegger teases us and makes us guess. Tell us, what are we talking about?

“What then is philosophy supposed to concern itself with if not with beings, with that which is, as well as with the whole of what is? What is not, is surely the nothing. Should philosophy, then, as absolute science, have the nothing as its theme? What can there be apart from nature, history, God, space, number?”3Heidegger, p. 10; ” Womit soll die Philosophie sich denn beschäftigen, wenn nicht mit Seiendem, mit dem, was ist, sowie mit dem Seienden im Ganzen? Was nicht ist, ist doch das Nichts. Soll etwa die Philosophie als absolute Wissenschaft das Nichts zum Thema haben? Was kann es geben außer Natur, Geschichte, Gott, Raum, Zahl?” Heidegger and Herrmann, p. 13.

Give us something to work with! Daddy, please! I’m starting to get why Lacan called Kant erotic . . .

Finally, we get to the big reveal. I’ll drop the entire thing in its entirety for you. In the words of a friend who was very much fed up with me: how about you stick this in your theoretical pipe and smoke it:

We say of each of these, even though in a different sense, that it is. We call it a being. In relating to it, whether theoretically or practically, we are comporting ourselves toward a being. Beyond all these beings there is nothing. Perhaps there is no other being beyond what has been enumerated, but perhaps, as in the German idiom for ‘there is,’ es gibt [literally, it gives}, still something else is given. Even more. In the end something is given which must be given if we are to be able to make beings accessible to us as beings and comport ourselves toward them, something which, to be sure, is not but which must be given if we are to experience and understand any beings at all. We are able to grasp beings as such, as beings, only if we understand something like being.4Heidegger, p. 10; ” Von all dem Genannten sagen wir, wenn auch in einem verschiedenen Sinne, es ist. Wir nennen es Seiendes. Darauf bezogen, sei es theoretisch oder praktisch, verhalten wir uns zu Seiendem. Außer diesem Seienden ist nichts. Vielleicht ist kein anderes Seiendes außer dem aufgezählten, aber vielleicht gibt es doch noch etwas, was zwar nicht ist, was es aber gleichwohl in einem noch zu bestimmenden Sinne gibt. Mehr noch. Am Ende gibt es etwas, was es geben muß, damit wir uns Seiendes als Seiendes zugänglich machen und uns zu ihm verhalten können, etwas, das zwar nicht ist, das es aber geben muß, damit wir überhaupt so etwas wie Seiendes erfahren und verstehen. Seiendes vermögen wir als solches, als Seiendes, nur zu fassen, wenn wir dergleichen wie Sein verstehen.” Heidegger and Herrmann, pp. 13–14.

Here we have it then. This is the plan. The goal of philosophy. The reason we are gathered here today. And so we reach the end of part 2 of our introduction and hit the first sentence of the next: “Das Sein ist das echte und einzige Thema der Philosophie.” [“[B]eing is the proper and sole theme of philosophy.”] That’s got some meat on it.

Let’s perhaps pause here and look in the mirror. Rather, let’s look around. With every vestige of institutional stability being blasted into precarity with the neoliberal dynamite quietly packaged and shipped out by the Chicago boys, I think we’re approaching a certain metaphysical certainty that no animal alive today with “human” on the name tag can in good faith claim that they’re an apolitical operator. With the internet-facilitated hyperfocus on the political aspects of every minute aspect of life, it really seems that the cliché lines of philosophising don’t seem as quite as serious; universal questions of mortality, meaninglessness, and temporality, unconcerned with historical effects of race, gender, class, etc. smacks of privileged indulgence at best. If asked to think of a philosopher, the popular imagination maybe spits out French men in dark coats with cigarettes contemplating the pain of life, perhaps drinking heavily, driving recklessly and looking at those younger girls over there. Come to think of it, it’s no wonder Marty was turned off by Sartre. He had a stick up his ass even by small town Prussian standards and would have never stood for this shit.

Hell, even the small survivalist and mountaineering forums I like to spend my discrete evenings on are being rocked by the pesky little realities of power politics and historical structures behind them. And if the recluse isn’t safe . . .

Who the hell has the actual space, time, dare I ask, the money to do this? To step away from every thing. You raised your hand? “Perhaps that’s exactly why he’s—” Yeah, good lord. I can feel the condescending professorial smirk from here.

Sorry. Maybe this is too much snark. I gotta breathe. It was only the first debate. Maybe things aren’t so bad. Chris Wallace did his best. Maybe I could even go find my newfound evangelical friends and talk things over. None of that changes the fact that, as cultural critic turned messiah of the young Left Mark Fisher noted, nowadays remarking on the futility of our situation is already de facto passé. There is no space today for talk like this. Maybe what this philosophy needs is some space to stretch it—I think in German they call it Lebensraum.

Jokes aside, reality today doesn’t go for the price anymore. These days it doesn’t seem to have the capacity for serious philosophical, conceptual structures at all. While early 20th-century conflicts were riddled with conceptual treatises, dogmatic schools, and ideologically fleshed-out weltanschauungen, today’s conflict doesn’t seem to need much of that at all. Instead, the rapid-fire think-piece hot take format has exceeded both in volume and velocity the need for, and possibly even the ability for, carefully constructed foundational arguments to support particular social positions and their perspectives. The GOP gets it: they didn’t even bother writing down a platform for 2020. Perhaps if we look outside of the world of letters, we may very well find certain schools of thought constituted not by philosophical structures but by embodied realities. It is the age of the body and the imagination after all. 

Either way you cut it, these next few months are going to be rough. I have a certain perverse hope that these lectures will give me something to clutch as we start to really hit the rapids. This, despite the fact that any proper philosopher worth the weight of their paper degrees should know well enough to take serious issue with my approach. That is, if they don’t throw it immediately in the trash. A classroom introduction to the lectures states that the “the advantage of using the lecture course instead of Heidegger’s magnum opus is that it prevents pragmatist and existentialist readings of Heidegger” and that it instead “focuses on what Heidegger is really after.” Well, there’s a saying among fencing aficionados. The biggest threat to the world’s best fencer isn’t the second best. It’s an amateur, wildly swinging their épée in all directions. Well, for all intents and purposes, consider me extremely stupid and very well armed.

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Editors note: Further instalments of Heidegger at the End of the World should be up every Friday.

You can find Andrejs’ Instagram here and his website, callitnotdoubt, here.

Monographs Neoleviathan

Neoleviathan: The Wicked and the Wretched

Introduction | Ch. 1 | Ch. 2 | Ch. 3

“If indeed there are destructive forces at play in history, it is not, or not necessarily, those that produce war. The production of war is a production of war, it is still a production. But destruction is dissimulated in the most peaceful production, death in the accumulation of wealth.”

Jean-François Lyotard

“We therefore conclude that war does not belong in the realm of arts and sciences; rather it is part of man’s social existence.”

Carl von Clausewitz

With all this gloom, we might find ourselves wanting to reach out for reasons to hope, we might find ourselves daring to ask if our problems are solvable. In their 1973 paper, Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning, Horst Rittel and Melvin Webber bluntly stated “no”—social problems are insolvable, because social problems are wicked.1Horst W. J. Rittel and Melvin M. Webber, ‘Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning’, Policy Sciences, 4.2 (1973), 155–69 <>. A wicked problem is a problem which is so complicated, so poorly understood, so messy, that solving it comprehensively is impossible.2In his letter introducing Rittel’s use of the term, C. West Churchman suggests that the intractability of these wicked problems produces a moral duty for social scientists to be honest and thoughtful about the fact that they can only ever offer partial “solutions”, and be upfront about the untamed aspects of the problem when relaying their solutions to decision-makers. Despite the obviousness of this point, it seems to have gone unheeded. C. West Churchman, ‘Wicked Problems’, Management Science, 14.4 (1967), B-141-B-146 <>; Rittel and Webber went on to echo this sentiment in their 1973 paper, writing: “We do not mean to personify these properties of social systems by implying malicious intent. But then, you may agree that it becomes morally objectionable for the planner to treat a wicked problem as though it were a tame one, or to tame a wicked problem prematurely, or to refuse to recognize the inherent wickedness of social problems.” Rittel and Webber, p. 160. For professionals working on “relatively easy problems” like paving the streets or supplying clean water to every domicile and every office, it was a matter of adopting a Newtonian-mechanistic mindset and asking how a system can be made more efficient. But when we turn to problems of equity and of interlocking systems where changes at one node have consequences for the network, we find problems that, as Rittel and Webber put it, science has not developed to handle. For the scientifically-minded professional problem-solver, three matters stand in the way of tackling wicked problems:

  1. Goal Formulation: Instead of asking what a system is made of, we ask what a system does, and what it ought to do. Unless you have been living under a rock, it should be no surprise to you how thorny an issue this is. For goals to be set, philosophical and ethical questions need to be decided upon. Priorities need to be set. Purposes need to be clarified. The struggle over the Political which Schmitt describes so well is nothing less than the struggle to formulate goals. And so it is really no surprise that the liberal-democratic order is quite capable of solving “easy problems”, while struggling to answer the big questions.
  2. Problem definition: Before social planning (“the process of designing problem-solutions that might be installed and operated cheaply”) started to concern itself with asking what the right thing to do is, it asked itself what the most efficient way of doing something was. This search for efficiency, drawn (say Rittel and Webber) from classical physics and economics, engendered incredible productivity when solving problems around which there was a consensus.  Technique, as Jacques Ellul would say, is characterised by the search for greater efficiency,3Jacques Ellul, The Technological Society, trans. by John Wilkinson (New York: Random House, 1964), p. 20. and our technological societies are ones in which technique has become all-pervasive and hegemonic. Pushback to this comes from the living, breathing human beings whose happiness, dignity, or even mere philosophical sensibilities, are left out of consideration by the technical balancing of inputs and outputs. Technique can tell us how something ought to be done; it cannot tell us what we ought to do. And what we ought to do does not concern only the goals we set, but the very possibility of knowing what the problem is, and where it comes from. Our societies have long been committed to a war on drugs, and have largely decided that the problem is the consumption of drugs full-stop. But where the “problem” comes from is another issue—typically, conservatives will tend to blame this on moral degeneracy, family breakdown, corrupting media influence, etc. Taking the broad view, people on the left will tend to “blame” this (if they consider drug use a serious issue) on poverty, victimisation by criminals who have been allowed to acquire power through being pushed underground, and so on. While the truth may seem obvious to you, the next question Rittel and Webber ask is—now that you “know” where the problem comes from, how do you close the gap? The conservatives, who have the upper hand in most countries, have decided imprisonment and stigma will win the war. They don’t seem to have won yet.
  3. Equity issues: In many ways, this overlaps with goal formulation. There is no objective definition of equity, and therefore there is no way of quantifying scientifically what outcomes are desirable. Or to put it in a less abstract way, there is no way of ensuring agreement across multiple goal formulations. If different private interest groups have determined that only their specific policy prescriptions can constitute justice, while there is (necessarily) no way of objectively justifying agreement with one prescription over another, the question of equity looms over social planning just as much as goal formulation and problem-definition.

