Heidegger, anti-humanism, and the Left

Tim Black, a senior writer at spiked, has a good review discussion of “Why they’re really scared of Heidegger.” The “they’re” refers to many contemporary academics, and Black’s review is of Emmanuel Faye’s wave-making Heidegger: The Introduction of Nazism into Philosophy in Light of the Unpublished Seminars of 1933-1935 (Yale, 2009).

Some key quotations from Black’s essay with some commentary from me:

heidegger-50x69“The philosopher still makes some academics feel itchily uncomfortable, not because they truly believe his Nazism will leap from the pages of his works, but because his deeply anti-humanist arguments sound a little too familiar.”

Indeed. In the academic world, especially in the Humanities, we are surrounded by anti-humanists postmodernists, left environmentalists, extreme animal activists, and various other sub-species. (I sometimes wonder whether—for the sake of truth in advertising—we should rename the “Humanities” divisions in our colleges the “Anti-Humanities.” Not that I am bitter or anything.)

Yet there is a bit of a puzzle for some commentators given that, on the usual (ridiculous) Left-Right political spectrum, Heidegger and the Nazis are often place on the “Right” while most of Heidegger’s contemporary fellow-travelers are on the “Left.” Tim Black notes: “Heidegger’s influence is such that any attempt to see the fascist thread loses itself in the weave and weft of an immense, largely leftish legacy.”

swastika-112x50So we have to go up a level of abstraction to see the connections. Just as “left” Communism and “right” Nazism are two particular applications of a broader collectivist and authoritarian political vision, Heidegger’s particular philosophy and contemporary postmodernists’ particular philosophy share essentially the same anti-reason and anti-human vision.

Black puts it this way: “The discomfort Heidegger’s Nazism repeatedly causes is revealing. … Heidegger prompts discomfort precisely because he was a Nazi propagating a non-Nazi philosophy. He is just not alien enough. His is a philosophical vision that sits too comfortably with many mainstream attitudes, whether it’s an environmentalist assault upon human hubris or a snobbish disdain for consumerism.”

And of Heidegger’s more abstract philosophical commitments, i.e., his stance against reason and modernity, Black says: “what remained consistent throughout, from the Letter on Humanism to the Question Concerning Technology, was that veiled, abstracted, but nonetheless, resonant critique of modernity, and the human-centred rationality he discerned at its fallen heart … . His thought resonates not because he was a Nazi, but because his criticism of modernity echoes many of today’s anti-modern trends.”

Exactly right. Heidegger’s Nazism is a particular application of his broader anti-humanism, and his philosophical influence has to be understood from that level of abstraction and generality. Heideggerian anti-humanism can be applied particularly in a number of ways, so that is why we find his continued resonance with today’s postmodernists, left environmentalists, neo-Luddites, and man-hating animal activists, and the rest.

ep_50x78My own discussion of Heidegger appears in Chapter Three (pp. 58-67) of my Explaining Postmodernism. Four sections of that chapter are devoted to Heidegger:
* “Heidegger’s synthesis of the Continental tradition”
* “Setting aside reason and logic”
* “Emotions as revelatory”
* “Heidegger and postmodernism”
That chapter is also available at the Explaining Postmodernism page.