Forty years after his death Martin Heidegger (1889 – 1976) remains a lightning-rod for controversy. Heidegger might be the central philosophical figure of the Twentieth Century, as many of his enthusiasts have claimed. He might be a polysyllabic blowhard, as Theodor W. Adorno — himself an accomplished polysyllabic blowhard — contended in his Jargon of Authenticity (1973). Whether Heidegger is one or the other, the man has exercised considerable influence over the last four decades over the philosophical discourse calling itself post-structuralism, post-modernism, or deconstruction. Quite apart from all that – the author of Being and Time (1927) has recently inveigled his name into the news again on account of his “Black Notebooks.”
These notebooks, issued in the ongoing uniform edition of his works, belong to the war-years. They appear to bolster the accusation that Heidegger invested himself heavily in National Socialist ideology. The “Black Notebooks” have not yet been translated into English although there can be little doubt that such an event is forthcoming, but a recent sympathetic study of Heidegger, by a Russian writer who is no stranger to controversy, has rather surprisingly been translated for the Anglosphere.
I refer to Martin Heidegger: The Philosophy of Another Beginning by Alexander Dugin (born 1962), translated by Nina Kouprianova (Radix / Washington Summit Publishers, 465 Pages, with an introduction by Paul Gottfried).
Dugin gained currency with the American New Right through his earlier book The Fourth Political Theory (English, 2012). Dugin identified Western Europe and the USA as the two aggressive halves of a single, ideologically driven power (“Atlantis”) that seeks global Imperium. The Fourth Political Theory has inspired vehement denunciation in Neoconservative journalism for being the blueprint of an “ideological cult” (National Review). Dugin for his part equates Liberalism with everything corrupt in the modern world. He hopes for active concerted subversion and suppression of liberalism, which can only mean subversion and suppression of Western Europe and the USA. Advocating an anti-liberal Russian ethnostate that reasserts its influence in Eastern and Middle Europe, Dugin earns plaudits from the American Far-Right, such as the white nationalists who run the Counter Currents website. Any sane assessment of Dugin’s Heidegger must steer clear of this often hyperbolic crossfire, but no matter how objective the reviewer manages to be, his observations will undoubtedly provoke a hot-tempered response from one side or the other, if not both.
Dugin emerges from no vacuum: The Russian critique of the West stems from the split between Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christianity. Fyodor Dostoyevsky, whom many readers of Traditionalist leaning greatly admire, blamed Western ideas for Russia’s woes already in the mid-Nineteenth Century. Dostoyevsky’s spiritual child, the philosopher Nicolas Berdyaev (1874 – 1938), devoted his authorship to a sustained attack against what amounted, in his view, to the wicked Americanization of the planet. Ironically, Berdyaev attracted his largest audiences in French and English – Lenin had exiled him from the USSR and he lived out his life in Paris, dying there in 1948. Berdyaev’s thought, which now and again informs the Western right-wing indictment of liberalism, runs oddly in parallel with Heidegger’s, at least where it concerns the emptiness and inhumanity of the modern world. Vladimir Putin, who alludes to Berdyaev, also alludes to Dugin, who, in the National Review article quoted earlier, is supposed to be Putin’s sinister advisor – the Rasputin to his Alexandra, as it were. So much for the tangled background: In what lies the interest, if any, in Dugin’s Heidegger study?
Dugin forecasts his essential point in the book’s subtitle: The Philosophy of Another Beginning. According to Dugin, Heidegger’s opus of widest currency, Being and Time, far from summing up its author’s thought, merely consummates the philosopher’s first, but by no means most important, phase, dominated by even while departing from Edmund Husserl’s phenomenology of consciousness. Dugin narrates how Heidegger’s second phase did not begin immediately after the publication of Being and Time, but slowly gestated before expressing itself in lectures, essays, and short books beginning with the Introduction to Metaphysics (1934) and finding a larger, non-systematic form in the thematically varied meditations on essential concepts gathered together under the title of Forest Paths (1950) and in stand-alone essays from the 1940s and 50s on language and poetry.
