Monday, June 20, 2011

For ”repetition” of world war and against “the modern”: Being and Time, part 2

In response to the last post here, my friend Brendan Hogan sent me a link to the book by his teacher Johannes Fritsche, Historical Destiny and National Socialism in Heidegger’s Being and Time (1996). This is an often brilliant etymological study of what Heidegger’s words meant in the context of German politics in the 1920s: how they are relentlessly of the extreme Right (he compares Hitler’s Mein Kampf as well as Max Scheler) and differ in kind from those of the left (Lukacs, Paul Tillich). If scholarly books could settle such a question as the Nazism of Being and Time, this one should have. But the ideology that Being and Time is abstract philosophy and has no political impact, that Heidegger dipped from the "Clouds" into Nazism and hastily retreated, is widely entrenched – see here. Many now have some seeming scholarly self-interest – having staked out positions relying on Heidegger’s abstractness – on preserving this differentiation rather than assessing the difference between Heidegger’s moves which are creative philosophically and the Nazism which was always his underlying theme.

Fritsche also usefully distinguishes his argument in detail from two misinterpretations, using what is often called contextualism and the weakness of the MacQuarrie and Robinson translation, to drive home his argument. Fritsche’s argument stresses overwhelmingly Gemeinschaft (the community of the Volk) which will rise up and destroy Gesellschaft (civil society, the decadent Weimar Republic). Here in section 74 of Being and Time, Heidegger sounds this very theme:

“But if fateful (schicksalhafte) Dasein, as Being-in-the-World, exists essentially in Being-with-Others, its historizing is a co-historizing and is determinative for it as (bestimmt als) destiny (Geschick). This is how we designate the historizing of the community (Gemeinschaft), of (the) people (des Volkes). Destiny is not something that puts itself together out of individual fates (Schicksalen), any more than Being-with-one-another can be conceived as the occurring together of several Subjects [the latter is all civil society to be superseded by community and destiny]. Our fates have already been guided in advance, in our Being with one another in the same world and in our resoluteness for definite possibilities. Only in communicating and in struggling does the power of destiny become free. (Being and Time 436; Sein und Zeit 384)

But Fritsche almost goes too far. A careful reading of the words in any translation will make Heidegger’s Nazism rise up before one’s eyes – his call for death for the Fatherland in a now triumphal repeat of World War I. This post will underline that point.

In Being and Time and afterwards, Heidegger’s aim was to mobilize soldiers authentically to give their lives for the Fuehrer. The Fuehrer, Heidegger would say about the referendum against the League of Nations, gives Germans the choice: to be a people or to capitulate to the French. That choice is already adumbrated in part V of Being and Time.

Consider paragraph 385:

Only an entity which, in its Being , is essentially futural so that it is free for its death and can let itself be thrown back upon its factical ‘there’ by shattering itself against death’ [think of going to war and dying for the Fatherland] that is to say, only an entity which, as futural, is equiprimordially in the process of having been, can, by handing down to itself the possibility it has inherited, take over its own thrownness and be in the moment of vision (augenblicklich) for ‘its time.’ Only authentic temporality which is at the same time finite, makes possible something like fate – that is to say, authentic historicality. “(p. 437, par. 385)

I had previously thought that Strauss’s emphasis on resoluteness (Entschlossenheit) as the key to Nazism in Heidegger – as opposed to say, Cassirer’s reasonableness, compromise or peace - was too limited and not central. Heidegger’s interpretation of Being toward death, and care seemed more central, for instance. I once asked Harvey Mansfield, a political Straussian, about Heidegger’s Nazism, and he, too, responded with one word: resoluteness. But in reading the section on historicity, I found a number of sentences in which I could see everything that Strauss meant.** The crucial concept in Heidegger is actually anticipatory [vorlaufende] resoluteness:

“We have defined ‘resoluteness’ as a projecting of oneself upon one’s own Being-guilty – a projecting which is reticent and ready for anxiety. Resoluteness gains its authenticity as anticipatory resoluteness. In this, Dasein understands itself with regard to its potentiality-for-Being, and it does so in such a manner that it will go right under the eyes of Death in order thus to take over in its thrownness that entity which it is itself and to take it over wholly.” (par. 382, p. 434)

What in 1928 was Heidegger anticipating (literally: running toward]?