In consequence, the problems of governmental planning, which rely on subjective definition, political judgment, and moral position-taking, are wicked, and can never be solved, only resolved—“over and over again.”

Like any state, a Neoleviathan has many wicked problems to deal with though, by its nature, it is unlikely to give much of a shit about equity, and more likely to treat its subjects as if they are exchangeable units in a Newtonian schema, as Robinson-Particles, as Gilles Châtelet called it,4Gilles Châtelet, To Live and Think Like Pigs: The Incitement of Envy and Boredom in Market Democracies, Paperback (London: Urbanomic, 2014). units that can be subject to the discipline of the military and the rationality of the market without paying much mind to their so-called “individuality”. But, to make matters worse, any state existing today has a “super wicked” problem to consider: climate change. A super wicked problem is characterised by its time-sensitive nature, the attempt problem-causers make to find “solutions”, the lack of a central authority (remind you of anybody?), and policy responses which dismiss and ignore the future.5Kelly Levin and others, ‘Overcoming the Tragedy of Super Wicked Problems: Constraining Our Future Selves to Ameliorate Global Climate Change’, Policy Sciences, 45.2 (2012), 123–52 <>. And it is precisely in considering the super wicked problem that they are facing that we see the first steps towards the age of the Neoleviathans.

See, it’s tempting to dismiss the Neoleviathan as the ghoulish imagining of a storyteller, a dystopian science-fiction concept peddled as a possibility by someone who doesn’t know any better, but the truth is, if it’s a fiction, it’s one which the governments of today are already taking quite seriously, and which they’re strongly considering bringing into being before their enemies do, before the conditions for universal leviathanisation have properly arrived. In other words, they’re getting a head start.

Leviathanisation is, broadly, the transformative process by which the Neoleviathans are brought into being. The state which starts off down the road of leviathanisation is not necessarily the state (or states) which come out at the other end. That is to say, a standard, run-of-the-mill imperialist nation state like the UK, my exemplar state in this chapter, is capable of leviathanising, even though it is not itself a Neoleviathan yet, and may never be one. It is worth recapping that the Neoleviathan is defined as much by its internal activity as its external context. That is, a Neoleviathan is a Neoleviathan amongst Neoleviathans. “World order” as we know it disintegrates, letting loose in the developed world the sort of violence that, right now, it mostly just exports. The correct term for a Neoleviathan amongst leviathans is “proto-Neoleviathan”, which we will have plenty of time to discuss in another chapter. For now, though, let’s skip the taxonomy.

The UK is experiencing anxieties (long overdue) about its ability to underline its international “leadership” role with hard power. These are the words of Tobias Ellwood MP, January 2020: “[A]s global threats become more diverse and complex and our international rules-based order continues to erode, the world is responding by becoming more protectionist, isolationist and populist – hesitant to defend or upgrade that rules-based order. A resurgent Russia, an unpredictable Iran, extremism, creeping authoritarianism, cyber conflict and the geo-political consequences of climate change will dominate the 2020s. Though they could all be overshadowed by a bigger challenge – namely the authoritarian rise of China, which will soon overtake the United States as the world’s dominant power.”6‘The UK Must Prepare for a Dangerous Decade and Seek a More Influential Role’ <> [accessed 19 September 2020]. Ellwood stresses that what is most critical for the British government as it conducts its Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy is that it be honest about the state of the armed forces, its procurement processes, its readiness and its resilience. After all, setting the security and military policy goals of a deeply politically divided country is nothing if not a wicked problem, and, as we know, you can’t tackle a problem if you don’t know what you’re working with.

Elected Chair of the Defence Committee later that month, Ellwood struck a similar tone by noting the UK kids itself that it is better prepared for the coming decade than it really is. What is required is total overhaul: investment in cybersecurity, space defence, land and naval assets, extended soft and hard power capabilities, with a movement away from punitive conflict—“[I]f China were to take over Taiwan, would we really plow in and start something much bigger by trying to unpick that when the alternative is denial?” In order to avoid pusillanimous and cowardly retreat from international provocation, Ellwood advocates a military posture of presence. “The power to hurt is most successful when held in reserve,” as the economist Thomas Schelling said.7T C Schelling and A M Slaughter, Arms and Influence, Veritas Paperbacks (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2020), p. 3. This coercive diplomatic technique requires the exposition of a clear and unavoidable connection between the unwanted act and the brutal retaliation. But the important fact is that if the retaliation ever becomes necessary, then the gambit has failed, and you simply weren’t present enough.

To properly modulate presence, foreign policy has to be factored into the defence review for the first time—denying space to adversaries, ensuring access to markets in sensitive areas, keeping shipping routes safe, and so on. An obvious truth is recognised: the dreams of British importance on the world stage are utterly pointless without the military power to underline it. Sentimentality in procurement gives way to purely economic considerations: “We’re keeping alive tiny little procurement programmes, not for the benefit of the user, but for the benefit of the builder and that I think needs to change.”8‘Q&A: Tobias Ellwood, Chair of the House of Commons Defence Select Committee’ <> [accessed 8 October 2020]. Ellwood suggests the implementation of NATO standards, such as the production of a NATO standard helicopter, in order to spread the costs of development and keep up with the competition. In other words, Ellwood invites technique into military planning, exemplifying the Newtonian-mechanistic view that Rittel and Webber said belonged to the past. And such amoral considerations do belong to the past, don’t they? But leviathanisation isn’t afraid of atavism.

We may, therefore, introduce a first principle of leviathanisation: maximal efficiency. Far from the propagandistic self-aggrandisement of the neoliberal state, this is efficiency taken seriously. Bloat is impermissible, the arms race becomes an internal motor of all decision-making. There is no room for complacency or laziness, and the liberal-democratic spectacle of optimism gives way to ruthless self-criticism. Likewise, experiments are forbidden except where the risk that failure will disrupt the overall functioning of the system is close to zero and/or the benefits of success are high. Military assets are standardised, and upgrades become modular and iterative. Essentially, expense becomes maximally productive. This does not preclude desperate measures being taken in crisis situations, in fact, it ensures it, for this notion of efficiency is always relative to its context, and the age of Neoleviathans proper is one in which chaos constantly and inevitably increases as the biosphere disintegrates. If nothing else, a leap in the dark is better than a noose and a bucket.

In Search of Strategy – The 2020 Integrated Review, a report published by the Defence Committee, begins with a dire assessment of the UK’s place in the world, and with an implicit critique of the government’s approach to the Integrated Review. Work on the review had been delayed thanks to COVID-19 at first, until the Government realised that any recovery from the pandemic would necessarily involve a decent and up-to-date understanding of the country’s security, defence, development and foreign policy. With exit from the European Union looming, and the United States retreating into isolationist gloom, with “inter-state competition and escalating international tension” on the rise, the UK has been left concerned by the ever-growing visibility of cracks in the Western “rules-based international order”. Or, to put it more cynically, the order that suits it nicely.

This is why leviathanisation is inevitable—plodding, decrepit government by unqualified and irresponsible staff can only ever lead to predation from without or disruptive anger from within. In Search of Strategy is laced with warnings to the current government, in fact. The Former Director General for Strategy MoD suggests outside experts be brought in to review policies and capabilities to “make sure that everybody stays honest.” The Prime Minister, he goes on to say, needs to be able to assign the right people to the job of making sure the Integrated Review is actually integrated, that leadership is provided to ensure strategic priorities and specialist analysis are properly integrated, and so on. It is hard to believe that somebody like Ellwood thinks Johnson and his cronies are up to the task, not least of all after the series of miserable failures that have characterised the government response to COVID-19 so far, which even led Ellwood to request management of the pandemic be delegated to the armed forces. In the future, it’s easy to imagine this won’t even be a question.

A Changing Climate: Exploring the Implications of Climate Change for UK Defence and Security, a report commissioned from RAND by the UK Ministry of Defence, represents just one of many recent documents discussing the security implications of climate change for governments around the world. In it, the authors produce a conceptual framework to support decision makers in understanding and responding to climate change. In other words, it’s a framework for driving leviathanisation specifically in relation to climate change, an attempt to deal with the super wicked problem.

Text Box: 1: Leviathanisation framework – policymakers integrate defence-agnostic and defence-specific assessments to effectively and periodically evaluate and respond to security threats presented by climate change.
Leviathanisation framework – policymakers integrate defence-agnostic and defence-specific assessments to effectively and periodically evaluate and respond to security threats presented by climate change.

Defence-specific assessments, naturally, concern the policy decisions and developments of the armed forces themselves. Defence-agnostic assessments assess the state of climate change knowledge and map existing government policy vis-à-vis climate change in order to make sure that decision-making integrates key policy decisions and developments which fall outside the immediate remit of climate change policy with the knowledge that regular monitoring of the Earth system brings. In other words, it ensures that government decisions make sense within the rapidly changing context of a warming world.

From this, we can derive a second principle of levi­athanisation: reactive sovereignty. Civilisation is thrown into a defensive stance, and while it still seeks to sustain itself, to capture and control territory, and to ensure access to resources, it does this in such a manner that hubris is replaced with caution, though this nevertheless does not prevent recklessness. Icarian expansion, that is, needless expenditure, is done away with, replaced with pragmatic or Machiavellian politics. “[R]esource shortages could lead to increased conflict and instability, requiring additional military operations. . . . [A]ccess to supply chain inputs such as minerals used for manufacturing defence equipment, platforms and components could be disrupted if extreme climate events cause damage to transport and communications infrastructure, or if violent conflict takes place in mineral-mining regions as a result of resource shortages. Disruption of supply chain inputs could have detrimental impacts on force readiness.”9Kate Cox and others, A Changing Climate: Exploring the Implications of Climate Change for UK Defence and Security (Santa Monica, 2020), pp. 10, 12 <>.

Now, no sane state would allow its supply chains to be disrupted, and so the implication is obvious: “additional military operations” is code not only for benign aid operations, but also for military excursions to ensure access to and capture of critical resources. Intranational order is maintained through the threat, if not the actuality, of international violence—there is no question of pacifistic or non-interventionist opposition in the intracollapse, because war becomes solely an extension of the immune response of the state. Clausewitz: “[W]ar is not merely an act of policy but a true political instrument, a continuation of political intercourse, carried on with other means.”10Carl von Clausewitz, On War, ed. & trans. by Michael Howard and Peter Paret, Princeton Paperbacks (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1989), p. 87. In noting the general tendency towards new opportunities for military fallout, a fortiori leviathanisation, we might mention the militarisation of space. Ground-to-orbit and orbit-to-orbit weapons technologies are being developed, the US—ahead of the curve—has refused to waste time negotiating a treaty limiting militarisation, and we can expect to see ever-greater tension as ever-greater wealth is spent establishing an extraterrestrial presence. It isn’t hard to imagine space warfare targeting key communications and intelligence infrastructure, let alone the placement of weapons of mass destruction in orbit. The 1967 Outer Space Treaty prohibits the latter possibility now but, to heavily paraphrase Hegel on treaties between states—so what?

