Thinking Being: A glance back

My essay, the body of this web-log, has reached its completion.  I toyed with the possibility of writing an “after word,” but decided, if I hadn’t made my point so far, I certainly wouldn’t in a summary.  So, instead, to close off this web-log (unless I get the itch to write a whole other essay on the matter – probably not), I think it right here to reproduce whole, a brief note I posted at my original web-log, No Sign of It, at  This note was itself a brief comment on a short but complete essay I had posted a few days earlier (, on Heidegger’s reading of Antigone, in his Hölderlin’s Hymn “The Ister.”  It helps explain what it is I think no longer works in Heidegger’s texts, as well as indicating some of what I think does – that is, some of what keeps drawing readers to Heidegger in a meaningful way:


Glancing back at Heidegger

The response I wrote to Martin Heidegger’s reading of Antigone was originally composed some 10 years ago. It was the last reading of Heidegger I engaged in. I had learned everything I could from him. (There is always a moment, reading any writer, when one says, ‘yes, that’s it, I know this thinking now.’ If one can never say that, even about one’s favored writers, one has not learned how to read, or one has not read deeply. This does not preclude reading such writers later, as visiting friends from the past. But we move on, or we admit we somehow learned less than we thought.)

Heidegger was, to me, the last philosopher of the tradition beginning with Plato. Just as Plato was in many ways a preparation for Aristotle, so Heidegger is a last glance backward at Kant. (It should be noted that Heidegger’s early lectures on historical topics in philosophy, especially readings of Kant and Hegel, are lucid and precise, belying the common notion that he could only write obscurely.)

Kant might be considered the last philosopher to develop what might be called a “systematic philosophy,” i.e., a philosophy that effectively, taken as a whole, answered the fundamental problems of philosophy; except for one problem. His major texts are overtly and aggressively critical, attempting, not to answer questions, but to discover the limits of possible answers. There is evidence that he had hoped to develop a positive system within these limits, but he didn’t. For the next century or so, a number of philosophers pursued the vainglorious effort at constructing a systematic philosophy. Some were actually successful at writing one out – e.g., Hegel, or Spencer. Unfortunately, history has not been kind to them. It is not that one cannot learn from the systematic philosophies of the 19th Century, but as whole systems they are embarrassingly inadequate.

Other philosophers could not get even this far. Charles Sanders Pierce’s texts often appear fragmentary, incomplete. There are important changes to his thinking over the years, so that sometimes a later writing, rather than inform a previous text, actually contradicts it. One reason for this is that Pierce was trying desperately to outdo Kant and Hegel, and come up with a systematic philosophy. Unlike Hegel, however, Pierce could not turn his back on developments in the science and logic of his day. And unlike the German Idealists as a whole, he recognized that a truly systematic philosophy would have to address common daily life with all its messy empirical details. That means that his search for a system took place in a context of rapid change in the very experiences and knowledges that such a system was supposed to provide a foundation for. The effort failed.

Sein und Zeit, Being and Time, is undeniable evidence that Heidegger was also bent on developing a foundational systematic philosophy. And Being and Time also shows that Heidegger ran into the same problems as Pierce in doing so. If his language sounds overly technical and overly inflated, it is because (I suggest) he was trying to develop asystem that could effectively change over time and account for details of common experience even before they happened, by finding essential issues at their core that would always return as concerns of knowledge. Heidegger, after all, had read Pierce, and was aware of the problems that surfaced in Pierce’s failed attempts at systematization; and of course he had a ready-to-hand instant of failed systematization, the work of his teacher, Husserl. But his strategy, deploying technical language to treat simple experiences as large concepts, merely ended up providing a language that effectively obscured the problem of the changes going on in knowledge and experience, rather than getting beneath those changes. Being and Time was the last effort to produce a systematic philosophy. It also failed.

Heidegger spent some years pursuing the hope of accomplishing such a system – but history intervened. That history is well known and much debated. Beyond it, we have Heidegger after the war. My own interpretation of Heidegger’s work in the last 25 years of his life, is that he was engaged in a meditation on why it was that the philosophy he loved, was no longer of interest in the cultures developing around him, and on the question of whether it could become interesting, and even useful, again. And of course, we should bear in mind that in Germany and France, he was still treated with respect, and so, many intellectuals paid attention to the public expressions of such meditations. And there is a lot to learn from even later Heidegger, although I think that what one learns is a matter of personal perspective. The kind of metaphysics Heidegger practices even while critically questioning it, is simply unsustainable. Even if it were true, we couldn’t use it for anything anymore.

Again, that doesn’t mean that there is no further use for Heidegger.

One instance, having to do with the posted essay on Heidegger’s reading of Antigone: As I noted, one of Heidegger’s chief problems, as with Pierce, has to do with common experience, particularly the experience of the individual. It is the individual who must experience any kind of knowledge, but especially the knowledge of himself or herself, a knowledge the individual can articulate for others, yet never quite share.

My essay, Obligations of Being, in the context in which it was written, needed to be written using Heidegger’s language, and in doing so I played a number of Heideggerian language games – questioning generalizations, ambiguating signifiers, etc. But the matter is both simpler and more difficult than I let on.  So let me clarify:

“Antigone” is the name of the person as perceived by others. “Antigone-Dasein” is the person as she herself knows herself. So, “Antigone” is the one to whom the question is addressed (‘should this be done, should you bury your brother and face death doing so?’). “Antigone-Dasein” is the person who makes the decision (answering, ‘yes’), because she knows herself and cannot do otherwise.

Heidegger helped me clarify the distinction between the individual as known by others, and the individual knowing himself or herself. That was ten years ago. Now I realize that the distinction has greater importance than I thought at the time. As an individual (and as a Buddhist), I am always wrestling with the problem of a having to deal with my (in)convenient (and possibly fictitious) self as it wends its way through a world filled with other individuals who know little of me and who couldn’t care less.  And I am content with that.

But I think now that there’s another issue I’ve missed along the way. Knowledge, in the collective sense, as articulated in the sciences , social sciences, history, philosophy, etc. – is generalized; as it must be. But anyone knowing anything is an individual; and the individual, although having access to generalized knowledge, is not adequately addressed in that knowledge. And this is a problem I think worth considering.

