Home
Up

MARTIN HEIDEGGER

Heidegger's thought is derived from a variety of sources, but for our purpose the importance he gave to the work of Nietzsche is particularly illuminating. He said that the most important concept underlying Nietzsche's work was his concept of "The eternal return of the same." As Heidegger explained it, since time is infinite and events are finite, every event must be repeated an infinite number of times. Obviously that time is infinite and that events are finite are both assumptions, thus the "eternal return of the same" is pure conjecture. If, as Heidegger said in his work on Nietzsche, this is the fundamental basis of all of Nietzsche's work, then that work was built on conjecture. But this is not a problem once we reject reason as a source of truth. As we saw, Nietzsche's approach was literary and not philosophical in the sense that it was the impact of the words that were important for conveying the message and not the logical connections between them. We might say the same for Heidegger also, but that would not be accurate. He was a brilliant and stirring speaker at a time when Germany was rebuilding itself in the aftermath of the first world war. He was also a brilliant philosopher who based his ideas on a thorough knowledge of ancient Greek language and philosophy, However, we must be wary as we examine his thought because he was as aware of the meaning of his ideas as accepted by the typical German as he was of their deep philosophical significance.

Heidegger was also a phenomenologist. He parted with his former mentor by rejecting the transcendental ego and replacing it with an ego-in-the-world, or Dasien as he called it (although he modified the concept in his later writing to be closer to Nietzsche's overman). Once we stray from Husserl's transcendental ego as the only ground for scientific knowledge, we must explain the world that the ego is immersed in using phenomenological terms. And we must do this while suspending judgment concerning the existence of the world. This makes Heidegger's work both difficult to understand at times and easily misunderstood.

Suspending judgment on the existence of a physical world does not entail the rejection of our fundamental Western assumption, that the world is rational. Nor of the fundamental implication of this assumption that man as a reasoning animal can understand it. It only changes the method by which our reason is applied in order to reach our understanding. Heidegger's approach was from the standpoint of a consciousness that existed in a world. Since we are suspending judgment on the existence of the world itself and looking only at the knowledge existing in this consciousness, we must first determine what it means for evidence of an unacknowledged world to enter into the consciousness. In the simplest terms it is through the emergence of awareness in the consciousness. Heidegger called this simply presencing, or unconcealing. By this he meant the coming into presence, or unconcealing of the awareness of the world in which the consciousness is embedded. To see how this works we can examine his description of some extremely important concepts put forward by Parmenides.

As you may recall, while studying the Presocratics, we examined Parmenides ideas from the description provided by WKC Guthrie. His description allowed us to see the meaning of Parmenides work as they impacted later Greek philosophy. However, Heidegger made an important point that this was not a true picture of the Eleatic's ideas. He said that Plato actually changed the way the Greeks looked at the ideas of Parmenides. Perhaps this explains why in the dialogue Plato avoided discussing these ideas and instead commented on Parmenides pupil Zeno. But as we look at Heidegger's analysis, it is clear that this view becomes understandable to us as modern Westerners only because he put it in phenomenological terms.

We can begin with the two paths outlined by Parmenides and pretty much as explained earlier.

Here, for the present, two paths are sharply marked off from one another:

1. The path to being; it is at the same time the path to unconcealment. This path is inevitable.

2. The path to non-being; to be sure, it cannot be revealed, but for this very reason it must be made known that this path is unviable, particularly in view of the fact that it leads to nonbeing. This fragment provides perhaps the oldest philosophical statement to the effect that along with the way of being the way of nonbeing must be specially considered, that it is therefore a misunderstanding of the question of being to turn ones back on nothing with the assurance that nothing is obviously not. (For that nothing is not an essent does not prevent it from belonging to being in its own way.)

Aside from the phenomenological language, the only difference we find in this explanation is the point, missed by the traditional view of Parmenides, that bringing up the fact of nonbeing, that it is nothing, does in fact provide a way for it to be and therefore be considered. And this is the point that Heidegger is trying to make, that therefore Parmenides considers this important.

Fragment 6 starts by sharply opposing the two paths indicated in fragment 4, the path to being and the path to nothing. But then a third path is indicated, counter to the second which leads to nothing and is therefore without issue.

It is this third path that the traditional view of Parmenides misses. Therefore we can look at this part of the poem with the Phenomenological translation of Heidegger.

Needful is the gathering setting-forth as well as the apprehension: the essent in its being; For the essent has being; nonbeing has no "is"; This I beg you consider. Above all avoid this way of questioning. But also that other which men, knowing nothing, two headed, cut out for themselves, for disorientation is the guide to their erring understanding; they are thrown hither and thither, dull witted, blind, perplexed, the brotherhood of those who do not differentiate, whose dictum is that the essent and the nonessent are the same and also not the same--to them in all ways the path is contrary.

Seen in this phenomenological language new facts about the meaning behind Parmenides words begin to emerge. "The path now indicated is that of doxa in the sense of appearance." Sliding back and forth from one opinion to another, men lose themselves entirely. But, the poem also made it necessary to know this path "...in order", as Heidegger said, " that being may disclose itself in appearance and against appearance." While all three paths are necessary for a complete understanding of truth, each by itself has its own shortcoming.

The path to being is inevitable.

The path to nothing is inaccessible.

The path to appearance is always accessible and traveled but no one can go around it.

Heidegger thus concludes that;

A truly sapient man is therefore not one who blindly pursues the truth, but only one who is always cognizant of all three paths, that of being, that of nonbeing, and that of appearance. Superior knowledgeand all knowledge is superiority―is given only to the man who has known the buoyant storm on the path of being, who has known the dread of the second path to the abyss of nothing, but who has taken upon himself the third way, the arduous path of appearance.

This is more than simply a new exegesis of Eleatic thought. It demonstrates quite well Heidegger's view of being as "being in the world." Since knowledge is a gathering of appearances into an emergence of being, being is a living essent. But if we recall our studies on Greek philosophy we should remember that the essence of anything includes all that is true of it during its entire existence. The relationship between time and being in Heidegger's phenomenological view is complex and beyond the scope of this work. But two concepts derived from Nietzsche are important for us. The first is "The Eternal return of the same." If we remove from this idea the sense of irrationality mentioned earlier, it can be seen as a sense that nothing is new, that everything has been done before and will be done again. Couple this idea with the second, or "The eternal return of the Will to Power" and it leads to Heidegger's idea of destiny as an open possibility. And finally to the idea of the road to authenticity through his later version of "Dasien", or being in the world. The Authentic person, then, is reminiscent of Nietzsche's overman. These are the points that are important for our narrative because it was here that he voiced the best thought of his time.

This is also where we meet the enigma of Heidegger. The distrust of reason, the longing for authenticity, the disparagement of the common man, we have been following these threads in Europe since Rousseau. We see where Heidegger has expressed them in deeply philosophical terms, barely outlined in this short treatment. But, when we turn to his activities, particularly between 1933 and 1935, we see a rejection of learning, a call for a turn to discipline over study. And finally, the emergence of Dasien as a kind of religious rebirth.

To begin with Martin Heidegger was a Nazi. He didn't become one, he was one. Attempts to defend Heidegger's political actions both before and after 1934 were doomed to failure by Heidegger's actions during and after the war. Those who were doing so were attempting to separate Heidegger the Nazi from Heidegger the philosopher. If, as the opening statement in Richard Wolin's preface says, Heidegger is this century's greatest philosopher and at the same time that he "succumbed" to the belief that the National Socialist revolution represented the "saving power" of western humanity, then his Nazism would represent an evaluation of Heidegger as a man. It would have little, if any, affect on either his philosophy or our understanding of it. However, if his absorption in the revolution as the ultimate answer to nihilism was a natural outcome of his philosophical thought, then it casts an eerie light on twentieth century continental philosophy in general and French philosophy in particular. Thus this is the controversy that Wolin was attempting to clear up by bringing in the best evidence available so that the perceptive reader could decide for himself what is most likely the case. The difficulty is that the words Heidegger spoke and those articles he published that expressed his political feelings do not help us to understand what lies behind them for the simple reason that the emotion behind the words is as meaningful as the words themselves. For this we need to dig down into his deepest thoughts, into the background out of which his political and philosophical thought developed.

The tone of Heidegger's rectorship address is one of a dedicated believer in the National Socialist revolution. Standing before the students and faculty of the University at Freiberg, he looked and felt every bit the spiritual leader of National Socialism he believed himself to be. Self-governance, he said, means determining the means for becoming what we ought to be. But the idea of self-governance he was putting forward was very different from anything in the past experience of German Academia. How are the faculty and students to determine what it is they should be? Is what one ought to be something that lies hidden, awaiting our discovery? Or is it a matter of choosing from a wide realm of possibilities? The answer to this question lies in Heidegger's concept of destiny, and to understand this is the beginning of the road to understanding Heidegger's fascination with National Socialism. For knowledge of this we need to step further into the background of Heidegger's thought, to the wellsprings of his philosophy, to the poet Holderlin.

