Georg Lukacs: Heidegger Redivivus 1951
First published: 1951 in Existentialismus oder Marxismus, pp. 161-183, Aufbau-Verlag, Berlin (in German)
Translated by: Anton P.
Heidegger’s first comprehensive statement after the fall of fascism is very interesting for the philosophical public. How does the most important representative of pre-fascist existentialism view the problems of contemporary philosophy? How does he feel about the relation of his own pre-fascist philosophy to these questions? Does he find something in need of revision in his own old concept? If yes, what?
We chose the term pre-fascist with care. It does not necessarily mean a simple identification of Heidegger with fascism – although with a philosophical personality like Heidegger the personal commitment to the Hitler regime of 1933-34 was certainly not a mere coincidence and is certainly not without connection with his worldview. Its importance would be diminished if one passed this occurrence as if it were an insignificant, insignificant episode. The term pre-fascist does not mean here a direct connection between Heidegger’s philosophy and Hitler or Rosenberg; nor forerunners in that immediate sense as in Chamberlain. But it is true that Heidegger – just like Klages or Juenger, who are otherwise extraordinarily different from him, and like earlier philosophers such as Nietzsche – especially a lot through the key points of his questions and answers has helped to create that spiritual atmosphere in which a part of the German intelligentsia enthusiastically joined Hitler and another part became almost completely defenseless in its intellectual resistance to Hitlerism.
If one looks at the external appearance, Heidegger does not want to revise any of his old views. He says here about Being and Time: One thinks everywhere that the attempt in “Being and Time” has reached a dead end. Perhaps, however, it has gotten into its matter a little earlier. In reality, there is very little objectively reason for such haughty defense. But in keeping with this attitude, Heidegger’s new work is essentially a self-defense against conclusions that the reader – allegedly wrongly – may have drawn from his pre-fascist work. The central question, and not just the cause of the letter to Beaufret, is humanism. Heidegger acknowledges that his main work is directed against humanism. But, he adds, this opposition does not mean that such thinking goes against the human side and advocates the inhumane, defends inhumanity and belittles the dignity of man. People think against humanism because it does not value humanity high enough. (75). And at another point he vigorously defends himself against the accusations that he has something to do with irrationalism, atheism, and nihilism (95-96).
It would be superficial to see Heidegger’s current position on humanism as a mere verbal argument. Admirers of the real Hoelderlin could easily calm their humanistic conscience if humanism is rejected in his name (63), if Hoelderlin is placed above Goethe from this point of view (86). One might think: it makes no difference whether what represents Hoelderlin’s life work is called humanism or not. What the real Hoelderlin wanted and designed is under all circumstances deeply imbued with the best traditions of humanism, that whatever arises from him could not possibly endanger humanism.
But that would be superficial, because the real Hoelderlin is by no means identical with Heidegger’s; So what is meant here may very well be a principle hostile to humanism, even if Heidegger were right that he did not want to directly defend the inhuman. This is not the place to discuss Heidegger’s interpretation of Hoelderlin. It is philosophically important for us only because of its basic starting point: For Heidegger, Hoelderlin represents a deeper position, an ideological attitude that goes beyond humanism, in that he – this is expressly emphasized in both places where a reference to Hoelderlin is made – initially thinks as Goethe or other historical humanism. If one critically appreciates Heidegger’s current philosophical position, to examine their perspectives, to compare them with Being and Time, it is important to consider the meaning of this beginning a little more closely. A certain detour is absolutely necessary for this.
When Heidegger mentions Hoelderlin, a not insignificant sentence is used. After Hoelderlin’s statement of “overhumanism” Heidegger says: That is why the young Germans, who knew about Hoelderlin, thought and lived differently in the face of death than what was in public held out to be the German view of death. (87). To say that many of the young Germans who took part in Hitler’s campaigns – and, to put it mildly, were not only in a situation “in the face of death,” but also, at best, they were witnesses, were passive participants in the acts of robbery and murder, the rape of women and children, etc. by the Hitlerian army – did not share the Nazi ideology would be a truism. Heidegger is instead trying to say something like this: all of you who condemn the barbarism of Hitlerism, of the Hitler Youth, and who claim to know what is “essentially primitive”, what do you know about the inner life of those young people (the followers of Heidegger), who were able to grasp Being through experience and thought?
The initial here is a moral and philosophical incognito – Heidegger’s new philosophy echoes Kierkegaard’s as well as his own “old” one – behind which everything can be hidden, an incognito which, between the perceptible deeds of man and his only true, only real Existence sets a barrier to unknowability. Such a barrier is in principle insurmountable, for Dostoyevsky already saw that the more sublime a principle of morality (here the principle of “existence”), the less it can be capable of concrete actions of human beings to determine their real behavior towards real life. The higher such a principle rises above the sphere of beings, the more there arises – admittedly only from the point of view of this principle – an atmosphere of general indeterminacy, of irrationalism; It does not matter whether the principle itself means something irrationalistic in itself or not. Heidegger’s self-defense against irrationalism therefore stands on feet of clay. Hegel rightly speaks methodologically of similarly stored places of a sublime hollowness and a pure and disgusting height of abstraction.
