Penal Theories and Institutions contains the lectures delivered by Foucault in his second-year tenure at the College de France (1971-2). It is also the last volume of this series, concluding a publication cycle of close to twenty years. The publication of Foucault’s lectures started mid-way with the 1976 course and then proceeded sideways, preventing us from grasping the development of his thought during the last fifteen years of his life.
Foucault did not prepare his lectures for publication, and their initial publication in 1997 was initially considered a transgression to Foucault’s last wishes for his posthumous writings not to be published. However, the proliferation of unauthorized versions of the lectures, based on transcriptions from audio recordings of unequal quality, decided the family and friends to allow their publication. After the first tentative publications, a sophisticated protocol developed. First, the editors give priority to the transcription of Foucault’s oral teaching. Any additions, such as materials from the preparatory notes, and bibliographical references, are dealt with as footnotes. The editor’s additions and amplifications are recorded in the endnotes. Foucault’s summary published yearly in the Yearbook of the College is then printed. A general introductory essay, with the title «situation du cours» follows, which provides contextual information for Foucault’s lectures. Finally, a detailed index of names mentioned and of concepts. While this is the general model for each one of the publications of the lectures, there are some variations.
In the case of Theories and Penal Institutions (thereafter: TPI), there are no extant recordings. Therefore, the editors had to use Foucault’s preparatory notes. This volume also makes more use of additional materials from Foucault’s unpublished papers than previous volumes. In addition to the ‘Course Context’ essay, this one includes two interpretative essays, one by É. Balibar and the other by Claude-Olivier Doron that provides context for the lectures. Doron was also responsible for the endnotes, which provide useful bibliographical information and also excerpts from the preparatory materials.
François Ewald and Alessandro Fontana refer in their introduction to the problems faced in the preparation of this volume. First, the lack of recordings required them to work directly with Foucault occasionally cryptic and tentative notes, which sometimes leave us wondering about Foucault’s intentions. To clarify those, the editors decided to bring as footnotes text that Foucault crossed out in his preparatory notes. An additional difficulty signaled by the editors is specific for the translated text, insofar as Foucault refers to old and today little-known French institutions and practices.
The English version includes an introduction by Arnold I. Davidson, a distinguished scholar of Foucault’s work. He enjoins us to ‘read everything,’ i.e., to forget the hierarchy between a binding statement by Foucault, and the more tentative reflections contained in his sprawling archives. Ultimately, what Davidson is evoking is the tension between a scholastic effort to reconstruct Foucault’s corpus and a more creative appropriation of his insights. The latter is, according to Davidson, closer to Foucault’s thought, which Davidson labels as ‘atopos,’ unclassifiable according to the academic standards (xxvii).
The course itself consists of thirteen lectures, which we can divide into three groups. Lectures one through seven, deal with the emergence in the 17th century of the absolutist State with its specialized institutions. Lectures eight to twelve deal with Germanic law, which preceded the absolutist one, and finally, in lecture thirteen, Foucault addresses the question of the ‘knowledge effects’ of the newly instituted penal practice that emerges from the feudal order. This last lecture connects with the subject-matter of the previous year, and more in general, with Foucault’s long-standing interest in the emergence of the human sciences.
Lecture One starts establishing the subject matter of the course and its methodology. The subject is to study the peculiar forms of repression of a popular riot that took place at the beginnings of the 17th century and is known as the revolt of the Nu-pieds (barefoot). By placing repression in the center of his analysis, Foucault expects to be able to overcome the dilemma between an approach based on the study of penal theories versus an approach based on the study of penal legislation or institutions. It is as a system of repression that penal theories and institutions emerge (2). Foucault speaks of a continuum of ‘refusal of the law,’ whereas it is difficult to identify the purely criminal from the political. To some extent, we can say that Foucault’s purpose is to study the separation between criminal and political, to show that is characteristic of modern penal systems and that it is a relatively new development.
A central stage in Foucault’s account are the events of the repression of the Nu-pieds revolt (1639) by Chancellor Séguier. Foucault analyzes, in great detail, what he characterizes as a ‘penitential ceremony,’ a ‘theatrical representation of power,’ a ‘manifestation of power in his repressive pomp’ (5).
According to Foucault, the Nu-pieds revolt was different from previous revolts in the Middle Ages. Not only peasants participated in the uprising, but also workers and journeymen in the towns, and a certain number of nobles and bourgeois (9). Even the local Parliament (at that time a judicial and not a legislative body) adopted an ambiguous middle ground between the rebels and the tax authorities that they targeted. In the endnotes to this first lecture, the reader can find detailed information on Foucault’s sources and on the chronology of the events to which Foucault refers (11-13).
The second lecture introduces the notion of ‘armed justice’ and asks how to write a history of this new form of repressive apparatus. Foucault also emphasizes the revolutionary nature of the revolt, which not only protests against the tax authorities but introduces a new legality and a new authority, though one that refers to their authority as derived from the King. The rebellion and the bourgeois and nobles’ lack of enthusiasm to suppress it provokes the military response from the Monarch and leads to the formation of a new royal justice, which eventually will be adopted by the bourgeoisie. Justice will become State-controlled, juridical, and exercised by a specific state organ: the police (23). This justice appears as an order which stands as a neutral arbiter between the social classes (24), while in reality, it is a representative of the capitalistic order.