This is a grim and beautiful metaphor – anticipatory resoluteness “will go right under the eyes of Death to take over its thrownness.” No casual or accidental death – an acceptance of death in battle, death for the Fatherland, the death in the struggle and destiny of one’s generation - is the core of what Heidegger is saying. In the next post, I will comment on Will Altman’s eerie translation of Heidegger’s 1934 25th reunion speech to his fellow high school graduates from Konstanz (class of 1909), recalling the dead of World War I and calling for a destruction of bourgeois society – of “the one” in Being and Time’s idiom – and the greatness of self-sacrifice of the young, when life is overflowing (there is some grotesque, spiritual vampirism in the fascist love of war):

“Our comrades died an early death; but this early death was the most beautiful and greatest death. The greatest death: because it could become the highest sacrifice for the destiny of the nation. The most beautiful death: because they died this death not in the ebb, or flight and shattering of their life-impulse while in the still (…) time of the (…), but rather when this death was a lavish self-expenditure out of the still undiminished fullness of youth’s life-force.”

Here is a further explanation of what Being and Time’s metaphor – “going right under the eyes of death to take over its own thrownness” – means. It is a summons to the great war to come. In Being and Time, partly for the purpose of being appointed professor at Freiburg when German universities fired those who endorsed National Socialism, Heidegger practices what his initiate Leo Strauss will name “the art of writing”:

“The resolute taking over of one’s factical ‘there’ signifies, at the same time, that the Situation is one which has been resolved upon. In the existential analysis we cannot, in principle, discuss what Dasein factically resolves in any particular case. [no, except that the implications for Germans and German Dasein seem clear enough…]. Our investigation excludes even the existential projection of the factical possibilities of existence. Nevertheless, we must ask whence, in general , Dasein can draw those possibilities upon which it factically projects itself. One’s anticipatory projection of oneself on that possibility of existence which is not to be outstripped – on death – guarantees only the totality and authenticity of one’s resoluteness.” (par 382-83, p. 434)

Droningly, hypnotically repeating the word ”repeat,” as in a not quite said here, do-over of World War I, Heidegger elaborates:

“It is not necessary that in resoluteness one should explicitly know the origin of the possibilities upon which that resoluteness projects itself. It is rather in Dasein’s temporality, and there only, that there lies any possibility that the existentiell potentiality-for-Being upon which it projects itself can be gleaned explicitly from the way in which Dasein has been traditionally understood. The resoluteness which comes back to itself and hands itself down, then becomes the repetition of a possibility of existence, say, going back into the possibilities of the Dasein that has-been-there. The authentic repetition of a possibility of existence that has been – the possibility that Dasein may choose its hero [a veiled reference to Hitler, actualized but a few years later in Heidegger’s fetishization of Hitler’s hands here]- is grounded existentially in anticipatory resoluteness; for it is in resoluteness that one first chooses the footsteps of that which can be repeated. But when one has by repetition, handed down to oneself a possibility that has been [imagined victory in World War I, but actually, crushing defeat], the Dasein that has-been-there is not disclosed in order to be actualized over again. The repeating of that which is possible does not bring again [Wiederbringen] something that is ‘past,’ nor does it bind the ‘Present’ back to that which has already been ‘outstripped.’ Arising as it does from a resolute projection of oneself, repetition does not let itself be persuaded of something by what is ‘past,’ just in order that this, as something which was formerly actual, may recur.” (437-38, par 385-6)

No, the aim of repetition is to make anew, to create a new possibility of victorious German Dasein in a repeat of World War I.

