Thursday, September 26, 2013

Heidegger and reading political times


July 15, 2014: This will eventually be used in a very expanded Website project that allows for development of subtopics beyond brief indications here.


I intellectually grew up with Heidegger’s major work, beginning in 1971. What can I say briefly that’s useful? In a few sentences: Heidegger’s short-lived hermeneutical phenomenology of political time-space expressed an emancipatory philosophical interest in enabling his locality to show community-based potential. Indeed—and unsurprisingly—the philosopher sees philosophy enabling community-based constructiveness, which was to be detailed systematically in university policy and realistic, practical curriculae. Educational leadership enables the people to be the self-formative basis of the good state. The answer to people’s prejudice is education. This may educe one’s ownmost advance of self-understanding (and self confidence) which is the condition for the possibility of a generous spirit, thus for durable openness to truly understanding and living with all ways of genuine lives.
[May 17, 2014: Alluding to generous spirit here is my heuristic; but it could be explicated in fidelity to Heidegger’s critique of notions of spirit. The holding good of the “thing” also applies to public space that may witness mirrorplays of ethnic integrity: a multi-ethnicity that is also deeply humanistic—beyond the essentialist humanism that Heidegger re-frames—thus, “post”-ethnic in the sense of the interplay itself of deeply humanistic appreciation for all ethnicities in and as their authentic inter-presence.]
For the sake of situating the scholarship that I’ll reference, consider Heidegger’s relationship to political time-space as dividing into three periods, which I’ll refer to, in my following discussion, in order to situate the several essays that I’m recommending:
  1. period prior to 1924
  2. period from mid-20s through 1932
  3. period from 1933-34
Heidegger withdrew into a fourth period of political time-space after the mid-’30s through the end of the war, backing his abiding critiques of biologism, technologism, and logocentrism (ontotheological will to power). But what’s most important here is that which leads (via period 1/2) to administrative activism intending to provide educational leadership (period 3). [His thinking after the war expresses a fifth sense of reading political time-space.]

One essay by Theodore Kisiel provides definitive guidance, available as a PDF: “The Seminar of Winter Semester 1933-34 Within Heidegger’s Three Concepts of the Political.” It speaks for itself superbly. I’ll say more about the three Concepts in a moment.

The background of Heidegger’s sense of public action outside of philosophical teaching is provided by Kisiel’s definitive “Heidegger’s Apology: Biography as Philosophy and Ideology” (1991), ch. 1 of Kisiel’s Heidegger’s Way of Thought, 2002, especially pp. 30-34, Kisiel’s discussion of Paul Natorp and Heidegger’s aspiring to emplace the university in leading nation-wide educational reform. This essay pertains to all three periods listed above.

Kisiel employs the Socratic sense of ‘apology’ to show how Heidegger’s development up to 1933 (“inner biography” of philosophical horizonality) definitively undermines outer-biographical-based views of Heidegger’s occasioned senses of rhetoric. A hermeneutical inner/outer difference happens to be integral to Heidegger’s mediational enabling. In particular, Kisiel shows exactly how biographer Hugo Ott got his figure/ground gestalt of Heidegger’s thinking backward: It’s invalid to understand philosophically-based work in terms of biographically-based inference. Intellectual biography necessarily trades on its sense of intellectual understanding, which is especially vital for understanding a philosopher, whose developmental background is very plausibly the basis for activity. Ott got it wrong.

Natorp is discussed at more length in Kisiel’s “winter semester” essay above (pp. 4-6) which explains how Natorp’s “idealistic socialism[,] centered in the moral and mental/spiritual will of the community[, is what] Heidegger seeks to promote…in 1933” (4). The “Apology” essay backgrounds the appeal of Natorp by sketching the Eckhartian mystical and romantic roots of Heidegger’s extended religious struggles of youth (pp. 24 −27).
Meister Eckhart belongs to an ancient and secret tradition that concerns the secret birth of awakened consciousness. Awakening is the “fire” mentioned by Jesus when he counsels Nicodemus on the inner path....The discernment of wakefulness and its call is the birthing of an awakened vision.
These struggles (fire in the crucible)—post-Catholic (never Lutheran—though study of Luther was integral to his early career)—are surely the basis for the later, philosophical importance of struggle with questions of “Being” in being (backgrounding “God”-given conflicts of faith) that Heidegger gave to his emancipatory hermeneutic for German students of philosophy. Natorpian Romantic socialism, Christian-existential struggle, and Heideggerian conceptions of nationalized educational leadership motivated and framed later hope for academic leadership out of the Depression by localist (regional) initiatives for authentically renewed regional development.