In lecture three, Foucault further develops the notion of ‘armed justice.’ ‘Armed justice’ is a transitional stage, which will evolve into a specialized armed repressive apparatus, different from the army, but like the army, State-controlled (37). What retains Foucault’s attention is not so much the fact that the army was used to suppress the revolt, but the unusual interplay between the army and Chancellor Séguier, who represented the State. Once the army defeated the Nu-pieds in the city of Caen and the countryside, it took time before taking Rouen, which was not the scene of grave disturbances. Then, it took time for Séguier to enter the town, and he did so in a very protocolar way. In a lecture that Foucault delivered a short time after the course and is reproduced in this volume (‘Ceremony, Theater, and Politics in the Seventeenth Century’, pp. 235-239) he explores these ambiguities in search for clues for the process of emergence of a distinct state repressive apparatus. In this context, Foucault characterizes his approach as ‘dynastic’ (this is the first time that the term shows), a notion that is loosely equivalent to ‘genealogy’ (cf. 52-3, note 16).
Lecture Four explores in detail the theatrical nature of the repressive tactics employed by Séguier. He first attacks the Nu-pieds. They are not acknowledged as a foreign power, and therefore the rules of war do not apply to them. But they are not recognized as having a place in the civil order, and therefore they are not entitled to due process (58). Foucault sees a continuity between these repressive measures and the 1639 and 1670 ordinances which dealt with unemployed, beggars, and vagabonds.
Nevertheless, the repression does not end with the Nu-pieds. It is also exercised against those who attempted to place themselves between the King and the insurgents. Séguier rejects the ‘theory of the three checks’ (religion, justice, and the privileges granted for different social groups), which sets limits to the King’s power. According to Foucault, Séguier’s proclamation: ‘The innocent have nothing to fear; only those who have failed will feel the effects of the King’s just anger and indignation’ (62), is an explicit rejection of the ‘three checks’ theory. Séguier is declaring that the King is not subject to the laws of his kingdom because the law is identical to his will (62). What we see here, claims Foucault, is an ambivalent outcome, a redistribution of repressive instruments and powers, but one that ultimately benefits the privileged classes.
The fifth lecture goes in some additional detail into the events in Rouen, which signal for Foucault the apparition of a purely repressive aspect of the Sate. However, the State lacks, at least initially, specialized institutions, and depends on feudal ones for carrying out these new tasks.
Lecture six deals with the stabilization of the situation. This is achieved using three strategies: 1) differential sanctions to break up the previous alliance of social groups; 2) financial incentives for the privileged classes in return for the maintenance of order; 3) Mainly because the previous strategy was not very successful, the establishment of a third instance of the State, neither purely military nor juridical: the Intendants of justice, police, and finance (94). The Intendants were supposed to guard against sedition, but also to arbitrate the conflicts between rent and tax. Another characteristic of the new repressive apparatus is the removal of the dangerous population. The institution of a mechanism for the segregation of a stratum of delinquency out of the mass of the plebeian population connects the changes in the nature of the State with the development of the capitalist form of production. Foucault does not explain the emergence of capitalism as a change in the system of production. He characterizes the relationship between State and emerging capitalism as ‘linkage’ (105), ‘favorable’ (105), ‘oriented and functionally linked’ to Capitalism. In a more rounded statement, he summarizes this relationship: ‘We should say that capitalism cannot subsist without an apparatus of repression whose main function is anti-seditious. This apparatus produces a certain penalty–delinquency coding. What has to be studied now is the installation of this new repressive system – the way in which it finally prevailed as the political system of capitalist production developed and was completed; – through what episodes it was finally institutionalized in the nineteenth century in the forms of the courts, the police, prisons, and the penal code’ (106). Foucault bases his analysis, to some extent, on the work of the Russian historian Boris Porshnev, whose work was challenged by some French scholars about that time. An essay by Claude O. Doron, included in this volume, recreates the positions of the parties, the issues at stake, and how Foucault relates to each one of them.
Lecture number eight changes focus from the 17th century to the 12th century to study the slow constitution of a separate judicial system from its predecessor feudal Germanic penal law. Foucault observes that there was a long line of attempts to establish a centralized justice system, but until the 18th century, they failed. Whenever those institutions were stripped of political and administrative functions, retaining judicial functions only, they were eventually assimilated by the feudal institutions. It is in order to ‘get the measure of the transformation carried out’ (114) that Foucault takes a step back in history, and points to German criminal law. This move marks an inflection in Foucault’s text. In the earlier lectures, he seems to look for a constitutive break taking place in the 17th century. Now he is inviting us to consider a much longer evolution, a slow separation from Germanic custom, and the constitution over centuries of a State differentiated from Civil Society. This approach is not only more comprehensive but also grounds Foucault’s underlying conception that the justice apparatus is a realm expropriated from civil society and sedimented into a separate body of functionaries.
