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The Politics of Being: The Political Thought of Martin Heidegger (review)

From: Philosophy and Literature
Volume 15, Number 2, October 1991
pp. 357-359 | 10.1353/phl.1991.0017

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Reviews357 its "romantic" connotations—becomes less puzzling, however, in light of the two final chapters of the book. While the third traces the genealogy of the concept of irony from its origins in classical antiquity to the point where it becomes "almost coextensive with literature itself" (p. 73), the closing chapter explores the relationship between irony and self-referentiality through a detailed analysis of Derrida's writings. What unites the Derridean strategy of writing "under erasure" with the fragmentary discourse of Friedrich Schlegel and Nietzsche's notorious play with masks is an irony that no longer indicates a figure ofspeech but a common rhetorical strategy, the signature ofa discourse that has accepted the charge of self-referentiality as an inescapable condition of our modern/postmodern consciousness. By reformulating the question "What is postmodernism?" in terms of the concept ofirony, Behler provides an intriguing perspective on the "Postmodern Condition" (Lyotard) although, or perhaps precisely because, he never squarely answers the question. Instead, he ends with an ironic note that blurs the boundaries between modernity and postmodernity to the point of total oblivion by proclaiming Plato as the "initiator of the postmodern epoch" (p. 150). A conclusion of this sort may be somewhat unsettling, but those who contest it would have to carry the burden of proof that it is indeed possible, to paraphrase Friedrich Schlegel, to speak about irony without irony. Indiana UniversityEva M. Knodt The Politics of Being: The Political Thought of Martin Heidegger by Richard Wolin; xvii & 221 pp. New York: Columbia University Press, 1990, $29.50. With the possible exception of Wittgenstein, no philosopher of the twentieth century has been as influential as Heidegger. This fact, however, is shadowed by Heidegger's political past: today, if Wolin is right, "the full extent of Heidegger 's commitment to the Nazi cause" has "become a matter of public record" (p. 2). But what are we to make of this "fact"? Suppose we grant that Heidegger was a Nazi. Do we know what "Nazi" here means? And can Heidegger's "Nazism" cast into doubt the philosophical significance of his thought? Many of us have learned too much from Heidegger to take such a suggestion seriously. Should we then follow Richard Rorty and deny that there is an essential connection between Heidegger's politics and his philosophical thought? The available evi- 358Philosophy and Literature dence seems to argue against such a denial. But if Heidegger's thought retains its significance and if we cannot finally separate this significance from what drew Heidegger to National Socialism, we are left with the need to confront the political implications of Heidegger's thinking. This need gives importance to Wolin's thoughtful and informed inquiry into Martin Heidegger's "Politics of Being." In English at least, no one has developed the political implications of Heidegger's thought with equal care and lucidity. Wolin is well aware of the evolution of Heidegger's understanding of being and of the ways that evolution responds to changes in the political situation. He is, ofcourse, not the first to have argued for an essential relationship between Heidegger's turn to National Socialism—put into the spodight once again by Victor Farias and Hugo Ott—and the development ofhis philosophical thought. Wolin mentions my own "Heidegger as a Political Thinker" as an earlier study concerned with the same theme. His book, although much more detailed and decisive (his account of the significance of Ernst Jünger deserves to be singled out), seems to me pretty much in agreement with what I only suggested there: that Heidegger's understanding of authenticity invites a totalitarian politics, where, as Alexander Schwan demonstrated, Heidegger's understanding of the state in the image of a work of art proves especially significant. In places Wolin pushes his themes further than the evidence supports. Thus he not only makes the defensible assertion that "Heidegger's political thought moves precariously in the direction of the Führerprinzip or 'leadership principle' " (p. 46), but goes on to claim that "the historical and conceptual bases of Heidegger's theory . . . are inseparable . . . from a glorification of the ideals of authority, hierarchy, and rank that in its essentials is indistinguishable from the Nazi F...