Kisiel, “In the Middle of Heidegger’s Three Concepts of the Political,” ch. 9 of Heidegger and Practical Philosophy, ed. F. Raffoul and D. Pettigrew, 2002, details his three Concepts more explicitly, but lacks the integration with Heidegger’s Being and Time that Kisiel definitively sketches in the “winter semester” essay above.

He explicates my period 2 above (his period 1) as overtly phenomenological (in a neo-Husserlian sense) through Aristotle’s Rhetoric. Its basic concepts (i.e., the concepts expressed by the Concept) are: pathos, ethos, and logos. This is the real background for Heidegger’s period 3 above (albeit in proximally Platonic terms that provide public focus for drawing thought into trans-religionist questions of “Being”). A more-detailed discussion of this pre-1930s era in Heidegger’s thinking is available from Kisiel as a PDF: Heidegger's 1923-25 engagement with Aristotle's sense of the political.

Kisiel names the second Concept (pertaining to that period 3 above) “metontological,” exemplified by Plato’s “Politeia,” whose concepts are leader of people, guardians of the state, and 3-level service. Critically important, again, is that Heidegger’s use of “Platonic” rhetoric with a Christian audience (living with Protestant/Catholic conflict) is intended to draw thinking into emblematic Platonic mindsets (proximal thinking) that can lead into post-/pre-Platonic (early Greek) thinking in terms of Being and Time and poetic inception of authentic German “spirit” that can ground regional renewal through an educational state. This is especially the focus of the “winter semester” essay. Heidegger’s concern with struggle, 1933-34, suggests the immanent, infamous, often underground, Kirchenkampf (Church Struggle) against Nazism, but overtly attempts to draw lived struggles into philosophical history. Yet, it’s mainly about the struggle to think anewly (after going back to the origins of the First Beginning), newly finding one’s truth of be-ing—“Our Truth”—in the essence of truth (beyond all historical implicature of ontotheological biologism, etc., which otherwise destines unwitting Therebeing).

The third Concept explicated by Kisiel pertains to my indication of Heidegger’s period 4, which isn’t centrally relevant to my following discussion (but pertains to Heidegger’s “Introduction to Metaphysics” [1935], which I’ll mention briefly).

A good supplement to understanding Heidegger’s Romantic youth is Frank Edler’s “Heidegger’s Attempt to Steal the Language of Revolution in 1933-34,” which begins in the thick of things, 1933 (my period 3), but spends most of its space discussing Heidegger’s period 1 and period 2 affinities (both encompassed by Kisiel’s period 1). Edler’s focus on Heidegger’s Rectorate period is also very useful (and compelling) for understanding Heidegger’s emancipatory interest: “Heidegger’s Interpretation of the German ‘Revolution’.”


Exemplary state-ing in stances

Heidegger’s sense of the primordially-temporal (agonistic) condition of philosophical emancipation isn’t evident through biographical work that isn’t based in Heidegger’s philosophical work. A reader can trust Heidegger’s work, despite appearances through the eyes of journalists and biographers who don’t pretend to understand how hermeneutic phenomenology might entail an improvised sense of grassroots politics attuned to the language of its times.

Heidegger in the early ’30s is standing / teaching / speaking in an existential, Janus-faced Betweenness of (a) periods 1 and 2 “behind” him with (b) period 3 facing him (implicitly anticipating period 4, whose roots are in period 1 and 2). He tries to draw thinking back into his basis in Being and Time (period 2) in order to contribute to evincing authentically creative community. He’s beginning immanently (being with particular others who are his audiences!) in thinking the “truth of being” (potentially ek-static be-ing, in accord with “The Essence of Truth” [1930], linked later here).