In Being and Time, Heidegger articulated his philosophical anthropology, defining human nature as Dasein or “There-Being,” and emphasizing temporality as central to self-awareness and the cognition of the world. After the Kehre or “Turn,” Heidegger wrote less about human being and more about Being, as something prior to humanity, to which the authentic consciousness responds. A penchant for etymological argument and quirks of orthography betoken the new approach. Heidegger begins spelling Sein or “Being” with an archaic y in place of the modern i, as Seyn.
Dugin remarks that, in addition to the new emphasis on philology and etymology, Heidegger, following up Friedrich Nietzsche’s earliest book, commences the explication of two themes: First, the achievement of the so-called Pre-Socratic philosophers of the Sixth Century BC in coming to grips with “Being”; second, the failure, with its terrific consequences, of Western metaphysics, beginning with Plato. The thesis taking up the two themes is that the metaphysical failure expresses itself as technique, which Heidegger characterizes as a seductive but virulent diminution of consciousness. Technique subordinates to itself everything or makes the attempt to do so; technique distorts and enslaves, but it never delivers its promise. Thus far Dugin’s account of Heidegger’s post-Being and Time phase rehearses nothing that readers might not find elsewhere, in idiomatic English, in the secondary literature on the topic – for example, in William Barrett’s Illusion of Technique (1976). Dugin departs from other commentators in re-emphasizing the vehemence of Heidegger’s attack on the metaphysical tradition, a destructive but unavoidable endeavor that clears the way for a new and necessary type of thinking.
The metaphysical tradition, in Dugin’s reading of Heidegger, fell into irremediable error when Plato, following the lead of Socrates, divided the world into phenomenal things and eternal forms, positing the forms as more real than the things. Dugin, glossing Heidegger, writes: “Plato, as well as Socrates before him, and Aristotle after him, is the actual name and historical legalization of the greatest catastrophe.” Concerning the “catastrophe,” again glossing Heidegger, Dugin writes of Plato how he “reduces the basic operations of cognition to clear vision and recognition of ideas, which are the heavenly models of things and phenomena.” Things and phenomena become objects. As Dugin puts it, “contact with ideas presupposes being across from them – they can only be seen in this manner.” Such a configuration inaugurates “an era of very specific rationality,” in which man “is no longer in the world,” as he was in Pre-Socratic thinking; but rather man stands “before the world,” studying it, but at the same time exiled from it and no longer participating in it.
Here is how Dugin sees it: Whereas for the Pre-Socratics, the cosmos had revealed itself vitally as that, in which consciousness participated, and from which it drew its very life; for Plato and all post-Platonic philosophers – as Dugin, taking Heidegger as his authority, upholds – existence consists of the mere “reference” of one contingent thing to another, lacking any significant structure. Thus Aristotle, far from revising Plato by rejecting the eternality of the forms, simply took the next logical step implied by Plato’s own theory. Aristotelianism, while entirely consonant with the direction in which his teacher had taken philosophy, constituted nevertheless a decisive stage on the way to the West’s cul-de-sac of nihilism. This summary of Dugin forces an important question for the assessment both of Heidegger and his Russian commentator. Suspending the issue whether Heidegger’s critique of Plato is valid, not only is Heidegger not the unique diagnostician of a long-term retraction of Western consciousness expressing itself finally as dogmatic Nominalism or Nihilism; but neither can Heidegger claim chronological precedence among those other diagnosticians
Berdyaev, for example, was active a decade or more before Heidegger ever came to public notice. Berdyaev could see as well as Heidegger that technocracy could be nothing other than an inhuman tyranny. Aspects of Heidegger’s anti-modern critique appear in English, as well as in German Romanticism. Heidegger indeed saw himself as working in a continuum with the activity of certain poets – Friedrich Hölderlin and the Teutonic Symbolists such as Georg Trakl and Stefan George, who took up in poetry where Hölderlin left off. Heidegger wrote essays explicating poems and passages by Hölderlin, Trakl, and George. And what of Edmund Husserl (1859 – 1938), Heidegger’s teacher? Husserl’s case against scientism in The Crisis of European Sciences (1936) forecasts many elements of Heidegger’s work of the post-war period. Dugin comments that, “Heidegger’s phenomenology… is phenomenological ontology, whereas Husserl’s general thought remains within the framework of… the theory of knowledge.” Let it be said that René Guénon’s Crisis of the Modern Age (1927), contemporary to the year with Being and Time, is more compact and readable than its German counterpart.