Hopefully, this will attain greater clarity as it is more carefully considered….

Thinking Being 19

Thinking Being: Heidegger and the Metaphysics of the State:


147. The Ptolemaic model of the universe was part and parcel of an ideology. It was false. Our current conception of the universe is part of the ideology of Modernity. It may, in the future, prove false. But this does not mean we can not now trust it to be true.

148. Ideology just is the logic of the ideas one has in mind, true or false. How, then can one ever say whether we ought to adhere to this ideology or abandon that? I suggest a rule of thumb, that seems to work, and improves the quality of our lives: When an ideology moves a populace to harm others, or themselves, it is –not–  worthy of belief, even if grounded in some truth. If an ideology brings greater peace and harmony to a people, alleviating suffering and providing adequately for creative enjoyment within our human capacities, then it is useful to allow, perhaps even consider adopting, even if not well grounded. I leave these terms generalized, because I do not wish to provide some exact model, since that would only itself be an ideology.

149. What Heidegger seems to want to say in Introduction to Metaphysics, is that the National Socialist Party certainly manipulated false appearances in order to bring about unpleasant political change, but that we should look to those appearances they manipulated, to discover a truth that, if properly noticed, thought, decided and acted upon, could at last bring forth harmony, creativity, perhaps alleviation of suffering, certainly a poetic encounter with being – a deeper spirituality. Not any of this is true. Mein Kampf does not need a close reading to reveal Hitler’s project for a permanent condition of pan-European war, enslavement, oppression, anti-Semitic violence, and vicious intra-governmental squabbles leading to execution (or simply murder). Hitler had decided to read the Darwinian theory of “survival of the fittest” quite literally as the Social Darwinist “struggle of the strongest” in every arena of life – a blank check for brute violence in social and political competition of every variety. The average German workers would be reduced to their functionality, as drones – and, he argued, they would be happier that way. If Hitler had chosen a path to power that was simply a manipulation of appearances, an obvious deception of the German people, he would never have written Mein Kampf.

150. But more to the point, even those ‘appearances’ that were entirely false – i.e., e.g., Nazi propaganda cartoons of Jews depicted as monkeys, or a NSDAP campaign promise of a shortened work week and wage increases every year – Well, they were entirely false, they were ideological only in the sense that they played upon the deeper fears and most banal desires of the NSDAP constituency. They certainly revealed nothing true of Jews, monkeys, or the real conditions of life that would be faced by German workers.

160. Finally – and this is definitive – what appears to have happened for Heidegger, is that the appearance he thought the National Socialists presented – a revival of German Idealism – was only what he wanted from them; a projection of his own mind on their reality. Beyond the texts of Heidegger and a handful of conservative intellectuals in correspondence with him, there exists no evidence – not the slightest – that the National Socialists promised, could promise, or had any desire to promise, to bring forth such a revival. They had no interest in German Idealism, and didn’t even think reference to that era of German thought useful for propaganda purposes. This supposed promised revival of German Idealism was an invention of Heidegger’s inner ideology – he imposed it on the culture of National Socialism in order to find a place for himself within it. Despair in the face of growing evidence that the National Socialists had no interest in this was inevitable. By the end of the war, long under suspicion for subversive ideas, Heidegger found himself arrested and consigned to a work gang repairing roads. There, I suppose we may say, he found his place within the culture of National Socialism.

151. In his discourse on appearances, Heidegger has unwittingly provided ample evidence in justification of the anti-Realist epistemology of Modern Western metaphysics that he had so mightily attempted to deconstruct. Heidegger’s comprehension of reality, as a totality of knowledge, can only be found in his own texts; it is simply not discoverable among the sensory artifacts of the world, whether natural or human produced. Upon that ground, the German Idealists themselves – Kant, Hegel, even Schopenhauer – all stand in agreement. For them, the world as appearance, as imposed by us on the world through our reason, could be guaranteed, not by blindly accepting knowledge just as given, not by allowing ‘gut feelings’ and intuition to guide us to dramatic encounters with being or poetic disruptions of history; but by rectifying the reasoning by which knowledge is known; through which Being is encountered; according to which we must negotiate history as it actually happens. Philosophy is about understanding, it’s not about effecting revolutionary change.

151. With the collapse of the Christian paradigm or world-view, the construction of Modernity has been the historical process of developing ideologies, putting them into practice, rejecting those that failed or created suffering, war, oppression; while accepting the better parts of those that in some measure brought greater stability, increase in human happiness for ever larger numbers, opportunities for creativity. Hope. There have been mistakes made along the way – terrible wars, terrible injustice, the unpleasant unleashing of tendencies toward greed, power, self-indulgence, and, yes, technological regimentation. So we can understand when thinkers like Heidegger complain that the history of Western metaphysics has brought us to the brink of self-destruction. But this is simply not the case. If we destroy ourselves, this will not be driven by the history of metaphysics. Indeed, many of the choices made by political leaders, scientists, social scientists, the general electorate, the common worker – have been made in concrete opposition to the projects of western philosophy; that can be readily demonstrated. There is no ‘overcoming’ metaphysics, there are simply collective temper-tantrums from those spoiled on the wealth produced by modern technology, or by the richness of the discourse began to develop in the Renaissance, or from those who fear that all their toys will be discovered broken.

152. We do not need to ‘complete’ Western philosophy; and we set it aside at our peril. We need to continue its underlying project of understanding through reason, which may lead to the rational ordering of life in a manner that reduces suffering and increases flourishing. A program common to the Greeks and the German Idealists – construction of human being as “rational animal.” If we cannot follow our animal instinct to survive, and develop a rational means of doing so, we will find that we brought about judgment day – not that reserved to God, but which we must understand for ourselves.

153. For Martin Heidegger, judgment day lasted ten years, from the Night of the Long Knives to VE Day. The ten years after that were even worse – banned from teaching, his writing suspect, having to come to terms with the profound disillusionment he experienced during the war. He escaped oblivion by the skin of his teeth, because he had developed a marvelously thoughtful rhetoric, with which he could elucidate questions central to the human experience in the West. We need Heidegger, because we cannot afford to forget those questions, we cannot lose that opportunity for thoughtful questioning his texts represent. To be sure, the structurations of Heidegger’s philosophy as a whole, and the little gimmicks (one might say – like his over-wrought etymologies) with which he glued its structures together, are probably headed into the ‘historical documents’ section of our libraries. But the fundamental questions will not; and those texts in which he poetically calls forth these questions cannot.