Heidegger, living in that period after the first world war when Germany was attempting to bring herself back into the world, spoke often about their world being in "darkness." In his poem "The Spirit of the Age," Holderlin, who lived during the end of the period of Napoleon's reign over Germany approached this same problem of emerging from darkness, as one of the poet searching for himself. As all about him things are becoming too dark, he appealed to the god of time symbolized as his father, in order to see through the turmoil of his day to the clear source;

Let me finally, father! meet you with open
Eyes! did you first awaken the spirit
From me with your ray? gloriously
Bring me to life, o father!

It is the god of time, then, who holds the key to destiny. This idea shows up more prominently when we examine another source of Heidegger's philosophy, the pre-Socratic. Although Heidegger's conception of "being" is highly complex, this one attribute of it that is so important for us is brought out in his comments on a fragment taken from Anaximander. To put his idea across Heidegger used a text from Homer where Achilles commanded the seer Kalchas to interpret the wrath of god that has brought on the plague. Heidegger found most important to be Homer's description of the seer as one having a unique talent.

Whoever belongs in the realm of seers is such a one who knew. Only when a man has seen does he truly see. To see is to have seen. What is seen has arrived and remains for him in sight.

Thus the seer is standing in the sight of the present, as Heidegger puts it, in its unconcealment. But in this case the unconcealment has cast light on what is absent. The seer sees and is able to lead the Achean ships to Troy only because he has seen everything as present. He can do this because he is a mad-man. He is outside himself. He is away from the sheer oppression of what lies before him. He is away to what is absent, to that solitary region of the presencing of everything that in some way becomes present. At this point we must be very careful not to read into Heidegger's language more than is said. If the unfolding of presence is simply an unconcealment of what is absent, then it would appear that being is an unchangeable entity in the sense that man has no input into his own future actions. Does It appear that our concept of future as that which has not occurred simply has no meaning? No, this would be implying a decidedly non-heideggerian fatalism. But how do we avoid this?

If we return to Holderlin we find another idea that Heidegger has fashioned into his philosophy. Holderlin described man as lost through his dependency on reason. He has lost his place in being. Guided only by reason, man threatens to become "too wise," that is, sanctimonious, alienated from his instincts, his needs, and his ancestry. Then Holderlin turned to man's divinity, his relationship with the gods, and in particular with the divine night. As we have seen from our study of Western thought, night, darkness, has always been aligned with ignorance But in this case the divine night is beneficent. It has within itself a return to the past, a remembrance which can rescue man from his blindness in spite of "the light" of reason, and enable him to summon a relationship with his gods. A relationship lost through an act of forgetting brought on by his reliance on reason.

But she [night] must also, in the interval of hesitation,
Grant us forgetting and the holy drunkenness, so that in twilight something tenable should remain,
Grant us the flowing word, slumberless like lovers,
A chalice more full, and life more daring,
Holy remembrance, too, to keep us awake by night.

A chalice more full, a life more daring, the basic ingredients for a concept of destiny that is not only a possible, but an excitingly possible aspect of being. The poet in these verses has assumed the role of a God leading man out of his confusion. In the act of forgetting the poet is made receptive to "what is tenable", that is to a dimension of existence that is not transitory like the day and the common affairs of men. The condition is one of holy drunkenness, not mere intoxication, for the personified night fills the poet with its divine liquor, making him capable of a holy remembrance of the past out of which he has grown. This sleeplessness by night is also seen as the introspection of the poet, which makes him more full and grants access to a bolder life, to dimensions of his own life that that are outside of time and thus border on the divine and so are not normally accessed. Thus destiny is not just a promise or a hope, it is a divine opportunity born in the past.

What did Holderlin mean by "divine"? In "The People's Approval" We will find the answer along with the birth of the "Volk" that plays so important a part in Heidegger's philosophy and politics. The crowd, Holderlin said, likes what is dished up in the market place. The divine believe. Those who believe in the divine are not merely believers "on faith" who might otherwise not believe. They are individuals who recognize the kinship between mortal and divine. Holderlin said that we can believe in the divine because we ourselves are divine. Those who believe in the divine are themselves divine because they also believe in themselves. Thus Holderlin made belief in the divine a condition of being per se. Holderlin made nature, too, a manifestation of the divine, and Christianity a historical moment of the divine. In "Celebration of Peace" the prince of peace is not Christ, but another of unknown identity. Mankind must work toward an understanding of itself and its deepest motivations, to the very limits that we commonly deem mortal.

In "Man," Holderlin linked the divinity of nature with the advent of man. "Man" sets up a relationship between the Father (Helios) and the Mother (Earth), whose most beautiful child is man. Man, not yet of age, chose from among all fruits the "holy grapevine" as his nurse. When he became of age Man, a hybrid of his parents aspired to be like his mother, "the mother of Gods, "the all-encompassing." He concluded;

Is he not the most blessed of all
living things? But deeper and wilder
grasps fate, the all balancing one,
even the strong man's kindled heart.