We will come to the detailed consequences that emerge from here later. Let us return to the question of the “beginning”. We believe that Heidegger’s philosophy of today, like the earlier one, is an attitude to life – arising from an experience of the present, from a position of the present person towards life with his fellow men, towards his own life – the content of which is determined by the social facts of contemporary life that Marx scientifically analyzed in his works.
At first glance it may sound paradoxical to recall Marx’s theory of society when dealing with Heidegger’s philosophy. Let us not forget, however, that, first, the argument with Marx played an extraordinarily large role in the development of French existentialism; second, that there were researchers earlier who drew attention to the fact that Being and Time in a certain sense constitutes a major confrontation with the phenomenon of fetishism, scientifically discovered by Marx and brought to its regularity, and that also the former Heidegger student Karl Loewith seeks parallels between Kierkegaard and Marx; thirdly, that Heidegger makes direct reference to Marx for the first time in his new work and comes to extremely interesting results. He writes: What Marx recognized in an essential and significant sense from Hegel as the alienation of man, has its roots in the homelessness of modern man ... Because Marx, in experiencing alienation, extends it into an essential dimension history, so the Marxist view of history is superior to all other history. But because neither Husserl nor, as far as I have seen so far, Sartre recognize the essentiality of the historical in being, neither phenomenology nor existentialism comes into that dimension within only which a productive conversation with Marxism is possible. (87).
Apparently, Heidegger is approaching Marx more than Sartre does, who in his journal articles renews all the old and banal arguments from private lecturers against Marxism (his students, especially Merleau-Ponty, deal somewhat more thoroughly with Marx). However, this is only a pretense. Because, as the French existentialists strive to approach the sphere of human social existence in their minds, by looking for answers to the question of how human beings should behave in the concrete social present, they come, intentionally or unintentionally, close to that concrete social world whose structure, direction of movement and regularity Marx scientifically uncovered. However, since they want to maintain the old principles of existentialism unchanged in this movement, their contact with Marxism must be more or less hostile. Heidegger, on the other hand, energetically weakens the latently existing relationships to the social reality of Being and Time. He emphasizes that the conception of “man” has no relationship to any sociology (59); He also removes from the terms “world” and “being-in-the-world” all social references that were previously latently thought along with or associated with it (100). And polemicizing with Sartre, he expressly rejects any connection with real social-historical reality for the being that he intended. There he speaks of thinking that pays attention to the dimension of the truth of being prevailing by way of it. But even this could happen in any given moment only with respect to being and with regard to existence, which man sustains by existing, but not, however, for the sake of man, so that he would be able to claim that civilization and culture are his creation. (74).
Nevertheless – and very consciously, very emphatically – the present state of the world, the present state of man in life, remains as the starting point for life. Heidegger speaks, again starting from Hoelderlin, of the homelessness of man in the world, of the use of the word home in Hoelderlin: This word is thought here in an essential sense, not patriotic, not nationalistic, but historical. The essence of home is also mentioned with the intention of thinking about the homelessness of modern man from the essence of the history of being. Most recently Nietzsche experienced this homelessness. (84-85). If the combination of Nietzsche and Hoelderlin forms a striking parallel to the historical constructions of pre-fascism and fascism, his remark about Marx, quoted earlier, begins with the words: Homelessness becomes a world destiny. Therefore it is necessary to think of this destiny in terms of the history of being. (87).
The problem of initiality is therefore intimately connected with that of the homelessness of man. Understandably, because this is a basic experience of the (bourgeois) man of capitalism, especially of monopoly capitalism. The generous, world-historical objectivity of Marx consists precisely in the fact that he has scientifically analyzed the objective social and economic regularities of the human being in capitalism, the historical tendencies that have produced this being, the structure that real life maintains in this social formation. For Marx, the economic categories are forms of existence, determinations of existence (Needless to say, these words should not be interpreted in an existentialist way). Thereby everything from the basic experiences to the intentions of humans of capitalist society is revealed in its real, objective objectivity. Of course, the path here does not go from the intention to the object, but the objective knowledge of the historically characterized object, where necessary, provides an explanation of the intention. Naturally, only this methodological hierarchy and sequence can protect us from arbitrariness and mysticism in analysis. For the “intentional” experiences of phenomenologists, like all subjective experiences, caught in the horizon of the bourgeoisie in the imperialist age, necessarily take place with a false consciousness. Marx also revealed the necessity of false consciousness and its laws.