154. Heidegger wanted these questions to reduce to the one question: “Why is there Being, rather than Nothing?” But that turns out not to be the question. Despite his remarks in his address to Sartre, “Letter on Humanism” (1946), Heidegger’s questioning always really developed as an articulate synthesis of two fundamental questions raised by Immanuel Kant: What is it to be human, and being human, what may we hope? Raising such questions and thinking them through is the task of philosophy; and no one who does not pursue a love of wisdom will ever deserve an answer.

155. Heidegger’s thinking deserves respect and preservation, because whatever his political foolishness, he sought the proper questions, and struggled with possible answers. He did love wisdom. If ultimately he could not find it, and even for a time allowed politics to mislead him away from it, it is because he forgot to seek it in the one place it ever finds its home, the mind of the rational animal. Where else could it possibly be?

Thinking Being 18

Thinking Being:  Heidegger and the Metaphysics of the State.

139.  We have already begun a final discussion of the politics of Introduction to Metaphysics.  We must must now address the problem of political illusion as such, in order to think through the problematic misguiding of Heidegger’s thought in these matters.  This we may justifiably pursue in our thinking through of Heidegger’s introduction to metaphysics because Heidegger himself (perhaps aware of the probability of such criticism of his text) raises the issue, under the rubric of “appearance.”  Unfortunately, his discourse on appearance is itself misguided.

140.  What Heidegger wants from appearance as a presentation of Being is two-fold.  First, certainly, he needs to acknowledge that appearance can be deceptive, as everyone knows; thus it should provide a standard of judgment as to its own veracity.  But Heidegger also wants appearance to be useful for engendering a moment of encounter with Being.  But how do we know when appearance is leading us towrd being, and when it is misleading, as illusion?  Heidegger does not provide us with guidance.

“Let us think of the sun.  Every day it rises and sets for us.  Only a very few astronomers, physicists, philosophers – and even they only on the basis of a specialized approach which may be more or less widespread – experience this state of affairs otherwise, namely as a motion of the earth around the sun.  But the appearance in which sun and earth stand, e.g. the early morning landscape, the sea in the evening, the night, is a appearing.  This appearance is not nothing.  Nor is it untrue.  Nor is it a mere appearance of conditions in nature which are really otherwise.  This appearance is historical and it is history, discovered and grounded in poetry and myth and thus an essential area of our world.
Only the tired latecomers with their supercilious wit imagine that they can dispose of the historical power of appearance by declaring it to be ‘subjective,’ hence very dubious.  The Greeks experience it differently.  They were perpetually compelled to wrest being from appearance and preserve it against appearance.  (The essence of being is un-concealment.”  Manheim translation, page 105.
141.   This is a decisive moment in Heidegger’s text, which we can call ‘the parable of the sun.’  what Heidegger wants from this parable is evidence that the common perception of the sun, ‘rising’ in the East, ‘setting’ in the West, contains a truth within it, the truth of sensory knowledge, from which the ancient Greeks communally wrested the truth of their experience with Being, in a history-making poetic manner.  The conceptual and mathematical description of the earth in its double rotation – on its axis and around the sun – is simply not as close to Being as the visually ascertainable fact of the sun ‘moving’ toward, then behind, the horizon to the west at dusk, which is how we actually experience it.

142.  This sounds pretty convincing.  Heidegger is not dismissing the knowledge discoverable in mathematics and astronomy.  He is simply saying that the truths of these sciences will not get us any closer to the being of the sun as we experience it, than contemplating it as dusk as an essential existence revealed to our thought.

143.  But this line of thought is troubled by problems both internal and external.  As an example, at one point Heidegger notes that it is difficult to sense the double rotation of the earth, to be there in it, which would be required such that one could look at the sun and encounter it in its essence as the star around which the earth moves.  This does indeed seems difficult – but is it impossible?  If not, then Heidegger loses ground – it may be possible to imagine an entire culture generated around the experience of the earth’s double rotation, and perceiving the sun in this fashion.  If this is the case, if even a ‘gut feeling’ of the earth’s double rotation is possible (further supported with reasoning and evidence), why would we want to affirm the old notion of the sun revolving around the earth, as anything other than myth and poetry?  What is the sacred truth in it?  That we can study astronomy wearing our mathematician’s cap in the morning, and exchange that for the cap of a contemplative shepherd at dusk?  That poets, in the wake of the galvanized knowledge developed during Modernity, may still send us verses about the aesthetic wonder of the sun ‘setting’?

144.  There is a point in the development of all learning where a knower accomplishes a knowledge that cannot be unlearned.  The reason why we can never return to the Ptolemaic universe is because we have accumulated an enormous quantity of internalized discourse explaining why Ptolemy was wrong.  This discourse includes mathematical proofs and astronomical models, but it also now includes poems, texts of philosophy – even the testimony of contemporary farmers.  It is not that the visual imprint of the sun ‘rising’ and ‘setting’ is wrong; and it is certainly not nonsense.  It is simply no longer necessary to see it in this way, and it is now impossible for us to agree that such an appearance, if permitted as an appearance, is the truth of our experience of the sun.

145.  Heidegger has caught himself in his own trap.  Truth, even scientific truth, but also the truth of immediate experience, is historically determined, just as Heidegger says it is.  But this only means that the wise and courageous act to perform here is not the embrace of promised radical change in the future, but the acceptance of change as it has already occurred.  This means precisely the abandonment of “childish things,” as noted by Paul to the Corinthians (1:13).  The sun does not set.  It never has, it never will.  We are not even persuaded any longer that it appears this way.  when I spin about the center of the room, things will ‘enter’ and ‘leave’ my visual field in much the same way as the sun we all spin around.  It was Ptolemaic propagandists of early Christianity who convinced themselves to see the sun ‘rising’ and ‘setting.’  Theories implicating double rotation were actually in play in ancient Greece and Egypt, but the early Christians discredited and suppressed them.  The actual visual appearance of the sun is a matter of complete indifference.  Our knowledge will tell us what to see and how to see it.  If it is the duty of philosophers, poets, and other thinkers to provide alternative perceptions, other possible knowledges and ways of knowing – and I believe Heidegger would agree that this is right – then we must always begin with what is presently known, in our own language now, and not seek revival of older usages long debunked.  The history of knowledge – our history, our knowledge – will not allow it as anything more than a nostalgic glance backward.  There is no appearance existing outside of, but available to, our knowing – appearance can only be said to exist, to be perceivable, if it is already known.

