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Comments by Wade McKenzie
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On “Open Thread

Can't help but notice that Heidegger's "Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit" has shown up in your "Reading List". Are you reading it? If so, I'd be interested to hear what you think (I haven't read it myself).

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Well, CK, I knew that you would acquit yourself capably. I'll take issue with just one thing--acknowledging, at the same time, that it is of a piece with your skeptical account of the "tradition".

Xenophon was many things--a historian, a soldier of fortune--but that he wasn't a philosopher as well, is contradicted by three books of Leo Strauss': On Tyranny (please remember, it is a study of a Xenophontic dialogue), Xenophon's Socrates, and Xenophon's Socratic Discourse. In addition, Strauss wrote several articles concerning Xenophon, one of which--Xenophon's Anabasis--is, I believe, pertinent to this question.

"Xenophon is my special favorite, because he had the courage to disguise himself as a fool and so to go through the millenniums—he is the biggest rascal that I know—I believe he does in his writings exactly what Socrates did in his life."

"My admiration for Xenophon, now almost 40 years old, led a fellow who lives now in England—Richard Lichtheim’s son, I believe—not only to despise me as a hopeless reactionary, which I am indeed, but also as the victim of indoctrination through the humanistic gymnasium.”

~Leo Strauss

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To whom it may concern: I've a bad conscience about my attribution of the quote by Leo Strauss concerning Heidegger. It's a long story--but, without having verified it myself, it would seem more likely that that quote occurs in "Introduction to Heideggerian Existentialism", which is reprinted in the anthology The Rebirth of Classical Political Rationalism.

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I think that this view would imply that, to the extent that a regime discovers in philosophy or free inquiry a threat that needs to be snuffed out, it demonstrates that it is a bad regime or a regime unworthy of support by philosophers or by anyone else. One might also imagine a good or good enough regime whose functionaries or whose supreme leadership recognized a threat, but chose to endure it rather than to seek to eliminate it. What would be more difficult to imagine is a philosopher on the basis of philosophy or political history, or a reasonable estimate of the interests of philosophers, establishing a basis for opposing or undermining such a regime. The philosopher who gives in to that impulse – perhaps Nietzsche, perhaps Heidegger, perhaps Schmitt if Schmitt can be treated as a philosopher – will tend to lose his bearings, and end up in service to the worst enemies of thought.

What is the paradigm instance in the history of philosophy of a regime under which philosophy flourished? It is the city of Athena--Athens--is it not? This is why Strauss figuratively described the relation "philosophy and religion" as "Athens and Jerusalem".

Now according to tradition, of the four most famous philosophers who either emanated from or pitched their tent there--Socrates, Xenophon, Plato and Aristotle--the first was executed, the second expelled, the third wrote esoterically to avoid persecution, and the last fled to avoid the fate of the first. Of the four, the first three--Socrates, Xenophon, Plato--were notorious sympathizers with the Spartan regime, arguably the most illiberal regime in all of history and certainly the paradigmatic illiberal regime of antiquity.

When you say "philosophers who give in to that impulse"--perhaps Socrates, perhaps Xenophon, perhaps Plato--do you mean that the aforementioned trio "lost their bearings"?

Now you and I--and presumably everyone else here--are living in, what is without a doubt, the most liberal regime in all of human history, the United States of Wal-Mart. What's more--it is a vast continental empire, with a population of some 350 million people, with ready access to more information than any time before. Not like Athens--a rinky-dink city by today's standards with a total population of some 250,000 in the city and surrounding countryside, approximately half of whom were slaves, where literacy was the privilege of the few, and information was relegated to word of mouth, handwritten scrolls, and prophetic oracles.

According to your thesis, America ought to have surpassed Attica long ago as a byword for philosophy. And who are our philosophers? Who do we have to set alongside Socrates, Xenophon, Plato and Aristotle? Well, far as I can tell--Peirce, James, Dewey... Who else? Maybe Leo Strauss--maybe he corresponds to the emigre Aristotle in this scheme? Who else--Richard Rorty? I'm not sure I can think of anyone else--can you? Josiah Royce?

Is this what you mean, CK, by the quality of favorability that the liberal regime possesses for the sect of the philosophers? If so, then I'm afraid I must side with the view of one of the ones whom you characterize as prospectively transgressive: Nietzsche. He said something to the effect that, if you want philosophy to flourish, then repress the philosophers. History would appear to vindicate such a view--and not only in Athens.