When the Gods are not present, then, if there is no possibility for their arrival among men, being itself, in particular the deeper and wilder being of divine destiny is threatened, thus man cannot come of age. In this sense, both men and Gods may continue in relative stages of other-knowing. The divine that encompasses them both allows one to retreat momentarily from the other, while the divine itself is not affected.

These are the images that must have run through Heidegger's mind as he stood before the faculty and students and said, To know this self-governing will require the most uncompromising and harshest self-examination.

The concept of self has been developed by Heidegger and Nietzsche, as well as Holderlin. For the self, Holderlin said, there is a state of being that is not yet selfhood, but which bares the potential to be self. On this score Nietzsche had a lot to say, and Zarathustra is brimming with allusions to the self and positive selfishness, which must be created in the face of adversity represented by the collectivewhich, for him at least, is the nonself. In very ordinary language, we frequently say of a given action: "I apologize, I was just not myself that day," or some such, which means that, even after achieving selfhood, there are times when it retreats, when it lapses in such a way that an uncharacteristic action may ensue. The communal event of being, in similar fashion, cannot take place without its constitutive elements, so that communal being is not always present. First it must be established. Then it must be maintained, and here all those factors of other-knowing come into play. But as we have seen, this self has been lost through reasoning and thus science, reasoning, must be put in its place.

Self-examination leading to self-governance can take place only on the strength of self-assertion, Heidegger said. "Science and German fate must come to power at the same time in the will to essence. This can happen only if teachers and students expose science to its innermost necessity. This means asking questions concerning the very existence of science." That is of knowledge developed through reasoning, through the labor of man. Thus if knowledge is less powerful than necessity, if what is reveals itself in its unfathomable inalterability, then science as questioning will know of its impotence in fate. But fate is destiny, an exciting divine promise of the possible. He said that only then would questioning become the highest form of knowledge. Then it would ground science in man's historical existence. From this will come the will to essence, an essence founded on divine destiny. It will create a spiritual world of the Volk. This is a power that comes from preserving the forces that are rooted in the soil and blood of the Volk.

If the German students place themselves under the new student law, Heidegger went on, the law of their essence, they will then delimit this essence and thus give law its highest freedom. The concept of "academic freedom", was false because it was only negating, it meant lack of concern, arbitrariness of intention, and lack of restraint. When compared with the divine promise of the destiny of the Volk, this gives the appearance of being the ultimate in nihilism. Freedom, he went on, returned to truth, forming three bonds of service. To the ethnic and national community, to the honor and destiny of the nation and to the spiritual mission of the German Volk.

The teachers will to essence must awaken to the simplicity and breadth of the knowledge of the essence of science and grow strong, Heidegger said. The students' will to essence must force itself into the highest clarity and discipline of knowledge and must shape, through its demands and determinations, the engaged knowledge of the folk and its state and incorporate this knowledge into the essence of science. Both wills must ready themselves for mutual struggle. All capacities of will and thought, all strengths of the heart, and all capabilities of the body must be developed through struggle, must be intensified in struggle, and must be preserved as struggle.

Struggle alone will empower resolute self-examination to true self-governance only if we as a historical Volk will ourselves. Each person has a part in deciding this.

Albert Leo Schlageter was a German spy who was put to death by the french for espionage. Heidegger called Schlageter a hero who died a tragic death. But Holderlin said What matters is not death but the consummation of life, and with the fullest experience of life comes the celebration of a beautiful death without remorse. In his most difficult hour Schlageter achieved the greatest thing of which man is capable, Heidegger said, awakening the Volk to honor and greatness. The gods have enough with their immortality, Holderlin said, but still require one thing more, the experience of human life through heroes and other mortals. Thus Heidegger called on the students:

Students of Freiburg! German student! When on your hikes and outings you set foot in the mountains, forests, and valleys of this black forest, the home of this hero, experience this and know: the mountains among which the young farmers son grew up are of primitive stone, of granite. they have long been at work hardening the will.

He called on the students to let the strength of this hero's native mountains flow into their will, the strength of the autumn sun of his native valley shine into their hearts! Schlateger was not permitted to escape his destiny so that he could die the most difficult and greatest of all deaths with a hard will and a clear heart. Thus he showed that the mortal's life has a greater value than men are willing to recognize, as Holderlin put it, man has what the gods cannot have on their own. As long as the mortal honors his gods and does not strive to be like them, Holderlin said, the gods will in turn share themselves and impart higher life to men.

