Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Heidegger's Linguistic chauvinism


I am ready to abandon my investigation of Heidegger’s Nazism.  I have most of the major attacks against Heidegger written in or translated into English, and while I haven’t read them all cover to cover I have read enough.   I have had difficulties with these anti-Heideggerian authors as I have indicated in earlier notes.  I found the arguments of the pro-Heideggerian, Julian Young, the most convincing and satisfying.  Young in his Heidegger, Philosophy, Nazism, concludes with an “Afterward.”  He writes, “This work will no doubt be received by some as a whitewash perpetrated by a ‘Heideggerian’.  Let me say in anticipation, therefore, two things.  First, that I did not start out with any such intention.  On the contrary, though I had long been convinced of the essential ‘innocence’ of Heidegger’s pre-1930 philosophy, with respect to the later work I was initially convinced by the accounts of, in particular, Wolin and Losurdo – which is why, in chapters 4 and 5, I have made them central targets for criticism.  The conclusions I have presented here were arrived at, even somewhat reluctantly, only after long exposure to the texts made my preconceived picture of things no longer tenable.  The spirit of Gelassenheit, the ability to let the texts speak for themselves, to ‘let them be’, arrived only slowly.” 

In Young’s “Second Point” he discusses an objection to Heidegger he has retained.  I am not quite ready to abandon this one.  It has to do with Heidegger’s “linguistic chauvinism.  German cultural chauvinism was evident in Heidegger’s 1933 ideology, “Germany as uniquely the land of Dichter und Denker,  poet and thinker.”  That Heidegger continued to hold this view is evidence by an interview with Spiegel sometime after the war in which he said “[There is an] inner relationship of the German language with the language of the Greeks and with their thought.  This has been confirmed for me today again by the French.  When they begin to think, they speak in German, being sure that they could not make it with their own language.”   

Young examines the evidence pertaining to this cultural or linguistic chauvinism and concludes that Heidegger maintained his belief that the German language was superior to all other European languages.   Young finds later references in which Heidegger thought the Japanese language might be even better suited to philosophy – and a statement in which Heidegger said that “Descartes was ultimately a greater philosopher than either Kant or Hegel”; so Heidegger was at least ambivalent on the subject.  Young, living in New Zealand doubted that Heidegger meant to denigrate English.  “Given the close kinship of English and German this looks to be highly irrational.  Heidegger’s disposition to privilege German over all other European languages really is, it has to be faced, irrational chauvinism.”

            COMMENT:  Heidegger was entitled in my view to take some pride in the number of philosophers that developed in Germany, primarily in Prussia which is interesting, although Heidegger himself was a Bavarian.  But the French do have a philosophical history that is respectable.  One thinks (at least I do) of Montaigne, Descartes, and Rousseau, but when one comes forward in time to look at the major philosophers of the 20th century, one finds German antecedents.  Michel Foucault was influenced by Nietzsche. Derrida was influenced by Heidegger.  Bourdieu was influenced by Marx.  Lacan was influenced by Freud.  So perhaps Heidegger had France in mind and simply dismissed the other European languages as not even measuring up to the French.

            It is interesting that the American, Richard Rorty has created his own philosophy out of American Pragmatism.  He was inspired by Pierce and James but moreso by Dewey and Davidson.  It is interesting because Pragmatism seems especially suited to the American work ethic.  It is a suitable philosophy for our “can do” Capitalistic Technology – which Heidegger hated.   

            A comparison of Anglo-American philosophy to German philosophy might be interesting.  If Heidegger were to mention just some major names, he might assert that Kant, Hegel, Leibniz, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, and cough, cough, cough, he himself, as much greater than the corresponding major names in Anglo American philosophy, perhaps Hobbes, Hume, Locke, Berkeley, Dewey, and Peirce.  I would quibble at once asking why he didn’t include (in the list I made up for him :-) Marx – Marx, another Prussian, who while great in influence was also extremely great in causing harm.  But I am merely quibbling.  Probably Heidegger was right in his assertion that German philosophers have achieved the most in the philosophical traditions that the Greeks began.  I will concede that to him.

            But when we move into the realm of poetry I think Heidegger is in over his head.  We Anglo-Americans have Shakespeare.  Perhaps Holderlin was a poet for a destitute time, but Shakespeare invented the Human, if we are to believe Harold Bloom who wrote Shakespeare, The Invention of the Human.  Bloom has some interesting arguments, and I half believe them.  Heidegger doesn’t make any claims quite so grandiose about German poets as far as I know.  He doesn’t seem to have liked Goethe as much as he did Holderlin – at least he doesn’t put Goethe forth as an example of German culture; so I will do it for him.  If we advance Shakespeare as (in Bloom’s sense) the inventor of the human, how shall we advance Goethe?   In The Sorrows of Young Werther, he offers good reasons to commit suicide.  In Faust he dwells upon the idea of making a deal with the devil.  Of course I am giving away my American pragmatic roots when I put the comparison in these terms, but . . . so be it.

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