The hermeneutical mind in teaching instances a 3-fold sense of activity: It’s a Janus-faced (A, C) mediating (B) of project-ive background (post-C found implicit in A) relative to the given site C, paradigmatically exemplified by teaching a difficult, profound text (A) for the sake of advancing one’s thinking (post-C, in a living, fruitful way). The crucial Reading (i.e., time A of developmental thinking through the difficult text—or struggles of individuative learning) was Heidegger's years with Aristotle and the hermeneutical hybridity of texts with which Being and Time emerges (appropriating his academic times), which became a rhetoric of emancipatory enabling, in BT, in lectures before and afterward, and in striving to give the university leadership.

Heidegger’s immanent sense of the early 1930s is sited by the continuity of his work from the mid-’20s through 1932, which is deepened by work from the mid-’30s onward. His early ’30s hope for university leadership and national statesmanship during the worst years of the Depression show good sense (and consistently good conscience) relative to hopes for educational leadership in the university, anticipating a noble sense of community-based statehood (in a nation with yet no viable democratic tradition to draw upon, contrary to Roosevelt during his period of emergency powers in the U.S.). He trusted his students' and friends' understanding of his good faith engagement. This trust was not always reciprocal, especially after the war.

I wanted to discuss Kisiel’s “winter semester” essay, but I’m shelving that desire, though I may see something more to Heidegger’s sense of polis than Kisiel does: a differentiating integration of “concepts.” Heidegger’s public “Platonism” was, from the beginning (1933), a rhetorical way to draw university-wide systemicity into a philosophical venture that would move thinking back behind Plato for the sake of a post-scientistic academia. “The Origin of the Work of Art” (circa 1935-36) is anticipated in his “archaic” (Classical Greek) concept of the polis (Introduction to Metaphysics) calling for creative leadership in education—creative leadership in conceiving a good state. Altogether, I think a singular Conception of what’s validly “political” shows in renewing academics through a pre-/post-political polis for the sake of enabling creative community. The “end” of philosophy is that it’s facilitative of never ending Ends or horizons that, to my mind, are appellantly generative for Our flourishing. (But the pretense of philosophy, as “metaphysics,” ends philosophy as Foundational, as humanity is thrown into the groundless technoglobality that Germany may be especially well-situated to face constructively.)



being American decades later

Development of his political Concepts (from c1923 into the ’30s) were unknown when Heidegger’s major work first became available in English. When all is said and done, his response to his times wasn’t important to understanding what Heidegger was basically trying to do. Our sense of The Political pertained to realities of the Cold War era which we shared with post-war Germany. Heidegger’s prescient critiques of technocratic thinking were very influential. (His exemplary poetic thinking appealed deeply to my interest in literary philosophy).

His work that was available in English, c1962 through the early ’70s, provided inspiring challenge for political thinking, relative for us to new European translations of post-Marxist political phenomenology (e.g., Merleau-Ponty, Enzo Paci, and the Beauvoir-Sartre team), Frankfurt School Critical Theory, framed (to my mind) by revivals of American pragmatism in terms of Ordinary Language Philosophy. Husserl’s conception of lifeworld was Heideggerian. Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology was based in notions of lifeworld and on Heidegger’s Being and Time. Highly popular Critical Theorist Herbert Marcuse was a Heideggerian post-Marxist. Developing political theory in light of Heidegger was fun! My Heideggerian sense of political time was in terms of Heidegger’s later work serving as hermeneutical exemplification of how to read Being and Time (accordant with Heidegger’s letter to William J. Richardson, 1962).

By the mid-’80s, Heidegger’s legacy in the U.S. was no longer pioneering, perhaps, but remained unprecedented and yet-unsucceeded in its example of hermeneutical phenomenology and rigorous “poetic thinking,” during a period in academic humanities in the U.S. where philosophical literary theory was flourishing. There was a grand community of scholarship and conceptual prospecting influenced by Heidegger, who clearly regarded himself as a precursor for work to be done that would appropriate him into the future. I had no sense of his 1930s striving for a “new inception” as a political venture (especially given that Heidegger’s sense of polis was highly cultural, not narrowly ”political”). Clearly, his available examples of enabling original thinking, ennobling planetary statesmanship, and appealing to the potentials for origination in the work of art implied a high sense of politicality, but had to be appropriated to Our times to which he could not speak (except in his times, Of Time).