Foucault begins his account remarking that whereas private and public law was Romanized fairly early, criminal law was Romanized late and only superficially. In the Germanic custom, the juridical act, the process in the broader sense, is ‘the regulated development of a dispute’ (115). The juridical order is a struggle. It was only later that the ‘acts and operations of justice’ are confiscated by a judicial instance. Justice is originally an interpersonal relationship. Importantly for Foucault, truth—the truth of the facts at the basis of the conflict between the parties—does not play an important role or is instead a mark of the outcome of the struggle. The penal system that developed in the Middle Ages acted at the level of the levy of goods (fines, confiscations, fees). The judicial is subordinated to the fiscal, But, elements from the old Germanic system remain in the Middle Ages legal apparatus. In particular, Foucault mentions the need for an accuser, which is one of the parties in the conflict. The form of a dispute between two individuals remains central to the judicial process. The public power may intervene through the aggravation of the penalty, taking sides in the dispute, but the basic structure remains intact. Foucault’s main interest seems to be the transition between this old Germanic custom and the emergence of a recognizable concept of justice. This transition operates through the absorption of justice into the judicial, a power that can initiate action and present it as a public action. How was the transformation possible, asks Foucault? Certainly not because of the rise of a juridical conception of the State, or of a religious notion of wrongdoing. Instead, Foucault explores an economic interpretation of the origins of justice. This interpretation is not Marxist, even though Foucault utilizes a Marxist sounding terminology.
First and foremost, Foucault rejects the interpretation of the law as ideology or superstructure. He speaks of relations of appropriation and relations of force, in a way that echoes the Marxist’s ‘relation of production.’ However, Foucault does not refer to production but to circulation: ‘the distribution of justice forms part of the circulation of goods’ (133). Justice controls the circulation of goods at the level of civil law (contract, marriage, inheritance, and taxation), and of the penal law, by imposing fines and confiscating property. Foucault’s characterization is suggestive of Claude Lévi-Strauss’s description of society as a network of circulation and exchanges (cf. 147, note 44).
At the time, Foucault was active in a movement advocating for penal and carceral reform. The 1968 student and youth revolt generated a climate of criticism of the justice system. This climate was strengthened by the government’s prosecutions of activists of the extra-parliamentary left, and by those groups that made claims to a different justice. As we learn in note 12 (142 f), Foucault opposed on theoretical and political grounds the demands of the militants, who reclaimed for themselves the status of political prisoners. Foucault claims that all criminal offenses are political ones, and no distinction should be revendicated. Foucault also rejected in his interventions in this period, the notion of ‘popular courts;’ (espoused by the militants of GP ultra-leftist group and supported by Sartre).
In the first part of the 10th lecture, Foucault returns to the relationship between penal practice and transfer of wealth, goods, and property. Justice imposes penalties, establishes a system of compensations, and extorts wealth through the system of costs of justice. At a time of monetary scarcity, the flow of wealth passed through the judicial dispute. Judicial disputes and marriage are the main mechanisms of wealth circulation. Foucault differentiates two forms. One in which there is an interplay between civil and criminal justice. The second one is closer to violent appropriation, as in the case of the eviction of Jews and Lombards at the end of 13th century, and the anti-heretical crusades in the Provence. The rest of the lectures maps the transformation of the medieval system into a system of royal justice, armed with an institutionalized judicial State apparatus.
Lectures ten through twelve delve with different aspects of the thesis that a judicial system was crucial for the development of the Absolutist State and later on, of the capitalistic State. It acquires this role initially as a response to the lack of monetary wealth and the weakness of markets. These judicial and penal systems are not yet a State apparatus, but they exercise some functions of a State apparatus. Eventually, this proto-judicial will become specialized in different separate functions: judicial, police, and penitentiary. Foucault comments on the functional role of the centralized army. Justice as state apparatus developed in the shadow of the army. He speaks of an army of mercenaries and a justice of functionaries (160).
In lecture eleven, Foucault reflects on the relationship between law and the economy. It may be true that ‘juridical forms’ express ‘economic relations.’ There is another level, though, at which the juridical is neither expression nor reproduction of economic relations. As a power relation, the judicial apparatus operates within economic relations and thereby modifies them. Foucault uses terms such as ‘transcribes,’ ‘investment,’ ‘presence,’ to describe the relationships between judicial and economics. The following text shows the kind of interplay between economic and judicial system that Foucault is striving to describe: ‘If we stick to the example of feudalism, we can see how, through the judicial apparatus (but we could also take the military or religious apparatus), from the surplus-product which permits feudal rent, a surplus- power, an extra power is extracted
– on the basis of which certainly this rent itself is demanded,
– but on the basis of which the forms and relations of production are displaced.’ (172)
In a crossed-out note, Foucault adds: ‘the power relations are not superimposed on economic relations… relations of power are as deep as the relations of production. The former is not deduced from the latter. They accompany and relay each other’. Notes 9 and 10 (178-179) refer to the context, in particular concerning Althusser’s work. Doron summarizes ‘Foucault’s objective, which we find in subsequent courses, notably The Punitive Society, is to stress rather the constituting role of power relations at the very heart of relations of production: the former acting as veritable conditions of the formation and transformation of modes of production, be this in the constitution of man as “labor-power” or the process of accumulation and circulation of wealth’ (179 and 97, note 11).
