Thursday, November 19, 2009

Heidegger's Spenglerism

enowning left the following comment in regard to the post "Heidegger influenced by Spengler":

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


Indeed, and one can't help but wonder why Emmanuel Faye chooses to ignore that fact. I am off to a rocky start in reading Faye's book. Faye is calling Heidegger a Nazi in the years before Hitler created the Nazi party. He doesn't see Heidegger embracing the sort of "National Socialism" (even if it can be called that) in the early 20s. For Faye there is only one political enterprise that Heidegger embraced and it is the Nazism of Hitler. Nuance of politics doesn't seem to be one of Faye's concerns.

Bearing in mind that The Decline of the West was first published in 1920 and was therefore being written by Spengler as World War One was concluded and in its immediate aftermath, consider the conclusion to his 19th chapter, where he discusses how Liberal Democracy must of necessity fail and be replaced by a Caesar-like ruler:

"Through money, democracy becomes its own destroyer, after money has destroyed intellect. But . . . men have learned that in the realm of reality one power-will can be overthrown only by another . . . there wakes at last a deep yearning for all old and worthy traditions that still lingers alive. Men . . . hope for salvation from somewhere or other, for some true ideal of honour and chivalry, of inward nobility, of unselfishness and duty. And now dawns the time when the form-filled powers of blood . . . reawaken in the depths. Everything in the order of dynastic tradition and old nobility that has saved itself up for the future, everything that there is of high money-disdaining ethic, everything that is intrinsically sound enough to be, in Frederick the Great's words, the servant the hard-working, self-sacrificing, caring servant of the State all this becomes suddenly the focus of immense life forces. Caesarism grows on the soil of Democracy, but its roots thread deeply into the underground of blood tradition. The Classical Caesar derived his power from the Tribunate, and his dignity and therewith his permanency from his being the princeps. Here too the soul of old Gothic wakens anew. The spirit of the knightly orders overpowers plunderous Vikingism. The mighty ones of the future may possess the earth as their private property for the great political form of the Culture is irremediably in ruin but it matters not, for, formless and limitless as their power may be, it has a task. And this task is the unwearying care for this world as it is, which is the very opposite of the interestedness of the money-power age, and demands high honour and conscientiousness. But for this very reason there now sets in the final battle between Democracy and Caesarism, between the leading forces of dictatorial money-economics and the purely political will-to-order of the Caesars."

Is it more reasonable to imagine that Heidegger was influenced by Spenglerian diatribes such as this one, or that he had launched himself and his philosophy, solely from his on mind, on the path that led to Adolf Hitler and his holocaust?

This isn't to say there was nothing wrong in Heidegger accepting Spengler's political philosophy, but it is to say that Faye (at least as far as I've read) has gotten has glossed over way too much history. He forces us to take our attention from the real problem (Spengler and the Ideas of 1914) and focus on an unreality, Heidegger as the prototype of Nazism.

Faye's arguments have a certain plausibility, but he goes too far in blaming Heidegger for Hitler and the Holocaust. Heidegger was influenced by the ideas of 1914 and as enowning says above, by Spengler, "who was probably the most influential intellectual of the 20s." That is where we should be looking, not way out at the end of the argument that resulted in Hitler and his holocaust. And not as though Heidegger sprang full-grown without antecedents.

But am I then saying that Heidegger should be excused because he wasn't the true creator of the political philosophy that led to Hitler? I hope I am not saying that. I don't intend to. Heidegger should be blamed, or at least disagreed with, but let's do it for the correct reasons. He embraced a political philosophy that was as fully experimental as Marxism. Heidegger should be faulted, just as we should fault the Russian Communists for believing too long in their ideal. He and they were on the wrong track. Their experiments failed and we should learn lessons from those failures.

Communism and National Socialism were begun by idealists. Not all were, but some were, the most interesting intellectuals were, and Heidegger was one of those. He believed in the ideal. What we should look for (rather than the things Faye seems to be looking for) is the point when Heidegger should have known that National Socialism was a failed experiment. Perhaps he realized that during the war, but if so what must his thoughts have been and what conclusions could he have drawn? He would still have believed that Capitalism was a dead end (Spengler probably convinced him of that); so what were his choices? He may have thought Communism (a political philosophy he opposed as strongly as he opposed Liberal Democracy) was going to win out. Did this mean he should have turned to Communism as so many in France did? He was an old and tired 56 when the war ended and not about to turn against all he had written and thought.

For, after all, did the Nazi-form of National Socialism (rather than the Spengler form) inform his philosophy? Perhaps not. Faye tells us that it did, but I don't trust Faye's grasp of logical argument. For Faye there is only the one form of National Socialism and it isn't the ideal that Thomas Carlyle and Oswold Spengler wrote about. It was the form put into action by Adolf Hitler, and Heidegger was associated with it. And therein lies the fault of Faye's argument as I see it. His form of argument is "Guilt by association," which is, as arguments go, fallacious. He can't just say (to exaggerate only a little) "look at the Swastika on Heidegger's arm, therefore his philosophy is shot through with Nazism. He needs to prove the connection in Heidegger's philosophy, and my impression from the sloppiness of argument I've seen thus far is that Faye isn't up to it.

No comments: