Friday, November 13, 2009

Heidegger criticism -- which side is right?

Emmanuel Faye is the latest in the long line of Heidegger detractors. For each detractor there are defenders, and if you are interest in Heidegger, you must take a stand on one side or the other ortake a position on why you think one side is right and the other wrong.

In 1987 Victor Farias was the Emmanuel Faye of his day, and one of the books written in response was Heidegger and Modernity by Ferry & Renaut in 1990. At the time I read their book, I was interested in Heidegger’s critique of Modernity, but others, including Ferry and Renaut were also interested in Farias latest charges against Heidegger.

Do Ferry and Renaut have adog in the fight? Not precisely, but they admit toposition taking. Intellectuals cared about this subject when Farias wrote his book in 1987 and when Ferry & Renaut wrote theirs in 1990 and they still care.

. . . what person inquiring about the impact of intellectual activity would still think of putting off the examination of Heideggers Nazism? Several months after its publication, Fariass book continued to fuel a debate of awesome dimensions. The press teems with position taking, and rare are those who dodge what is becoming a mandatory exercise. . . . [F&R p 6]

To discover the reason for the ongoing interest [F&R p 11 ff], we no doubt need to look back to the immediate post-war period to see the connection between the experience of a severe trauma the demonization of Europe and Western values . . . which represent a fundamental criticism of the democratic world . . . thecivilized societies, the entire Western world . . .

. . . French Marxism, which up to the 1960s still appeared, at the cost of a certain blindness, as the only vision of the world, that though European in origin, was free of the taint of compromise with Nazism or colonialism. Otherwise it would be impossible to understand how the Communist Party in France could become, if not the party of intellectuals, at least an attractive prospect for philosophers who for other reasons would have been inclined to criticize a thinking that reduces man to history, and history to a logical succession of stages headed in the direction of a classless society. . . .

. . . Marxism has now collapsed . . . What is already clear is that the general defection from Marxism has made plainer the presence of thinking that until now followed only in the shadow of its fraternal enemy. We cannot overestimate the amount of political purification that went into the translation of Heideggers philosophy into aleftist intellectual context: his work was thus disencumbered of political connotations that are built into its style and plain to any German reader; furthermore, as a critic of both the totalitarianism of the East and the bureaucratic, repressive, disciplinary, and consumer-oriented society of the West, Heidegger could without demurral personify the weightiest critical authority since the death of Marxism an elevation that would be unthinkable in Germany, where Heidegger is, and will probably long remain, along with Nietzsche, an accursed thinker.

The taboos and obstacles that could legitimately work against Heidegger were cleared away so well that at the end of the process the leftist intellectual could finally dare to draw directly from the source, thus sparing himself the mediations anddecontamination chambers that were still de rigueur in the 1970s (Arendt, Merleau-Ponty, Levinas, to mention only the most important ones). Whats more, the profits reaped were substantial: for the intellectual who had given up the totalitarian illusion of a radiant future, and had converted late, grudgingly, to human rights (grudgingly: what indeed could be more banal than this pathetic return to good sense, than this collaborationistic concession to the touchstone of a liberal ideology that one had been so deftly taking to pieces with the help of Althusser and Foucault in the 1960s?), until a few months ago Heideggerianism made it possible to hang onto the essential thing: the crepuscular task of salvaging thought from the general collapse of humanity into American-style businessism.

For all its irritating flatness, Fariass book suddenly prevented thinking in circles and struck a discordant note in the new consensus of critical intellectuals. The scenario is familiar: what is happening to Heidegger is what happened to Marxism in the 1970s. The fact that in both cases it was in the media that the story unfolded of the connection uniting the two greatest critical lines of thought of our time with totalitarian adventures should not blind us to what is basic: whether presented in the name of a radiant future [Marxism] of a traditionalist reaction [National Socialism], total criticism of the modern world because it inevitably leads to seeing the democratic project as the prototype of ideology or metaphysical illusion is structurally incapable of fulfilling, except contemptuously and grudgingly, the promises that are also those of modernity. [italics in the original]

POSITION (tentatively)TAKEN:

I tend to think the criticisms against Heidegger over his Nazi associations misdirected. He had his own views which differed from Hitlers. However Heideggers views as F&R portray them are opposed to Liberal Democracy. Americasfounding fathers had great faith in the individual (although not so much that they gave us a pure democracy). Marx and Heidegger did not. Totalitarianism is the anodyne solution to the ineptitude of the ordinary individual.

Francis Fukuyama considered the weightiness of the totalitarian objection in his The End of History and the Last Man. We usually focus on his theory ofthe end of history, but he considered another totalitarian reaction tothe Last Man a possible threat to it thelast man being Nietzschesordinary individual whom all totalitarians disparage.

In Heideggers day he disparaged the ordinary individuals who could make a hero of a boxer (Max Schmelling). Our ordinary individuals today do the same sort of thing. Their heroes are movie stars, singers, talk show hosts and sports stars. I can disparage theordinary individual with the best of them, but I part company with the Totalitarians who think theyve found an alternative. What happens if we take politics out of the hands of ordinary individuals and place them in the hands of intellectuals with totalitarian schemes?

Defenders of Marxism say the Russians didnt give Communism a fair test. Heideggerians could say the same things about Heideggers totalitarianism. Hitler subverted it (or rather didnt pay attention to it). But I do not for a minute think that these totalitarian schemes deserve fairer tests. We survived those two tests. Lets not have another!

Which leaves us with thelast man, theordinary individual who votes for stupid reasons, frequently admires unqualified leaders, and exalts people with pretty faces, nice singing voices, and or good acting ability their heroes. Yes, theordinary individual is pathetic, but think of how harmless he is to the rest of us as opposed to the brilliant intellectual who has a totalitarian scheme.

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