Thursday, November 19, 2009

Heidegger influenced by Spengler

Earlier I speculated about whether Heidegger had read Oswald Spengler. His dark view of democracy’s future reminded me of Spengler. On page 11 of Heidegger, the Introduction of Nazism into Philosophy, Emmanuel Faye writes, “Heidegger relied at the time [1919-1923] mainly on Wilhelm Dilthey, but also on Oswald Spengler, who had just published his Decline of the West. In 1920 Heidegger gave a lecture in Wiesbaden titled ‘Oswald Spengler and His Work The Decline of the West.”

In looking at Spengler’s Chapter 19, “Philosophy of Politics,” there is much that sounds like Heidegger’s view of National Socialism [p. 382 ff in the H. Stuart Hughes edition] “. . . executive power is the alpha and the omega. . . The conception of executive power implies that the life-unit . . . is subdivided into subjects and objects of government. . . The born statesman stands beyond true and false. He does not confuse the logic of events with the logic of systems. . . ‘The doer is always conscienceless; no one has a conscience except the spectator,’ said Goethe . . . The genuine statesman is incarnate history . . .”

“. . . In the sphere of the living only the great personality – the ‘it,’ the race, the cosmic force bound up in that personality – has been creative not shaping, but breeding and training) and has effectively modified the type of entire classes and peoples. . . he dares to demand sacrifices – and obtains them, because his feeling that he is necessary to the time and the nation is shared by thousands, transforms them to the core and renders them capable of deeds to which otherwise they could never have risen.

“Highest of all, however, is not action, but the ability to command. It is this that takes the individual up out of himself and makes him the centre of a world of action. . . . the individual feels himself to be identical with Destiny . . .”

“ . . . the [ideal] statesman rises to something that in the Classical world would doubtless have been called divinity. He becomes the creator of a new life, the spirit-ancestor of a young race.”

COMMENT: One see in this the cynicism of Eric Hoffer who wrote of the “men of ideas” being swept away by the “men of action.” Heidegger was a man of ideas and was indeed swept away (figuratively) by a man of action who cared little about his theorizing. And yet it is possible to see both Heidegger and Hitler in what Spengler wrote.

Was Hitler as well as Heidegger influenced by Spengler? It seems likely, but Hitler wouldn’t necessarily have admitted it. “Oswald Spengler” [Ian Kershaw writes on page 366 of Hitler, 1889-1936 Hubris] . . . held Hitler in contempt. ‘A dreamer (Phantast), a numbskull (Hohlkopf) . . . a man without idea, without strength of purpose, in a short: stupid’, was how he described him. . . .”

And we must observe that Spengler, Heidegger and Hitler were all influenced by the “climate of opinion” that existed at the time. Julian Young on page 23 of Heidegger, Philosophy, Nazism writes, “Like the thinkers of 1914 he [Heidegger] rejected it [democracy] in favour of authoritarianism. . . Of course, like the thinkers of 1914, what he supported was not despotism, but rather the idea of a focal figure through whom ‘the entire people’ could make its ‘highest free decision. . . .”

It is interesting that Spengler liked Gregor Strasser (a man with great organizational skills), and that later Strasser was swept away (on the night of the long knives) by Goethe’s “conscienceless doer” someone, Spengler also admired – at least in theory.


enowning said...

Heidegger references Spengler in dozens of places. He was probably the most popular German intellectual in the 20s.

tbs said...

One might start with What is Called Thinking? -- Spengler incidentally was not a Nazi, saying once (about Hitler): "Wir brauchen einen Helden, nicht einen Heldentenor"
T. Strong