Lecture twelve adds some more concrete historical context to the discussion. It was the economic crises of the 13th and 14th centuries that lead to the centralization of royal power and the setting of royal justice. This led to a doubling of the judicial system and the separation of the penal and civil law. To some extent, Foucault seems to be transposing to the 13th and 14th centuries what earlier in the lectures he described as results of the suppression of the countryside revolts of the 17th century. By emphasizing this proto-State developing from within feudalism, Foucault is perhaps putting distance between the development of the centralized national state and the emergence of capitalism.
In the thirteenth lecture, Foucault reexamines his previous analysis in terms of the question of power/knowledge. What is the knowledge effect of penal justice in the Middle Ages? And what is the power/knowledge effect in the proto-state and latter absolutist State? By ‘knowledge effects’ Foucault is not referring to the ideological dimensions of the justice system, but to the mode of knowledge that develops within it and that constitutes its modus operandi. This question is connected both to the 1970-1971 course and to the lectures that Foucault will deliver in Brazil in 1973, published under the title Truth and Juridical Forms.
Foucault defines ‘knowledge effects’ as ‘the carving-out, distribution, and organization of what is given to be known in penal practice’ (198). Knowledge effects comprise the position and function of the subjects authorized to know (judges, their attendants), the forms of knowledge they use and create in their function, the kind of information, revelation or manifestation that is at stake at this level.
Foucault proceeds to review first the knowledge effects of the Germanic juridical system. According to Foucault, the old system was not intended to elicit a truth. The system was based on the notion of ‘test’ (épreuve) to which the parties could either succeed or fail. The outcome of the test is the outcome of the trial. If the test indicates a truth, it is only in a secondary or derivative way. The test is not a sign of truth, but a mark.
With the establishment of a system in which the King’s procurator is the main actor, the older system of the test is no longer possible. What then makes it possible for the procurator to pass sentence? Foucault answers that it is the inquiry (inquiry-truth; Enquête vérité), which is the repurpose of a pre-existing administrative tool for the function of Justice.
Foucault describes the form of knowledge of this early judicial system that emerges from the replacement of the Germanic-feudal one as one of ‘extraction of truth.’ The procurator can request from the notables what is the common knowledge or notoriety. He has the right to elicit knowledge from those who know. The truth established in this form is a sort of substitute for the capture in the act (flagrance). Truth introduces into the field of the penal law acts that are not injuries committed against specific individuals, but disorders. They may not have a specific victim but are perceived as disrupting the public order.
Foucault has not much to say about the inquiry, which was initially an administrative technique in use in the Church and the Carolingian kingdom. After a brief review, Foucault concludes with two fundamental aspects that the inquiry introduces in the judicial system are: 1) The establishment of the truth through the interrogation of witnesses, those who have seen the deed; 2) The written procedure. The last note of the lecture simply concludes that witnessing the truth and its faithful written recording replaces the event-test (203).
Following the lecture, the editors published several pages that seem to continue and to amplify the previous discussion. Foucault proposes a history of questioning as a form of exercise of power. He suggests that questioning plays a role in the constitution of the subject. The inquiry may have been more critical for the emergence of the subject even than theology, says Foucault, echoing a widespread belief that there is a strong connection between subjectivity and Christianity (206).
Confession is transitional between test and inquiry. Foucault refers here to the judicial aspects of confession, leaving aside the religious ones, that he will explore in detail elsewhere. According to Foucault, confession is depicted as a test of wills between accused and judge. This struggle is the background for the re-appearance of torture in the criminal procedure. Torture should be understood as an ordeal or test of truth (207). This form of knowledge/power gives origin to an arithmetic of proof, based on the nature of the crime, that binds the judge’s decisions. This system of legal proof persists until the end of the 18th century.
Foucault claims that with the first steps of the takeover of justice by the State, the inquiry shapes the practice of the penal procedure. Foucault mentions other uses of the inquiry, in civil law, in legislation, in social struggles (bourgeoisie versus feudalism), in the administrative process of centralization, and in the new forms of inquiry that the Church exercises over the population (inquisition).
Like measure (which was the object of Foucault’s previous year’s course), the inquiry is a form of power/knowledge, which means that power is established through the exercise and acquisition of this knowledge (209). Foucault sees the inquiry, together with taxes and the army, as a central tool in the process of state centralization. Furthermore, conversely, ‘the inquiry, which puts questions, extracts knowledge, centralizes it, turns it into a decision, is an exercise of power’ (209). Foucault speaks of the inquiry as a ‘levy of knowledge,’ similar to the appropriation of resources through taxation. He adds that ‘the knowledge power needs, the knowledge it calls for and to which it gives rise, is knowledge taken, channeled, accumulated, and converted into decision; the governor being the one who calls for this knowledge, goes through it, and judges accordingly what decision has to be taken (211).’ Further, Foucault suggests a typology of types of extraction of ‘surplus-knowledge’ (211). These pages, albeit fragmentary, contain many valuable insights on Foucault’s transition between his earlier archaeology to a genealogy of knowledge.
