Response to Michael’s Millerman’s Call for a New Heideggerian Beginning to a Political Crisis

This a partial reproduction of the script of a video I recently released on my YouTube channel and some further clarification of certain points. The video is a response to Michael Millerman’s argument for a Heideggerian approach to a new political beginning and can be seen here:

I made the video because I disagree with Millerman’s interpretation of Heidegger, which appears to me to be solely grounded in the pre-Turn thinking of Being and Time. Despite Millerman’s occasional allusion to post-Turn Heidegger, his methodology is solidly in the framework of Being and Time, which Heidegger came to reject. I find this an important issue for us today because this interpretation has led to much mischief in the past and continues to do so yet today in the works of far right writers.

Millerman’s position is that we are in a time of political crisis and Heidegger, whose task was to prepare for a new beginning for our thinking of man’s essence and relation to Being, has some important things to contribute. I think he errs when he attempts to substitute political crisis for Heidegger’s crisis of man’s relation to Being, which is far more fundamental and cannot be skipped over. Even in Being and Time, Heidegger stressed that we can never come to times with the basic concepts we employ born of metaphysical thinking until we have come to terms with the most fundamental question of all: the question of Being, and to try to build without that foundation of understanding of Being can only lead to more metaphysical error. Millerman’s attempt to think a new Heideggerian beginning to politics violates this precept and ultimately points to another far right political disaster, this time in the writing of Alexander Dugin.

Millerman’s interpretation of Heidegger is limited to Being and Time and the pre-Turn Heidegger, which Heidegger himself rejected after his famous Turn. Academics, especially philosophers in academia, generally consider Being and Time to be Heidegger’s seminal work and focus on it to the exclusion of his post turn thinking. This is because Being and Time was still written in the tradition of academic philosophy that is accessible to the academy, being grounded in Husserlian phenomenology and its methodology. The post-Turn Heidegger resolutely rejected philosophy as the dead end of metaphysics and took another path. It is at this point that Heidegger came into his own as the giant of 20th Century thought and left the academy blinking in confusion.

Millerman describes the Heidegger of Being and Time as concerned with addressing the crisis of science, which is its captivity to metaphysical objectification that uproots science from Being itself and obscures its grounding. Heidegger approaches this through philosophical methods and tools to understand the fundamental Being which precedes all our concepts and interpretations, which he called fundamental ontology. Heidegger put it this way in Being and Time:

Basically, all ontology, no matter how rich and firmly compacted a system of categories it has at its disposal, remains blind and perverted from its ownmost aim, if it has not first adequately clarified the meaning of Being, and conceived this clarification as its fundamental task.

The Seinsfrage, or question of Being remained his sole focus for the rest of his life, but his approach turned 180 degrees after Being and Time, as Heidegger himself described it. Before we go further with Being and Time and Millerman’s interpretation, it’s critical to understand Heidegger’s place and time within Western thought. Heidegger stood at the end of the last two major thrusts of Western philosophy: the first being the two-century long journey toward the destruction of metaphysics beginning with Francis Bacon and ending with Nietzsche. The other major thrust, which began about a century later with the Romantics, was the overturning of reason as the mode of apprehending truth in favor of esthetics, which again Nietzsche brought to fruition.

Being and time focused on the first of the two trends and attempted to build upon what he saw as Nietzsche’s ending of metaphysics. He sought a way of grounding the sciences in Being itself, thereby eliminating all metaphysical speculation and the subject/object dichotomy to which metaphysics gave birth. It attempted this project through the phenomenological analysis of Dasein and its cognitive structure as it interprets Being. Dasein here is the essence of man as Being and as the self-awareness of Being in the world.

The fatal flaw here is that in this approach there still lurks the dark figure of metaphysics in the assumed Kantian Transcendental Idealism and Husserlian Transcendental Hermeneutics. The only overcoming of the subject/object dichotomy Heidegger could manage within this framework was what he called Zuhandensein, which is the entanglement of man and tool in work. This would be radically rethought after the turn when he finally includes the second thrust of late philosophy: esthetic experience of truth.

It’s important to note that Heidegger never bothered to finish Being and Time. It was planned as a two-part work, the first covering Being, the second on Time, but he only wrote 2/3 of the first part on Being and put it away. In his later years he referred to it in an interview as an example of writing too soon. Through the thirties and into the forties we can trace the move of his thinking away from philosophy and toward what he called poetic thinking. This turn is clearly seen in his collection of essays, Holzwege, which appeared in 1947 and fully presented in the lecture: Was Heißt Denken?

The most important aspects of this turn are:

1. Replacing the focus from the modes of Dasein in interpreting Being to Being itself and man’s nature as a part of Being.

2. Replacing analytical methods with esthetic exploration of Being through poetry, i.e abandoning the methodological approach that Millerman suggests in his argument.

3. Ereignis as the experience of the revelation of Being

This move to esthetic mode of knowledge replaced phenomenological explanation of interpretation of Being with this notion of Ereignis, where we experience the truth as Being reveals itself through a partial unconcealing of its nature. We experience this poetically as originating language as Being speaks through man. Here truth is not something we interpret or determine, but something we experience through poetic language if we open ourselves to the experience. This is The real fruition of Nietzsche’s esthetic, much as Zarathustra experienced atop the mountain at midnight, looking at the moon through the laciness of the spider web and, experiencing the most profound truth, sang the Drunken Song.