“Rather, the repetition makes a reciprocative rejoinder to the possibility of that existence which has-been-there. But when such a rejoinder is made to this possibility in a resolution, it is made in a moment of vision; and as such , is at the same time a disavowal of that which in the today is working itself out as the 'past' (sich als 'Vergangenheit' auswirkt).”

Nazism is not, as Hermann Rauschning discovered, a conservative revolution. It is a reactionary “revolution” to create something new, seemingly of the Past (Prussia and its peasants) and infinitely nastier, more rapacious and genocidal:

“Repetition does not abandon itself to that which is past, nor does it aim at progress. In the moment of vision, authentic existence is indifferent to both these alternatives. (438, par 386)

Heidegger will distinguish his repeating of a possibility of the past – World War II – radically from “the modern” and modernism. Dying for civil rights in Mississippi, as Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner and James Cheney did, would not be authentic for Heidegger – a sign of the remarkable bad faith (Sartre) or parti pris of his philosophy. There is a pretence in Being and Time that Heidegger’s argument is not politically determined, but read carefully, this is nothing but pretence. This paragraph wraps up Nazism as the only German authenticity, set against the “one” of modernity and the last men:

“In authentic historicality, on the other hand, the way in which fate has been primordially stretched along has been hidden. With the inconstancy of the they-self, Dasein makes present its ‘today.’ In awaiting the next new thing, it has already forgotten the old one. The ‘they’ evades choice. Blind for possibilities, it cannot repeat what has been, but only retains and receives the ‘actual’ that is left over, the world-historical that has been, the leavings, and the information about them that is present-at-hand. Lost in the making present of the ‘today,’ it understands the ‘past’ in terms of the ‘Present.’*** On the other hand, the temporarily of authentic historicality, as the moment of vision of anticipatory repetition, deprives the ‘today’ of its character as present and weans one from the conventionalities of the ‘they.’ When, however, one’s existence is inauthentically historical, it is loaded down with the legacy of a ‘past’ which has become unrecognizable, and it seeks the modern (my italics)." (443-44)

The modern – liberalism and radicalism, interpreted not as a fresh start, human possibilities which surely these are and ones which open more possibilities, but as mere anachronism - is thus the enemy.

‘… when historicality is authentic, it understands history as the ‘recurrence’ [Wiederkehr] of the possible, and knows that a possibility will recur [wiederkehrt] only if existence is open [offen] for it fatefully, in a moment of vision, in resolute repetition [in der entschlossenen Wiederholung].” (par. 393, p. 444; Sein und Zeit, 391)

These sentences are located some four hundred thirty pages into a dense philosophical manuscript. They do not mention Hitler. Nonetheless, the hostility to modernity, to any moral notion of the good of human lives as opposed to the need for German predatory subjection of others, is clear. Education for a Pole, Himmler would later say, is to learn to spell his own name, count to 500 and that the word of Adolf Hitler is the commandment of God…. The Nazis intended to exterminate the Poles for Lebensraum. They intended to subordinate and “regenerate” Western, i.e. “Aryan” Europe under Hitler.

Here again are Heidegger’s words in 1934 to his high school classmates at Konstanz:

“The War, in its immediate conclusion, has indeed still not produced any decision, neither for the winners nor for the defeated; the mere result of the War is certainly not the decision. This yet stands ahead of us: it is a spiritual matter that concerns the entire earth.

The question to be decided is: which nation possesses the inner strength to grow towards the great test that now for the first time has emerged and becomes manifest.—It is the question to the nations about the originality of their national arrangements, about the rank and legitimacy of their political will to lead, about the cohesion of their spiritual world, about the health of their national life-force, about their strength to withstand this historical disaster.

The World War puts these questions about the entire living totality of each individual nation. And the deciding of this question divides the nations into the declining and the growing.