That is, they proceed from experiential symptoms and therefore necessarily “intend” on an object that is only determined by experience or made consciously by experience. What is hidden in capitalist fetishization, however, is that all “dead” objects in the social environment of people in reality are relationships between people (classes), the fact that the resulting levelling of social objectivity is a necessary consequence of the specific structure of capitalist relationships between people, is only elucidated by an objective economic analysis, but never with the help of the reverse method, the one proceeding from the subject.
Closely related to this is the fact that Marx really grasps capitalism historically, as an advance over feudalism, as a preliminary stage to socialism. All the contradictions of the capitalist system are brought to light, but no matter how terrible, no matter how anti-human, no matter how combative, these properties of capitalism are always only understood as moments of its objective existence in the totality of world history, and the problem of its former progressiveness can only be clarified in this overall context. (The analysis of social practice that arises for Marxism naturally lies outside the scope of these considerations.)
But every idealism – including Heidegger’s of course – works in the opposite way. Heidegger says: The homelessness to be thought of in this way is based on the abandonment of being. It is a sign of the oblivion of being. According to this, the truth of being remains unthought. (86). Here, as in Being and Time, Heidegger juggles between an extreme subjectivism and a pseudo-objectivity. We say pseudo-objectivity, because objectively the abandonment of being is a mental absurdity. An explanation for this can only be found in the following sentence with the expression of the – purely subjective – forgetfulness of being. If this consideration has a meaning, then it is only that the subject’s forgetfulness of being produces the forsakenness of beings. With this method, the objectivity found in this way must necessarily remain caught in the area of ??the subjectively experienced, Such was the situation in pre-fascist philosophy and sociology. At that time the Hans Freyer school tended towards a similar “recognition” of Marx. Hugo Fischer, for example, admitted all the merits of Marx with the reservation that Marx made a secondary phenomenon, the economic development and the regularity of capitalism, into the main thing, while the real philosopher, Nietzsche, saw more clearly that the basic phenomenon to which everything that Marx analyzed should be philosophically subordinate and inserted is decadence. Despite all the methodological divergence from the Freyer school, Heidegger’s position on this complex of problems is precisely in its methodology a very similar one. In all such cases, such “recognition” bypasses all decisive problems; neither Fischer’s prioritization of decadence nor Heidegger’s dimension of being touch on the essential problems of Marxism.
We know that Heidegger and his supporters would protest violently against the term idealism in particular. Heidegger claims, now as before, to be neither an idealist nor a materialist, but to have found that relationship to being which goes beyond this alleged false dilemma. What is always meant is the angelic marriage of a clear, sharp and correct juxtaposition: a materialist is someone who stands over against consciousness from the standpoint of the priority of being, an idealist he who thinks being has been produced by consciousness. The tertium that appears here is, however, far less original in the philosophy of the imperialist age than Heidegger thinks. Such philosophical “third ways” have appeared everywhere since Nietzsche and Mach, and in the phenomenology from which Heidegger took more influence than most of his predecessors (but not more resolutely than Spengler, for example) that what he perceives as man’s fate is not created by man himself, but is the result of powers independent of man. He says: Man is rather “projected” into the truth of being by being itself, so that eksisting in this fashion, he might mind the truth of being, in order that, in light of the be, the kind of be-ing that he is might appear as be-ing. Man does not decide whether a kind of be-ing appears and how it appears, whether and how God and the gods, history and nature, enter into, and come into and out of, presence in light of being.
However, such a recognition of the objectivity of fate, as the example of Spengler already shows, says nothing in relation to a real recognition of being independent of consciousness, in relation to a real overcoming of idealism. On the contrary. Whenever Heidegger talks about materialism, he comes into extraordinary proximity to the first model ideas of the philosophical “third way”. Following on from his cited remarks about Marx, Heidegger says: The essence of materialism does not consist in the assertion that everything is just Substance, rather in a metaphysical determination, according to which everything that exists appears as the material of work ... The essence of materialism is hidden in the essence of technology, [which] offers a guarantee that the true essence of nature has actually been recognized. And in fact, such a point of view with Bellarmine is historically understandable, since he considers the natural philosophy contained in the Bible to be the true essence of nature, regardless of the results to which science, as knowledge of the mere world of phenomena, arrives on its narrowly delimited terrain. And to a Machist who regards the phenomenal world as the sole reality, such a train of thought can appear very ingenious. If Heidegger fits into this context, he shows today that he retains the basic theological structure in the structure of Kierkegaard’s philosophy, as he did in Being and Time, even if the revealed God does not play a role in his theology without God.