In the age of the Neoleviathans, moral resistance to war becomes pointless suicidality, a will-to-nothingness, and a naïve refusal to get with the program. It won’t be tolerated, and dissenters won’t last long. Schmitt once quipped that liberalism exists only when it is possible “to answer the question ‘Christ or Barabbas?’ with a proposal to adjourn or appoint a commission of investigation.”11Carl Schmitt, Political Theology: Four Chapters on the Concept of Sovereignty, trans. by George Schwab (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005), p. 62. But leviathanisation destroys the theological ideal of political and social life as dialectical, as one big gathering around the water cooler to shoot the shit. Leviathanisation means the return of “great politics”,12“The time for petty politics is over: the next century will bring the struggle for the domination of the earth – the compulsion to great politics.” Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, ed. by Rolf-Peter Horstmann and Judith Norman, trans. by Judith Norman (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), p. 102; §208. the termination of liberalism’s bloodless caution, and the restoration of metaphysical truth to the centre of political life. Liberalism, or institutionalised metaphysical denial,13“Liberalism, in his [Schmitt’s] view, is a metaphysical system that, because of its allegiance to rationalism, not only denies its metaphysical foundation, but institutionalizes that denial. This denial, he argues, will prove to be liberalism’s inevitable downfall.” Dyzenhaus. holds the Political aloft in a posture of aloof metastability. Leviathanisation, or political avalanche, brings the Political down to its preferred ground: Hobbesian war, with all the violence that entails—the return of the repressed, and the distribution of the social body into hospitable and hostile zones.

Here’s a sanity test: we use our leviathanisation framework to develop a policy and we see if it makes much sense. Remember, in dealing with climate change, we’re not interested in non-solutions like stopping it. Between the sunny optimism of the cognitariat and the grim pessimism of the military realists, I will opt for the latter. After all, they’re actually in some proximity to power. So when the UK’s military policy is being shaped under the assumption of a 2.3—3.5°C hotter world by 2100, I’d be willing to take that seriously, even if I hadn’t also dedicated the first chapter of this book to arguing we’re fucked.

Let’s take the issue of mineral supply chains as raised in RAND’s Changing Climate report: access to critical minerals could be disrupted by extreme weather events directly or indirectly, if violent conflict breaks out over resource shortages in mineral-mining regions. Critical minerals are used to make wind turbines, solar panels, lithium-ion batteries, electric motors, coolants for MRI scanners, LEDs, infrared detectors, medicine, missiles, laser rangefinders and guidance systems, night vision goggles—essentially everything (1) cool, and (2) strategically useful. It’s a shame, then, for the UK at least, that the UK has no policy whatsoever when it comes to the supply of rare earth metals and minerals. Not only that, but there isn’t even a specific department responsible for developing policy in this area.14Andrew Stretton and Lydia Harriss, ‘Access to Critical Materials: Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology: POST-Note Number 609’ (London: Houses of Parliament, 2019), p. 3 <> [accessed 8 October 2020]. You can see why Ellwood is so frustrated, especially as someone who emphasises the threat to the UK’s strategic interests from China, which currently dominates the rare earth metals and minerals market.15‘The UK Needs to Shore up Its Strategic Mineral Supplies | Financial Times’ <> [accessed 8 October 2020].

So then, in the language of our framework, we have identified a challenge for the MOD—continued access to supply chains in the face of climate change-related disruption—we prioritise for further action—a sensible person would agree this is a high-priority challenge if they wish for the UK to be capable of making decisions without a threat being posed to its access to strategically important materials—we identify policy actions to address challenges—for example, by investing the money needed to create an independent supply chain, likely by taking advantage of the UK’s Commonwealth relationships, and by, as Ellwood says, establishing a military presence in regions of strategic importance. Critics of this policy will call this colonialism, and they’ll be right! But the ecclesiastical critique of power is worthless to the leviathanised. The RAND report puts it dryly: “UK preparedness to deploy in response to climate-related events could become part of strategic messaging to UK and NATO allies and adversaries.”

Nothing says ‘fuck off’ quite like a few thousand guns.

When Rittel and Webber used the adjective “wicked” to describe the problems of social planning, what they meant was not that they were immoral problems, but that they were intractable—“‘malignant’ (in contrast to ‘benign’) or ‘vicious’ (like a circle) or ‘tricky’ (like a leprechaun) or ‘aggressive’ (like a lion, in contrast to the docility of a lamb).”

I might venture a little adjectival innovation of my own. Leviathanisation happens when a state or quasi-state actor takes a look around and gets a grip. It occurs when someone looks at the wicked problems wickedly, by which I don’t mean “evil”, but “nasty” (in contrast to “nice”), or “execrable” (like a curse) or “abominable” (like a snowman). Those who end up on the wrong side of the wicked are the wretched—they don’t solve problems, they have problems, and whether there are hard feelings involved or not, it doesn’t matter. The wretched may be a marginalised underclass, a political adversary, or innocents who have something the wicked want—whether by charisma or cruelty, the wicked will take what they need, and the wretched won’t be able to stop them. To the wretched, leviathanisation is a super wicked problem, and time is quickly running out.

Heidegger at the End of the World Monographs

HEW #1: Make Philosophy Great Again

[§ 1-2, p. 1-8], September, 2020.

It’s Monday night in Prenzlauer Berg, north Berlin, and I’m pretty sure I can hear the Adhan. Either that or the blood in my ears is so foamed after another day of news dispatches that it’s starting to sing, like a teapot in anxious mourning. I can’t tell if reality is fraying or if I am. Occam’s razor, if it bothered to open a history book (and check my medical history on top of that) would probably announce that the likeliest answer is clearly both. Is this language dramatic? Sure, but I can’t help it. When I read the headlines, hell, even when I talk to a friend, I have to restrain myself with increasing vigor from streaming out into the street and screaming, furiously and incoherently, at the nearest viable stream of traffic.

Let’s make one thing clear: the threat is no longer—was it ever?—just The Right. The right has usually been relegated here to the dim-witted corner of inbred-looking Hitler Youth Poster Discard Piles who make a big show of playing with symbols of the past. They were really more into cosplay than anything resembling real politics. Now, we’re entering a world whose stage has already been set by the strange virtual fuckery of the internet and populist sentiment left untreated where concepts much less noble than Truth, maybe something more akin to Common Sense, are being rapidly torn down. Vaccine conspiracy is mixing with hippy-gunk leftovers of mindfulness and healing which in turn is mixing with populist righteous hatred of the Big Guys which is mixing with strange specters of Cold War ideological straw-men which are merging together with . . . and so on, ad infinitum.1Currently trending piece of social sleuthing taking the time to unpack this delusional goulash: This isn’t your Daddy’s Neighborhood Fascism; this is the groundswell of a filthy tide of floodwater that’s shooting up around our ankles and, if I’m reading the tide right, might just absolutely annihilate what dusty old profs once called Reality and Everyday Life. You ever seen a tsunami?

Enough of that fear-mongering. I’m going to read. Bury the nervous nose in a tome somewhere, slap the shutters shut on the world. What to read what to read what to—but of course! It’s so obvious, in what feels like a vaguely familiar pre-inaugural calamity, to try to hunt down that elusive specter sneaking around the back rooms of all these Theories, World-views, Ideologies, all these voices telling you to Look Behind The Curtain. Behold! A people grown disillusioned with their government. As mistrust spreads and unemployment and economic downturn threatens, all these foreigners are being shoveled in by mysterious forces at the top. Surely that’s the cause of all the problems, all the disrespect, all the Angst. After all, will no one stand up to protect our people, our daughters, our future . . . If only, if only the people had a hero, someone who had the strength to go his own path, to rebel against the universities who have become soft and coddled—and maybe find success in his own right? That’s right Volks, now introducing in the right corner, standing almost 2 meters tall, grizzled and worn, the fighter for truth from the log cabin: Jordan, B. Peters—oops. I mixed up my notes, hold on—Martin Heidegger.

That’s right, ol’ evil Martin himself. Diggy. Stuck at home in mild misery, I’ve begun the Basic Problems of Phenomenology lectures—something of an introduction into Heidegger’s thought mid-stride—and as much as I truly loathe the word “relevant,” reading such a text at such a time will inevitably arouse sentiments of the philosophical bent as much as of the contemporary, the political. This project is therefore an experiment in recording my own experiences of both simultaneously. We are talking about a textual voice of whose infamous 1933 address it was said that “at the end of the speech, the listener was in doubt as to whether he should start reading the pre-Socratics or enlist in the SA.2The Sturmabteilung (“Storm Detachment”), original paramilitary wing of the Nazi party. This is why the speech should not be judged according to one point of view alone, be it purely political or purely philosophical.”3Karl Lowith, Richard Wolin, and Melissa J. Cox, ‘The Political Implications of Heidegger’s Existentialism’, New German Critique, 45, 1988, 117 (p. 125) <>.

To be clear, I’m not talking here about Marty being, you know, an actual Nazi. Nor am I solely drawn to the man—who might only be explained as a trapped and vengeful Teutoberg bloodlusting bloviating Goth warrior—because of the central role his work plays in modern fascists’ philosophy, a phenomenon somehow only recently being properly talked about,4“[I]t was only in 2008 that the first comprehensive study of Heidegger’s thought in the contemporary far right was published in Italy – with no translation in English. In the past years new publications have contributed to the understanding of the role of Heideggerian thought for contemporary politics and especially in the US alt right and Russian white nationalism.” Julian Göpffarth, ‘Why Did Heidegger Emerge as the Central Philosopher of the Far Right?’, OpenDemocracy, 2020 <> [accessed 24 September 2020]. perhaps suggesting that nobody actually read Adorno and just sort of nodded whenever his name was mentioned. These would be both purely sociological accounts, a sort of philosophical book-keeping meant to find the definitive link with Auschwitz or Steve Bannon in this particular work. No, I do actually think that Heidegger’s onto something (or on something) that is currently gripping our modern world with horrendously disorienting force. Something about reality itself, or at least our being in it. So, I’m turning to him partially, yes, as opposition research, but also as a real person asking for help.

At this point I’ll really ask anybody.

If you want to insist on context—which would probably be in our collective best interest—and ask, ‘Why focus on a single lecture course presented at the University of Marburg during the summer of 1927?’, the shortest answer I can give is that this is where Heidegger takes on the task of systematically facing the history of “Western Metaphysics” and, in doing so, justifies the primacy of his understanding of temporality—the titular Zeit of the iconic jam-band duo Sein und Zeit.5Heidegger’s 1927 magnum opus, Being and Time. As one introduction to an English edition of the Basic Problems of Phenomenology puts it: “Ancient, medieval, and modern ontology would have to be subjected to phenomenological scrutiny from the viewpoint of Temporality as ultimate horizon of the understanding of being. Basic Problems contains a significant portion of this destructive examination of traditional ontology.”6Martin Heidegger, The Basic Problems of Phenomenology, trans. by Albert Hofstadter, Revised Ed (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988), pp. xv–xvi. Man, I already feel myself putting my stiff wannabe tenure track suck-up voice on. It’s going to be a fun struggle to take the philosophy seriously and to stay seriously grounded. At its simplest, we can head out knowing that Martin’s about to take us on a walk with this notion of phenomenology, a logic which takes the immediacy of experience as its starting point, and in doing so clash with some of the heaviest pillars of philosophy standing during this age.

