Monday, 14 May 2012

Only a God can save us.


For Heidegger the gods will save us once we welcome them back into our world, when we've gotten past this technological stance which stifles us. You could take this as an expressed acceptance of the futility of all struggle. There can be no way out of the hegemony, all we can do is wait for an outburst of ‘divine violence’. Thus ‘only a God can save us.’ Žižek sees this as one of many reactions by the Left to the hegemony of global capitalism and its indestructibility. The capitalist system can't help but tend towards moral relativism and secular pluralism, but this goes further as value is just commodity and purchase the system is totally atheistic and nihilistic. In these terms capitalism is insufficient for Being, it has no real space for it other than as a thing to be commodified and exchanged at a price. All the while capitalism denies our essence and fails to even understand itself. It has to hide behind words like free-enterprise and democracy for fear of being recognised for what it is.

It was Rosa Luxemburg who predicted that the capitalist system would collapse once expansion and growth ad infinitum had become an impossibility. The only possible limit to the infinite growth paradigm could come in its most thorough dominance in the world. If the world went capitalist then the parasite would soon have to face the real possibility of its own demise. With this in sight, it would take a global push to tip the system over. Today we find, as Bauman put it, capitalism has learned to create host organisms and onwards the parasite strives. This is nothing unusual, Karl Marx never foresaw the possibility of the capitalist system buying-off socialism with social democratic reformism. For Heidegger the answer to the technological nightmare, which engulfs us, was to be found in neither capitalism nor socialism. Notoriously Heidegger joined the Nazi Party after Hitler was rushed into power in 1933 and went on to betray his former mentor Edmund Husserl.

In his day Martin Heidegger drew a distinction between National Socialism as it existed at the time as opposed to the idealised vision which had not been realised. Heidegger may have been indulging in the far-right equivalent of ultra-leftist position which retains a certain distance from power and real decisions in its criticism of the established order. The farthest Heidegger went, in later life, to renounce National Socialism was to point to its “failure” to emerge as a genuine Third Position to American capitalism and Russian communism. In an interview for Der Spiegel, Heidegger makes it clear that he regards each of these systems as determined by ‘planetary technology’. The implication being that there has not yet been a thorough attempt to provide an answer to the nihilism of modern man as technological, value-creating and subjectivist. After all Fascism was something of a last-ditch attempt on the part of capitalism to purge itself of immense contradictions.

In Living in the End Times Žižek writes about the poetico-military complex with regard to Radovan Karadžić in Bosnia and the anti-Tutsi writer Hassan Ngeze in Rwanda. These were sincere and terrible poets, not simply corrupt politicos, who held up material to be manipulated as part of the riling up of jingoist sentiments. It this which was so instrumental in Yugloslavia as nationalism first began to appear on the scene in the 70s and 80s. Karadžić as a kind of parallax, homicidal poet from one angle and spiritual healer from another. Dragan Dabić provides the ideological key to Karadžić. Žižek reminds us of Lacan's thesis "truth has the structure of a fiction". The talk of setting free the individual's cosmic energies that link us all to the cosmos leads us to the Pagan conception of life as cosmic and its sanctity - which means that the blood of innocents will soon be flowing in the streets.

To convey the way Karadžić saw Bosnian Muslims, Žižek refers us to a favourite Chinese proverb of Karadžić's "He who cannot agree with his enemies is controlled by them." But this does not adequately capture the postmodern brand of nationalism to which Karadžić subscribed. And so he goes onto include a telling excerpt from a poem Karadžić wrote called 'For Izet Sarajlić'. It features the line "People nothing is forbidden in my faith" and this is the permissive spirit of postmodern nationalism, which seeks to liberate us from political correctness and multiculturalism. In this post-political era, there is no other way to mobilise the masses for a public cause and the only dominate calls are for us to enjoy ourselves. The majority of us are 'moral' in that we cannot slaughter each other out of disgust at such conduct and so a 'sacred' Cause is necessary to render killing acceptable to us.

It is in such poetry and violence that we regress from the Christian love of the neighbour to the Pagan past of putting our tribe before all the others. It may be presented as a defence of Christian values, but it is the greatest threat to the Judeo-Christian legacy in Europe. As Žižek notes it goes against the universalism of the Holy Spirit, to which we each have immediate access to as individuals irrespective of their place in the social order. Who else may we add to this catalogue? There is, of course, the Austrian writer Peter Handke, who gave a speech at the funeral of Slobodan Milošević. We might even include DH Lawrence, as he was on the radical Right and moved from Christian theology to Pagan mysticism. Then there's Eduardo Limonov who founded a neo-fascist movement in post-Communist Russia. In the bombardment of Sarajevo, Eduardo Limonov visited with Karadžić and was filmed taking a turn firing into the streets below them with a rifle.