Philosophically, it is about what Hegel clearly says in his critique of Kant: whether there is a transition between appearance and essence in objective reality and therefore also in knowledge, that is, where and how objectivity can be grasped in the world of phenomena. If this is denied, then an agnostic, subjective idealism must arise. And if a direct access to the essence is nevertheless forced by the subject, the method of this way out must be lost in mysticism, the object thus found must become something abstract and irrational at the same time. (Hegel versus Schelling’s “intellectual intuition”.) That was the position of Heidegger’s philosophy in Being and Time, and that was what it was about in the new Letter on Humanism. What distinguishes Heidegger from his predecessors is only that with him the opposition is not called appearance and essence (phenomenon and noumenon), but rather Seiende and Sein. How sharp this separation is in Heidegger is shown by the following passage: But being – what is being? It is itself. That “being” that is not God and not world Reason. Being is further than all being and is nevertheless closer to man than any being, be it a rock, an animal, a work of art, a machine, be it an angel or God. Being is what is closest. Yet what is near is furthest from man. From the start, man forever clings always and only to just the kinds of being. But when thinking conceives of being as being, it appeals decidedly to be[-ing]. But, in truth, it regularly thinks only be-ing as such, and precisely not, but never, be[-ing] as such. The “question about be[-ing]” always remains a question in accordance with about be-ing. The question about be[-ing] is still not at all that which the tricky term Seinsfrage indicates: namely, the question in accordance with be[-ing]. (76). About the questions that arise here, namely about the question of the path from das Seiende to das Sein and about Heidegger’s relationship to it we will speak later.
But if one thinks that an objective being is actually conceptually outlined by the determination just given – and no matter how mythical it may be – one is mistaken. It is true that Heidegger tries to weaken the extreme mysticism of his destiny a little. In our last quotation we left out a sentence that reads: Future thinking must learn to experience and say this (namely, what being is, G.L.) (76); therefore thinking is that organ, through which this being is grasped, albeit a very sui generis thinking, as we shall also see later, if we now turn to being itself, to its more precise determination want to hold, slips away, everything melts away. We have already heard that Heidegger, when asked what being is, gave the answer of the great crook from Peer Gynt: It is itself. And Heidegger’s new term ekstatic thought is supposed to have nothing to do with existence. Heidegger rejects any fellowship with Sartre because he asserts the primacy of existentia over essentia (73), and for his part determines his position as follows: The sentence: “Man ek-sists” does not answer the question whether man is real or not, but answers the question of the “essence” of man (70-71). And in what follows he explains that every question about the who and what of a person contains something personal.
Now Dasein is precisely the most ambiguous category of Being and Time. On the one hand, it appears with the pretense of objectivity, on the other hand, and at the same time, its meaning is nothing more than human existence taken in the utmost subjectivity. Here is the point where Heidegger’s ontology reveals itself to be pure anthropology. Heidegger says: Truth “exists” only insofar as and as long as existence is ... Newton’s laws, the principle of contradiction, all truth in general is only true as long as existence is. Before existence was not at all and after existence will no longer be at all, there was no truth and will not be, because then it cannot be as disclosedness and discovery. (Being and Time, 226). This corresponds exactly to the epistemology of Machism. In his new work, Heidegger quotes a similar sentence from his older work: Only as long as Dasein is there is Being (83). Here, however, he adds: The sentence does not say that Being is a product of man (ibid.). This is, however, a mere assurance, and similar ones have repeatedly been heard from the Machists. That Heidegger continues being than signifies transcendent, means nothing. Even with Kant, the transcendence of the thing-in-itself does not cancel out the subjective idealism of his epistemology.
All objective – and what is the meaning of being if it is not objective? – dissolves here as well as in Machism. For philosophically it is a secondary question whether perceiver and perception or existence and truth form such an inseparable coexistence that one becomes impossible without the other. In both cases it says: no object without a subject, which is the main epistemological thesis of subjective idealism; the “third way” also turns out to be subjective idealism in Heidegger. And indeed an irrationalistic-mystical variety of subjective idealism, because everything objective in the world, everything personal in man, everything concrete in nature or history turns out to be an obstacle to this knowledge of being. The thinking of being has, as Heidegger expressly emphasizes, nothing to do with science. From the ordinary thinking of people, from their experiences about beings does not lead to a bridge to the thinking of being. Only Kierkegaard formulated this duality so harshly, but still more concretely than Heidegger, because his desperate leap should reach the goal with the revealed Christ, while Heidegger’s philosophy literally jumps into nothing. It can be seen that all attempts at weakening the nihilism of Being and Time that Heidegger undertakes here are in vain; nihilism is deep in its fundamental position and method, as in that of Kierkegaard, only there concealed by theology while Heidegger brings it naked. From here on, Heidegger’s opposition to humanism becomes really understandable, it appears as a necessary consequence of his whole philosophy. He says of the older humanists: they do agree, that the humanitas of homo humanus is determined by the point of view of one already fixed interpretation of nature, history, the world, the ground of the world, that is to say of beings as a whole.
This brings us to where Heidegger’s systematic philosophical efforts in connection with his assessment of the current situation of mankind and thus in connection with his conception of human history can be surveyed. As we have seen, Heidegger rejects the idea of ??classical humanism from antiquity to Goethe that one could draw conclusions from the whole of the existent world with regard to the essence of man, on the path of mankind. Indeed, this is the core question of every humanistic worldview. In the most developed humanism, in Faust and in the Phenomenology of Spirit, it assumes how man, originally a product of nature, made himself what he has become in the course of history will do what he can according to his possibilities.