Before we start, let me dart back to that quip about the venerable Doctor Peterson. One of the most perplexing facts of being psychologically literate in the late 2010s has been the simultaneous encounter with the denial of psychoanalysis at every turn while also having Dr. Beeperson—an unabashed Jungian, of all the rotten things—on the best seller shelves even here in Berlin. Without insisting for too long on the parallel, it is of interest to me that this modern pariah figure carries with him similar ideological tones which match up with the voices of, say, Oswald Spengler or Ernst Junger, for whom our Martin had high praise. These men lamented the loss of modern culture to mass indoctrination and the disappearance of a true masculinity which took action for its own sake. On the connection between Junger and Heidegger, Bourdieu wrote: “Thus the remedy to which Jünger turns is a return, and we understand why this vision of the social world is resumed in a philosophy of temporality which opposes linear, forward-moving, and ‘progressive’ time . . . in the name of a cyclical time (which ‘turns back’ the clock) that is the perfect symbol of the conservative revolution, of the Restoration, as a denial of revolution.”7Pierre Bourdieu, The Political Ontology of Martin Heidegger (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1991), p. 20. Not to mix metaphors or biographies, but I think the reader might be seeing the question of modern populism arise also in the bent of more esoteric cultural forms: astrology, new-age conspiracy hippies, and inexplicable Jungian NYT best-sellers. Now to the text.

What does Marty start with? Well,  for the sake of levity, the first note I had to make in the margins was when, right out of the gate, Heidegger promises to Make Philosophy Great Again:

“Does not phenomenology contain within itself the possibility of reversing the alienation of philosophy into these disciplines and of revitalizing and reappropriating in its basic tendencies the great tradition of philosophy with its essential answers?”8Heidegger, p. 3; “[O]b nicht in der Phänomenologie die Möglichkeit liegt, die Veräußerlichung der Philosophie in diese Disziplinen rückgängig zu machen und ihre eigene große Tradition aus ihren wesentlichen Antworten in ihren Grundtendenzen neu anzueignen und zum Leben zu bringen.” Martin Heidegger and Friedrich-Wilhelm von. Herrmann, Die Grundprobleme der Phänomenologie (Frankfurt am Main: V. Klostermann, 1997), p. 5.

Don’t roll your eyes. I’m trying to be serious. Isn’t this call to short circuit the system the quintessential populist rhetorical turn? ‘They don’t want you all to know that they’re not even doing Real Philosophy! It’s up to regular folks like you and me to get to the real truth. Follow me, and . . .’ Ok, maybe it’s a bit much.

The next bit is where I immediately saw the smoke in the air from the Breitbart Doctrine,9“[I]f you want to change politics you first have to change culture because politics flows from culture.” Samuel Kronen, ‘Cambridge Analytica & “The Breitbart Doctrine.” Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid.’, Elephant Journal, 2018 <> [accessed 24 September 2020]. or, if you’re a lefty, the whole Gramscian cultural politics. At the first half of the paragraph, I thought we were safe just talking about how the personal is political, every experience is subjective, and so on:

“A world-view is not a matter of theoretical knowledge, either in respect of its origin or in relation to its use. It is not simply retained in memory like a parcel of cognitive property. Rather, it is a matter of a coherent conviction which determines the current affairs of life more or less expressly and directly. A world-view is related in its meaning to the particular contemporary Dasein at any given time. In this relationship to the Dasein the world-view is a guide to it and a source of strength under pressure.”10Heidegger, p. 6; “Die Weltanschauung ist nicht Sache eines theoretischen Wissens, weder hinsichtlich ihres Ursprungs noch bezüglich ihres Gebrauchs. Sie wird nicht einfach wie ein Wissensgut im Ge- dächtnis behalten, sondern sie ist Sache einer zusammenhalten- den Überzeugung, die mehr oder minder ausdrücklich und direkt Handel und Wandel bestimmt. Die Weltanschauung ist ihrem Sinne nach auf das jeweilige heutige Dasein bezogen. Sie ist in dieser Bezogenheit auf das Dasein Wegweisimg für dieses und Kraft für es in seiner unmittelbaren Bedrängnis.” Heidegger and Herrmann, p. 7.

It was the final sentence that kicked me in the teeth:

“Whether the world-view is determined by superstitions and prejudices or is based purely on scientific knowledge and experience or even, as is usually the case, is a mixture of superstition and knowledge, prejudice and sober reason, it all comes to the same thing; nothing essential is changed.”11Heidegger, p. 6; “Ob die Weltanschauung durch Aberglauben und Vorurteile bestimmt ist oder ob sie sich rein auf wissenschaftliche Erkennt- nis und Erfahrung stützt oder gar, was die Regel ist, ob sie aus Aberglauben und Wissen, aus Vorurteil und Besinnung sich mischt, das gilt gleichviel, ändert an ihrem Wesen nichts.” Heidegger and Herrmann, p. 7.

This, at its core, is the problem that our world of politics, of news and various media, of fact-checkers and opinion havers, of fake news and all that jazz doesn’t grasp yet. Everyone calls the other side stupid, crazy, duped, evil, somehow defective. They’re not grappling with the terrifying reality that their subjectivities are, at some brutal, deep foundational level, no different than their own. Appeals to science, while internally more coherent and rational and empirical and in this way True, do not deliver unto Caesar a more truly existing Weltanschauung than your average anti-establishment hippy or anti-semitic bellicose subway-car screamer.

Today with lunch I watched a report on some relatively recently unearthed photos from ‘44 Auschwitz which showed the camp staff in their free time, smiling, dancing, eating, and singing. The interviewed museum archivists kept stressing, in strained voices, that it was incredible—a term used to its fullest sense here—that these people could commit such atrocities and then play drinking games among themselves. These historians kept repeating that they could not understand how human beings could do this. If they meant these appeals, what shameful historians. If there’s one branch of research which most thoroughly demonstrates the human ability to combine violence with life, it is theirs. I feel it would be vulgar to cherry pick examples from my amateur knowledge of that horrendously putrid fruit basket of Human History but come on: Genghis Khan—“A civilian massacre was the almost inevitable accompaniment to a Mongol triumph.”12Stephen Richard Turnbull, Genghis Khan & the Mongol Conquests 1190-1400 (Oxford: Osprey, 2004), p. 76. Pretty much every mass military has, at some point, engaged in significant violence, even sadism, beyond battlefields. Do you think all those guards at Abu Ghraib would have not participated in something like Birkenau if they were part of its operations? How about Guantanamo? The Greek and Yugo guerillas? The Chechens? I could go on and on and on and on. Is this merely morbid obsession? Is it boys fantasising about playing soldier? If you think that’s it, you’re missing the bigger point: don’t assume what you think Human Decency or Common Sense means is more than a bit of a historical hiccup. After all, Marty reminds us:

“From the forms and possibilities of world­ view thus enumerated it becomes clear that what is meant by this term is not only a conception of the contexture of natural things but at the same time an interpretation of the sense and purpose of the human Dasein and hence of history.”13Heidegger, p. 5; “Aus den aufgezählten Formen und Möglich- keiten der Weltanschauung wird deutlich, daß darunter nicht nur die Auffassung des Zusammenhangs der Dinge der Natur, sondern zugleich die Deutung des Sinnes und Zweckes des menschlichen Daseins und damit der Geschichte verstanden wird.” Heidegger and Herrmann, p. 7.

You see a sentence like that and you think you’re good until just a few lines down you run by: “Our world-view is determined by environment—people, race, class, develop­ mental stage of culture.”14This one really doesn’t sound as innocent in the original German. The English makes it sound quite a bit more neutered. Heidegger, p. 6; “Die Weltanschauung ist bestimmt durch die Umgebung: Volk, Rasse, Stand, Entwicklungsstufe der Kultur.” Heidegger and Herrmann, p. 7. What a doozy.

Thus we arrive at the end of the first report on Heidegger at the End of the World. Now, I know that any good soul well-versed in philosophy (and somehow also reading this) may have cried out in defence of Martin, speaking for him that ‘this is not what he meant to say at all,’ that Heidegger wasn’t talking about political realities here or any ethical equivalents and I’m mixing up stuff that has no place in Good Philosophy. All in good time.

Instead of trying to cram in all the philosophical, historical, and political commentary into some sort of lecture hall introduction, I’m going to keep reading & reporting each week and thereby introduce an increasing web of context, content, and malcontents to the lecture. Some weeks will drift more astutely into the philosophical, others perhaps drift into the current events. You try writing about the later bits of Kant’s introduction to transcendental reason on eve of, say, a US presidential election. I am, after all, just another of the unwashed masses trying to get the best seats for this apocalyptic spectacle. I’ll try to keep some sort of uneasy equilibrium here. Next week we continue deeper into Heidegger’s question of what a Weltanschauung actually is and what philosophy’s relation to said thing is. Stay tuned.

Next dispatch

You can find Andrejs’ Instagram here and his website, callitnotdoubt, here.

Monographs Neoleviathan

Neoleviathan: Jurisprudence, God, Collapse

Introduction | Ch. 1 | Ch. 2 | Ch. 3

“And in case a subject be forbidden by the civil sovereign to profess some of those his opinions, upon what just ground can he disobey? Christian kings may err in deducing a consequence, but who shall judge?”

Thomas Hobbes

Neoleviathan. It’s bitter as I turn it over in my mouth. My tongue bounces around like a ricocheting bullet. The last syllable leaves my lips set back in the beginnings of a grimace. For Hobbes, the sovereign was the only possible guarantor of security and prosperity,1“[W]here there is no coercive power erected, that is, where there is no commonwealth, there is no propriety; all men having right to all things: therefore where there is no commonwealth, there nothing is unjust.” Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, ed. by Crawford Brough Macpherson, Penguin Classics (London: Penguin Books Limited, 1985), p. 202. but the Neoleviathan is power under infinite siege, and so it guarantees nothing, not even the illusion of stability and order. It is the state in crisis, with all unnecessary functions disposed of, refusing to deny itself any technology or immorality it needs. But before we discuss its descendent, we should first discuss the Leviathan itself.