Finally, Foucault adds a remark that points out to other schemas of power-knowledge, in particular, ‘examination,’ which is the one constitutive of the normative human sciences (125). Foucault will devote the final lecture of his next year course to this subject (The Punitive Society, New York, 2015, pp. 225-241)
The «Course Summary» was written shortly after completing the teaching season and published in the College yearbook. Foucault presents his lectures as being an introduction to the study of 19th century French penal and social control institutions. They are part of the broader project of studying the formation of certain types of knowledge (savoir) based on the juridical-political matrices, which gave them birth and sustain them. Foucault’s working hypothesis is that power does not act only by facilitating or obstructing the production of knowledge. Power and knowledge do not stand in a relation of interest versus ideology. More generally, Foucault argues that knowledge and society do not stand on opposite sides but are unified in the form of ‘power-knowledge.’ Accordingly, explains Foucault, the lectures are divided into two parts. The first part studies the inquiry and its development during the Middle Ages. The other part of the lectures was devoted to the study of new forms of social control in 17th century France. A few concluding lines of the summary refer to the seminar in which Foucault and associates prepared for publication the story and memories of the infamous Pierre Rivière.
In the summary, Foucault inverts the order and the importance of the themes discussed. He also disregards his earlier attempt to study the ceremonial aspects of the reinstatement of the monarchical power carried out by Séguier.
Under the title ‘Ceremony, Theater and Politics in the Seventeenth Century,’ the editors bring a summary, made by an auditor, of a lecture given by Foucault at the University of Minnesota in April 1972. This conference describes in a more streamlined form Foucault’s description in lectures 4 through 6 of the elaborated ritualized strategy followed by Chancellor Séguier in his repression of the Nu-pieds rebels. Foucault’s interest in the symbolic and ceremonial exercise of power does not appear elsewhere, the account of Damian’s execution in Discipline and Punish being an exception.
‘The “Course Context’ is a thirty-seven-page extensive interpretative essay, written by François Ewald (Foucault’s former assistant at the Collège de France) and Bernard E. Harcourt (Columbia Law School professor and the editor of several of Foucault’s unpublished works).
The essay first describes the manuscript and additional materials from which the editors collated and transcribed the lectures. Section II refers to the general societal context in the aftermath of the May 68 events, the subsequent repression of the political movements that originated in the students and young workers revolt, and its impact on Foucault’s development. This section is of paramount importance for those less familiar with the contemporary history of French society. Section III evaluates the place of this course in Foucault’s work. Ewald and Harcourt refer to Foucault’s evolving position about Althusser and Marxism in general. They speak of a ‘counter-Marxism’ which is not an ‘anti-Marxism’ (255). They find a difference of objectives between Foucault and Marx, differencs of method, differences of objects, a different way of referring to class struggle, and a divergence on the subject of ideology. The authors also stress Foucault’s elaboration of an original analysis of law. In TPI, Foucault revolutions our way of viewing law, proposing a political theory of law instead of a juridical theory of power. In that respect, Ewald and Harcourt suggests that Foucault’s embryonic proposal can be compared to other schools, such as the French Marxist critique of law school, or the American Legal Realism school.
Étienne Balibar contributed to his volume a letter in which he reflects on Foucault’s text. Balibar was younger than Foucault, more politically engaged, closer to Althusser. He has the advantage of having witnessed the evolution of the after 1968 struggles, the downfall of the communist regimes in Eastern Europe, and the transformation of China into a capitalistic-bureaucratic society. Therefore, his insights on the background for Foucault’s analysis are an important complement to the ‘Course Context’ essay.
Finally, Claude-Olivier Doron contributes an essay dealing with Foucault’s position about the discussion between the Russian historian Boris Porshnev and the French historian Roland Mousnier and his students. Doron reconstructs and interprets the background for Foucault’s discussion of the Nu-pieds revolt. Those readers interested in this angle of Foucault’s analysis could also profit from Stuart Elden’s commentaries (Foucault: The Birth of Power, 2017, Chapter 2). Doron limits its piece to ‘some elements concerning the debate.’ He emphasizes the need to connect the debate between the historians with the discussion within the Marxist field, notably between Nicos Poulantzas (close to Althusser) and Ralph Miliband, debate that was also referenced by Balibar in his contribution (297 n. 1). Doron concludes that Foucault did not endorse any of the opposed parties. Foucault’s approach centered on the novel way in which the revolt was suppressed. He sought a connection between how the revolt was suppressed and the emergence of a state not yet been endowed with specific repressive organs.
The completion of this publication project is not the end of Foucault’s story. A new and ambitious project sets up to bring to print the ‘cours et travaux de Michel Foucault avant le Collège de France.’ Of these, a volume was already published that contains two lectures on sexuality that Foucault taught in 1964 and 1969. Additional volumes on Nietzsche, on Biswanger, on Foucault’s tenure in Tunis and others are in the program.