146.  I thoroughly agree with Heidegger’s understanding of anxiety, that it arises when matters appear to us as though wholly unknown.  And I agree that this anxiety allows us an opportunity to learn what we did not know before.  But profound, uncontrollable, enduring and unendurable anxiety is simply panic.  And no one learns in a state of panic.  Confusion everywhere reduces human response outside of the thoughtful and down to the level of primate fear and aggression.  Such was exactly what Adolf Hitler was counting on politically, in the historical condition of an impoverished Germany in the early ’30s.

Thinking Being 17

Thinking Being: Heidegger and the Metaphysics of the State


127. With the state of the state of Germany collapsing around him, one can understand Heidegger’s anxiety, while still asking after the questions the situation has provoked, rephrased as a questioning introduction to metaphysics. Underlying Hedidegger’s text is perhaps not the question concerning Being, it is not the question ‘why does anything exist rather than nothing?’ Rather, it is the question, why is it that the emergence into history of National Socialism is an unveiling of Nothing rather than of Being? Or put more more pragmatically: How did whatever it was that Heidegger took to be the promise of National Socialism deliver Germany into nihilism (the metaphysical systematization of the Nothing as ideological ground)? Heidegger seems to be trying desperately in this text, to raise the question of Being, only because the essence of National Socialism amounts to nothing.

128. Thinking along these lines allows us (quite by the way, but we need consider it as present) to at last remark that there is not nothing in Heidegger’s “Nothing.” Nor is it something. Nor is it negation. It is the absence of the presence of Being. There is, for Heidegger, certainly, a National Socialist government, but where the essence of the being of the state is sought, we find only lack – the absence of essence, the lack of Being, that is, the Nothing – certainly nothing of the essence that was sought.

129. However, Heidegger doesn’t want, yet, to admit that At this point in his career, he seems rather to want to say that there is an essence of National Socialism, not found as a national state, clearly, but rather as the ‘spirit’ of a movement in history. Introduction to Metaphysics is an attempt to raise that issue indirectly, as a questioning of Being, in order to raise the being of National Socialism that, in the event, never emerged in history, but only as a “spirit” in this text. Heidegger tells us precisely what it is he identifies as this “spirit,” when he quotes from his notorious “Rektoratsrede” of 1933, to the effect that “spirit” can be defined as an informed will to discover the essence of Being. It is the ‘will to power’ as a will-to-truth, a will to show forth truth historically. (I admit I cannot possibly imagine what sort of government could be founded on that.)

130. From whence is Heidegger getting such a notion? One hears echoes of Nietzsche here, obviously; but beyond and before him, yet more. In another well known passage, where Heidegger writes of the dissolution of the European “spirit” as a whole, he remarks, in disparagement of the German people, that they proved unworthy of the greatness of German Idealism.

131. We need to be careful reading that. Most of us take German Idealism to begin with Kant and Hegel. But there were a handful of scholars in Heidegger’s day who claimed the movement actually ended with Hegel. At any rate, Heidegger himself tells us outright that German Idealism was in collapse before 1850.

132. I suspect that what Heidegger expected from National Socialism was nothing less than a resurrection of the lively culture engendered by the ‘nation’ of “Dichter und Denker” (as the Germans liked to think of themselves occasionally), as it existed and promised to become when that culture was dominated by the thought of the German Idealists – Kant, Hegel, Goethe, Herder, Fichte, Schelling, Schiller, Lessing, Wolff, Leibniz, Novalis – and so many more. But as something of a Nietzschean, Heidegger also wanted this culture to avail itself of all the resources enjoyed by any Modern culture – and to produce new cultural resources as well. This would certainly require a new generation of Dichter und Denker, poets and thinkers who would establish the grounds of knowledge in the new era they would bring forth – possibly by accepting the completion of Western metaphysics by the German Idealists themselves, while correcting the misdirection of Western metaphysics as a whole, literally from the ground up. The German philosophers would at last have an oportunity to get to the point of origin, the source, of all philosophy; and, effectively, ‘start from scratch.’ Heidegger appears to have believed that it would be National Socialism that would provide this opportunity.

133. Unfortunately, the National Socialists chose not to do this. Instead, Heidegger is left to lecture on an introduction to metaphysics, while thinking why it was, if there could be a reason, that National Socialism would not do this. Why have such a sudden disremption in history presented to a people, as a moment for rethinking the whole of their culture and its destiny, just so they could merely adopt and duplicate the industrialism of Russia and America and the technological regimentation that came with it?

134. In any event, we can at last surface this: Often (admittedly not always), when he writes in his text of “revolution,” “our revolution,” heidegger is probably referring to the evnt of German Idealism. That promise that had been made by writers like Kant and Hegel, and never realized. The promise Heidegger himself identified with National Socialism, but with which the Nazis themselves never identified. The promise embedded in the text of Introduction to Metaphysics, present in the occasional tone of bitter disappointment, the despairing complaint of the fall of the west: expressions of a deep anxiety over the Nothing of the new era of National Socialism.

135. Concerning much of our discussion here, Hans Sluga has contributed a cogent interpretation to A Companion to Heidegger’s Introduction to Metaphysics, “Conflict is the Father of All Things.” A broader reading was produced by Michael Zimmerman in 1990, Heidegger’s Confrontation with Modernity: Technology, Politics, and Art (Indiana U.). Heidegger’s own understanding of his relationship with National Socialism, which he reads as a relationship to “historical Being,” was clearly very confused. I am not defending Heidegger’s behavior during the National Socialist era – that should be obvious. But mere labelling, no matter how rhetorically artful, is not inquiry. It is now quite clear to me that Martin Heidegger adopted national Socialism in 1933 precisely because he had not the slightest idea of what that movement was about. Heidegger was not able to conceive the real historical situation in which he found himself. The phenomenon Heidegger’s text labels “National Socialism” happens to be wholly imaginary, a fantastic fictionalization of history. And this fiction was not derived in opposition to traditional philosophy, but from it, as mythopoesis of certain tendencies in the texts of German Idealism, as implicated in the published readings of those texts available to Heidegger in the Germany of his time.