But Heidegger denies both. He says: The human body is something essentially different from an animal organism. (67). With regard to history, its position is more ambiguous, more ambiguous. His acknowledgment of Marx’s conception, which we have cited, of its superiority over Husserl and Sartre, points to this towards, as was already given in Being and Time a historical conception of the existence of man, with occasional energetic references to the merits of Dilthey. Here, too, he advocates the historicity of being. But in an extremely ambivalent way. On the one hand, here too the historicity of being is expressly recognized. This “there is” (namely, “there is being” by Parmenides, G. L.) prevails as the fate of being. Its history comes up in the words of the essential thinkers. That is why thinking that thinks into the truth of being is historical thinking. (81). Of course, this is also mere and empty enunciation. And on the other hand, it is immediately added: Hitory does not come first as an event. And that is not offense. The occurrence of history comes to the fore as the fate of the truth of being from this. (81). That is why there is no progress in philosophy. It does not progress at all if it respects its essence to think the same. Progress, namely away from this point, is an error that follows thinking as the shadow that it itself casts. (ibid.). Nevertheless, according to Heidegger Hegel’s conception of the history of philosophy as the development of the spirit is not untrue. It is also not partly right, partly wrong.
It is obvious that there is a contradiction here. But with the mere establishment of the contradiction in Heidegger we have hardly reached the forecourt of the problem itself. For this contradiction does not only express the inconsistency of the thinker, not some logical-methodological error that could be identified and corrected. Rather, it is a question of one of the fundamental contradictions in the social being of the bourgeoisie, which – of course, according to the social and historical development – appears again and again in different forms.
Civil society itself has become something historically. This could not be denied since the development of Holland and England in the 17th and 18th centuries, and the experience of the great French Revolution had to immeasurably generalize this experience and this knowledge. In the historicity that is thus becoming evident, it is not a matter of a simple change in time, but of a forward movement, an upward movement, a progress. From the Enlightenment to Condorcet to Hegel, attempts have been made again and again to conceptually grasp the principles of this progressiveness, to bring them to the concept.
Here a great difficulty arose from the very beginning, which was added to another in the course of the development of capitalist society. From the beginning it was seen that stepping forward is by no means something straightforward, that the higher social condition that arose later at the same time brought forth new ailments, that in some respects it was lower than its predecessor. From this a denial of historical progress arose very early on (Linguet); from this arose the effort of great thinkers to grasp the progressiveness of history in its contradictions, that is, dialectically (Vico, Hegel). Part of this contradiction is that one can only adequately express the advancement for the totality, for the fate of the human race. Individual manifestations of this development remain unsurpassed forever. (Ancient art in Hegel’s philosophy of history.)
The second difficulty is that of perspective. It is consequently, in terms of thinking, impossible to research the where from, to determine the progressiveness of the course of history, without looking for where to at least seek an answer. As long as bourgeois society could regard itself with a certain subjective justification as the highest level of human development, there was no problem here for bourgeois philosophy. However, the Hegelian philosophy of history is the last that could accomplish this synthesis with a clear conscience. As early as the 1840s, Marx was able to put the legitimate question to his opponents: consequently, there was a story for you, but is there no longer any? The later rejection of the question of perspective – in terms of individual science and methodology – of course means nothing philosophically. The social upheaval in relation to the perspective of the development of bourgeois society necessarily led to the concept of progress being removed from the conception of history, more or less consequently, was eliminated. After the Romantic era, Ranke’s equal closeness to God was the first effective historical-philosophical step in this direction for all epochs. The most diverse variations follow up to our day, in the time of the deepest crisis of the capitalist system. However, if the crisis is really acute and deep, Ranke’s solution (historical turbulence, empirical concreteness without progress) is no longer sufficient. The crisis expresses itself for the followers of the existing or for those ideologues who are not able or willing to imagine a qualitatively different, higher social system than the existing one. It is based on the assumption that the historical development from a certain point appears as a mistake, as a pseudo-history and the real history now consists in returning to this starting point of the error with the help of a certain tabula rasa and from there a “correct” history Such a starting point was the Middle Ages or the ancien regime for Romanticism. Such starting points were sought by pre-fascist philosophy, most consistently Klages. Fascism found such a starting point in the original racial purity, which has been spoiled by the mistakes of modern history and is now – with the known means – to be restored.