What we might call Martinolatry hounds Dugin’s exposition. “In the very least,” Dugin writes, “Heidegger is the greatest contemporary thinker, joining the constellation of Europe’s best thinkers from the Pre-Socratics to our time.” Beyond that, “Heidegger is not only… the greatest [philosopher] of them all”; he is, according to Dugin, a prophet: “The last prophet,” “the bridge to a new philosophy”; and, as if those encomia were insufficient, “an eschatological figure” whom the encomiast regards as – taking the phrase out of Dugin’s double inverted commas – the envoy of Being itself. Even for a reader sympathetic to Heidegger’s idiosyncratic presentation, such hyperbole makes itself a stumbling block in the way of persuasion. So does the recurrent translated-to-English discussion of how Heidegger’s archaic German constructions might best be translated into Russian, which paragraphs the publisher might harmlessly have omitted from the American edition.
Dugin’s epochal Heidegger, making an end-run around the catastrophe of Platonism, Aristotelianism, and Cartesianism, seeks to recover that authentic consciousness which participated fully in Being. This herculean labor of redeeming the cognitive-existential fall of mankind entails, among many other deeds, implicating religion in that fall. Dugin writes, “Heidegger is convinced that Christian philosophy is completely enslaved by the Platonic doctrine of ideas and Aristotelian logic, which only serve the need to justify the Semitic religion.” This assertion, which Dugin takes for a fact, justifies the “condescension” with which Heidegger always treated Biblical religion and its speculative offshoots. Even Heidegger’s lectures (1921) on St. Augustine condescend noticeably.
On the other hand, it is entirely possible to agree with Dugin when he paraphrases Heidegger’s assessment of the modern trio of Descartes, Leibniz, and Kant: They rehearse old notions in recycled ways while contributing to the retraction of consciousness into a rigid framework – what Heidegger named Gestell (“Scaffolding”) and which he proposed as the characteristic mental gesture of Post-Pre-Socratic thinking, so to speak. Dugin also works within the realm of plausibility when he links scientism explicitly to the nihilistic tendency: “Scientific thinking is one of the most extreme forms of nihilist thought”; that is, “the kind of thought in which the question about the Being of beings not only fails to be raised but cannot be raise.”
Heidegger’s recovered, participatory consciousness, as Dugin reconstructs it, will root itself in a redeemed Geviert or “Fourfold.” Dugin indeed gives Part 2 of The Philosophy of Another Beginning the section-title, Das Geviert. One who comes to understand Das Geviert will also come to understand “the chasm between ontology and fundamental-ontology.” The fundamental status of Das Geviert in Heidegger’s philosophy is related to Heidegger’s hostility to Christian doctrine. Western thinking has been a case of “triplicity” since Plato, but the “new beginning” requires the passage from “triplicity” to “The Fourfold.” “It is extremely important,” Dugin writes, “to understand… that Geviert does not amount to an ontic perception of the world.” Elsewhere, Dugin writes, “Geviert is given to us like an open window to the abyss… as the greatest gift, and it is assumed that we will value it accordingly.” Das Geviert is the apocalyptic wholeness of Sky, Gods, Men, and Earth. Dugin arranges these elements in a chart where a St.-Andrews Cross joins them together, with Sky and Gods left to right atop and Men and Earth left to right below.