Also, a group of researches grouped in L’École normale supérieure de Lyon is digitizing and organizing Foucault reading notes. Out of 25 boxes, three are already available online (open access), and the others will be available in the future. These publication concerns only Foucault reading notes, not his manuscripts or other documents. What is already available can be accessed in http://eman-archives.org/Foucault-fiches/arbre-collections. Box 001 which contains some of the notes taken by Foucault for the preparation of TPI is among the one already accessible.
In this day and age the majority of Heidegger’s works have been published. As a result, there is plenty of opportunity for philosophical exegesis: his works evidence various phases of philosophical styles and interests, a diversity of recurring topics undergoing changes in their analyses over time, and a hard-to-oversee body of creative vocabulary. It might be considered striking that one of Heidegger’s most consistent concerns throughout his catalogue was how various affective phenomena influence the practice of philosophy. Although a reasonable number of papers and book chapters have been written on the topic (with a strong preference to the topic as it appears in Being and Time), there has been, like Christos Hadjioannou says, ‘no single collection of essays exclusively dedicated to this theme’. For that reason, Hadjioannou dedicates this volume, Heidegger on Affect, to in-depth analysis of Heidegger’s many attempts at making ‘mood [Stimmung]’ and ‘disposition [Befindlichkeit]’ philosophically relevant, and conversely, at finding resources for understanding within the history of philosophy. With the objective of offering a comprehensive and relevant survey of Heidegger’s work on such matters, Hadjioannou has compiled essays by a variety of prominent contemporary Heidegger-scholars.
Overall the result is an unbiased, critical, and stimulating review of the resources Heidegger provides for thinking through affects. Thankfully, the chapters do not conform to a stereotype of Heideggerian scholarship: they do not present Heidegger’s considerations as an unfairly neglected and immeasurably valuable wellspring for endlessly fruitful contemplation. Instead, they take the more modest route of raising questions that are both inspired by and evaluative of said considerations. In this regard, Daniel O. Dahlstrom’s essay is exemplary of the collection’s often critical approach. His essay describes an issue with Heidegger’s writings that is indicative of what one may expect from this showcase of studies on affect: Heidegger’s considerations ultimately seem relatively limited. Aside from his surprising but altogether somewhat casual interest in the topic of love, as evidenced by atypical sources highlighted in a rich and enjoyable chapter from Tatjana Noemi Tömmel, Heidegger seems to have only a myopic interest in a small number of fairly dour moods, like angst and boredom. When Heidegger has the opportunity to talk about other kinds of affects, he mostly seems to divest for unclear reasons. It might disqualify Heidegger as a champion of phenomenological analysis of affects, and Dahlstrom is entirely right to challenge him (and his readers) on this point.
On the other hand, this lack of breadth does have a clear cause. Heidegger prefers analysing some moods over others, because he believes they are the ‘fundamental moods [Grundstimmunge]’. These in particular are intended to play an eminent role in his philosophy. Hadjioannou’s own chapter convincingly shows that the analysis of angst allows Heidegger to disavow Husserlian mentalism while retaining an epistemic norm for his own version of phenomenology. Hadjioannou argues that angst on Heidegger’s account is the quasi-evidentialist insight into ‘Being-in-the-world’ that serves as a methodological counterpoint to Husserl’s ‘original intuition’. In that way, angst is focal to Heidegger’s conception of phenomenology, and gets the elaborate treatment it deserves. In this way, the few moods that Heidegger does believe are deserving of his attention do compel him to write the kind of rich, unique, and interesting descriptions that serve as the inspiration for this collection of essays. A recurring theme in these descriptions, a theme subjected to much scrutiny in this volume, is the allegedly inherent opacity of moods and dispositions. From Heidegger’s perspective, enigmatic moods like angst and ‘profound boredom’ deserve the principal part in virtue of how telling they are with regard to this supposedly essential feature. Depending on how sympathetic a reader is towards this particular interest in moods, Heidegger’s limited focus will appear more or less justified.
Some of the essays in this collection are, unfortunately, suffering from minor issues that are a detriment to the presentation of their core content. Although most of the essays successfully mine ideas from the source material that would be interesting for a broader audience, not all of them put enough effort in to make the ideas accessible, or ensure clarity over how they relate to existing philosophical ideas. It results in interpretative work being done in a vacuum. Essays by Mahon O’Brien, Thomas Sheehan, Niall Keane, and François Raffoul all could have benefited from engaging with more critical literature on Heidegger and this topic. O’Brien sees his essay as part of an endeavour to criticize certain ‘readings of Heidegger in the literature’ (1-2), but a reference to only one author is made: Richard Capobianco. Capobianco also happens to be the sole Heidegger scholar Sheehan engages with, offering largely the same critique of Capobianco as he has offered in previous writings. In both essays, the reference to Capobianco is perfunctory, because Capobianco’s views either are not elaborated, or it is not explained how those views are relevant to specifically the matters discussed in these essays. In his essay, Keane wants to provide a helpful hermeneutic framework for Heidegger’s often complicated writings: his approach reads Heidegger as turning his readers’ attention to possibilities ‘blocked’ by the metaphysical tradition of philosophy. The framework is taken from Heidegger’s analysis of Aristotle’s work on rhetoric. After an interesting and elegant reconstruction of Heidegger’s appreciation of the intersubjective, affective basis of rhetoric in that account, Keane is incidentally in a great place to address a volume on the topic of Heidegger’s thoughts on rhetoric, but he references it without discussion of the claims made by the authors in it, which leads him (among other things) to ignore the sensitive, political overtones of Heidegger’s discussion. Daniela Vallega-Neu’s contribution evinces a different issue. For the most part, the volume avoids Heideggerian jargon, but her essay is an unfortunate exception to this. Her essay is complicated by unnecessarily difficult sentences, abstruse claims, and unexplained jargon. She makes a commendable case against Heidegger’s prioritizing of fundamental moods over regular moods, and for appreciation of the body’s role in the latter, arguing that a person has no control over the ways in which moods become revelatory for us, and is not to a greater or lesser degree ‘erring’ by getting ‘caught up’ by the body. However, in the process, she surprisingly ends up acknowledging Heidegger’s ‘great concentric power’ and calling on extra argumentative support from the authority of independent meditation (223).
