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.
“It’s a mess, ain’t it Sheriff.”No Country for Old Men
“If it ain’t, it’ll do till one gets here.”
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 http://bostonreview.net/race-politics/alberto-toscano-long-shadow-racial-fascism
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.