Alas, the Historikerstreit occurred, the “Heidegger affair” occurred, and the Berlin Wall fell. (The polemos of the dialectical paradigm finally fell in the weather of emergently postmetaphysicalist global evolving.)

Reticence about what Heidegger was doing seemed to dissolve after Victor Farias’s badly argued book, in the late ’80s, as readers who had no demonstrated engagement with Heidegger’s work became confident that they now knew what Heidegger was secretly about. Groupthink toward Heidegger has sometimes resulted. E.g., writing now (2013) that “Heidegger was a Nazi” can happen in academic publishing without citation because the claim is so “well-documented” (a pretentiousness that I could well document) that citation of how the story goes (or came to go) is no longer necessary. In fact, the claim is based on an echo chamber of dependence on an economic historian, Hugo Ott, Farias (who proffers intellectual historiography as mere journalism), in turn dependent on lots of second-hand opinion from the 1930s (some by persons likely to have a grudge later—or German guilt?), and some administrative items by Heidegger lacking context (privately directed to dim-witted German controllers of funds that Heidegger probably had good reason to manipulate). But I can’t capture the carnival of misreading in a few sentences. It includes bizarre constellations of disconnected ephemera that may imply much about the constellator. A common error is to believe that Heidegger was administratively naïve; but he was actually very expert at constructive engagement (which is not collusion) and principled survival (ethical instrumentalism). I would be glad to get specific with anyone who cares to stay with an analytical exchange on particulars (one at a time, please).

Isolated phenomena, lacking context, are granted face value, which easily becomes a darkly surreal frame of common sense realism toward a phenomenologist who daily lived a sense of uncanniness (e.g., facing site-bounded simulacra posturing as others’ common sense realism), as if retrospective indictment of simplistic caricature is purifying—as if the warrant of Heidegger’s genealogy becomes transparent via contextless appearances—as if any sense of inner/outer biographical difference is suspicious in a philosopher who made a career of distinguishing sitedness from broad-stroke ideological implicature.



Leading up to the Great Depression, the reality of the Weimar Period was complex (#1 below), and the reality of the 1930s was immensely nebulous (#2). It’s all so involuted, one can hardly imagine (#3).
  1. The Decline of the German Mandarins: The German Academic Community, 1890-1930, Fritz K. Ringer, 1969, e.g., pp. 251-252 on how academic elitism could be confused with student rightism; and 436 on how grade school teachers throughout Germany tended to be Volk-ish against aristocracy, not for National Socialism. 
  2. “The Aftermath: Reflections on…National Socialism,” ch. 19 of Weimar Thought: a contested legacy, 2013. This 2013 chapter by a leading scholar on the period details how nebulous the times were and how distant the Hitler circle was from ordinary German life, including low interest in anti-semitic propaganda by most Germans during the increasingly prosperous 1930s. 
  3. “Heidegger’s political self-understanding,” Otto Pöggler, ch. 12 of The Heidegger Controversy: a critical reader, 1993. The conceptual clarity of Kisiel’s discussions (indicated earlier) is interestingly confounded—yet complemented—by the complexity of intellectual confidantes’ perceptions at the time. 
In 1972, Karl Moehling completed a dissertation that clarified in great detail most everything about Heidegger’s administrative period (recounted in 1981 as ch. 5 of Heidegger: the Man and the Thinker): Heidegger was never a “Nazi.” For students in front of him (during his occasioned speeches), he was the university leader wanting to inspire young people to learn, work, and be active citizens for the sake of local economic recovery. He wanted the university to be regarded as important to the large scale of need for recovery. The inspiring Chancellor was a symbol of healing (‘heal’ in German is heilen). But merely four months into his rectorship, he was “depressed” by being Rector (letter to Carl Schmitt, August 1933, translated in Telos #72 [1987]) and already aching to resign (private letter to Elisabeth Blochmann, Sept. 1933: letter #61 of a group of letters translated by Frank H. W. Edler, 1991).

