What is Philosophy? (Part 2a)
However awkward the acknowledgment may be, there is no getting around the fact that philosophy, when apprehended within the Western tradition, is original sin. Between the tree of life and the tree of knowledge, it does not hesitate. Its name is indistinguishable from a lust for the forbidden. Whilst burning philosophers is no longer socially acceptable, our canonical order of cultural prohibition – at its root — can only consider such punishment mandatory. Once philosophers are permitted to live, established civilization is over.
For philosophy, the whisper of the serpent is no longer a resistible temptation. It is instead a constitutive principle, or foundation. If there is a difference between a Socratic daemon and a diabolical demon, it is not one that matters philosophically. There can be no refusal of any accessible information. This is an assumption so basic that philosophy cannot exist until it has passed beyond question. Ultimate religious transgression is the initiation.
It should be of no surprise to Christian Traditionalists, therefore, to find the extremities of the philosophical endeavor mixed, intimately, into the ashes of the Third Reich. The negative religious absolute, or infinite evil of the National Socialist experiment, which supplants all positive revelation under the socio-cultural conditions of the mature Cathedral, is ‘coincidentally’ the place where the limit of philosophy has been drawn. This is, of course, to introduce the thinking of Martin Heidegger.
As the perfect negation of Christ, or consummate fulfillment of Anti-Christ, Adolf Hitler closes — or essentially completes — the history of the Occident. It doesn’t matter whether we believe that. The Cathedral does, utterly, to the point of sealed doctrine. Heidegger anticipated this conclusion lucidly. At an election rally, held by German academics on November 11, 1933, he declared:
We have declared our independence from the idol of thought that is without foundation and power. We see the end of the philosophy that serves such thought. … And so we, to whom the preservation of our people’s will to know shall in the future be entrusted, declare: The National Socialist revolution is not merely the assumption of power as it exists presently in the State by another party, a party grown sufficiently large in numbers to be able to do so. Rather, this revolution is bringing about the total transformation of our German existence. … The Führer has awakened this will [to national self-responsibility] in the entire people and has welded it into one single resolve. No one can remain away from the polls on the day when this will is manifested.
Naturally, as a democratic pronouncement (addressed to comparative imbeciles), only a few hints of Heidegger’s profound modulation of the Germanic “will to know” seep through. Wikipedia’s reconstruction of the occulted visionary backdrop, drawn from the work of Michael Allen Gillespie, is excellent:
Heidegger believed the Western world to be on a trajectory headed for total war, and on the brink of profound nihilism (the rejection of all religious and moral principles), which would be the purest and highest revelation of Being itself, offering a horrifying crossroads of either salvation or the end of metaphysics and modernity; rendering the West: a wasteland populated by tool-using brutes, characterized by an unprecedented ignorance and barbarism in which everything is permitted. He thought the latter possibility would degenerate mankind generally into: scientists, workers and brutes; living under the last mantel of one of three ideologies: Americanism, Marxism or Nazism (which he deemed metaphysically identical; as avatars of subjectivity and institutionalized nihilism) and an unfettered totalitarian world technology. Supposedly, this epoch would be ironically celebrated, as the most enlightened and glorious in human history. He envisaged this abyss, to be the greatest event in the West’s history; because it enables Humanity to comprehend Being more profoundly and primordially than the Pre-Socratics.
It is misleading to suggest that Heidegger saw any distinction between “salvation” and the “the end of metaphysics and modernity”, or no meaningful distinction between the thoughtless technological dyad of Americanism/Marxism and the National Socialist awakening of German existence, but in other respects this description is penetrating. By bringing the history of the concealment of Being to its ruinous conclusion, consummate nihilism would herald a return to the origin of philosophy, opening the path to a raw encounter with the hidden and unnameable abyss (Being in its own truth). As the door to the end of the world, Hitler led the way to the historically unthinkable.
Yes, this is highly – in fact, uniquely – arcane. Prior to The Event, there can be no adequate formulation of the problem, let alone the solution. By 1927, with the publication of Being and Time (Part I), Heidegger has completed what is achievable in advance of the calamity, which is to clarify the insufficiency of the Question of Being as formulated within the history of ontology.
Heidegger’s cognitive resources are basically Kantian, which is to say that he undertakes a transcendental critique of ontology, producing not a critical philosophy, but a draft for a ‘fundamental ontology’. Where Kant diagnoses the error of speculative metaphysics as a confusion between objects and their conditions of possibility (which then construes the latter as objects of an untenable discourse), Heidegger ontologizes the transcendental approach, distinguishing between ‘beings’ and their ground (Being), whilst diagnosing the attendant error of construing the ground of beings as itself a being (of some kind). Since the most dignified – and thus exemplary – being known to the Occidental tradition is God, Heidegger refers to the structural misapprehension of Being – defining and ordering the history of philosophy — as ‘Onto-Theology’.
Critically (or ‘destructively’) conceived, fundamental ontology is that inquiry which does not pose the Question of Being in such a way that it could be answered by the invocation of a being. No adequate formulation, compliant with this transcendental criterion (or ‘ontological difference’), is realizable, because however ‘Being’ is named, its conception remains trapped within the ‘ontic’ sphere of (mere) beings. We cannot, through an act of philosophical will – however strenuous — cease to think of Being as if it were some kind of thing, even after understanding the inadequacy of such apprehension. It is thus, broken upon an ultimate problem that can neither be dismissed or resolved, that philosophy reaches its end, awaiting the climactic ruin of The Event.
[Brief intermission — then time, language, and more Nazi ontological apocalypse]