On “Confederates in Love

"We evaluate & judge such things because otherwise we’re faced with the absurdity of every sacrifice being Worth It simply because it’s a sacrifice, every death a brave one even if it consists of merely We evaluate & judge such things because otherwise we’re faced with the absurdity of every sacrifice being Worth It simply because it’s a sacrifice, every death a brave one even if it consists of merely jumping off a cliff for no reason."

It goes without saying that not every death is a brave one--in fact, I can only assume that the overwhelming majority of them are not and modernity's advocacy of "fun" as life's summum bonum ostensibly exacerbates the problem--but it seems to me that "jumping off a cliff for no reason" is an undeniably brave act. It may be unwise, unjust, even bad--but that it is brave strikes me as incontestable. That suggests you're unwilling to accord the status of bravery to any deed that doesn't conform to your own conception of right, justice or goodness. And precisely because that would seem to falsify the very notion of bravery (that is, it seems to be an erroneous notion of same) it calls into question the truth of your conception of right, justice, etc. Before we can ever ascend to the right, just and good, we must first grasp with clarity wherein bravery consists.

On “Open Thread

Your point, CK, about Christianity being unable entirely to renounce the body is well-taken. Even assuming, however, that it were not well-taken, Christianity nevertheless claims to offer the absolute resolution of the very problems of destitution, etc. which you are so solicitous to see resolved--namely, its offer of eternal salvation and immortal felicity. You may disdain such a claim, but it is something which Christianity "offers" above and beyond all attempts at earthly meliorism. In essence--and per usual--you and I are respectively endorsing rival claims as to that wherein the good, the true and the noble genuinely consists.

Heidegger and other post-humanists or crypto-post-humanists or anti-liberals and so on did really find themselves at a loss, or without firm intellectual and moral defenses, and eventually in complicity, when a ruthlessly inhumane regime took power.

As your comment seems to imply, everyone found themselves at something of a loss "when a ruthlessly inhumane regime took power." But, again, I think you're presuming the very thing about which we're disputing. As I've indicated time and again, I'm more concerned about the American regime than I am about Nazi Germany. Substitute "Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, et al." for "Heidegger and other post-humanists, etc." above, and you'll know roughly how I feel about it. I don't expect you to be persuaded by said substitution and you ought not expect me to be persuaded by the original.

As to Christians mistreating non-Christians... Well, you yourself have said "boys will be boys"--and, as I have more or less said the entire time of my participation on this website: Till kingdom come and perhaps beyond, Bodenstaendigkeit will not be denied. Kierkegaard's "scandal of particularity."

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Btw--I completely forgot...

You're right, I think, about Heidegger's critique emanating from "universalism"--Heidegger's texts are supremely and even
austerely "universalist". Heideggerianism is, however, the deliverance of a deeply philosophic universalism that a sociopolitical universalism is not only unworkable but downright destructive. Thus, the necessity--at the level of the polis--for Bodenstaendigkeit. It is a paradox of sorts--though not, I think, a contradiction. And, of course, I disagree (per my comment above) that it is "ruthlessly inhumane".

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What’s the ethical status of that message, and how is it anything other than what it pretends to indict – a ruthlessly inhumane universalism?

CKM: We are, of course, having a conversation about Heidegger's critique of modernity. It would seem that Chris and I agree, at least to some limited extent, with some part of that critique. I anticipated that you would not--and, since I've made my own affirmation of "some part" of Heidegger's critique explicitly clear, I might plausibly read your sentence above as a question directed at me.

Now, if modernity per Heidegger is bad, perilous, even evil, then the "message" to that effect is, by implication, good--even if the implementation of said message (as I've said below, a highly speculative notion) would entail the great suffering that your comment predicts. But Heidegger too made a prediction: that if we don't repent or "let go" of our lust to conquer nature, then we will--all of us, all humanity--be destroyed, either physically or essentially. Thus, the return to a non-scientific/technological way of human being would simply return the race of men to the sort of life it had known for countless millennia--a way of life that wasn't as materially pleasant as present-day life in the United States of Wal-Mart, but didn't portend the destruction of man.