135. (It was either Gadamer, or a student of Gadamer’s, who remembered a moment, after the war, when Heidegger, reflecting bitterly over his fascination with Nietzsche in the ’20s and early ’30s, said of Nietzsche, “he ruined my life.” Surely there’s a danger in thinking that there can ever be any such being as an Ubermensch; that history can be molded to the Will; that the ‘eternal recurrence of the same’ could be anything other than a boring repetition of the mundane.)

136. As Sluga points out, Heidegger’s argument against Modernity (which he pegs explicitly to Russia and America, but which he hints – more and more in the years beyond 1935 – must also be identified with Hitler’s National Socialism), pivots on an insistence that the re-interpretation of “spirit” (really the inner essence of Dasein), as produced and dispersed by Modernist theorists has degraded the inherent nobility of the “spirit” by reading it as a form of intelligence, a tool, a value, a crude aesthetic. There is a problem with this. The discourse of Modernity regarding “spirit” is not a re-interpretation of anything. It in fact forms the context from which the text of what we Moderns know as “spirit” was produced. This notion of “spirit” is an invention of Modern discourse (specifically, that of German Idealism), clearly intended to replace Classical and Medieval discourse concerning what the Realists called “the intellective soul,” that is, the generative locus of reason that identifies the human from other forms of animal life. Unfortunately, the German Idealists tended to get carried away by the rhetoricity of their own discourse (clearly influenced by the literary form of the Protestant sermon, handed down from Luther). The term appears to have been set in motion as a trope for a theoretical model as yet incomplete and soemwhat lacking in definition. (Although Hegel’s attempted rendition in the Phenomenology is adequate, its dialectical presentation leaves considerable room for variant readings.) But it soon became reeified into a nebulous something-or-other that was made to appear, in deus-ex-machina fashion, whenever an a priori authority for a theoretical axiom was needed to justify a line of argument. (For an initiation of a thoughtful inquiry into this matter, I am thankful to Jacques Derrida’s reading of Heidegger’s “Rektoratsrede” in Of Spirit: Heidegger and the Question; Bennington and Bowlby, translators, U. Chicago, 1989. My thinking obviously does not follow quite the same lines, however.)

137. As the discourse of the “Spirit” was developed precisely to these ends, the “spirit” can only label an intelligence, a tool, a value, an aesthetic – these are its historic and originary significations. Heidegger has clearly been blinded by the hypostatic quality of such discourse, into accepting the reification as a given, to which he, too, may refer for an a priori authority for the phrasing of his discourse: Dasein realizes its essence through its historical encounter with Being, which thus brings Being into disclosure historically – this essence is its “spirit.”  But such yet remains assertion; the ground remains – ungrounded.

138. For Heidegger, the “spirit” of National Socialism should have been the realization of Dasein’s encounter with Being in history. But he has hitched this hope to a creaky wagon full of illusions. The illusion that the German Idealists had resurfaced an historically determined truth from the ancient Greeks, signified as “spirit,” which in fact was their own construction. The illusion that this supposed re-surfacing had in itself provided the German people an opportunity to realize ancient truths in a new form. The illusion that this opportunity effectively centralized Germany as the special locus of important historical change, ushering in a new age of thinking, of poetic encounter with Being, or cultural creativity promised but unfulfilled in Western metaphysics. The illusion that there could even be a “National Socialism” different from that of Adolf Hitler’s. Heidegger has fulfilled his own promise, to introduce us to metaphysics; but his anxiety that all this hope might be grounded in illusion (evident in the bitterness of his social commentary, in his ironic self-reflection) has revealed the nothingness of the National Socialist state, and the inherent nihilism grounding its industrially driven construction, predetermined to realize itself in death camps and world war. In 1935, it would be not only right, but poignant, to ask “Why is there Being rather than Nothing,” because the German people were drawing so close to the political abyss of the Nothing of historical obliteration.


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Thinking Being: Heidegger and the Metaphysics of the State

117. There is a connotation of the ancient Greek word logos that Heidegger rarely discusses. In all his deep, sometimes convoluted thinking on the etymology of logos as ground of logic, many thousands of words of text on the topic, recording the concentrated thought of uncountable hours, and he never confronts it. This connotation is that of “law.” The ancient Greeks held that what is of logos is lawful: the logical is the lawful. It is correct, not by any definition of adequatio res et intellectus, but by right of law. In German, ‘recht as ‘correct,’ ‘recht’ as political ‘right’ (or, if preferred, privilege), and ‘recht’ as ‘law,’ these usages are sometimes indistinguishable. Is it such verbal confusion that misleads Heidegger into missing the important issue of the of the ‘law’ of the ‘logos‘? Or is he setting this confusing into play to let the terms resonate, the way he sometimes does with ‘das Sein’ and ‘Dasein’?

118. Again: In 1934, shortly after the infamous Blood Purge, Hitler delivered a speech before the Reichstag. Referring to an unspecified threat to himself – and thus to the government, and thus to the German nation, and thus to the German people – Hitler announced (with tears streaming from his eyes) that he was so moved (by his own description of his own courage), that in initiating the murders of the leadership of the Brownshirts, the leadership of the Berlin National Socialist organization, a handful of ‘left-wing’ politicians, a couple of minor recalcitrant old-guard military figures – in this bloody act, Hitler asserted, he had become identical with the self-preservation of the German people – their will, their law. And according to all statistics of opinion at the time, the German people either agreed or acquiesced. Again: This effectively brought to an end the legitimacy of the government of Germany; if a single man’s will can be said to be the law, then there is no law – no autonomous standard of regulation by which individual behaviors may be judged.