We stand in the midst of this decision. “ (trans. Will Altman)

It is sometimes thought, obviously, that an authentic life, a life of one’s own, facing mortality, is morally superior to an alienated one, a falling into the one. This might be true. But the life of a Nazi soldier really does make the decadence of Weimar republic and ordinary urban life, even unemployment, look like “a golden age” - literally, a “golden polity” as I.F. Stone reminds us - by comparison. (Plato means this term in the Seventh Letter; Strauss, in "What is Political Philosophy?," does not. Strauss uses the vivid words to draw the reader’s attention from his real message about the imperial authoritarian or sovereign).

As Heidegger reveals in his reunion speech, freedom is subordinate to German socialism (National Socialism) and Der Fuehrer. He means to destroy the equal freedoms of individuals (what Fritsche rightly speaks of as Gesellschaft) and substitute the Gemeinschaft (community) of the Volk (people):

“That is what we mean by national freedom.

The liberation that leads to this freedom demands a complete reconstitution of the entire structure of the nation—its groups, occupations, classes, and every individual.

But this reconstitution can only be the product of an ongoing re-education. This again stands on the basis of two great pre-preconditions.

The first is the overcoming of the whole bourgeois essence; in other words, of that behavior which from first to last only sees what is repellant, inadequate, and noisy; the behavior that absorbs itself in minutia and half-way measures; the behavior that never wants to see and never can see the great and most distant, the unique and truly powerful.

And the second precondition for the future re-education of the nation is: destruction of that strange unreal world of illusion in which we moved about before the War and which flared up once again after the War and degenerated into lawlessness: that characteristic mish-mash of phony humanism—an empty patriotism and a Christianity grown indecisive—with which a cowardly mendacity in all essentials comes along in tow: cant on the one side and impertinence on the other. All of this must now be completely burnt to ashes [Note the violence of the sentiment which the Nazis were already enacting].

We stand before the gigantic assignment: to apply the transformative power of the Great War—which now is taking hold of our people and taking them out beyond—first and foremost to our future actions and being.” (Will Altman translation)

Except for the rare philosopher, Heidegger opposes notions of freedom (going off from the tribe and finding gifts, the psychological journey of the shaman or hero – see Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces). More deeply, he opposes the idea of a democracy based on equal rights, of lives beyond the orbit of local, i.e. German dasein, except conquest. This is the sinister upshot of his straightforward view, the one that lies on the surface of Being and Time, and requires, in Strauss’s phrase, a literal reading, one which does not impute to Heidegger other thoughts which one wishes to be there (i.e attempted American Emersonianisms). It is a cagy argument, but one which is clear enough, if one reads it line by line.

In fact, I would recommend reading the whole of part V aloud in which case both the point and the academic disguise will be clear.

It was a good disguise. Heidegger came out as a Nazi on May 1, 1933. Yet many of Heidegger’s students, even his lover Hannah Arendt, were shocked. They were thus somewhat confused about what he meant.

Yet if one looks, one can pretty plainly see. At Davos in 1929, Toni Cassirer dealt with Heidegger for several days. He seemed to her a boor (he may have, in today’s psychological terms, been autistic, a smart man lacking in social graces, empathy, comprehension of others).

“We had been expressly prepared for Heidegger’s remarkable appearance, his repudiation of every social convention was known to us, as well as his enmity [Feindschaft] toward the neo-Kantians, especially against Cohen” (cited in Peter Gordon, Continental Divide, p. 335).

While Ernst Cassirer was sick, she spoke to Heidegger – assuming sympathy and agreement and thus, leaving Heidegger silent - of Ernst’s teacher Hermann Cohen, also a Jew and a Kantian (unlike Cassirer, Cohen emphasized morality) who had died and been buried in Berlin without a single one of his colleagues coming to honor him. By the time Ernst revived, she had somewhat neutralized Heidegger.