Other essays are excellent. Katherine Withy’s essay offers a nuanced and thorough exploration of Heidegger’s notion of ‘disposition’, here translated in a more active voice as ‘finding’, in the sense of ‘how one finds oneself’. Particularly helpful is the clear distinction of ‘finding’ from ‘mood’. Heidegger makes one passing remark on the matter in Sein und Zeit, stating that disposition is the ontological dimension of what ontically is familiar to anyone as moods. With Withy’s commentary in mind one can conclude that Heidegger most certainly does not mean to use the two notions interchangeably (in contrast to Vallega-Neu: 207), and that his analyses of moods must be read from the perspective of his interest in finding. On Withy’s account, finding involves taking a practical identity to be vocational; it is the necessity of hearkening to one project rather than another, i.e. to be called to self-disclose in one particular way (155-157). Noticing a tension with the ecological psychology literature of James J. Gibson, she argues that affordances (the possibilities offered up by entities) become solicitings (possibilities that call for engagement) through finding, which is to say: through coordination with the projects that resonate with the person (165-166). Withy here finds the conceptual resources to argue against two authors: Matthew Ratcliffe and Lauren Freeman. Both are well-known for their work on Heideggerian interpretations of emotions and affects, and the latter is featured with an essay unrelated to this discussion, i.e. a comprehensive study contrasting various conceptions of boredom, written in collaboration with Andreas Elpidorou. These two authors have argued on the one hand that Heidegger seems unaware of distinctive features that would make certain moods into emotions and not moods, and on the other hand that Heidegger unfairly neglects the role of the body in affective phenomena. She replies to the first contention by noting the lack of relevance of any distinction between mood and emotion to Heidegger’s analysis of moods in terms of finding, and by stressing how moods are relative to our projects (citing Aristotle: “what is frightening is not the same for everyone”). To the second, she replies by arguing that it is not obvious that the body plays a necessary or essential role in finding, despite acknowledging the importance of embodiment as a project (170-171). These arguments result in a rich, intriguing analysis that leaves plenty of possibilities for further discussion.
Equally fecund is Denis McManus’ chapter, which brilliantly showcases the virtue of deftly setting limits to one’s exegetical goals and sustaining a focus on the matter under consideration, resulting in a modest and elegant argument for a new, recognizably Heideggerian understanding of practical deliberation. McManus considers two different models for the interpretation of Heidegger’s notoriously difficult notion of authenticity, and proposes a third of his own, in which authenticity is explained in more close conjunction to disposition. The first ‘decisionist’ model, held by Michael Friedman, claims that a person has the freedom to make a resolute decision, which takes action of its own accord and makes that person answerable with regard to it. McManus shows this model to be at odds with Heidegger’s ideas, in so far as a person always submits to a world by ‘constantly being summoned by the world’ (132), limiting the volitional mastery of such decision-making. McManus then underlines the problematic nature of the decisionist model by recounting criticisms of Heidegger by Iris Murdoch and Ernst Tugendhat. Both authors McManus takes to make the important point that such freedom removes the person from ‘the medium within which our thinking, doing and acting happen’ (134). The second model, the ‘standpoint’ model, points out the commonality between a variety of existing Heidegger interpretations. Authenticity is, according to this model, taken to be the owning of a standpoint, meaning something like a commitment to a project that involves a particular set of norms. Contra the decisionist model, this model accommodates the predisposed and embedded nature of resolutions by allowing for consistency in one’s subjection to characteristic affects. A person can, for instance, be committed to readiness for righteous indignation, outlining in advance how the principle of social injustice matters to that person (example drawn from Somogy Varga, 135-136). In order to substantiate the pluralist intuition that one may have to answer to all kinds of competing normative demands, McManus proposes an ‘All-Things-Considered Judgment’ model. He invokes Heidegger’s account of guilt to make the point that a person always already waives possibilities for the sake of others. This point shows that a person incorporates a multi-dimensional, guilt-laden treatment of possibilities in moments of action (140-141). Authenticity, therefore, must consist in meeting the challenge to “be open to my situation in its concretion in allowing my many emotions a voice in my deliberations, acknowledging rather than evading the full range of ways in which I am already attuned to my situation” (144). In this way, McManus makes a strong case for the way in which affects must condition the success of deliberation, even where one is confronted with ‘mixed feelings’.