Not since Alexander the Great has any man stood so close to the Gods as did Martin Heidegger, as he stood before the faculty and students at the University of Freiburg. Wolin best described this point by referring to the impossibility of the "they" of making the transition to Dasien, to awakening, to Neitzsche's superman. Heidegger, he said, claimed that those who dwell in the public sphere of everydayness are essentially incapable of self-rule. Thus, since the majority of men and women are incapable of ruling themselves, we do them a service by ruling them from above. Wolin saw in this a reference to the authoritarianism in Heideggers speech. But it is not authoritarianism that stirred the students before him, nor was Heidegger reaching for it. What Heidegger saw was an attempt to trigger an awakening in the students before him. This, he realized, would come only with total commitment. In his poem "Death for the Fatherland," Holderlin cries, In battle just youths, like magicians, fall upon the enemy, "And their songs of the fatherland Lame the knees of the honorless." What Heidegger was calling for was nothing less than the divine destiny of the German Volk. As Holderlin said:

O Bellarmin! where a people loves the beautiful, where it honors the genius in its artists, there a common spirit blows like the very air of life....Where such a people lives all people have their homeland, and gladly would the stranger linger.

In Heidegger's philosophy Dasien is a personal awakening and the call to it was individual. Every Dasien has been thrown into existence, determined by a set of inescapable "factical" preconditions. It is the source of existential disquiet. Does Heidegger tend toward the idea of divine potentiality as the opening of the excitingly possible? Holderlin's philosophy is not Heideggers. The gulf that separates the Poetics of being from the philosophy of being is vast in spite of their common ideologies. For that we need to relate his concept of the "call of consciousness" with that of "the authentic decision." As Wolin explained it, it is the call of consciousness that paves the way for authentic decision. It is conscience that summons Dasien's self from its lostness in the "they." This call, however, does not come in the form of words. The call emerges as a deliberate wordless ambiguity. The ambiguity of the call is important for Heidegger's thesis. If the caller is asked about his name or origin it does not even provide the remotest possibility of implying something which one can understand while still in a condition of "worldly understanding." The call is something we have never planned, prepared for nor voluntarily performed. It calls against our expectation, it appears as something otherworldly. Wolin compared it with Luther's "calling", or Calvin's elect. The importance of the ambiguity lies in the target individual as among the "unworldly." Thus the call is in the form of a force impenetrable to the faculties of human reason, the alien power by which Dasien is dominated.

The call, then, opens the door to the possibility of authenticity. "They", the unauthentic, experience time as a serial succession of nows. The authentic is elevated above the routine temporal stasis in a "moment of vision." Thus, it introduces a "state of exception" into the condition of bourgeois "everydayness." It provides Dasien with a point of orientation for the realization of authentic potential-for-being.

This is the point where Heidegger's philosophy and his politics touch and become intertwined. The category of "authenticity" precludes any separation between ones philosophical outlook and concrete life-choices, Wolin said. The realization of the essential determinants of the world outlined in Being and Time, is essential to authenticity. An authentic Dasien existing unrealized in a state of potentiality would be non-sensical. Authenticity requires concrete decisions and political commitments.

There is, then, an unfathomable gulf between the Nazi's biological-ethnic structure of the German Volk, and Heidegger's concept of an authentic people. At the same time the charismatic nature of National Socialism must have appeared to Heidegger as a form of calling. This, of course accounts for his short flirtation with the inner circle of the Nazi regime. Still, the answer to the question concerning whether Heidegger's philosophy led unambiguously to the kinds of attitudes that would send millions of people to the ovens is not simple. Heidegger's concept of destiny leaves open the essential question concerning the responsibility of the individual for group decisions. If we see destiny as "divine opportunity", that is, as an opportunity always offered but not always developed by man, then genocide of the non-Volk would become entirely acceptable because of their non-participation.

Pierre Bordieu said that in order to understand Heidegger one needs to understand not only the "received ideas" which were in the air, in newspaper editorials, university speeches, and so forth, and which everyone propagated in their own way. One must also understand the specific logic of the philosophical field itself. The difficulty with Heidegger is that his philosophy has a dual basis. Two cultures that are rarely united must be made to function together in an entirely new way which have contradicted the themes that have determined the philosophers reception. One must be highly professional in order to introduce a "conservative revolution" into philosophy. It is a question of making something philosophically distasteful, perhaps obscene socially acceptable. Does conservatism taken to its own logical conclusion automatically lead to totalitarianism? Perhaps not, but combined with a teleological underpinning as Heidegger had done, it would be difficult to see how could do otherwise.