The poet Eduard Limonov had returned to Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union having spent almost 20 years in exile in America. Limonov was appalled to witness the reign of Boris Yeltsin as the Kremlin sought to impose Western-style capitalism with "shock therapy" as the means to this end. This would be a disaster as Limonov was convinced American capitalism was no different than Soviet totalitarianism, it was just more sophisticated in its oppression. He decided to take drastic action and founded a political party to recapture the original aims of the Bolshevik Revolution and integrate it within a modern nationalism. It would be the National Bolshevik Party that is now the embodiment of the resurgent nationalism which have sought to put a stop to the Russian process of 'modernisation' since the 1990s. The drink-sodden Yeltsin and the gang of free-marketeers around him practically destroyed Russia only to give way to Putin in the end.

Then there is Heidegger who had planned to lecture on Nietzsche and Hölderlin in 1944-45 but the trajectory of the war demolished these plans. Before that he had lectured on Hölderlin already at the beginning of the Nazi era when he himself was a member of the Party. The hymns selected were Germania and The Rhine, note the obvious nationalist connotations. For Heidegger the dilemma of Western existence had manifested itself in Germany, the land of the middle. He saw the question of Being and the matter of German identity as entwined. The Germans are the most metaphysical people in these terms and if Europe isn't going to go down the path of annihilation then this decision can only come through the development of new, spiritual forces from the centre. Nietzsche had diagnosed the condition, Hölderlin had the cure for it. The way to open the question of Being and the new and deeper way of being German. This is could very well have been the way Heidegger had wanted to be the philosopher of the Third Reich.

What undermines this neat pattern is that National Socialism may have found Pagan blood myths useful at times Hitler did condemn Pagan cults in 1938. This is because Fascism has few consistent and universal characteristics other than a reactive spirit and a pathological Judeophobia. More generally, this may just be the instances of that Fascist tendency to aestheticise politics. We shouldn't forget that our concerts are modeled on Nazi rallies. This tendency remains alive and well in the National Bolshevik Party that Limonov has led for the last 20 years in Russia. Many of its members came out of the Russian avant-garde music scene which had resisted communism as it scoffed at the West. Originally the avant-garde was on the side of the revolutionaries in 1917 until it was suppressed at the appearance on the scene of socialist realism under Stalin. It only resurfaced in the 1960s during the Khrushchev thawing period, then it became an expression of resistance under Brezhnev and when the Wall fell the artists prescribed Nazism as a positive vision.

In 1917 Rosa Luxemburg reflected that the time of pogroms against Russian Jewry has been brought to a close - principally by the October Revolution - before adding "I can sooner imagine - pogroms against Jews in Germany." At the time of Luxemburg's death, at the hands of the Freikorps, Heidegger was working under Husserl at Freiburg. By then the First World War had ended, with millions slaughtered and Germany left vanquished. Heidegger had served, albeit in a limited capacity, as a soldier and this he shared with the future Fuhrer along with the year of his birth. Luxemburg had been incarcerated for her firm opposition to the imperial bloodbath and amidst the confusion Rosa reached out to Benito Mussolini, who she assumed was still the socialist editor of Avanti! - little did she know that Mussolini had been kicked out of the Italian Socialist Party by then for his support of the war. This is where the defeats of the Left converge with the opening for Fascism.

It would be tempting to go off on a tangent about the relation between Heidegger’s philosophy and the politics in which he engaged personally, specifically National Socialism. That would be pushing things as Heidegger at most leaves the door open to fascism, there is nothing inherently fascist about his philosophy. As Robert Solomon notes, it might be more constructive to engage with the world as it is today. There is a sense in which everything is reduced to the same level in consumerism, as with technology and money, whereby human beings are cut-off from the world and each other. Ultimately, this leaves human beings diminished as technology and money reduce the world in its immediacy - a leveling effect which has become the primary source for alienation in the modern world. In a way Heidegger returned to the pessimism of Schopenhauer in his last days.

Heidegger's last writings are dominated by his own particular notion of releasement, which could be seen as a way of thinking and living that has turned away from willing. This comes across as Schopenhauerian, though it may have been the Taoist influences on Heidegger by that point. When it came to the return of the gods, Heidegger found Nietzsche's programme for overcoming nihilism unsatisfactory. Nietzsche wanted to place the Übermensch where God once stood as a central pillar of values. Once the old myths underpinning our superstructure begin to give way, we must find new ideals in order to advance beyond what humanity has been thus far. In this Heidegger sniffed out the Will to Power which has been responsible for the destruction of values in the first place. It was not new forms of domination that can save us, but rather a humbling to power as we await the return of the gods. Maybe what we need is a bit more Nietzsche than Heidegger in this regard.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi, I am from Australia.
A very interesting essay.

Please find a completely understanding of the humanly created situation in 2012, how we got to here, and what, if anything we can do about it. Basically we all have to grow up.

The Truth About our mummy-daddy "God" and the religion based on it.