What's more, your comment relies--as does modernity and liberalism in general--on the presumption that the prevention of the corruption of the body (its physical harm and material deprivation) is the critical issue. That is a view so widespread today that it is virtually unassailable--only a fool (like, say, David) would seek to slay such a giant. It is not, however, the view of men like Socrates, Jesus, Paul, Thomas More, et al.--to say nothing of men who didn't give the last full measure of devotion (e.g. Martin Heidegger, whom we're discussing).

In what way does modernity corrupt the human soul? Well, in my own view, we can see that quite clearly in modernity's ambition to end Christendom and Christianity and replace it with a kind of secular paganism or, better yet, a popularized Epicureanism. Christianity was a conscious attempt to nobilize the souls of ordinary men and women--in essence, by preparing them to die (even a violent death) with courage. Modernity, by contrast, is solidly rooted in the fear of death (especially violent death)--thus its absolute grounding in the so-called "right" of self-preservation. The nobilization of the soul vs. the preservation of the body--that is the choice we face. One might suppose that the two prospects could be integrated. But I would maintain--in accordance with Christian teaching--that the nobilization of the soul is inversely correlated to the preservation of the body. The more one can "let go" of the body, the more noble is one's soul--and Jesus' passion is the supreme example.

As to the charge that people will be deprived of "freedom" in the event that modernity were to be done away with: I've previously made clear my indifference to modern "liberty". Christian liberty--the emancipation of the soul from slavery to sin and passion--is an available prospect in any age whatever. Strait is the gate that leads to life and few there be that find it. Without cultural or civilizational exhortation to that effect, however, few will even have the chance.

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If I can follow up just a bit on my own comment--because I fear that my call for a return to a "scriptural" Christianity (in context, be it remembered, of a discussion of Heidegger's critique of modernity) will cause eyes to roll all round...

The problem of how to get out of modernity (and I grant that this whole notion is, shall we say, "speculative") ultimately devolves upon the problem of how to return to social and political orders that submit to earthly limitation (and thus suffering, sorrow and pain) rather than attempting to eliminate pain and suffering through science, technology and liberalism--which attempt, according to Heidegger's critique, will only lead to our physical or essential destruction.

And it seems to me that we have, ready to hand, a body of myth, poetry and moral teaching in the Christian Bible--with its core image of the humiliated, suffering, dying Son of God and his similarly humiliated, suffering, dying apostles--that can serve to renew our minds to the needful Gelassenheit.

And if a boorish sort of fellow were to say, "We can't believe these fairy-tales any longer!"--then please keep in mind that, according to Heidegger, the quest for certitude is itself of the very essence of the modern peril which we happen to be discussing.

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(his own politics look a lot like Nietzsche’s youthful fascination with Wagner, only Heidegger took it further, and embraced the anti-semitism)

In contradistinction to Nietzsche's "youthful" nationalism, Heidegger was certainly a lifelong German patriot and nationalist--in just the sense (a lover of the fatherland, the homeland) that, I've been given to understand, leftists tend to decry.

"Leftism", to my mind, denotes allegiance to the ideal of equality--and the further left one is, the more one tends to an ideal of universal equality. Now I do think there is a "leftist" quality to Heidegger's political and social commitment--namely, the internal equality of the German people in their historic homeland. As to the external equality of the German people with all the peoples of the earth, however, I think it would be an understatement to say that that notion didn't exactly occupy the first rank of his concern.

That tends to make me suspicious of any claim that Heidegger or Heideggerianism is finally compatible with leftism a la francais--but there's no doubt that, in the aftermath of the war, Heidegger was grateful for allies from whatsoever corner and I don't blame him one bit for that.

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I don’t think you can overlook his decision, whether philosophical or personal/professional, to hitch his wagon to Hitler, but I don’t think it renders him unreadable, from a leftist or any other perspective.

Of course it doesn't render him unreadable, because (pace political orthodoxy of whatever stripe) "readability" by no means derives from one's political affinities or fealties--and to the extent it does, probably renders a given text "unreadable" to just that extent.

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The crisis of the 20th century is the revelation that, like every other mindset before it, modernism continually and of its own accord descends into unimaginable violence.

Chris: I just want to affirm that your entire quote which begins with the above-excerpted sentence, accords with my own inexpert understanding of Heidegger and is, I think, a well-stated synopsis of at least one feature of Heidegger's thought.