Frontispiece of Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan, 1651

The frontispiece of Leviathan. At the head of the Sovereign there are the words of Job 41.33 from the Vulgate Bible: “Non est potestas Super Terram quae Comparetur ei.”—Nothing on earth is its equal. This is how God describes the Leviathan, a sea monster with a double coat of armour, whose scales are rows of shields so tightly knit that not even air can pass between them. With one breath it incinerates armies, it smashes iron and bronze with ease, no spear or sword can so much as tickle it, and it makes a mockery of every prideful boast of kings who presume to call themselves mighty. “No one is fierce enough to rouse it,” says the Lord. “Who then is able to stand against me?”2New International Version, Job 41.10

When Job demands that God account for the suffering put upon him, a pious man who had done no wrong but had now been reduced to nothing, he is chastised by his friends, who insist that Job must have sinned to have suffered so. But when God confronts Job, it is not with an explanation, he is not told that he is being punished or scolded for wrongdoing—instead God merely reminds Job that there can be no mediation between the sovereign and the subject, that the mighty need not explain themselves to the weak, that understanding is not owed to the wretched, that right is something the powerful arrogate to themselves, and which is unlimited across their whole domain. And God’s domain is infinite: “Everything under heaven belongs to me.”3Job 41.11 Therefore infinite suffering can be distributed without rebuke. When Job recoils in shame at this—“I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.”4Job 42.6—God turns to Job’s friends and demands they make a sacrifice to Him to atone for lying about His nature. “You have not spoken the truth about me, as my servant Job has.”5Job 42.8 For it was Job who disregarded the words of the consolatores onerosi6“Miserable comforters”—his three friends who insisted that God, who is good and just, would not punish Job without good reason, nor abandon him indefinitely, as long as he repent of his sin. Job 16.2 as empty, long-winded speeches. It was Job who would not accept that God’s behaviour towards him was “rational” by human standards, that there was no necessary connection between suffering and sin, between glory and piety. And this is indeed so. It is the story of the Leviathan that impresses upon Job the weakness of his position, so that he finally accepts that it is his duty to obey without question. At this point, he is rewarded with wealth, longevity, and progeny, as arbitrarily as he was afflicted with disease and a massacred family.

You can see why Hobbes would invoke the Book of Job for the frontispiece of his treatise on omnipotent government. The relationship of the powerful to the powerless is exquisitely presented here, sacralised in the discourse between God and Job. Divinity itself sanctions the use of unlimited power. And while no sovereign should seek to pretend to the power of God, for the sovereign is not immortal, it can certainly claim a parallel with Leviathan, being a composite and almost invincible body. The lesson learned by Job in his dealings with God is the same as the lesson learned by subjects in their dealings with the sovereign, which comes into being when every person contracts with one another to surrender their respective rights to self-governance to the head of a commonwealth: “This is the generation of that great leviathan, or rather, to speak more reverently, of that mortal god, to which we owe under the immortal God, our peace and defence.”7Hobbes, Leviathan, p. 227.

At a glance, then, Leviathan’s frontispiece may appear a scary but morbidly comforting provincial scene. Over the city looms the sovereign, crosier and sword in hand, representing the union of military power and moral-ecclesiastical authority. But when one notices the city, empty save for soldiers, the guarded harbour, and the ships approaching from the sea, one realises—the monstrous body of the sovereign is not there to protect the city. It is emerging from the sea to invade it.8Magnus Kristiansson and Johan Tralau, ‘Hobbes’s Hidden Monster: A New Interpretation of the Frontispiece of Leviathan’, European Journal of Political Theory, 13.3 (2014), 299–320 <>. The spikes just under the right arm are the scales or spikes of a homines marini, a man of the sea, with the lower body of a serpent or dragon, its body composed of so many mortal citizens tightly packed together like impenetrable scales—Leviathan. As this monster looms over the landscape, the crosier bisecting the sky, the great sword raised to the sun, and that gigantic, impassive face between them, one can imagine the horror of the citizens locked away in their homes. The sun is eclipsed. “Fear and trembling seized me and made all my bones shake.”9Job 42.8 This image, with the violence it promises, brings us into contact with the fear Job felt as God spoke to him out of the storm. And it reminds us that de facto sovereignty is always a question of power first, security second, and comfort dead last.

In Toward Perpetual Peace (1795), Immanuel Kant presents a series of articles which, if enacted by all states, should ensure an asymptotic movement towards everlasting stability and safety from war. The first article, that no peace settlement may contain provisions for a future war based on post-hoc information, emphasises that “peace signifies an end to all hostilities . . .”10Immanuel Kant, Toward Perpetual Peace and Other Writings on Politics, Peace, and History, ed. by Pauline Kleingeld, trans. by David L Colclasure, Rethinking (New Haven: Yale University Press), p. 68 <>. Indeed, Kant even considers the adjective “perpetual” to be a suspicious pleonasm—does one not protest too much? ‘I assure you, this peace is quite perpetual,’ sounds like something you hear shortly before you’re taken out back and shot. Still, Kant’s understanding of peace as necessarily being extended in time concurs with Hobbes’ own temporal understanding of war, which consists, to him, “not in actuall fighting; but in the known disposition thereto, during all the time there is no assurance to the contrary.”11Hobbes, Leviathan, p. 186. To keep reasons for war in reserve is undignified, and arises from the false belief that honour derives from conquest and territorial capture rather than from the wellbeing of the citizenry. So says Kant.

In this condemnation of the excesses of sovereignty, Kant unmistakably echoes Job—but in his invocation of rational humanity, he echoes the consolatores onerosi. For it is from the standpoint of rational humanism that Kant is able to condemn the use of civil subjects as possessions and objects of the state to be used at will by the sovereign as abominable to reason.12“To annex a state, which, like a tree trunk, has its own roots, and thus to treat it as a graft onto another state, is to annul its existence as a moral person and to treat this moral person as a mere thing.” Kant, Toward Perpetual Peace and Other Writings on Politics, Peace, and History, p. 69; See also: Immanuel Kant, Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals, ed. & trans. by Allen W Wood (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002), p. 56. Sovereignty can be bargained with, or made to answer for itself, if and only if there is something to which it should be made accountable, and, more importantly, if the subjects of civil authority can set themselves up as actors by authority of a greater power. In the Hobbesean system, this is impossible. The sovereign is accountable to nobody and recognises no higher power, standing outside the law and determining what is just and unjust within the realm per se. And because the subject is the author13For Hobbes, an Actor represents an Author, who owns the words and actions of the former; the Actor acts by authority of the latter. When an act is performed by authority, this means it is done by commission or license of the author. The relationship of the subject to the sovereign is of an author to an actor. Hobbes, Leviathan, p. 218. of every sovereign act, as the sovereign is no more than the subject’s power externalised and outsourced to the sovereign by contract, there is no room for complaint in any case, no matter how much iniquity the sovereign inflicts.14Because the sovereign, by definition, protects the commonwealth and is authorised to do so by the subject, there can be no question of injury by the sovereign—that is, it is impossible for a subject to injure themselves, says Hobbes. We can speak only of mere iniquity, not injustice, since justice can exist only within a commonwealth, which exists only through the power of the sovereign. Hobbes, Leviathan, p. 232.

Kant, however, claims that by the light of natural reason any rational being can arrogate the right to accuse the sovereign, at least in principle, as reason is a legislative potency residing within all rational beings. This is no less than a revolt against Leviathan and a claim to be able to pierce its scales. For if it is possible to assume for oneself, as Kant does, the right to legislate according to natural reason, that is, the right to judge on behalf of the divine power, then no justification can be made by the sovereign to an omnipotence which neglects the proper use of reason. This is a direct attack on the Jobean divinity. And it is no mistake that in Behemoth, Hobbes’ account of the English Civil War, Hobbes begins by putting the blame squarely on the ecclesiastical sectors for their major role in corrupting the social body.15Thomas Hobbes, Behemoth Or The Long Parliament (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990), pp. 4–6. Specifically, they claimed to have the right to govern directly from God, to be actors by divine authority which, they claim, supersedes all base civil authority—and alignment with the latter against the former is a sin punishable by eternal damnation. Kant does not, of course, promise hellfire to the despotic sovereign, but he nonetheless claimed the same right to be able to criticise in ordine ad spiritualia—“In accordance with the spirit.”

Hobbes, being dead, was unable to answer Kant directly, but Hegel was able to well enough. On Kant’s plan for the implementation of a rational Völkerrecht (international law), Hegel simply retorts with common-sense: “This universal determination of international law therefore does not go beyond an ought-to-be, and what really happens is that relations in accordance with treaties alternate with the suspension of these relations.”16Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Outlines of the Philosophy of Right, ed. by Stephen Houlgate, trans. by T M Knox (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), pp. 312–13. In other words, states remain in the state of nature in relation to each other, as the first principle of the possibility of relations between states at all is that they retain their sovereignty. The choice to restrict said sovereignty in the name of a peaceful international order is thus always subject to cancellation. You can, by all means, make the first article of your peace treaty be that the treaty cannot be cancelled, but the moment the treaty is cancelled, that article no longer applies. Particular sovereign wills infect the Völkerrecht with contingency, and disharmony can only ever be settled, in the final case, by war.

So much for the international order. What about the intranational relationship between the state and the so-called rational subject?

Enter Carl Schmitt, “Crown Jurist of the Third Reich.”17Stephen F Schneck, ‘Waldemar Gurian: Rediscovered’, ed. by Ellen Thümmler, The Review of Politics, 74.4 (2020), 685–89 (p. 687) <>. As the self-styled 20th century successor to Hobbes and bitter enemy of rationalism in jurisprudence, not to mention the infamous enabler of the Nazi party’s rise to dictatorial power, it is hard to imagine a theorist better positioned to answer Kant.

For Schmitt, relativism is a brute fact. There is, essentially, no court of reason for the Kantian usurper to represent. Liberalism instantiates itself through an appeal to rationality and a defence of the right of every rational person to determine individually what they think is best. It then institutionalises this rationality in the state and produces the liberal-democratic order, while simultaneously disavowing its own ideological basis. But by denying the fundamental metaphysical basis of its claim to sovereignty, liberalism produces a political order incapable of defending itself. For what is enshrined in a democracy is the right for every private interest group to organise and attempt to capture the state apparatus. If the ruling party is liberal, it continues to perpetuate rule by water cooler. But if it is illiberal, it exercises the extant dictatorial power of the state to smash the liberal elements and revive the true nature of the political: “The specific political distinction to which political actions and motives can be reduced is that between friend and enemy.”18Carl Schmitt, The Concept of the Political: Expanded Edition, trans. by George Schwab, Enlarged (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2007), p. 26. The liberal declines to identify the enemy, opting instead to view them as an economic competitor and an intellectual adversary.

The liberal is a good Kantian: they hope to see sound reasoning replace uncivilised violence, suspending forever the enmity implicit in the political and transforming it instead into a productive and healthy dialogue between rational subjects. In practice, however, we see that democracy actually paves the way for state capture by demagogues, and for the manipulation of the liberal subject by propaganda. It inevitably produces political disorder and civil war, because it is a fundamentally delusional political system. Kantian morality is an elaborate articulation of the idea that ‘if everyone just thought like me, everything would be fine,’ in that it seeks to justify the concept that, properly applied, reason leads to singularly inevitable conclusions. In other words, at the limit, every reasonable person thinks like Kant. Kantian jurisprudence is nothing more and nothing less than political solipsism. And by the time Kantianism has made its way from 18th century Königsberg to infest the inside of your skull, you are left convinced that if everyone just thought like you, everything would be fine. The homo-homini-homo eschatology19“A man is a man to a man.” Carl Schmitt, Political Theology II: The Myth of the Closure of Any Political Theology, trans. by Michael Hoelzl and Graham Ward (Wiley, 2008), p. 54. of the progressive society is necessarily hopeful—it hopes for the day that everyone comes together in agreement, as enlightened subjects, perfectly rational, bound together in perpetual peace. But the truth of the Book of Job is that this is, quite simply, not the nature of political authority, not the nature of power, and that to attempt to make it so is not only an incredible hubris based on a lie, but, to Hobbes, and to his successor Schmitt, the basis for an unravelling of the very possibility of societal peace.