In “The Fourfold,” Heidegger obviously returns not only to Pre-Socratic, but to pre-philosophical terms. Something like “The Fourfold” structures the cosmos in Hesiod’s Theogony, in the Homer’s epics, in Snorri’s Edda, and in Richard Wagner’s myth-based yet philosophically informed Ring of the Nibelung. “The Fourfold” appears in the conceits of Heidegger’s favorite poets. Under “The Fourfold,” the Sky “establishes order.” Earth serves as the stage of “presence”: “Thanks to the Earth, many things, objects, sensations become present, actual.” The Gods function as demonic messengers of Being such that their divinity endows on all of Being “a certain kind of transparent intoxication.” Dugin quickly adds that “Heidegger conceptualizes [his] ‘gods’ outside any particular religion,” as manifestations of “the ecstatic horizon of fundamental-ontology.” For his part Man, under “The Fourfold,” refuses the roles both of Cartesian subject and Marxian object-of-history; he likewise disdains the Aristotelian office of “rational animal.” Dugin’s Heidegger’s “Man” fulfills a quasi-priestly function, “as a guardian of Seyn-Being,” who embraces his “Being-toward-death.” Consciousness operates in a zone of “The Fourfold” that Dugin, taking up Heidegger’s terminology, designates as “the In-Between.”
Let us quietly take stock. That phrase, “the In-Between,” might strike an informed reader as oddly familiar. It should – and it bears on the question how original Dugin’s commentary on his master, the gnomic Swabian, really is. Consider this passage from a non-Heideggerian source: “God and man, world and society form a primordial community of being. The community, with its quaternarian structure is, and is not, a datum of experience.” For this writer, the quaternity, which is and is not a datum of experience, is therefore also not a thing, and the discussion of it is not in the realm of what Heidegger dismisses as the “ontic.” This non-Heideggerian source also remarks that consciousness can only become aware of the “quaternity” by “participation in the mystery of its being.” Because “there is no vantage-point outside existence from which its meaning can be viewed,” consciousness must take place in an in-between. The same writer also sees the history of philosophy as one of degeneration, beginning however not with Socrates but rather with his opponents, the sophists, whose medieval successors, the nominalists, led the way directly into the sopho-babble of every modern “ism.”
The writer is Eric Voegelin. The quotations come from the first page of Order and History, Volume I, Israel and Revelation (1956). In his later Science Politics and Gnosticism (1962), Voegelin characterizes Heidegger as that “ingenious Gnostic of our own time,” whose “construct of the closed process of being,” while replete in its exposition with insights about the nature of modernity, is yet a mimetic parasitism on the Christian doctrine, which it seeks to supplant. In Heidegger’s vision, as Voegelin writes, “the power of being replaces the power of God and the parousia of being, the Parousia of Christ.” Voegelin’s description of Heidegger differs minimally from Dugin’s, departing from Dugin’s only in the evaluation. Everywhere, and yet nowhere so much so as in his conclusion, Dugin’s language waxes worshipful: “As a result of the calm, passionately indifferent acceptance, ‘not yet’ has lost the fatality of its hypnosis in Heidegger’s philosophy”; and “we are no longer fighting in its snares, feeling nervous, but we accept it as it truly is, trying to find the sign of another Beginning with solemn gratitude in the last smouldering ruins of Western culture.”
Martin Heidegger: The Philosophy of Another Beginning is not a book to be casually set aside. It contains much valuable provocation – and much that beckons siren-like to anyone who turns in disgust from the modern liberal self-parody. When Dugin denounces “Americanism and the Planetary Idiocy of Liberals,” one relishes the rhetorical scourging: “[The] man of the global world, a Liberal, accepting and recognizing the normativity of ‘the American way of life,’ is [a] kind of patented idiot from the philosophical and etymological point[s] of view, a documented idiot, an idiot parading his foolishness above his head like a banner.” Dugin’s study must count as a useful refresher-course in Heidegger, which will send the student back to Heidegger’s own texts. Curious parties should nevertheless approach The Philosophy of Another Beginning skeptically, maintaining vigilance against its author’s rash enthusiasm for his subject.
Martin Heidegger: The Philosophy of Another Beginning by Alexander Dugin is available here.
Thomas F. Bertonneau earned a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from the University of Califonia at Los Angeles in 1990. He has taught at a variety of institutions, and has been a member of the English Faculty at SUNY Oswego since 2001. He is the author of three books and numerous articles on literature, art, music, religion, anthropology, film, and politics. He is a frequent contributor to Anthropoetics, the ISI quarterlies, and others.