Only because of the specific scientific-rationalist character of modernism, it’s even better at violence than any other idea that has ever been.

Precisely. Most people, it seems, tend to assume that the whole point of modernity is to reduce violence--or the conflicts from which it stems--and further tend to believe that it has succeeded wildly in the attainment of that purpose. Evidence to the contrary--such as the cataclysmic world wars, are typically explained as atavistic regressions to the pre-modern. If only it were so! More people were killed in the wars of the twentieth century than were killed in all the wars which preceded them in all of human history. And if Nietzsche is to be believed (and keep in mind, he predicted the apocalyptic violence of the twentieth century), the wars of the twenty-first century will be every bit as catastrophic. A la Heidegger--and perhaps others (Schmitt?)--it is as if the attempt universally to eradicate conflict leads (quite literally, as it turns out) to a fissile explosion of same.

Though I would by no means describe myself as a fully-fledged "Heideggerian", I'm afraid that I do agree with Heidegger that: 1) Modernity isn't desirable, because premodern ways of life were more true to life (and being) in their submission to inevitable limitation; and 2) Even were that not the case, modernity is a grave peril--the most grave peril mankind will ever face. The attempt to overcome nature will more likely eventuate in the physical destruction of man or his complete dehumanization--the loss of his own nature--than in the realization of his "inherent" freedom and dignity.

So what is to be done? Well, as you know, according to Heidegger, there really is nothing to be "done"--or what is to be done is something so slight, so weak, so tender that it will strike damn near everyone in this coarse industrial age as just being silly. As I said above, it might be likened to prayerful repentance. In my own view, a return on the part of the West (or any part thereof) to "biblical" Christianity (by which I mean a Christianity rooted in the storytelling and poetry of the Old and New Testaments--as opposed to the philosophical/theological/metaphysical Christianity of, say, Thomism) might be consonant with what Heidegger had in mind (I stress the word "consonant"). Lest anyone retort that Heidegger is adamantly opposed to Christianity as such, I think that Heidegger's position to that effect is in fact ambiguous and obscure, though there can be no doubt that Heidegger criticized the history of "metaphysics" and believed that Christianity was very well-situated in that history to advance the metaphysical baton from the ancients to the moderns. Whether the Christianity of the apostle John really is a sort of prolegomena to the Christian rationalisms of Anselm and Aquinas (to say nothing of the rationalisms of Descartes or Leibniz, et al.) is, to my mind, a yet debatable notion.

On “Confederates in Love

CKM: I don't have time today to formulate the sort of response which your very beautiful piece both requires and deserves. I hope to do so sometime in the next week--assuming, that is, that I can even come close to doing it justice. But I do want to take this occasion to congratulate you--I very much doubt a more thoughtful, more insightful piece concerning this business has been written by anyone, anywhere. I've made my admiration for your perspective and writing style abundantly clear--perhaps a bit too clear--and this text of yours is a perfect example of what it is that calls forth my admiration for you time and again. Well done!

On “Open Thread

So maybe we do not need a great thinker in fact, and only a second-rate thinker like Strauss himself, according to Strauss himself, would think that. Or maybe Strauss is already pointing to that conclusion, and can be seen in the act as it were of ascending to a kind of greatness, if not precisely the same kind of greatness perhaps wrongly attributed to Heidegger.

While I have some misgiving about the first sentence above, I think the second sentence is very intriguing and I wish I could get you to expand a bit on it.

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Of course, it’s also possible that Strauss has formulated the problem incorrectly, a possibility that Strauss’ own implicit self-description (as not such a thinker) would tend to underline.

Perhaps you might care then to re-formulate the problem correctly. One can be forgiven for supposing, however, that your "own implicit self-description" would tend to undermine said re-formulation. I say this not to belittle you, but rather to say (along with Spinoza), "Caute!"

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Taken at face value, the quote merely acknowledges the problem as a significant problem calling for “very great effort,” not as a problem that cannot be solved.

Technically speaking, that's true. The quote, however, clearly suggests that the solution of the problem along that line is entirely dependent upon what we might call chance, fate or fortune--the proverbial luck of the draw--vis a vis the emergence of that rarity of rarities, the great thinker. And so, in point of fact and not theory, it is implied that the problem is indeed insoluble, in the sense that it is more than likely to remain unsolved. In other words, we have no "reason" to suppose it likely that it will ever be solved.

