The problem of the relation between Heidegger’s politics and his philosophy has been posed with increasing intensity and richness in detail over the past few years. This is a good sign, in that a debate that had been stifled for a long time has now begun to emerge.
However, it would be a mistake to infer that all the participants in the debate agree on its framing. This framing is not neutral, but pre-orients the sort of response one is tending to or expecting. If we limit the idea of Heidegger’s « politics » to his political views or to his political philosophy we have already oriented the debate towards the conclusion that these constitute a detachable, and so quarantinable, sub-region of his thought.
Sean Kelly, in a post on the ALL THINGS SHINING blog, poses the question in these terms:
How should our knowledge of Heidegger’s political views affect our reading of his philosophical work? How, more generally, should our knowledge of anyone’s political views affect the reception of their intellectual work?
This is, however, by no means the toughest version of the problem. The question in its tough version would be: is Heidegger’s fundamental ontology or its most normal usage not just contaminated by the influence his politics but essentially co-constituted by it?
If it could be that some of Heidegger’s most basic concepts are either designed or coded by a cipher (to which the BLACK NOTEBOOKS give the keys) to exclude the « Jews » from positively marked concepts (Dasein, standing openness,worldedness) of the traits worthy of human being, then there would be big problems in isolating out the non-Anti-semitic concepts from their anti-Semitic usage. Kelly does not even consider the problem at this level of entanglement of politics and philosophy, so we can imagine that his answer will be that the demarcation of « good » concepts from « bad » concepts is feasible, and the same for the demarcation of the « bad » usage » from the « good » concepts.
Kelly has been talking about the « gratitude » that comes to us at the emergence in us of a decision given as a « gift ». My analysis has pointed out that it is problematic to highlight this conceptual constellation (gratitude, given, gift) while maintaining in the background the more generic associated concepts of care, attention, fidelity, openness.
It is as if Kelly were willing to relativise Christian conceptions but unable, or unwilling to break with them. He takes care to distance his views from Christianity, but the nostalgia remains. Similarly, Kelly seems to pose the question of his continuing commitment to a « decision » to engage his thought within Heideggerian terms. Should he continue to feel gratitude for that decision today? Or should he feel meta-gratitude that he was capable of receiving and committing to such an ontological decision, but that he is open here and now to other decisions.
The tough question is then can Kelly keep his openness and his Heidegger? or does his continuing fidelity today to Heidegger close off his openness and hinder the receiving of a new decision?
Kelly has already given us a better answer than that of detachment and quarantine in his previous post, that of a « trajectory » (I would say a path of individuation) having to pass through an inadequate understanding in order to attain a more fitting one.
If we substitute Heideggerian where Kelly wrote « white-supremacist » we get some useful advice:
it could turn out to have been a good thing to have been given, and to live out, the reprehensible, Heideggerian understanding of myself. It would turn out to have been a good thing just in case having understood myself in that way turns out to be a pre-requisite to my being flipped out of that understanding and into something genuinely good. In that case, I could be grateful for having been given such an understanding of myself.
In other words, was Heidegger (having a Heideggerian understanding of himself and the world) a « transition » for Kelly, a necessary (for him) passage to a good understanding of himself?
We would be like the dolphins at the end THE HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY, leaving the Earth to its destruction, with the message: so long, and thanks for all the fish.
We could leave Heidegger (or any other philosopher formative of our understanding) behind, saying:
« So long and thanks for all the concepts ».