119. The burning of the Reichstag, blamed on the Communists but enacted by the Nazis, used to justify delivery of the absolute power of martial law over to Der Fuhrer, was mere political intrigue compared to this. The government by law in Germany ended the day Hitler justified the Blood Purge on the basis that protecting himself was protecting the German people, and that in doing so, this violation of law effectively established his will as the ‘law’ of Germany. From then on any act of Hitler’s could be justified in this manner; legal institutions of government thus became something of a burden, awaiting on tyhe whim of the Chancellor. They remained technically in place, as bureaucratic offices administering the will of Der Fuhrer, but they could no longer direct any code of conduct among citizens of a political entity: these were, instead, enforced through brute threat, propagandistic cajoling, unreliable contract. (The Nazis promised every factory worker a motor vehicle, and began taking monies from their wages for purchase of same; few of these had been delivered by the end of the war.)

120. There was no law in Germany after the Blood Purge. Hence: no state. Certainly there was a corporate governance of economics, a military governance of relations with neighboring countries, a para-military governance of the behavior of potential traitors within the borders of a land marked on the map as “Deutschland.” And of course there were millions of people who spoke some dialect of the German language, and identified themselves as having similar backgrounds and sharing a similar culture – but there was no state. Not in any manner of reference according to which that term had developed and set into discursive play in the political theories of the 18th Century, and as it had been discussed by political theorists in the 19th Century, and as it became a subject of heated debate in the 20th Century.

121. It is unnecessary for the State to ‘wither away” as argued by Marx. It is unnecessary to ‘abolish’ it as argued by Anarchists. It is unnecessary for it to ‘fall’ to ruins as various conservatives have fearfully expressed it. The conceptualized entity labelled ‘State’ is an invention of theory, and it may simply disappear, as soon as all theories of it cease to be applicable to any recognizable praxis, or to any perceivable pragma to which praxis is directed. Adolf Hitler identified Germany with his own body, his own thought, his own will – and the German people (proximately and for the most part) agreed to let him do so. What logical theory of the State could correspond with this?

122. “The state exists.” Heidegger was expressing this theoretical assertion only a year after the historic moment when the German state (as such – as the lawful governance by rule of law) had simply ceased to exist. Was the existence of the State, was the ground for determining the existence of the State, to be found in the actions of Adolf Hitler? No. But the actual governance of the people of Germany most certainly was.

123. As Heidegger begins to realize a disappointment with political events in Hitler’s Germany, prior to the turn in his thinking Introduction to Metaphysics represents, does he have any idea how powerless his thinking is in relation to those events? Does he not see that events were reducing his address to them to parody? The nation within which these events occur – inhabited, Heidegger asserts, by the world’s “most spiritual people” – is everywhere falling into the social depravity of a barbarism that yet has at its command the forces of Modern technology – the same technological regimentation of Modern life for which Heidegger reprimands America and the Soviet Union – but threatening the very existence of the world – not some metaphysical ‘world-order,’ but the world of living people. (In Mein Kampf, Hitler states out-right that, rather than allow the continued tolerance of the Jews, he would destroy the whole planet if he could.) But Heidegger prefers to tease the essence of Being out of the existence of a state that has already in fact ceased existence. Does Heidegger not live this event? Or – is it Heidegger himself who is asking this question?

124. We should all be familiar with one the most common teaching methods, derived from the Socratic dialectic, whereby a teacher asks a question of a student, even though the teacher already knows the answer, and is merely awaiting confirmation that the student has either a good memory or a good wit. Thus it has been long easy to expect of written texts by a teaching scholar, such as Heidegger was, to raise questions only to follow swiftly with answers to them. (I have done as much on occasion in this text I am writing.) So consequently, we read Heidegger’s questioning and presume that whatever he says following a question, will constitute an asserted answer to the question. So it would seem, that to discuss the given existence of some social institution commonly known as the state, even if it may be identified with the German Chancellor in office contemporary to the questioning.

125. But what if this is not the case. What if Heidegger is actually asking himself questions, in the manner of, e.g.: ‘What is the state of National Socialist Germany? Can such be even referred to as a state? where am I situated if the state is not – that is, the state no longer is what is claimed for it, the legitimate institution of government by law for the people of Germany?’

126. If the state of Germany at the time Heidegger is writing cannot truly be thought a state in the proper sense of that term, cannot really be a state, then the proper answer to Heidegger’s questioning would be that – it is nothing. Notably, in attempting to assert that his contemporary political culture might be a state, he uses an illegitimate propositional form: “The state is.” The state hangs textually as a possible ‘that-concerning-which-there-is-no-predication’ – which of course is one logical definition of nothing.

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Thinking Being: Heidegger and the Metaphysics of the State

103. It’s purely a speculation; but suppose that in 1933, newly appointed Rector of the University of Freiburg by a government announcing itself as the moment of radical world-historical change, Heidegger may have believed that he was finding himself in the very midst of the political-historical shaping of the truth of Being as ground of metaphysics, and thus of logic, of the truth as can be spoken. Here, apparently, was a critical moment of alteration in the regime of truth, a historical redefinition of “the true” – or so it may have seemed at the time. If Heidegger did understand the historic moment in this fashion, then he would certainly want to dive into it and be a part of it. Think of it: At last the moment of historical becoming of a new truth, and there he was to witness it. The temptation would be too great to refuse. At last it would be possible to think through the becoming of truth, a new Being true to its age, while it was happening, rather than drifting into mere history, in the common, less metaphysical sense of that term.

104. It must be said, that Heidegger’s philosophic thinking stands in almost complete opposition to the philosophy of National Socialism as expounded by Adolf Hitler in Mein Kampf (1925), specifically and especially to its metaphysical ground. As example: We have seen that for Heidegger the metaphysic of history is its tendency to bring forth historically relative truths. For Hitler, the ‘truth’ of National Socialism, once brought to power, would be “eternal.” For Hitler, the past had no history, history would begin with the triumph of National Socialism. For Heidegger, the preservation of the past truth is necessary, for, by thinking through it, philosopher’s of the present could prepare for the future.

105. There is a passage early in Introduction to Metaphysics, where Heidegger says, in effect, that a man who knows, knows that he must always be open to learning. For Heidegger, knowledge is mobile; it is motivated, by human anxiety and desire, into the open clearing of the ground of Being, and, through thoughtful encounter, learns anew. In Mein Kampf, Hitler states early on that learning comes to an end with the closure of adolescence, and knowledge acquired after that crowds brain-space unnecessarily. Once the truth of National Socialism is established, that would be all one would need to know.