Millerman’s argument is problematic. First, it attempts to solve the problem of a crisis of politics before we have addressed the underlying question of Being through Heidegger’s phenomenological methodology which Heidegger himself rejected. This is a common mistake, which we see in Sartre’s application of Heidegger’s analytics to existentialism, and Derrida’s exploiting the notion of hermeneutics as a way to deconstruct metaphysical assumptions lurking in all Dasein interpretations of Being. Uprooted from Being, the latter two end up either declaring truth as an invention or not existent.  It is interesting that at the end of the clip I presented, Millerman actually says the deconstruction of metaphysics, the Derridian term, rather than Heidegger’s destruction of metaphysics. But For Heidegger, it is no longer a matter of method by which we deconstruct the past or other such superficial games, but rather building on the destruction of metaphysics in order to prepare the way to a poetic relation to the truth and essence of Being.  This, and only this, is the new beginning Heidegger has in mind. We can not hope to understand anything else authentically until we learn to think the question of Being, which implies a rejection of philosophy for a new mode of authentic knowledge, free of metaphysical speculation and focusing completely on the world presented to us as Being while resisting all temptation to relapse back into metaphysics when we come before what we cannot yet know.

Let’s compare the attempt to construct a politics of Dasein with a question once asked of Heidegger: why he never wrote anything on morality. He answered we don’t yet even know the questions to ask. He meant we first need to pursue the Seinsfrage and only then can an authentic morality emerge out of our nature and the nature of Being. The same would apply to the question of politics. In his famous interview in the German magazine, Der Spiegel, Heidegger dismissed all political formations and instead pivoted to the one true appropriate question before we can address any others, our relation to Being and the essence of technology. Again, this is the new beginning he had in mind and necessarily precedes our ability to address other questions.

What Millerman proposes is not an authentic application of Heidegger. We are not ready to even know the right questions to ask about politics or any approach to political philosophy. Early in his career Heidegger had given up on philosophy’s ability to resolve anything. When we do learn the right questions from a true grounding in Being, political formation will emerge.

In his long poem of 1965, Aus der Erfarhrung des Denkens, Heidegger gives us a line that perfectly encapsulates all of what I described and what serves me as the touchstone to Heidegger and our place and time:

Wir kommen für die Götter zu spät und zu früh für das Sein, dessen angefangenes Gedicht ist der Mensch.

(We come too late fort he gods and too late for Being, whose just begun poem is man)

Here we are in Nietzsche’s time of the great vertigo as a result of the Madman’s announcement of the death of god, the last effect of the destruction of metaphysics. Or as Heidegger calls it, the time of destitution in his essay in Holzwege, Wozu Dichter. We are ungrounded and in a vertiginous floating stuck between the time of the gods and the time of Being until we discover the way to Being, and that way cannot be through philosophy or science, but through poetic experience of Ereignis. And that is what poets and authentic thinkers are for. Our own essential destiny is that of the poet. Our purpose is to be the poetic experience of Being for Being itself – its just begun poem. Being speaks through us as the manifestation of experience itself in which we and Being share. Poetry is not just some avocation for Heidegger but the only way to recover what we lost through metaphysics, when Logos in its original and full meaning of word as the musical revelation of Being in the world, with its resonance full of the manifold presence of Being, that is Being speaking through man, was attenuated to the desiccate impoverishment of logic.  

To conclude, much political mischief has been committed by attempting to derive political theory from Heidegger’s early and abandoned phenomenology, starting with Heidegger himself and his early support of Nazism, Sartre’s embrace of Communism, and Alexander Dugin’s use of it as dressing and camouflage over Putin’s thugocracy, as well as lesser lights in America who distort and name-drop Heidegger in an attempt to legitimize their crude and ugly populist nationalism.

I fear Millerman fails to see the danger such an approach entails, especially in light of its past disasters. Dugin’s faux_heidegarianism only mimics Heidegger’s tracing of words to their authentic beginnings in order to reveal a supposed authentic Russian interpretation of Being and culture, an enterprise that leads not to any originating logos but rather a maze of fallen language which easily elides into nationalism. He furthers this through his concept of communal Dasein, which eerily echoes Heidegger’s early embrace of Nationalism as an authentic mass experience of Nietzschean Will, as described by Juergen Habermas in his criticism of Heidegger, and echoes the dark myth of Volk with the Russian Narod.  Make no mistake, Dugin’s fourth political theory is no authentic thinking of Being, but inauthentic window-dressing for authoritarian brutality. It could not possibly be further removed from the poetic inquiry of Being.

So where does this leave us concerning the political crisis? The simple answer is: in danger with no authentic solution at this point. I believe that in such a crisis the best approach is to look to politics and government for as little as possible until the day comes when (if that day comes) we have sufficiently thought the question and Being and are able to ground a state authentically in Being itself. To reach that state requires the freedom for such thought to take place. Coercive governments, right or left, can only stifle that thinking and oppress the people by enforcing inauthentic myths of culture and values, as is the goal of all nationalism. For that reason, I am a rare breed indeed: a Heideggerian libertarian.

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