It is now interesting that precisely the history of philosophy in the imperialist age pioneered this general development of the reactionary philosophy of history. For Nietzsche, Socrates is the figure in whom the undesirable development begins; for the Machist Petzoldt, it is Protagoras. On this question, Heidegger largely subscribes to Nietzsche’s view, albeit naturally with different justifications. In his opinion, the turn in philosophy begins with Plato and Aristotle, who distracted from the initial, from the real, metaphysics with its wrong questions, the wrong differentiation of philosophy into logic, ethics, etc. Ethics comes with logic and physics for the first time in the school of Plato. These disciplines arise at the time that thinking becomes philosophy, but allows philosophy to become episteme (science) and science itself to become a matter of the school and education. In the passage through philosophy understood in this way, science arises, thinking passes. (105-106). Thus, according to Heidegger, the escape route of philosophy can only consist in reversing this undesirable development, that attitude to rediscover being that we have lost in the course of the very history of philosophy, in the course of the development of our civilization. The polemic against the inauthentic life of the present, against the decline of man under the rule of man (democracy) from Being and Time receives here at the same time a philosophical-historical expansion and a philosophical deepening. As we have seen, both are based on the pattern of extremely reactionary behavior in a time of crisis.
Nothing changes that, as we have seen, Heidegger wants to “save” all the important philosophers of the past in spite of their metaphysics. This inconsistency also has its deeper historical reasons. Heidegger has the correct feeling that a philosophy that adequately – insofar as historical circumstances permit – reproduced in thought, as a significant reflection of an important stage in human development, its validity preserved within certain limits even if this state of the world has long been a thing of the past. This feeling is expressed for the first time in the Hegelian history of philosophy came and received its materialistically deeper philosophical foundation in Marxism, because on the one hand the historicity of human existence was taken more seriously than ever before, on the other hand and at the same time a criterion was found as to whether a philosophy has brought the structure of reality to the approximation it can achieve.
It is precisely in this volatility that the history of philosophy in Hegel preserves the moment of continuity. However, this is precisely what Heidegger lacks, if one takes his conception seriously, and that is a duty to every thinker whom one takes even somewhat seriously. But if the decisive philosophical method since Plato and Aristotle distracts from the real being, if it is a conceptual expression of the oblivion of being, if the true philosophy can only be accomplished through a radical break with all these false traditions, which are only oriented towards being, How can Plato and Aristotle, Descartes and Hegel, the corrupters of philosophy proper, the creators of its false differentiation, the suppressors of the thinking of being, obtain such a privileged position through the predominance of the thinking of beings?
Heidegger also elaborates – from his point of view consistently – elsewhere: Logic understands thinking as the representation of beings in their being, which is presented to representations in the general terms of the term. But what about the reflection on being itself, and that means with thinking that thinks the truth of being? This thinking only hits the initial essence of the logos, which was already buried and lost in Plato and Aristotle, the founder of logic. To think against logic does not mean to break a lance for the illogical, but only means to reflect on the Logos and its essence, which appeared in the early days of thought, means: to first try to prepare for such reflection. What should all of us, no matter how extensive systems of logic, if they and even without knowing what they are doing, renounce the task beforehand, according to the essence of the logos even to ask first? (98). With this, however, the philosophical death sentence has been pronounced for the founders and practitioners of such a logic.
But what matters here is less the history of philosophy than philosophy itself; the former only had to be consulted in such detail so that the whole contradiction of the allegedly historical character of being in Heidegger could be put into a concrete light. And from this point of view, the connection of those thought motifs that had to be considered separately for the sake of clarification appears particularly important: namely the relationship of being to beings, the historical character of being, the return to the beginning and the starting point from the homelessness of man in the present. Undoubtedly, in Being and Time too, albeit without the current terminological designation, the last moment is decisive. At the same time, it determines the specific character of Heidegger’s historicity, as well as – mediated by this – the relationship between das Seiende and das Sein. We have already pointed out that this starting point polemicizes with the complex of problems that was scientifically presented in Marx’s life work, with the position of man in capitalist society. We have already shown where the limitations of this contact come from, namely because Marx treats the objective structure and regularity of capitalist society in its historical becoming, in its historical maturity, and the relationships of people to the world and to one another (through this social being is determined, mediated by this social structure) appear and be explained as final consequences, while Heidegger takes the opposite path. In addition to the inconveniences already indicated there, this starting point results in the transformation of real history into a mythified pseudo-history.
This contrast appears – consistently turned upside down by Heidegger’s method – as that of vulgar and actual time, of vulgar and actual history. For Heidegger’s actual history would arise when the experience of this homelessness of man is phenomenologically grasped, clarified through the phenomenological view of essence, illuminated in its intentional objectivity, and then thought through ontologically in terms of the being on which it is based. Heidegger’s illusion consists in: that he thinks that in this way he can find a more real historicity than those who struggle with the real, objective historical process. He says in his new script: The ek-sistence of man is historical as ek-sistence, but not only because of that, but because many things happen to man and human things in the course of time. (82). As we have already seen, Heidegger deliberately pushes real historical events aside here in order to come to the supposedly real historical essence of the ek-sistence of man. This is how those periods of initiality and homelessness, which are delimited in certain historical events, but always in certain forms of thinking and consciousness (Plato and Aristotle in Heidegger, Socrates in Nietzsche, Protagoras in Petzoldt), which are their methodological model in the structural delimitations of the periods in Christian theology. (From the Church Fathers to Kierkegaard.)