106. There is a lecture by Martin Heidegger, “Vom Wesen der Wahrheit” (1930). It is not his best writing. A later noted by Heidegger says that this is his first effort to think in a new way, different from that claimed of the Western tradition; but apparently he had some difficulty doing so, even that note is convoluted. In any event, the text of the lecture reads rather scholarly and discursively conservative. A fairly traditional introduction is followed by a discussion of the principle of adequatio res et intellectus (the ground of true belief for the Medieval Realists), and some mention of Kant. The assertive copula is used freely; there are sentences that read almost as axioms. Readers of Heidegger admire the text for the ideas it pursues, but the pursuit is prescribed by the very traditional logic it supposedly rejects. this matter is worth noting, because if Martin Heidegger were before a tribunal for complicity with National Socialism (as indeed he once was), this text alone could stand as his defense, presupposing the tribunal were concerned with metaphysics (as the real de-Nazification tribunal was not). Two ideas important to this point are discussed in the text. The first is that human freedom is literally projected out of the ground of the Being of Dasein (the human as thrown into the world). It is therefore an existential (and ecstatic) condition of knowing other than what is given. This necessitates the second important idea: since knowing other than the given is essential to Dasein, it follows that knowing what is not essential must be itself necessary, since “other than the given” signifies what is not essential to the given, yet essential to Dasein, yet the given itself is not essential to the essense of Dasein. (In other words, ‘received knowledge’ – common assumptions and prejudices that we get from our parents and others, is not essential to our being fully human, but the ability to think otherwise is.) This constitutes a radical defense, not only of the necessity of radical thought, but of the history of thought embodied in the canon of the literature of thinking (philosophy, poetry, etc.), as necessary to the continuance of radical thought into the future. In the play of the essential and the non-essential, what we discover is that all thought is necessary to the essence of truth (which it is the fundamental project of Dasein to establish).

107. In Mein Kampf, Hitler made it very clear that it would be of the essence to National Socialist Germany, that lives that were not essential to it would not be worth preserving. Once in power, he sent his SS troops on a mission to realize the ‘truth’ of this “not worth preserving” as a positive elimination of such lives by way of mass murder. (This is a metaphysical claim – the ‘not worth preserving” must be – removed.)  These lives ‘not essential’ included Jews, homosexuals, the mentally retarded, the diagnosed psychotic, the demented, those with congenital deformities, habitual criminals, unemployable beggars. In a the sequel to Mein Kampf, published posthumously (known in America as Hitler’s Secret Book), he indicated that he intended later to include in this list all those of Slavic descent unfortunate enough to fall under Nazi rule. (A sad commentary on human stupidity: in the actual event of the Holocaust, anti-Semitic Slavs participated willingly in the construction of the death camps, to which Hitler clearly intended to send them after the war.)

108. Heidegger’s defense of the “not-essential” primarily concerns itself with thinking; but where could this thinking be found if not among thinkers? So Heidegger’s argument equally stands as an argument against genocide. In so far as we recognize that Heidegger’s metaphysics is a metaphysics of history as much as a historicized metaphysic, Heidegger’s thinking includes an implied argument against any class-oriented oppression. And given the implication that the history of Being realizes itself in the historical relativity of truth, it should be noted that a further implication is that what is not essential at one historical moment, can determine what becomes essential in the next moment. So lives seemingly ‘not-essential’ now, may be essential to what becomes essential in the future.

109. Let us state what now should be obvious: Metaphysically, in their differing texts, Martin Heidegger and Adolf Hitler pursue their respective projects within two separate universes that cannot possibly share the same historical space. Had Heidegger undertaken the burden of thinking through a political philosophy on the order of, say, Plato’s Republic, and had a ‘party’ or a politics developed out of that philosophy, its first political action might very well have been the utter cancellation of the National Socialism espoused in Mein Kampf. But it must also be admitted that had Heidegger thought through such a political philosophy, he would never have been persuaded to join the National Socialist Party. But he chose not to accept that burden, never set forth on that thinking path. By attempting to think through metaphysics ‘apolitically,’ he allowed himself to be mislead into support of a politics that grounded in a metaphysics that he could never have accepted.

110. How could this happen? Could the the thrilling prospect of participating in a radical change in historic truth so blind him to what we now see as an obvious conflict between his thinking and that of Adolf Hitler?

111. One more historic point needs to be made here. Until 1934, it was not at all clear that National Socialism was entirely identifiable with the political philosophy Hitler set forth in Mein Kampf. Until Hitler’s rise to power in 1933, the Berlin office of the NSDAP was under the leadership of Gregor Strasser and his brother Otto. The Strasser brothers, although anti-Semitic, were not committed to Hitler’s sweeping, genocidal thought on the matter. Further, as members of the political intelligentsia of cosmopolitan Berlin, they did not believe what Hitler did, that a holy war needed to be waged against Marxist socialism. To the contrary, Gregor Strasser made efforts to find common ground with the Berlin Communists, and appears to have envisioned an ultimate synthesis between these two forms of socialism. As can be imagined, Hitler hated him. When in 1934, the Chiefs of Staff of the German military secretly demanded the eradication of the Nazi paramilitary Brown Shirts (notorious for the excesses of their violent and promiscuous lifestyle), Hitler used the moment as an opportunity to eliminate the Strasser brothers as well. The event was realized as a moment of political mass murder known as “the blood purge,” “the night of the long knives.” The next day Hitler appeared before the Reichstag to declare himself the avatar, the living embodiment of German interests – of Germany itself. His Reichstag toadies gave him a standing ovation. The rule of law in Germany effectively came to an end.

112. Gregor Strasser was murdered. Otto, vacationing in Italy at the time, fled to the United States, where he wrote and lectured exhaustively in an effort to rouse American opinion against Hitler. (When, during the war, the American OSS developed its psychiatric profile of Hitler, Otto Stasser’s texts were used as principle source material.)

