- Heidegger and Homecoming: The Leitmotif in the Later Writings, and: Disclosure and Gestalt: Heidegger and the Question of National Socialism
If Martin Heidegger had anything right, the modern world and its philosophy are in a shockingly bad way. At the core of Heidegger's thinking is the claim that we have lost touch with being - with what it is to be - and therefore with ourselves. Societally, we betray this in our pathetic obsession with efficiency and our mad drive to dominate nature; philosophically, in our naive faith in the powers of rational argument and conceptual thought. This is a heady brew of ideas, which needs to be taken with the right balance of curiosity and caution, open-mindedness, and critical awareness. In my view, Robert Mugerauer and Bernard Radloff could do with more caution and critical awareness in their handling of Heidegger's grand philosophical design. But whereas Mugerauer's effort contributes duly to our understanding of its subject, Radloff's is a grandiloquent and off-putting exercise in special pleading.
The 'homecoming' of Mugerauer's title is the third term in Heidegger's version of a venerable pattern of thought about the origins and destiny of humanity: at first there is primordial unity, then a plunge into disruption and dissension, in the midst of which there is nonetheless hope for reintegration and reunion with our truest and best possibilities. In Heidegger's case, as Mugerauer interprets him, the terms of this pattern are being [End Page 395] once-at-home, being no-longer-at-home, and being not-yet-at-home. (It will not escape notice that plain old 'being-at-home' figures nowhere.) These conditions are instantiated in three great epochs: the not yet metaphysical time of pre-Socratic philosophy and poetry, in which an originary belonging together of being and being human took shape; the fateful age of metaphysics - inaugurated by the conceptual advances of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle - in the two thousand year span during which human beings 'forget' being and being in turn 'abandons' us; and an envisaged no-longer-metaphysical epoch to come, in which, with luck, we turn towards home, to our proper kinship with being.
At this point, some of us will want to ask, for example, how being itself can do anything at all, much less take leave of the human scene. And it will not appease us to be told that 'the most profound homelessness [that] results from the abandonment of beings by being . . . can scarcely be thought or said.' As Frank Ramsay memorably quipped (of Wittgenstein's Tractatus), if you can't say it, you can't say it, and you can't whistle it either.
That said, we do need to take Heidegger seriously. The influence of classical Greek philosophy has been so deep and pervasive that the idea that its 'advances' have not been an unmixed blessing deserves a hearing. If, further, Heidegger is right to claim that metaphysical thinking reveals its true colours in the excruciating ascendancy of instrumental reasoning, representational thinking, and nihilistic living, well, we had better try to do better. And Heidegger thinks that we can do better; if we are patient and thoughtful and attentive - to our deepest needs and moods, to language and poetry, and above all to the history of philosophy - we can initiate a counter-movement of recollection and recovery, a renewed appreciation of the distinctive belonging together of being and being human.
The big problem with Heidegger's writings is that the line between the deeply insightful and the pseudo-profound can be so difficult to detect. And the big problem with Heidegger himself is worse: he was a card-carrying Nazi who, as rector of the University of Freiburg between April 1933 and April 1934, contributed signally to the goals of the newly empowered regime. For most of us, Heidegger's Nazism is embarrassing; for Bernhard Radloff, it is the occasion for...