This essay serves as the Preface to Martin Heidegger: The Philosophy of Another Beginning, by Alexander Dugin, recently published by Radix.
This major study of the German philosopher Martin Heidegger by Russian thinker Alexander Dugin (b. 1962) has been made available to English readers thanks to the painstaking efforts of an able translator, Nina Kouprianova. One cannot understate the difficulty of this demanding translation or the value of what the translator has given us.
Dugin is one of the world’s most renowned critics of the American cult of Liberal democracy, and his work published in English in 2012, The Fourth Philosophical Theory1, sets out to examine the problem of the failed (or at least vulnerable) ideologies of the 20th century, extending from Communism and Fascism to what has become the preferred American political doctrine of Liberal materialism based on universal equality. Dugin views Liberal democracy as the ideological idol of the last century that is still standing and, given the extent of American power and influence, still flourishing on this continent and among American vassal states in Western Europe. Dugin famously, or notoriously, calls for a “fourth way,” just as Heidegger in the midst of the Cold War proposed a “third way” and, from the 1930s on, spoke of “another beginning” that would lead toward a new “openness to Being.” In these cases, these men sought alternatives to the materialist and consumerist ethos of late modernity—and to the ideology of universal political sameness that has accompanied it.
It would be an oversimplification to reduce this ambitious and exhaustive examination of to the critique of “techne,” which is characteristic of Heidegger’s later work. Dugin pays scrupulous attention to all the phases in the philosopher’s evolution, starting with Heidegger’s attempted separation of a proper analysis of Being from received metaphysical traditions. This study engages Heidegger’s definitions of ontic and ontological and such concepts as Sein, Dasein, Sein-zum-Tode, and Zeitlichkeit, which punctuate Heidegger’s early masterpiece Sein und Zeit (1927). Heidegger’s magnum opus treats our growing awareness of Being as something that presents itself to us, to whatever extent we grasp that existence is to be understood beyond the obvious or what Heidegger calls “ready to hand.” Heidegger is dealing with the self-revelation of Being, and not simply with the awareness of a multiplicity of beings, and this process unfolds in experienced time. The progressive revelation of Being carries us toward a future that stands before us as an unfinished project. That project (Auftrag) becomes apparent to us only as we exist in time, and Heidegger stresses that our particular Being (Dasein) is shaped by future-oriented labors, up until the point when our future is overshadowed by the expectation of death. This is the Being-toward-death, which, for Heidegger, brings the possibility of entering an undiscovered realm of existence.
Dugin is justified in linking his study to the overarching concept of “Seynsgeschichte,” the history of the consciousness of Being as it presents itself to us in human life. Like his predecessor Hegel, Heidegger stresses the historical context in which Being is present for us, although, unlike Hegel, he does not essay to chart the course of Progress taken by Spirit in political and cultural affairs. This would not be possible, given Heidegger’s frame of reference. Like Dugin, Heidegger is starkly pessimistic about the direction in which modernity has moved. This is particularly true of Heidegger’s later work, beginning in the 1930s, after his “turn” (Kehre) into what could be described as a mystical direction. Thenceforward, Heidegger became preoccupied with certain themes that Dugin examines at length. These include the importance of pre-Socratic Greek philosophers, like Heraclitus, in keeping open the question of the nature of Being, before Plato changed or limited that focus by dragging in theological answers; the enclosed rectangular space (Das Geviert), consisting of the divine and the mortal, and the sky and the earth, in which the quest for understanding our specific being and Being in general must take place; and the intrusion of techne as a cultural and historical diversion from serious philosophical thought. Dugin shows in detail how all these themes become interrelated in Heidegger’s works, especially after 1945, and how the triumph of a purely technical culture destroyed the search for truth marked by a sense of the divine (though not necessarily by monotheistic belief ) and a sense of human limits in relation to the universe.
Dugin notes that the triumph of certain modernist characteristics spelled “the End” of an age that has become increasingly closed to Being. It was therefore not surprising that, for Heidegger, this development gave rise to nihilism, that is, the devaluing of everything that had once been deemed holy. In a technical age, in which thinking stresses material relations that can be scientifically controlled, nothing has intrinsic value except for what can be made materially usable or manipulated according to learnable instructions. This, too, argued Heidegger, had a certain connection to traditional metaphysics, to the extent that technicians and their adepts claimed to be revealing what had been hidden as undisclosed in Being. Techne was a “manner of demystifying” (“Weise des Entbergens”) the nature of existence, by avoiding a continuing search for Being and by positing superficial answers. Indeed, techne may be described as a simulacrum of the philosophical quest.