This relationship is not a coincidental one. Because here, too, the homelessness of man and the rediscovery of home is the central question, and here too a historical-philosophical answer is sought from the subject in need of redemption. From the standpoint of a theological dogmatics, however, it was understandable and consistent; the appearance of Christ is such a qualitatively structural, periodizing to create a milestone as a central point of orientation for all historical events, which only related to this essential, essentially insubstantial, could be classified in this philosophy of history and subordinated to its center. For the construction of the subject in need of redemption could be based on a conception of the history of a reality conceived as objective, even if this may have been theological and mystical. If the revealed God has lost this constituent, method-creating role in the philosophy of history – and this is also the case with Heidegger, regardless of whether he draws atheistic conclusions from it personally or, as here, protests against atheism – this will be the case where the whole method is completely contradicting arbitrary, unfounded. Compared to this desolate void, the negative theology of the Middle Ages brings a rich and articulated world. For Heidegger’s separation of be-ing from be[ing], the denial that the possible predicates of be[ing] could relate to be-ing, is very related to the conception of God in negative theology. Only that this relates its negativity to the knowledge of God and limits it and therefore allows the world to exist in its objectivity, while the negative theology of Heidegger’s theory of be-ing transforms reality itself into an abstract nothing.
This alone expresses clearly that with Heidegger there is no way from the knowledge of be[ing] to thinking of be-ing. And that from the thinking of be-ing there can in principle be a scientific path back to the world of be[ing] that is viable for everyone, Heidegger has not shown here in any respect. Indeed, all of his repeated remarks about objectivity, about the recognizability and the truth content of the knowledge of be[ing] in nature and history speak eloquently against such a possibility. Heidegger may defend himself against the reproach of irrationalism with any subjective conviction he feels as genuine, but the basic philosophical mood of this last work is purely irrationalistic.
This, too, is closely connected with his starting point, with the problem of the position of the human being in the capitalist society of the present, raised by the side of the subject who suffers under their objectively necessary, but unrecognized, influences. We have already referred to the problem distortions that inevitably arise from this question in various contexts. We now have to approach this complex from a new angle. In Marx’s analysis of capitalist society, it is always completely clear whether any category of human social life (a relationship between people, classes) is something specifically capitalist or a common, historical feature. It is a form of objectivity of several social formations that is subject to changes in function. But if the starting point of the question is taken from the subject, as in Heidegger, then the methodological possibility of such knowledge is blocked from the start.
They are also without interest in such subjectivist questions. The consequence of this is that historical or ontological “syntheses” are created in which the principle that determines objectivity is the favorable or unfavorable effect on the subject. For such historical and theoretical differences are completely indifferent to the suffering subject in its immediacy - as long as it is it does not rise above this immediacy, which, however, excludes Heidegger’s method in principle. And since the intellectual of the capitalist world suffers from the direct dichotomy between senseless, mechanized action and senseless subjective expression of personality, this becomes a casual by-product of the capitalist division of labor, blown up to a world-historical or ontological duality, to duality between civilization (technology) and culture, between spirit and soul (Klages), between metaphysics and initial thinking (Heidegger).
How strongly does Heidegger’s position differ from those thoughts indicated here, is shown in his description of the starting point of the development he perpetuated. He speaks about the theory and practice of Plato and Aristotle and says: Thought itself is considered a pure techne, the process of thinking in the service of doing and making. The consideration, however, is already seen here from the perspective of praxis and poiesis. Therefore thinking, when taken on its own, is not “practical”. The characterization of thinking as theoria and the determination of knowledge as “theoretical” behavior occurs already within the “technical” interpretation of thinking. It is a reactive attempt to save thinking in terms of independence from acting and doing. Since then, “philosophy” has been in constant distress before the “sciences” to justify their existence. It thinks that this can be done most surely by raising itself to the rank of a science. But this endeavor is the surrender of the essence of thinking. (54-55).
And as with everyone who opposes capitalist society in a subjectivist-Romantic way, Heidegger also attacks the democratic forms that the development of capitalism entails. The decline of philosophy is associated with the rule of the public. When thinking comes to an end by leaving its element, it replaces this loss by establishing itself as a techne, as an instrument of training and therefore as a school and later as a cultural establishment. Philosophy generally becomes a technique of explaining from the highest causes. One no longer thinks, one deals with “philosophy”. In the competition of such occupations, these then offer themselves publicly as a -ism and try to to outbid each other. The rule of such titles is not accidental. it is based, and above all in modern times, on the peculiar dictatorship of the public. (58). This line of thought could stand with any pre-fascist anti-capitalist, with anyone who – consciously or unconsciously, intentionally or unintentionally – a favorable intellectual atmosphere for the helped to create the social demagogy of fascism, and Heidegger unconsciously refutes his assertion that the man from Being and Time has nothing to do with society, with contemporary capitalist society.