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What's more--in that sentence from my comment which you quote in your reply, I placed a question mark beside "necessarily" and so I might as well formulate the question explicitly: Does rejection of philosophic liberalism necessarily entail the rejection of the liberal regime? It seems to me that it does--and I for one certainly do--but perhaps you disagree.

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Yes, of course--but the question remains, does it not, as to why anyone committed to the ideals of liberty and equality would be "Someone who’s read and thought a lot about Heidegger"--the highest embodiment of the National Socialist theorist. And that is what my parody of the New Testament verse concerning "authority" seeks to explain.

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The "problem" being that “All rational liberal philosophic positions have lost their significance and power [in light of Heidegger’s thinking]." Not sure why you would charge Heidegger with "a very telling incapacity" to "solve" said "problem", when it is quite clear that Heidegger despised rational liberalism. As to the further implication that Heidegger--having accomplished the destruktion of liberalism--simply left us stranded, one could speak at great length about how that "failure of thinking" is entirely consonant with meditative thinking as he understood it, a thinking which has no power or capacity to save or deliver us from existential peril. In fact, he maintains (as you know) that it is by means of "powerful, capable" thinking that being--and not the will of man--has itself delivered us into this very peril. All we can do is pray: Lead us not into temptation. It may be that the "power" of Heidegger's thought, such as it is, is to engender a kind of prayerful repentance.

While your careful exposition of the quote's "face value" is--by and large--well taken, I maintained that the quote would seem to vindicate the notion that Strauss eschewed philosophic liberalism--"I for one cannot bring myself to clinging to philosophic positions which have been shown to be inadequate"--and you haven't at all undermined that, but tried rather to work around it by questioning--entirely legitimately, of course--whether Strauss's veneration of the impressive greatness of Heidegger's thought is warranted or unwarranted.

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And btw--I'm not sure I can speak adequately to the idea that Heidegger, specifically, has made rational liberalism impotent--though I am, of course, myself persuaded that rational liberalism is neither true nor desirable and I have found Heidegger to be a profound and beautiful expression of that tendency. My intention in providing the quote, however, had more to do with what it seemingly says about Strauss. If the quote can be taken at face value, it suggests that Strauss eschews philosophic liberalism and thus, necessarily (?), the political sort as well (i.e. the liberal regime).

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Well, I must confess that the concept "leftwing Heideggerian" tends to arouse the worse angels of my nature. I've been told that there are such strange creatures and--to the extent that a phenomenon so perverse is at all explicable--I've previously explained it, right here at this website, in the following terms: For those who have ears to hear, it is as if Heidegger spoke as one having authority--and not as the scribes.

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Oh, I don't care about the avatar any more--do what thou wilt.

In any event--as I expressed in that last exchange of ours I was myself disappointed in the frivolous turn my comments had taken. Nevertheless, I do hope soon to take up again the "cause" of illiberal reactionism--even the once and, hopefully, future Confederate States of America (contra Grant, the greatest "cause" by far in all of American history--though it was by no means a "cause")--perhaps sometime next week.

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CKM: I thought it advisable that I should take a break. I see you've been extraordinarily productive in my absence. Anyway, here's a quote you might find interesting--and apropos, perhaps, of everything about which we've disputed with one another, wheels within wheels.

"All rational liberal philosophic positions have lost their significance and power [in light of Heidegger’s thinking]. One may deplore this, but I for one cannot bring myself to clinging to philosophic positions which have been shown to be inadequate. I am afraid that we shall have to make a very great effort in order to find a solid basis for rational liberalism. Only a great thinker could help us in our intellectual plight. But here is the great trouble: the only great thinker in our time
is Heidegger."

~Leo Strauss (fr. "What is Political Philosophy?")

On “Child of Mog; Extraordinary Comments

I just want my name up there, like it was. I don't want an "avatar".

"I do not have time to get into the subject matter you’re intent on raising with anything like the care I believe required"

If you weren't wasting your time designing "avatars" and writing about it, you might have the time.

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Alright, CK.

I really must confess--I can't stand the new "avatar". Would you please remove it? (Can you not show me even one kindness--I who shared my prize collection of Leo Strauss course transcripts with you?)

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