Techne imitates philosophy “by bringing forth that which was absent as something present.”2 It is, therefore, in this sense similar to the activity of pre-Socratic thinkers, says Heidegger, who saw philosophical knowledge as what had been removed from oblivion (whence the Greek word for truth, “aletheia”). But unlike true philosophers, technicians don’t raise ontological questions. They simply fill space with a multiplicity of objects, whence Heidegger’s designation of “the essence of modern techne” as Gestell, as a soulless structure that is placed in space. What the technician places before us (stellt), and which represents a travesty on philosophy, is summed up by Heidegger as “Gestänge, Geschiebe, und Gerüste”—struts, detritus, and scaffolds.”3
Like Dugin, Heidegger regarded all modern ideologies as variations on the ascent of techne. Communism, National Socialism, and, finally, Western Liberal democracy all became associated, for Heidegger, with manipulation, Seinsvergessenheit, and the mastery of material objects. All these tendencies of the modern age pointed toward the end of an epoch and the beginning of a possible return to what Heidegger viewed as a more authentic existence. Such an existence, particularly after the Kehre, was to be pursued in austerity, with a sense of duty toward others and, on the philosophical level, with openness toward the mysteries of Being. Though one could describe the author of Sein und Zeit as an individualist, with a minimal sense of communal attachment, the later Heidegger is clearly a social traditionalist, whose emphasis on rootedness and whose love for his ancestral land of Swabia comes through in his tracts. Dugin does not shy away from explaining Heidegger’s straying into the Nazi movement in 1933, when he became the enthusiastically pro-Nazi Rector at the University of Freiburg. Dugin treats this misadventure, which was followed by Heidegger’s cooling toward the Nazis, as at least partly occasioned by a hope for a new, higher-minded era than the one he had lived through. Heidegger’s association with a movement he later criticized as symptomatic of techne indicated his turning toward what he hoped would be “another beginning.” He would continue to be drawn toward this ideal after World War II, albeit in a less unsavory form than had been the case following Hitler’s accession to power. This envisaged epoch, to judge from Heidegger’s statements, may be seen as a return as much as a point of departure (Aufbruch).
Dugin has been sufficiently inspired by Heidegger’s work to devote this dense volume to expounding its fruits. Presumably, the Russian has been influenced by Heidegger’s ontology, which is explored here with remarkable thoroughness. From this book, we discover that Heidegger is returning to a branch of philosophy that reveals a traditionalist character, in opposition to such trendy pursuits as utilitarian ethics or defenses of “social justice.” But Heidegger approaches what had been a Medieval and ancient field of study without the theological emphasis of earlier generations. Of course, this must be qualified. The late Medieval philosopher Duns Scotus was the subject of Heidegger’s Habilitation in 19154, and he owed a great deal to the “subtle doctor’s” concept of truth and his commentaries on Aristotle. Indeed, it is impossible to read Sein und Zeit without noticing how deeply immersed Heidegger was in the entire history of Western philosophy. For all his complaints about the false path taken by Socrates and Plato—a notion that is recognizably Nietzschean in origin—Heidegger overwhelms his reader with quotations from Plato, Aristotle, and the Medieval schoolmen, and with his long glosses on others who came before him.
Like Dugin, one discovers in Heidegger, whom Dugin routinely calls “the greatest thinker,” a combination of traditional philosophical interests with self-consciously modern concerns. But again, like Dugin, Heidegger was a reactionary modernist, someone who combatted modernity by underlining its defects and shallowness and by trying to prove that the modern enterprise was headed in a very bad direction. Heidegger tried to do this without returning to metaphysical assumptions that he believed belonged to a vanished past. This, too, as in the case of Dugin, is not as simple as it would first appear. There is something backward-looking in both thinkers, as the past is for them a source of creativity. This is totally different from the kind of “cultural conservative” this writer has often encountered: a tedious eccentric who manifests his “conservatism” by making himself the butt of gentle jokes. Such a person may frequent clubs where tea and crumpets are served or may introduce himself as a liturgical traditionalist with an ostentatious interest in Gothic architecture, but he is, above all, an expert at staying out of controversy that could threaten his career or social calendar.
This is not the kind of person we have in mind when we look at such widely hated, contentious figures as Heidegger and Dugin. These are adversaries of a deeper mettle. They approach their opposition frontally without trying to be “nice.” And they are resourceful and deeply knowledgeable of the fields they set out to transform. Such thoughtful reactionaries frame a critique of late modernity with the tools of the past, while understanding that one can’t go back in time. And there can be no doubt that Heidegger is operating with the tools of the past, and even distant past, as the multilingual glossary to this work amply demonstrates. He is a reactionary modernist who goes back to pre-Socratic Greek epigrams and then recapitulates the history of philosophy in order to find a way out of the implications of a wrong turn.
Heidegger is looking for the beginnings of a disaster (sphalma); and although his subject, as Dugin properly indicates, traces this misstep back to Plato, it is in the same philosopher that we learn the valuable lesson that there is a connection between “learning thoroughly” (katamanthanein) and “undertaking a correction” (poiein to epanorthoma).” Studying Heidegger and then reading Dugin’s demanding, comprehensive explication, one comes to understand this necessary connection. For both the “greatest thinker” and his faithful Russian disciple, the improvement of our culture and spiritual life requires nothing less than a detailed examination of our traditions extending back to antiquity. There are no short cuts on the road to correcting the faults of our late modernity.
PAUL E. GOTTFRIED is Professor Emeritus of Humanities at Elizabethtown College. His books include Conservatism in America (2007), The Strange Death of Marxism (2005), After Liberalism (1999), Multiculturalism and the Politics of Guilt (2002), and Leo Strauss and the Conservative Movement in America (2012).