113. So, until the Blood Purge, there were interpretations of National Socialism alternative to that of Adolf Hitler available to the German intelligentsia. On the other hand, there was Mein Kampf. It is difficult to understand how anyone could have read Mein Kampf, or even browsed through its pages (no matter how dull and obscure the language), and yet fail to recognize where Hitler was taking the Party, and with it the future of Germany. Yet if Heidegger read Mein Kampf, and, a voracious reader, it is likely he did, he certainly made this mistake.

114. There is a notorious passage, late in Introduction to Metaphysics, where Heidegger writes of the “inner greatness,” the “truth,” of National Socialism. But it should be clear by now that Heidegger could not have understood this “truth” in the way that Adolf Hitler did. In fact, this moment in Heidegger’s text occurs as a round condemnation of texts by other writers, each claiming to compose the ‘philosophy or National Socialism’ along the lines of the values of the German people. One such text, presumably, would be Mein Kampf, which certainly makes aggressive claims along such lines. Heidegger says that such texts have nothing to do with the “truth,” the true philosophy, of National Socialism. This is absurd. There is only one text composing the philosophy of the form of National Socialism that came to dominate Germany in 1933, and that is Hitler’s Mein Kampf. It is Heidegger’s texts that have nothing to do with the truth of National Socialism.

113. But certainly, having “nothing” to do with this historic “truth,” could it yet bring forth the “being” of this truth, into the unconcealment of thought? Could it, as not essential to this truth, expose, however indirectly, the essence of it?

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Thinking Being: Heidegger and the Metaphysics of the State:


94.  We are all aware of the wretched practice of autocrats, that would limit knowledge according to political, ideological, or economic exigencies.  Hitler dismissed the Theory of Relativity as “Jewish science.”  Fundamentalist Christians in America claim that adherence to the theory of evolution is the mark of dangerous “leftist” tendencies.  Stalin had history books re-written to exclude Trotsky’s contribution to the October Revolution.  Iranian extremists have sentenced a novelist to death for writing a scandalous remark concerning the Prophet Mohammed. It is said that in the history of China, an Emperor once refused to fund the building of ocean-worthy ships on the basis that there was nothing to be learned from the people of other lands.  All of this is not merely sad or amusing.  It is tragic, outrageous, horrifying.

95.  Young people and hack political pundits like to say that “history is written by the victors.”  This is wrong in so many ways.  When the British conquered the island they would call Jamaica, they exterminated the native peoples of the island, the Arawaks.  Presumably, that should have been the end of the matter; they histories, and identified the Arawaks as the defeated tribe.  Four hundred years later, political dissidents in the new Republic of Jamaica began singing songs of the Arawaks as signifying the resistance to the established order that had been inherited from the British.  Their memory remains an important moment in the history of the island.  History has its ways of playing tricks on even “victors.”

96.  But this is still to put the whole matter badly.  This assumes that history is but a long series of battles, that only wars and their results matter.  On the contrary, history just is the progression of events that people live through and remember in a host of ways – orally, in writing, now on film, etc.  Some of these events are wars; some migrations; some result in the building of grand cities.  And some are scientific discoveries.

97.  Of more lasting impact, surely, is the way in which the whole shape of the world changes  irreversibly, deciding in advance what can be known or done in the epoch that follows.  The Christians were not the “victors” in their struggles with the Roman Empire – they converted its leader.  Rome’s defeat came at the hand of nomadic tribes; the Christians converted them, too.  The Christian world view eventually displaced that of the Romans and of the nomadic tribes, until it dominated all Europe – it was the given of much of that world for several centuries, until, in its turn, it began to be displaced – first from within, through the Reformation, and then by the discoveries of the new sciences.  Autocrats do not understand history; that is why their recurrent efforts to rewrite it are always doomed to failure.  History rewrites itself.

98.  Let’s reconsider what it means, to say, with Heidegger, that the history of Being is the metaphysics of political history.  For surely this is not to say that political history is a metaphysics, nor that it forms metaphysics, that it determines the sciences and philosophy of an era.  On the contrary, that has things rather backwards.  To say that the history of Being is the metaphysics of political history is to say that there is a thinking after, beyond, above, yet inclusive of the emergence that is political history, which of course political history will inform, but which can never be reduced to political history.  This suggests that while political history defines “truth” in some way, the history of Being defines political history.

99.  Political history is the emergence of ‘the true.’  But exactly because of that, it cannot be produced: it must come into being.  Hence it is not an act of human agency.  Since that is in direct contradiction to the accepted notions of what constitutes politics, allowing that Heidegger is not completely naïve, he must understand political history as a mobile (since temporal) configuration of political forces (since also in time, also in motion), rather than as any given social or governmental program, no matter on how grand a scale.  In the convergence of these forces, political history emerges.  Therefore, political history is not reducible to politics, but is the temporal existence of the human within social experience, as a political configuration.  Only then does this political configuration determine what is knowable, what can be said as true, and how this truth is spoken.  Metaphysics comes after, as above it, including this newly configured knowledge within the general history of truth as such (as the totality of Being understood as the ground of the true).

100.  The historic mission of philosophy, according to Heidegger, which is here defined as the initiation into metaphysics, must be the questioning explanation of the political determination of truth that has already occurred (as history); but, as initiation, philosophy must also be ever in preparation for a new political truth that will occur (inevitably) in the future, when the mobile configurations change again, thus allowing the emergence of yet a new and wholly other political determination of ‘the true.’  The reason for this is because philosophers, as thinkers into the realm of Being itself, as ground of all metaphysics, have access to the “history of Being” (and mere political leaders do not).

101.  Well; Heidegger seems to have a brilliant theory of history, but a theory so convoluted, we find ourselves swimming in a sea uncertain of any direction towards a foreseeable shore.   We wanted to learn something about politics, but apparently politics cannot get us there.  We have certainly learned something about philosophy, but have yet to see how this can get us back into the every day.  And wasn’t that what was promised us at the beginning of this text?  We have been swept into the grand history of Being; but it is of our own history that needs accounting.

102.  We have delayed, but only to prepare for it, but it will not be put off.  We must confront the politics embedded in Heidegger’s Introduction to Metaphysics.  The text is a document of the 20th Century (CE).  The honest thinking of it will think through the essence of Martin Heidegger’s Dasein thrown into the world of National Socialist Germany.   The truth of political history will not have it otherwise; that may have been determined in the history of Being – but it is certainly determined in the history with which we must now live.