Still, what would a Nazi like Carl Schmitt know about peace? On one hand, Schmitt viewed the Hobbesian solution as the only possible bulwark against social chaos. But he denied the rational basis for absolute sovereignty that Hobbes employed. In fact, he viewed Hobbes’ decision to allow the subject’s individuality to enter his system at all as a dire mistake, one that would lead inevitably to the bourgeois liberal-democratic state, that is, to institutionalised unseriousness about politics, engendering social chaos.20David Dyzenhaus, ‘“Now the Machine Runs Itself”: Carl Schmiit on Hobbes and Kelsen’, Cardozo Law Review, 16 (1994), p. 2. What is required is not rational justification at any level. Political authority is established through a leap of faith. Essentially, the right to legislate comes through the right to legislate, which is nothing more than power’s autopoiesis. This existentialist component of Schmitt’s thought emerges also in his abhorrence of the depoliticised world. A value-free world is one without existential meaning. The ability to die for something is, to Schmitt, what makes somebody fundamentally human, what makes morality possible at all. And this question of morality is what brings us, at long last, to the Neoleviathan’s ultimate negation of all of the above.

What is present in all of the theorists discussed so far is a certain reverence for the notion of meaning. For Hobbes, culture, meaning, justice, and progress are only possible through the authority of the Leviathan. For Kant, the moral law within—that is, reason—provides the basis for social life. Hegel gives a central place to recognition, and Schmitt hides a romantic existentialism behind his cold veneer. But leviathanisation unleashes Darwinism across the social body—natural selection is valueless and non-agental, it has no telos, no end, no purpose. And one should never forget that it is only by a manner of speaking that one says the heart pumps to circulate blood around the body, or that the sun fuses hydrogen into helium to warm the surface of the Earth. In reality, purposes have no place in nature at all. They are a fiction we add to processes which occur without conscious direction. The Neoleviathan may claim to have some greater purpose, but its only purpose is self-preservation, and it wastes no resources which could otherwise be put to that singular use. Where the Hobbesian Leviathan produces the conditions for civilised life, the Neoleviathan takes civilised life hostage and liquidates it. Political power once again becomes absolute but existential meaning is humiliated by the collapsing biosphere. There are no heroics to be performed. And indeed, life is not even tragic.

The Leviathan gracing Hobbes’ frontispiece invades for a reason, and once it has established itself, it upholds authority and civil norms. It is absolute power with a human face. But the Neoleviathan invades for no human reason at all, only out of desperation. Its body is composed of cybernetised and insignificant modes, its face is masked, only those blood red eyes look out into the ravaged landscape. Nothing on earth is its equal. It reaches down into the emptied city to look for the final rotting scraps. It scoops up clods of cracked earth to find the supplies hidden underneath, and smears the crater with the guerrilla’s blood. There is no longer any need for the timewasting scholastics of political justification. Authority just is Hobbesian, that is, Jobean, that is, absolute and divine. But leviathanisation pulls back the liberal mask, claws away the impassive face, and reveals nothing, abyss, void, before covering itself with the garb required to survive the crisis to the bitter end.

The Neoleviathan begins to stalk the rapidly emptying plains.

“Nothing on earth is its equal—a creature without fear. It looks down on all that are haughty; it is king over all that are proud.”21Job 42.8

Monographs Neoleviathan

Neoleviathan: Just How Bad Things Are

Introduction | Ch. 1 | Ch. 2 | Ch. 3

“There are no more than two or three crimes to commit in the world,’ said Curval. ‘Once those are done there is no more to be said – what remains is inferior and one no longer feels a thing. How many times, good God, have I not wished it were possible to attack the sun, to deprive the universe of it, or to use it to set the world ablaze – those would be crimes indeed, and not the little excesses in which we indulge, which do no more than metamorphose, in the course of a year, a dozen creatures into clods of earth.”

The Marquis de Sade

The depraved and misanthropic protagonists of 120 Days of Sodom spend their time inflicting evils which they know are of a vanishing significance relative to the whole of nature. Their whole lives are essentially pointless, and try as they might to conceal this through “libertinage”, they cannot help but be gripped by bouts of rage and despair at their own inadequacy. What they couldn’t imagine was that human beings could ever become powerful enough to pose a threat to non-human nature, but look at us now. Still, that we have entered the Anthropocene, the age in which humanity has become the dominant influence on the Earth system, does not necessarily imply that we are also about to enter the age of the Neoleviathans.

Really, though, it’s quite simple. You take an exhausted and crumbling international order and subject it to unbearable stress. The resulting chaos produces, by necessity, the Neoleviathans. It’s hardly rocket science, and yet, I might expect a hint of scepticism from many of my readers, hinging on the following question: ‘Why, exactly, are we heading for collapse? What reason is there to expect one? Is this not so much tinfoil hat-wearing, conspiracy theorising fearmon­gering?’

It’s a reasonable question. The answer is ‘No.’

Here’s what I can’t do. I can’t prove to you that we are, objectively, heading towards a violent civilisational collapse which will lead either to the rise of the Neoleviathans or to the total disappearance of civilised life. Nor can I prove to you that the industrial system, enthralled to the demands of capital, won’t suddenly change course and implement worldwide infrastructural changes that will restore the biosphere and prevent disaster. What I can do is give you a relatively brief survey of some of the relevant literature and walk you through my reasoning, approaching asymptotically towards the limit at which it becomes as obvious to you as it is to me which way the winds are blowing.1You are welcome, at whatever point I’ve convinced you, to skip the remainder of the chapter. If, by the end, you still aren’t convinced, I don’t know what to tell you.

2019 was either the second or third warmest year on record depending on the dataset used,2‘State of the Climate in 2019’, ed. by J Blunden and D S Arndt, Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, 101.8 (2020), S1–429 (p. S17) <>. with either the most warm days on record (dating back to 1950) or close behind 2016.3Blunden and Arndt, p. S28. In the same year, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg all set national temperature records over 40C, and the WMO declared July tied for the hottest month on record globally.4Blunden and Arndt, p. S29. This is all likely attributable to a combination of natural variability and the upward trend in temperatures.5Blunden and Arndt, p. S25. 84% of the ocean surface experienced a marine heatwave.6Blunden and Arndt, p. S30. “[L]ake and permafrost temperatures have increased; glaciers have continued to lose mass, becoming thinner for the 32nd consecutive year, with the majority also becoming shorter during 2019. The period during which Northern Hemisphere (NH) lakes were covered in ice was seven days shorter than the 1981–2010 long-term average, based on in situ phenological records. There were fewer cool extremes and more warm extremes on land; regions including Europe, Japan, Pakistan, and India all experienced heat waves.”7Blunden and Arndt, p. S17.

By identifying distinctive responses by the Earth system to astronomical forcing8The changes to climate driven by the shape of the Earth’s orbit, the position of the Earth on that orbit, and the tilt of the Earth’s axis. See: Lucas J. Lourens, ‘The Variation of the Earth’s Movements (Orbital, Tilt and Precession)’, in Climate Change (Elsevier, 2016), pp. 399–418 <>. depending on greenhouse gas concentrations and polar ice sheet volume, four distinct climate states can be defined: Hothouse, Warmhouse, Coolhouse, and Icehouse.9Thomas Westerhold and others, ‘An Astronomically Dated Record of Earth’s Climate and Its Predictability over the Last 66 Million Years’, Science, 369.6509 (2020), 1383–87 <>. Within each distinct state, climate variability due to astronomical forcing is relatively small compared with the huge changes associated with transitions from one state to another, where the climate becomes unstable. Current atmospheric CO2 concentrations suggest the Earth system is comparable to the Miocene Coolhouse, but the researchers claim that if CO2 emissions continue “unmitigated” until 2100, “Earth’s climate system will be moved abruptly from the Icehouse into the Warmhouse or even Hothouse climate state,” characterised by temperatures at least 5°C warmer than they are today.

Caveat: This assumes the RCP8.5 scenario will prevail—a scenario which was not originally intended to become the definitive “business-as-usual” scenario.10‘Explainer: The High-Emissions “RCP8.5” Global Warming Scenario’ <> [accessed 13 September 2020]. In other words, if CO2 emissions continue unmitigated, it is not necessarily the case that we will end up with the RCP8.5 scenario in 2100. However, there is good reason to take the RCP8.5 scenario seriously and to treat it as a reasonable possibility. Cumulative emissions since 2005 have thus far tracked the RCP8.5 scenario—its projections have been agreed with the actual emissions to within 1% accuracy. Projecting into the mid-century shows that the emissions expected from both a business-as-usual and a business-as-expected scenario sit between that expected in the RCP8.5 scenario and the RCP4.5 scenario—why, then, should we use RCP8.5 as our preferred near-term modelling tool? “[T]he issue of missing carbon cycle climate feedbacks is critical. These missing biotic feedbacks include permafrost thaw, changes in soil carbon dynamics, changes to forest fire frequency and severity, and spread of pests. . . . This strongly suggests that while RCP8.5 and the IEA scenarios will not—indeed, cannot—be exact analogs, choosing RCP4.5 would be a definitive underestimate of physical climate risk.”11Christopher R. Schwalm, Spencer Glendon, and Philip B. Duffy, ‘RCP8.5 Tracks Cumulative CO 2 Emissions’, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 117.33 (2020), 19656–57 (p. 2) <>.

Moving out to the end-of-century, the overlap between the warming outcomes expected in RCP8.5 and the warming outcomes expected under policies in place is “modest”, but there is at least a 35% chance—a considerable possibility—that emissions concentrations will exceed those assumed in the RCP8.5 scenario.12P. Christensen, K. Gillingham, and W. Nordhaus, ‘Uncertainty in Forecasts of Long-Run Economic Growth’, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 115.21 (2018), 5409–14 <>. “Indeed, if RCP8.5 did not exist, we’d have to create it.”13Schwalm, Glendon, and Duffy, p. 2.

Let’s talk about Shared Socioeconomic Pathways (SSPs). These are a set of five scenarios describing different socioeconomic developments, exploring how broad societal trends (inequality, regional rivalry, fossil-fuel policies, etc.) affect greenhouse gas emissions and, consequently, the state of the climate system. By bringing socioeconomic narratives into the analysis of emissions, researchers hope to be able to describe plausible scenarios under which climate change could be mitigated or adapted to.14Keywan Riahi and others, ‘The Shared Socioeconomic Pathways and Their Energy, Land Use, and Greenhouse Gas Emissions Implications: An Overview’, Global Environmental Change, 42 (2017), 153–68 (p. 153) <>. The five narratives reflect the uncertainty in what we can expect from the globally-integrated economic system, where different rates of population growth, technological progress, and economic growth can all lead to vastly different emissions and warming outcomes.