Heidegger differs here, much to his advantage, from those critics of democracy who turn away from public life with bourgeois arrogance in order to surround their self-satisfied mere private existence with the glory of the essential, the real (such as Karl Jaspers). For Heidegger continues the line of thought just quoted: The so-called “private existence” is not, however, already essential, namely free human existence. It only stiffens to a negation of the public. It remains the offshoot that is dependent on it and feeds itself on the mere withdrawal from the public sphere. In this way, against its own will, it testifies to its bondage to the public. (58).
But this clarity leads Heidegger back into the deepest contradictions of his position. He would be absolutely right if he had the insight that capitalism destroys both public and private life of the people. But then it would have to carry on historically according to the social reasons for this destruction, according to the social possibility of reconstructing the public, which existed precisely in ancient life, and with it the reconstruction of private life as well. This, however, is only possible from an objective economic analysis of social life. Instead, Heidegger is looking for a sphere, a dimension that is neither public nor private, so again a “third way,” which this time also leads to nowhere: But if man is to find his way into being again, then he must first learn to exist in the nameless. In the same way he must recognize both the seduction by the public and the impotence of the private. (60).
The more pronouced contradiction is in the “third way” taken by Heidegger is, the more pronounced, the more positive he is. For the most essential distinguishing mark of this new work from Being and Time is precisely that Heidegger uses the nihilism of despair that radiates from his earlier work, which he wants to clean up, indeed, he interprets the older work as if it had not contained this despair at all, as if its effect had been a misunderstanding. The positive should primarily consist in the fact that an alleged perspective is opened up, that in the ek-sistential thinking of being, in standing in the clearing of being (66-67) a dimension of the sacred in which the only question is asked whether the God draws near or withdraws (102), can be revealed.
For this, however, the initial thinking is necessary. And this is, also with today’s Heidegger – as was once with the completely different kind of Klages – a radical cleaning up of the whole contemporary culture and civilization. It is not an ascent, as in that of the previous metaphysics he has rejected, it is a descent: Descent is more difficult and dangerous than ascent, especially where man has descended into subjectivity. Descent leads to the poverty of the ek-sistence of homo humanus. (103). With this descent, an attempt is made to open up a new “third way” out of the confused relationship between theory and practice everywhere (with the exception of Marxism): This thinking is neither theoretical nor practical. It occurs before this distinction. This thinking is, insofar as it is the memory of being and nothing else. Belonging to being, because being thrown into the knowledge of its truth and claimed for it, it thinks being. Such thinking has no result, it has no effect. It suffices for its essence in that it is. And if you look back from here at the beginning of Heidegger’s considerations, you can see what the alleged historicity of being is all about. Here it also becomes quite clear why, according to Heidegger, there can be no progress in philosophy. If such sophisticated subjectivist utopias could be realized, if any reality corresponded to this “essential vision”, the world would be a motionless being.
But despite all of Heidegger’s protests, this is the general view of the world of existentialism, from which Sartre and his students are desperately looking for a way into social reality, into which Jaspers weaves himself in vain self-reflection. The basis of this world of thought of the various nuances of existentialism is, as has been shown, the reality of the dissolving monopoly capitalism, seen by a type of human being, by a social class that evaluates all problems of the present solely on the basis of its subjective experiences. Being and Time occupied a special position in this literature; this work expressed with great energy the nihilism of despair, which naturally must arise from such an attitude towards life.
Now Heidegger wants to overcome this nihilism of despair. What he objectively puts in its place is no less problematic than the earlier work, but it lacks, despite everything existing, suggestive pathos. Of course, this pathos, this nihilism of despair was also an important manifestation of pre-fascism. Without such a hopeless despair among the broadest masses – which of course came from capitalist life and not from Being and Time, Heidegger only helped to deepen and consolidate this mood among intellectuals – Hitler would never have been able to achieve his effects. So it is understandable that Heidegger – for whatever internal motives – would like to do away with his pre-fascist past, even to annul it through reinterpretation. In vain efforts in his words and between his lines, he has not even philosophically disavowed his personal advocacy for fascism. Yes, the incognito of being in relation to beings outlined here can easily be a cover for a later revelation of whatever. Just think of the young men of Heidegger whom we spoke of at the beginning. They have after Heidegger realized an “initial thinking in the face of death”; they murdered, stolen, and desecrated only in the insignificant “dimension” of beings. And that can have no meaning for this philosophy.
This first post-fascist work by Heidegger can very easily play a prominent role in the reactionary ideological development of the future as Being and Time played in pre-fascism.
(All quotations, unless otherwise noted, are from the German text of Heidegger’s 1947 Letter on Humanism, G. L.)