Saturday, August 11, 2012

One Way of Understanding Contributions to Philosophy

8/11/2012—I am now reading Continental Divide, Peter Gordon’s marvelous account of the 1929 debate between Martin Heidegger and Ernst Cassirer. Under its influence I have come to one possible understanding of the meaning of Contributions, which I am studying as well.

Being and Time, Heidegger’s shattering 1927 restatement of the human condition, was an indictment of the complacency through which historical human being—Dasein—had forgotten the question of being. Six years later, in 1933, Heidegger would join the Nazi Party. This action was not unrelated to Being and Time, but it was not, as some critics would maintain later—that Heidegger’s philosophy was fascistic. While something in the Nazi movement, and Hitler’s charisma, obviously spoke to Heidegger’s understanding of the call to resoluteness, the fact that by 1934, Heidegger was drifting away from the Party shows that he saw an error in his earlier political commitment.

Even from my short exposure to Contributions, I have felt the intensity of Heidegger’s probing of the question of being. Contributions is moving toward a non-political kind of confrontation with the complacency of bourgeois life. If you will, the relationship between Being and Time and Contributions is like the differentiation in Islam between the outer and inner Jihad—though Contributions is not as personal and individual as the differentiation of outer and inner might imply.

Heidegger’s thought remained always illiberal. He did not see the rule of law, democracy and capitalism as redemptive. I believe this is why Heidegger never could apologize for his Nazi involvement. He did not want to strengthen in any way the power of liberal life.

An American is tempted to dismiss any illiberal tendency as an invitation to a Hitler. But from Heidegger’s perspective in 1927, it might have seemed that it was liberalism that had invented the machine gun and poison gas of WWI and liberalism that had not only reduced Europe to a killing field but then hypocritically condemned Germany alone for actions other countries had previously taken and took a devastating revenge at Versailles. There is real violence here. So the choice is not between pacific liberalism and violent fascism.

Lest we condemn Heidegger too easily, let us also remember that the bomb at Hiroshima was a product of the self-same rational liberalism. And so is the global warming that is already bringing death and dislocation and will only grow in the future.

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