Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Fukuyama Ubber Alles & French National Socialism

In reading Luc Ferry and Alain Renaut’s Heidegger and Modernity, I was especially struck by the idea that Heidegger considered Capitalism to be the “Right Wing” to Communisms “Left Wing.” He considered Fascism to be the middle ground. It should go without saying that what I say here is a vast oversimplification. Heidegger may never in his life have said anything that was simple, but he did object to the American form of Capitalism which he apparently termed “businessism” at some point.

The occasion of Ferry & Renaut’s book was new-found, or at least newly publicized, evidence of Heidegger’s involvement with National Socialism. Victor Farias was the scholar who published speeches from Heidegger’s Rectorate days that showed him much more the Nazi than was the common view in France. Of course Farias was excoriated. The French Left feels free to go beyond mere evidence to the “essence” of a thing. One of their phrases, I’ve run across several times, is “it was right to be wrong” about a certain thing. And they believed it was right to be wrong about Heidegger. After the collapse of the possibility of believing in Communism they gave Liberal Democracy a look, and though Fukuyama considered it the clear winner in the battle with the only other two viable systems, Communism and Fascism, the French couldn’t stomach it. They chose to invent their own Leftism based upon a certain understanding of Heidegger – a Leftism like no other; so of course Farias had to be attacked. And apparently it was easy to attack him. He wasn’t a careful proofreader; so the French Left nit-picked him to death – well not completely to death. His main arguments remained intact.

The attacks against Farias took two forms. The first was to attack his evidence. By pointing to his typos, they could argue that such a sloppy scholar could not be trusted. But many looked beyond the typos to the actual speeches Heidegger gave when he was Rector at Marburg and took a different tact. It was right to be wrong about Heidegger. French Leftism, though it was based upon Heidegger’s arguments, was too big and too right (correct) to be hampered by Heidegger’s seeming involvement with National Socialism in the 30s. Can any of us be correct all the time? No, of course not. So let’s take the wonderful things Heidegger did write and move on.

The Germans don’t seem capable of forgiving Heidegger. Perhaps Heidegger could have hidden behind the obscurity of Sein and Zeit, which few people can read and even fewer understand, but there were all those Rectorate speeches and then he wrote a huge four-volume work on that prototypical Nazi, Frederick Nietzsche.

Given the Heidegger-French view that their modified National Socialism (never to be actually “called” that, of course) is in the middle, between Communism on the Left and American Liberal Democracy on the Right then Francis Fukuyama may have been premature in declaring History at an end. Liberal Democracy seemed to be the clear winner when Fukuyama wrote his book in 1992, but he may have been too quick to count out Fascism. Yes, we can make light of the ugly exemplifications of Fascism that we saw in Saddam Hussein and that we see in Islamism, but they don’t represent a serious threat to Liberal Democracy. Fukuyama discussed them in his book. They can’t compete. But Heidegger’s National Socialism can compete. In a 1940 lecture on Nietzsche, Heidegger said,

“What Nietzsche by that time had already recognized is now apparent to us: that the modern ‘mechanical economy, the mechanical calculation of all action and all planning in its absolute form, requires a new humanity, one that surpasses what man has been thus far. It is not enough to possess tanks, airplanes and radio; nor is it enough to have individuals available who are capable of manipulating engines and instruments of this kind; it is not even enough that man should be able to master technology as if it were something inherently neutral, beyond profit and loss, gains and damages, construction and destruction – something usable at anyone’s whim for any purpose. For that, a humanity is needed that will be thoroughly conformable to the basic and singular essence of modern technology and to it metaphysical truth, that is, a humanity that will allow itself to be totally dominated by the essence of technology precisely in order to control and make use of the various processes and possibilities of technology.” [Ferry & Renaut, p. 63]

COMMENT: Heidegger downplayed his interest in the “Overman” after the war. The time for his interest in “a new humanity” was over. And the French Leftists aren’t interested in an “overman” either, but they are interested in a “Progressive,” kinder, gentler, better Socialism. It wouldn’t do to call it National Socialism, but the French do see themselves placed between a Communism on the Left and American Liberal Democracy on the Right – which is coincidentally where Heidegger saw his National Socialism.

I would ask Heidegger the question, were he still alive, do you see or imagine any modern “overman” or society of overmen (including the French) who are more “totally dominated by the essence of technology” than the enclaves of Americans that arise from such places as Silicon Valley? We Liberal Democrats don’t have much control over them. They aren’t unified, but they, arguably, produce more and better than anyone in the world. I once read Nietzsche. His ubermensch was nihilistic, beyond good and evil, and many of our modern day entrepreneurs give the impression that they consider themselves ubermensch.

On the downside, a gaggle of CEOs recently considered themselves in the same terms. Our current financial difficulties are to some extent due to their nihilism. It seems that we in our American Liberal Democracy can only control such “overmen” after the fact. If they do good and create Microsoft then we applaud them. But if they do evil, we want to see them punished.

It isn’t a top-down totalitarian control Joseph Goebbels would approve of, but it seems to give good leeway to our entrepreneurs while at the same time permitting us to deal with those who use their nihilistic freedom to harm others.

Also, I am very suspicious of French intellectuals. I remember that Sartre said the mark of a true intellectual was “conviction” rather than “practice” The French intellectuals might be happy to be wrong about Heidegger’s “practice” while being right about his “conviction,” with nothing at all put into practice or be ashamed of.

So the upshot wouldn’t be that there is viable rival system to American Liberal Democracy, but that there is a way for French anti-Americanism to live on. At day’s end the French system will look just like the American, but they will call it something else.

Lawrence Helm

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