“His animosity and combativeness were plain to see. The problem, as I understood it, was how I could pass the next fourteen days as the neighbor to this remarkable nemesis when I recognized him as such. But I hoped for Ernst’s aid, since he was to be sitting at my right and, I assumed, would lead the table conversation. But things turned out differently. The next morning, following his first lecture, Ernst contracted a powerful flu with a high fever and had to stay in bed for many days. So I now sat together twice daily with this peculiar fellow who had resolved to drag Cohen’s achievements in the dust and if possible to vanquish Ernst.”

“Then the thought occurred to me that I might outwit this sly fox – for so he was reputed to be. I began a naïve conversation with him, as if I knew not the slightest thing about either his philosophical or his personal antipathies. I asked him about all manner of common acquaintances, most of all about his familiarity with Cohen as a person, and in my manner of posing the questions I already took for granted his ready acknowledgment. Unprompted, I described for him Ernst’s relation with Cohen. I spoke of the scandalous treatment this preeminent scholar had experienced as a Jew; I told him how not a single member of the Berlin faculty had accompanied his burial casket. I divulged to him, his agreement naturally assured, all sorts of particulars about Ernst’s life, and I had the pleasure of watching this hard biscuit dissolve as if dipped in warm milk. When Ernst arose from his sickbed, Heidegger found himself in a difficult situation for carrying through with his planned hostilities, since he knew personally so much about him. Of course, Ernst too, with his goodwill and the respect he granted him, made a frontal assault no easy matter. The battle dissipated into respectable relations, which must have caused wonder amongst the mob of Heidegger elites who followed him.” (pp. 336-37)

Toni Cassirer played upon the “hard biscuit” brilliantly. But she perhaps overestimates the accomplishment; she made Heidegger comparatively civilized, but the force of what he said still struck home. The effect of the debate, particularly on those who followed Heidegger, was deep and resonant (see Gordon, pp. 346-57).

Toni Cassirer said Heidegger was plainly anti-semitic in manner and that this was common knowledge: “Nor was his tendency toward anti-Semitism unknown to us [Auch seine Neigung zum Antisemitismus war uns nicht fremd].” (p. 336) Heidegger may have deceived students and lovers like Hannah Arendt, but in his enmities, the racism stood out. His experience as a Nazi may have deepened the racism. After World War II, he would defend himself to the French investigating commission with the odious phrase that he shook hands with “the Jew Cassirer.” ( Schmitt in 1938 used this language even toward “the Jew Strauss” who had rendered his fascism more coherent, see my Enmity and Tyranny, American Conservatism, Nomos, ed. Sanford Levinson and Melissa Williams, forthcoming, see here, here and here).

The idea that Heidegger had some other view, that his philosophy was abstract and did not have this (obvious) political punch-line, needs a serious defense…

*Fritsche does not seem aware of contextualism as a method in political theory and history – Skinner, Dunn, Pocock – of what it means to do a realist contextualism – one that is not relativist (relativism tries to recapture “viable” meanings in a context supposedly incommensurable with “ours”; of course, if we can recapture and spell out the meanings, they are then not “incommensurable”), that seeks the truth. See my Marx’s Politics, conclusion, and here and here. The argument I make, however, coincides with, underpins Fritsche’s.

**One has to read Strauss literally (without the inferences encouraged by his words which often go along with the reader's expectations and are misleading). Out of probity, Strauss often literally says what he believes to be true. See Persecution and the Art of Writing and the last paragraph of his 1962 "Introduction" to Spinoza’s Critique of Religion).

***Here is the Heideggerian or Nazi root of Leo Strauss’s critique of historicism or relativism. That these visions are wrong is one of Strauss’s few good philosophical points; that Nazism (or Zionism - national socialism - in Israel, as Strauss conceived it) is a “moral” anchor is the opposite of decency.

****Strauss and Cropsey misuse the term moral profoundly; for instance, Strauss speaks of a moral objection of the nihilist to conventions and – roughly - bourgeois rule. But what the nihilist wants, mass murder and destruction, are evil rather than moral, the slaughter of the last men....

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