  • SSP1: “Sustainability – Taking the Green Road”—The whole world commits to a profound economic and socio-political shift, investing in education and health, reducing inequality intra- and internationally, embracing low-growth and low-resource intensity consumption, and collectively committing to preservation of the global commons and sustainable development goals.
  • SSP2: “Middle of the Road”—Socioeconomically speaking, things don’t get worse, but they don’t get better either. The world carries on as it has done historically. Inequality persists, and perfunctory efforts by global and national institutions produce slow progress towards sustainable development goals. Environmental systems are degraded but overall intensity of resource and energy use declines. Global population growth is moderate, and challenges to mitigation and adaptation remain.
  • SSP3: “Regional Rivalry – A Rocky Road”—Nationalist atavism, domestic concerns about competitiveness and security, and regional rivalries and conflicts leviathanise the situation. Countries focus on their own national and regional security, looking to achieve their own energy and food security goals at the expense of everyone else. Educational and technological development declines, consumption is resource intensive, and inequalities persist or worsen. Populations boom in developing countries.
  • SSP4: “Inequality – A Road Divided”—Huge inequality and social stratification emerges within and between countries as unequal investments in different sectors of the economy and disparities in opportunity and political power increase in lock-step with the ever-intensifying ecological crisis. On one hand, you have an internationally-connected society maintaining the knowledge and capital-intensive sectors of the global economy, and on the other, fragmented patchworks of immiserated and poorly educated states which act as labour pools for the low-tech economy. Social conflict and civil unrest escalate as social cohesion degrades. The middle and high income areas are served well with token environmental gestures, as the rest of the world is exploited or left to rot.
  • SSP5: “Fossil-fueled Development – Taking the Highway”—The accelerationist option. The world leans into the anarchy of the capitalist market, exploiting huge amounts of fossil fuels and investing in health, education, and technological progress, enabling intensive consumption and integrating the global economic system further, betting on the innovation unleashed thereby to develop technologies which will manage the social and ecological crises. Technocratic cybernetics and scientifically-enabled godplaying makes use of advanced control techniques and geoengineering to ensure the long-term stability of these new societies.

It is certainly interesting to think about future emissions and warming scenarios in terms of narratives and the interaction between civilisation and the environment. Let’s be blunt and assume that SSPs 1 and 2 are out of the question. We are obviously not going to see the entire world take the green road, and SSP2, which relies on trends not shifting “markedly” from historical patterns (meaning, presumably, from the well-integrated neoliberal order) requires SSP3 to not already be happening for it to be a plausible scenario. But SSP3 is already happening. Despite quiet hopes that 2019’s 33 gigatonnes of CO2 released marks the peak of CO2 emissions, countries such as Russia, Saudi Arabia, the USA, China, Japan have all adopted climate “targets” which aim for a 4°C (or hotter) world—despite the “historic” Paris Agreement.

There is something fundamentally ridiculous about the eco-optimists who insist on the “possibility” of serious mitigation or international collaboration, as if we don’t live in a world wherein the slightest attempt to seriously discuss climate change mitigation engenders a populist backlash: “Climate denialism on the part of the Trump presidency, which has led to the US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, has been accompanied by a heated debate on the Amazon’s fires and by the unexpected rise of France’s “yellow vests” movement, the rise of which was triggered by an increase in diesel fuel taxation. There is thus a deal of resistance to sustainability, at least to the part of it that is associated with mitigation policies.”15Manuel Arias-Maldonado, ‘Sustainability in the Anthropocene: Between Extinction and Populism’, Sustainability, 12.6 (2020), 2538 (p. 4) <>. With grifters like Trump and Bolsonaro able to command huge amounts of public support as they deny and dismiss warnings about the climate, and with the general sense of grievance that the masses feel when they are lectured by these bleeding heart, cosmopolitan elites who care more about the polar bears than the average, salt of the earth, working class person, etc. etc., you do have to wonder—why exactly do these eggheads think that the average person would ever be willing to make profound sacrifices to their living standards for the sake of some abstract, far away-seeming climate “issue”?

‘Well, they’ll have to realise eventually when things get really bad that they have to make the necessary sacrifices!’—Will they now? Will it happen everywhere it needs to? Will it be sustained? Will climate change-denying populists fail to take control and reverse the gains? There is no room for failure here, no room to trip up or lose time, and yet this sustained altruistic self-sacrifice requires a historic and never-before-seen change in the behaviour of civilisations across the world, which have seen all sorts of disasters and been unable to act sensibly in the face of them. Hell, in the middle of a deadly global pandemic, millions don’t believe it exists at all, and many of those who do cannot be bothered to wear a mask. Indeed, the COVID-19 experience is giving us a taste of just how easy it is to go “off-course”, with the 2020 UN climate summit suspended until late 2021, as major economies prop up their aviation, automotive, and oil and gas industries with huge amounts of stimulus spending.16‘Coronavirus: Tracking How the World’s “Green Recovery” Plans Aim to Cut Emissions’ <> [accessed 14 September 2020]. To the optimist I say, simply, what right do you have to think that anybody will give a shit about the climate, regardless of how bad things get?

Sure, there are eco-nationalists and right-wing green populists who will argue for the conservation and protection of local and national wildlife (see: SSPs 3 and 4) but the idea that you can persuade millions of emotionally calcified westerners to give up their 4×4 and steaks, their air conditioning and smartphones and international flights and their entire way of life for the sake of some poor person they’ll never meet, scraping by on the other side of the planet, is laughable. A 2019 study by adelphi, a Berlin-based think tank, showed that with right-wing populism on the rise in Europe, seven out of 21 parties analysed denied climate change completely.17Stella Schaller and Alexander Carius, Convenient Truths: Mapping Climate Agendas of Right-Wing Populist Parties in Europe (Berlin, 2019). The media has largely been bought by reactionary interests, and Cambridge Analytica showed us just how easy it is with modern technology to manipulate the minds and beliefs of the population via Facebook and other social media websites.

Psychographics, the study of qualitative personal characteristics, is deployed as a political warfare tactic, violently escalating the Schmittian balkanisation of the Political, as the liberal believers in democracy struggle to keep up. In a situation like this, any appeals to the deep rationality or empathy of the average person, unlockable by just the right tenor of communication from the scientifically-minded sectors, can only appear as a pathetic joke.

Tropical forests, where 40% of the world’s vegetation carbon resides,18Karl-Heinz Erb and others, ‘Unexpectedly Large Impact of Forest Management and Grazing on Global Vegetation Biomass.’, Nature., 553.7686 (2018), 73–76. store about as much carbon as has been emitted as a result of fossil fuel use over the last 30 years.19Elizabeth Pennisi, ‘Tropical Forests Store Carbon despite Warming’, Science, 368.6493 (2020), 813–813 <>. It’s a shame, then, that they’re on their way out. Peak carbon uptake into intact, undisturbed tropical forests peaked in the 1990s, and by the 2010s, the average tropical forest’s ability to absorb carbon had dropped by a third, as the negative effects of higher temperatures and droughts killed off trees and slowed down growth. “The lost sink capacity in the 2010s compared to the 1990s is 21 billion tonnes carbon dioxide, equivalent to a decade of fossil fuel emissions from the UK, Germany, France and Canada combined. Overall, intact tropical forests removed 17% of human-made carbon dioxide emissions in the 1990s, reduced to just 6% in the 2010s.”20‘Tropical Forests’ Carbon Sink Is Already Rapidly Weakening’ <> [accessed 11 September 2020]. Suffice it to say this has troubling “implications”, especially since models haven’t predicted that net carbon uptake into intact tropical forests has already peaked.21Wannes Hubau and others, ‘Asynchronous Carbon Sink Saturation in African and Amazonian Tropical Forests’, Nature, 579.7797 (2020), 80–87 (p. 84) <>. “Given that the intact tropical forest carbon sink is set to end sooner than even the most pessimistic climate driven vegetation models predict, our analyses suggest that climate change impacts in the tropics may become more severe than predicted. Furthermore, the carbon balance of intact tropical forests will only stabilize once CO2 concentrations and the climate stabilizes . . . At the international level, given that tropical forests are likely to sequester less carbon in the future than Earth System Models predict, an earlier date by which to reach net zero anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions will be required to meet any given commitment to limit the global heating of Earth.”22Hubau and others, p. 85.

Let’s be clear, though. Only about 20% of tropical forests are intact.23Peter Potapov and others, ‘The Last Frontiers of Wilderness: Tracking Loss of Intact Forest Landscapes from 2000 to 2013’, Science Advances, 3.1 (2017), e1600821 <>. Generally, forest covers 30.8% of total land area, down from 32.5% in 1990, representing a net loss the size of Libya.24The State of the World’s Forests 2020 (FAO and UNEP, 2020), p. 10 <>. And as bad as deforestation is, simply avoiding further deforestation is not sufficient to mitigate climate change. Forest degradation, which has been historically difficult to detect, can cause forests to become carbon sources rather than carbon sinks—that is, the carbon emitted from the decomposition and burning of trees can outweight the carbon taken in through new tree growth. Deforestation in the Amazon gets a fair bit of attention, but research shows during the 1992-2014 period, in which 308,331 km2 of forest was deforested, 337,427 km2 was degraded.25Eraldo Aparecido Trondoli Matricardi and others, ‘Long-Term Forest Degradation Surpasses Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon’, Science, 369.6509 (2020), 1378–82 (p. 2) <>. The Amazon is rapidly headed towards the tipping point at which the whole system flips over irreversibly to a savannah state,26Thomas E. Lovejoy and Carlos Nobre, ‘Amazon Tipping Point: Last Chance for Action’, Science Advances (American Association for the Advancement of Science, 2019), eaba2949 <>. leading to huge carbon and biodiversity losses as the forest dries out: “The forest plays a major part in keeping itself alive, by recycling water through trees to generate rainfall. A water molecule travelling across the Amazon can fall as rain up to six times. If drought, fire or deforestation damage too many trees, reduced rainfall leads to less vegetation, and so on in a shrinking cycle.”27Ignacio Amigo, ‘When Will the Amazon Hit a Tipping Point?’, Nature (NLM (Medline), 2020), 505–7 <>. Meanwhile, Brazilian researchers publish their findings anonymously, afraid of retaliation from the Bolsonaro government, which has overseen a sharp increase in deforestation of the Amazon.28‘“Landscape of Fear” Forces Brazilian Rainforest Researchers into Anonymity | Nature Index’ <> [accessed 12 September 2020].

Overall, research suggests that the tropics are actually a net carbon source already, thanks in large part to “reductions in carbon density within standing forests (degradation or disturbance), with the latter accounting for 68.9% of overall losses.”29A. Baccini and others, ‘Tropical Forests Are a Net Carbon Source Based on Aboveground Measurements of Gain and Loss’, Science, 358.6360 (2017), 230–34 <>. The ability of tropical forests to store carbon is set to decline further as maximum daytime temperatures rise, especially at the 32.2°C thermal threshold.30Martin J P Sullivan and others, Long-Term Thermal Sensitivity of Earth’s Tropical Forests, pp. 3, 4 <>. Dr. Martin Sullivan: “[I]f we limit global average temperatures to a 2°C increase above pre-industrial levels this pushes nearly three-quarters of tropical forests above the heat threshold we identified. Any further increases in temperature will lead to rapid losses of forest carbon.” Professor Beatriz Marimon: “Each degree increase above this 32 degree threshold releases four-times as much carbon dioxide as would have been released below the threshold.”31‘Tropical Forests Can Handle the Heat, up to a Point’ <> [accessed 12 September 2020].