Treating Heidegger’s 1950s ambivalence about a phrase in a 1935 lecture on metaphysics as betraying some hidden secret is ill informed. Remember: The polis in classical Greek thought (e.g., Antigone) was beyond and the basis for the systemic publicness that we know as politics. (See Kisiel, “winter semester” essay, mid-p. 14 through p. 16.) The philosophical-political background of Heidegger’s “introduction” to “metaphysics” was deeply engaged with an emancipatory interest in enabling an authentically self-formative Germany. That self-formatively motivated (albeit Romantic) interest that could be led by the university anticipated transformation of the conception of science that could annul the danger of misemployed technology and could provide the organization for democratic life that current technocracy was destined to prevent. Heidegger hoped for educational leadership of a noble recovery from the Depression in light of counsel through the university for the sake of a post-technocratic, non-capitalist, and non-Stalinist Germany. Throughout his life, Heidegger added and deleted phrases to/from his earlier work. (There is much marginalia in his Collected Works; “Essence of Truth” [1930/43/49/67], Pathmarks, is a good example.) He regularly struggled with whether or not his “ways—not works” were conveying his designs most appropriately.

Heidegger’s own account of his rectorate period, “Facts and Thoughts,” emphasizes very directly (written in 1945; not published until after his death) how the scale of challenge and tragedy in Germany made the importance of his administrative months, “within the context of the entire movement of the planetary will to power, so insignificant they cannot even be called tiny” (p. 498 bottom of the 36 page PDF). “Facts and Thoughts” provides a remarkably direct voice of Heidegger the administrator—not living in the clouds when he had to work the streets. It feels like a message to his critics from the grave, “saying” grow up! A recent review of the matter by an esteemed French scholar of Heidegger, Françoise Dastur, reminds readers in her final sentence that the most thorough critique of Nazi thinking “is due to Heidegger himself [which…] was developed during the 1930s and not only after the fall of the Nazi regime and the victory of the Allies.” Dastur’s article is well worth reading. And a dramatic defense of Heidegger’s critique of “metaphysical liberalism” (which is analogous to defending a critique of an American sense of capitalist Conservatism) can be found here.

Though Farias/Ott-“informed” later readings of Heidegger became almost comical in their cavalier, sophistic confidence about “Heidegger” (and now there are “scholars” looking for truth from Emmanuel Faye, which is fully comical), the horror toward the Holocaust calls for prima facie good faith toward prosecutors—unless/until pretense of evidentiary validity betrays itself as symptomology (which has been common, building on itself recursively).

Heidegger had not been silent about the Holocaust. Indeed, everything he did after the war relates to what Germans should have needed to take to heart (e.g., see his discussion of evil, 1946, in “Letter on ‘Humanism’,” Pathmarks, pp. 272-3, which also associates healing [Heilung] with the holy [heilige], p. 267)—and relates to what thinking beyond dogmatic metaphysics (ontotheological will to power) can be: finding the truth of (one’s) being in a flourish-ive conception of “The Essence of Truth” (Pathmarks), beyond, yet prior to, European negative freedom (freedom from rather than primarily freedom for).

Then, whom was entitled to speak to the Unfathomable, let alone pretending to speak for Germany? “Eerie silence” in 1945 would—for those who could hear—be living still deafening Silence when Heidegger recalled the 20th anniversary of Rilke’s death, December 29, 1946, in his commemorative lecture, “What Are Poets For?,” “…despite all suffering, despite nameless sorrow....” [p. 93].
…not only [was] the holy lost as the track toward the godhead; even the traces leading to that lost track [were] well-nigh obliterated. The more obscure the traces become, the less can a single mortal, reaching into the abyss, attend there to intimations and signs. It is then all the more strictly true that each man gets farthest if he goes only as far as he can go along the way allotted to him [94-5].

The turning of the age does not take place by some new god, or the old one renewed, bursting into the world....How could there ever be for the god an abode fit for a god, if a divine radiance did not first begin to shine in everything that is?” [92]