Global vegetation biomass currently stores just under less than half of the carbon it otherwise would if we were not (ab)-using the land,32Erb and others, p. 4. “At the global scale, the biomass stocks of the currently prevailing vegetation amount to a mean of 450 PgC . . . In contrast, biomass stocks of potential vegetation amount to a mean of 920 PgC . . .” and 42-47% of that difference is attributable to forest management and grazing practices.33Erb and others, p. 4. What this suggests is that “pre-industrial land-use impacts on biomass stocks were considerable,” and not that, as seems to be the common assumption, it was only industrial society that ushered in a time of disharmony between human and non-human nature. Consider, as well, what the difference between actual and potential biomass stocks means for climate-change mitigation: “The difference between actual and potential biomass stocks can be interpreted as the upper boundary of the carbon-sequestration potential of terrestrial vegetation . . . Managing vegetation carbon so that it reaches its current potential would store the equivalent of 50 years of carbon emissions at the current rate of 9 PgC per year, but that is not feasible, because it would mean taking all agricultural land out of production. More plausible potentials are much lower; for example, restoring used forests to 90% of their potential biomass would absorb fossil-fuel emissions for 7–12 years. However, such strategies would entail severe reductions in annual wood harvest volumes, because optimizing forest harvest reduces forest biomass compared to potential biomass stocks. By contrast, widely supported plans to substantially raise the contribution of biomass to raw material and energy supply, for example, in the context of the so-called bioeconomy, imply a need for increased harvests. From the perspective of greenhouse gas emissions, the challenge for land managers is to maintain or increase biomass productivity while at the same time maintaining or even enhancing biomass stocks.”34Erb and others, pp. 4–5.

Allow me to translate that for you: we’re fucked.

Take a deep breath, because we’re not finished. Far from it. There is far more to discuss than just tropical forests, and one thing you find when you dive down the ecological rabbit hole is that it goes deep, deeper than any one person can cover, such that any choice to move to a different aspect of the topic always involves an arbitrary cut-off. The question is not one of insufficient data, but of total institutional inertia deriving from the very nature of Darwinian life, short-sighted, adapted to ignore and vacillate at the expense of the future—why shouldn’t it be? If you’re a creature who stops to think about burning peatlands, there’s another creature who isn’t bothered about peatlands and is more than happy to tear your throat out while you stand, wide-eyed, like a deer in headlights, as the gravity of the existent glues you to the floor.

Extend this analogy to the political sphere and you’ll begin to get an idea of the problem we’re facing.

“The Arctic is burning like never before—and that’s bad news for climate change.” It’s a strange headline, isn’t it? Read enough of these and you’ll become quite tired of the editors’ attempts to sound neither “alarmist” nor indifferent, resulting in these ghoulishly hesitant headlines. As wildfires rage across the Siberian tundra, the thawing, carbon-rich peatlands catch fire and permanently lose vast amounts of ancient carbon into the atmosphere, fuelling the fires further through positive feedbacks to temperatures—this, in a region which is already warming at least twice as fast as the rest of the world.35‘Fire on Ice: Arctic Wildfires Are the New Symptom of a Warming Planet – Science in the News’ <> [accessed 12 September 2020]. By the end of August 2020, the fires in the Arctic Circle had seen 244 megatonnes of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere.36Alexandra Witze, ‘The Arctic Is Burning like Never before — and That’s Bad News for Climate Change’, Nature, 2020 <>. For comparison, Egypt’s emissions for the entire year of 2017 came to about 259 megatonnes.

As with the tropical forests, further warming can take permafrost peatlands from a net sink to a net source of warming as thaw (and, of course, blazing wildfires) release carbon and nitrogen, accumulated over thousands of years, into the atmosphere—in the 2°C warming scenario, half of preindustrial permafrost peatlands is lost, with radiative forcing37The energy imbalance between energy absorbed by the Earth and energy radiated back into space. See: ‘Climate Forcing | NOAA Climate.Gov’ <> [accessed 12 September 2020]. due to the thaw peaking at 2% of that caused by human emissions next century.38Gustaf Hugelius and others, ‘Large Stocks of Peatland Carbon and Nitrogen Are Vulnerable to Permafrost Thaw’, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 117.34 (2020), 20438–46 <>.

The Arctic wildfires, which have set emissions records two years in a row now, have been described by Dr Thomas Smith, Assistant Professor of Environmental Geography at LSE as “alarming”, which is quite serious language when it comes to the climate. In an interview with France 24, he had this to say: “The climate is warming in the High Arctic three times faster than the rest of the planet. And what we’ve seen in this year and in 2019 as well are very unusually warm temperatures. So unusually warm that in some places the temperatures have been twenty degrees higher than the long-term average. There’s been a heatwave in Eastern Siberia that started in the late winter and continued through the spring and the summer, and what we’ve seen is unprecedented levels of fire activity in the satellite record. The carbon dioxide emissions in 2019 and 2020 put together were longer than the previous 16 years on record. . . . If the fires are becoming more frequent and more intense, and that is what the evidence suggests, it might be that the forests are not able to regenerate to their full size, or even not to a forest—it may be replaced by a grassland or a shrubland, and if that’s the case, that is a problem because the carbon dioxide released from the fires will stay in the atmosphere.” When asked if there is a regional will to help with reforesting the region, Dr Smith answers that the scale of the problem is difficult to comprehend, and that it is unfeasible for a single nation-state to be able to meaningfully mitigate the factors (that is, the destabilisation of the Earth system) driving the Arctic fires. “What we need to look at is how we can do something about the future fires in this region which can only get worse with the climate change that is locked in for the next few decades. . . . But, ultimately, to avoid larger scales in this region, especially in the forests and the tundra regions to the north, we need to be thinking about mitigating greenhouse gases now and as soon as possible, but the effects of that will only be felt by the middle of this century or even later.”39‘Arctic Wildfires Are “Only Going to Get Worse” – Perspective’ <> [accessed 12 September 2020].

You’re welcome to draw your own conclusions on how likely it is that a global agreement on serious mitigation will be reached. We haven’t seen anything yet.

According to the SWIPA 2017 report, Arctic sea ice could have largely disappeared by the late 2030s. Most of the sea ice in the Arctic is “first year” ice, meaning that it grows in the autumn and winter and melts in the spring and summer. Very little multi-year ice remains. The almost total loss of Arctic sea ice by the late 2030s is not predicted by most climate models.40AMAP, Snow, Water, Ice, Permafrost in the Arctic (SWIPA), 2017. The SWIPA report concludes: “[T]he Arctic will not return to previous conditions this century under the scenarios considered in the SWIPA 2017 assessment. The near-future Arctic will be a substantially different environment from that of today, and by the end of this century Arctic warming may exceed thresholds for the stability of sea ice, the Greenland ice sheet, and possibly boreal forests.” In the case of the Greenland ice sheet, there is no longer a question of “may”. More than three decades of satellite data shows that, starting from 2000, glacier retreat has switched the ice sheet over to a new dynamic state of constant, sustained mass loss, with around 500 gigatonnes lost in 2017 and 2018.41Michalea D King and others, ‘Dynamic Ice Loss from the Greenland Ice Sheet Driven by Sustained Glacier Retreat’, Communications Earth & Environment, 1.1 (2020), 1 (p. 2) <>. This new state of sustained loss will persist even if global warming stops today—even, in fact, if the climate gets a bit colder.42King and others, pp. 3, 5.

Since it is generally considered a faux pas to deliver a pessimistic prediction with no silver lining, lead study author Michalea King, when interviewed about these findings, said: “It’s always a positive thing to learn more about glacier environments, because we can only improve our predictions for how rapidly things will change in the future. And that can only help us with adaptation and mitigation strategies. The more we know, the better we can prepare.”43‘Warming Greenland Ice Sheet Passes Point of No Return: Even If the Climate Cools, Study Finds, Glaciers Will Continue to Shrink — ScienceDaily’ <> [accessed 13 September 2020].

The more we know, the better we can prepare.

This is, of course, an utterly empty banality.

We could say more about the Arctic, not least that with the Arctic’s frozen soils thawing, “by the middle to end of the century the permafrost-carbon feedback should be about equivalent to the second strongest anthropogenic source of greenhouse gases, which is land use change.”44‘Unexpected Future Boost of Methane Possible from Arctic Permafrost – Climate Change: Vital Signs of the Planet’ <> [accessed 12 September 2020].—but I am, frankly, tired of talking about ice. In the interests of finishing this chapter this year, I‘ll summarise a few other points of interest:

  • Sea-level rises driven by ice sheet melt are currently tracking the worst-case scenario predicted by the IPCC.45Thomas Slater, Anna E. Hogg, and Ruth Mottram, ‘Ice-Sheet Losses Track High-End Sea-Level Rise Projections’, Nature Climate Change, 2020 <>. By 2050, these rises could push chronic floods to hit the homes of 300 million people in China, Bangladesh, India, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Thailand, and by the end of the century the homes of 190 million people could be permanently submerged beneath the high tide line—that is, be made uninhabitable.46Scott A. Kulp and Benjamin H. Strauss, ‘New Elevation Data Triple Estimates of Global Vulnerability to Sea-Level Rise and Coastal Flooding’, Nature Communications, 10.1 (2019), 4844 (p. 3) <>. By 2030, the annual cost of riverine and coastal flooding is expected to reach $535 billion and $177 billion, respectively, while overexploitation of groundwater causes coastal cities to subside, that is, sink, putting an additional 2 million people at risk of flooding.47‘The Number of People Affected by Floods Will Double Between 2010 and 2030’ <> [accessed 13 September 2020].
  • The animal population has declined by more than two-thirds (on average) in 50 years thanks to habitat destruction, agriculture, civilisational expansion and illegal wildlife trade. Wildlife populations in freshwater habitats have declined by 84%.48Living Planet Report 2020: Bending The Curve Of Biodiversity Loss – Summary, 2020. An extensive meta-analysis in April 2020 found terrestrial insect numbers declining by 9% per decade on average,49Roel van Klink and others, ‘Meta-Analysis Reveals Declines in Terrestrial but Increases in Freshwater Insect Abundances’, Science, 368.6489 (2020), 417 LP – 420 <>. with disturbing and obvious implications for our own continued existence on the planet, thanks largely to land-use intensification and destruction of natural habitats. The same analysis found freshwater insect numbers had increased by 15% on average, however, as lead author Dr Roel Van Klink said to the BBC, “They are just a fraction of land based insects, not more than 10%. The area of freshwater we have on earth is just a small percentage of the total land mass, so the numbers of freshwater insects will never be able to compensate for the terrestrial insects.”50‘Nature Crisis: “Insect Apocalypse” More Complicated than Thought – BBC News’ <> [accessed 14 September 2020]. Thanks to the domestication of livestock, agriculture, and the industrial revolution, human beings and their livestock now account for 96% of mammalian biomass, outweighing all vertebra