On a whole, then, Heidegger on Affect is a worthwhile collection of essays on affectivity that is accessible to readers with broader interests than just ‘Heidegger’. Hadjioannou has included work that is representative of some of the weaknesses, but most of all of the imaginative strengths of the field. Heidegger’s work, although descriptively limited to a small number of moods, provides resources for philosophical discussion on a large variety of topics, and the authors in this volume put forward a number of interesting considerations in relation to them. Given that, as Hadjioannou has said, “affective phenomena are central to all of Heidegger’s work” and “no single collection of essays has been exclusively dedicated to this theme” (ix), this collection can be considered a major contribution to its own field, one that simultaneously invites further productive engagement with the theme from anyone interested in what Heidegger brings to bear on affects (be it from within the field or from without). The volume’s efficacy lies in seriously considering how affects are existentially pertinent to human beings, deepening the widely-held intuition that they are. For that reason, it is of considerable merit and should be of interest to many.
Golob, Sacha. 2017. ‘Methodological Anxiety: Heidegger on Moods and Emotions’. Chapter 12 in Thinking about the Emotions, A Philosophical History: 253-271. Edited by Alix Cohen & Robert Stern. Oxford University Press.
Gross, Daniel M. & Kemman, Ansgar. 2005. Heidegger and Rhetoric. State University of New York Press, Albany. Part of the SUNY series in Contemporary Continental Philosophy, edited by Dennis J. Schmidt.
Hatzimoysis, Anthony. 2009. ‘Emotions in Heidegger and Sartre’. In The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Emotion. Edited by Peter Goldie. Oxford University Press.
Martin Heidegger. 2005. Sein und Zeit. Max Niemeyer Verlag, Tübingen.
Ratcliffe, Matthew. 2009. ‘Why Mood Matters’. Chapter 7 in The Cambridge Companion to Heidegger’s Being and Time. Edited by Mark Wrathall. Cambridge University Press.
Shockey, R. Matthew. 2016. ‘Heidegger’s Anxiety: On the Role of Mood in Phenomenological Method’. Bulletin d’analyse phénoménologique 12.1.
Staehler, Tanja. 2007. ‘How is a Phenomenology of Fundamental Moods Possible?’. International Journal of Philosophical Studies 15 (3): 415-433.
 My personal favourites include Golob 2017, Hatzimoysis 2009, Shockey 2016, Staehler 2007, and works from Ratcliffe – 2009 for instance – and from the various authors in this book.
 Gross & Kemman 2005.
 Heidegger 2005: 134.
This work was compiled from an unfinished essay originally written in 1931, a part of the vast trove of documents left behind by Alexandre Kojève that publishers are finally starting to take out and disseminate to the world. At the time this was wrote, atheism was not just blindly implemented by Soviet ideology, but it was the sign of the final death throes of faith in its fight against the Enlightenment movement. Indeed, the Enlightenment proved victorious, though it was a Pyrrhic victory as the Enlightenment movement itself died with the Soviet Union in the last decade of the 20th century.
The introduction does a very good job at going over the general points of the book – and indeed the author of the intro is quite right to say that it does not take away from the joy of reading the original work. The work reads like is a man struggling with these very difficult concepts, at a time when these concepts were shaping nations. Knowing the topics of atheism versus theism meant knowing the bloody history of the 20th century – with its creation and destruction of empires, nations, and people’s lives numbering in the hundreds of millions.
The topic of atheism was not merely academic as it had real world impacts, so one could detect the urgency and importance of the topic in the tone of Kojève’s writing. To be sure, the true philosopher is one that realizes that their work has real world implications, that it is important to all people – not just relegated to the world of academics. In this spirit, Kojève can be understood to meet that criteria of philosopher quite easily.
Atheism is still quite prevalent today, and this book will shed light on today’s stance on this belief of non-belief in a way few else can. Kojève was there when the contemporary atheism movement begun and therefore has insight that contemporary academics cannot understand. Kojève separates people into two camps – the theist and the atheist. Of course, most of us fall somewhere in between these two camps, but in order to properly understand either he has boiled down the types into purities, then compared the differences between the two.
Kojève was not particularly interested in promoting one side or another, merely trying to figure out what they were and where they base their particular life-axioms. From the spirit of the book, the best Kojève (or arguably anyone) can do is speak about both sides in general terms, mostly because the main concepts held by either side is, at best, understood in general terms. He divides further the concept of the theist and atheist as ‘qualified’ – this would be one whose ideologies are solidified, extreme, and self-aware.
The qualified theist is one where God’s existence is simply accepted, and there is nothing more to say on that. God is understood to be a thing with some kind of quality, a thing that makes God a God. But, is God a ‘thing’? Indeed He is, however it is a thing that is very different from other things – other things that inhabit the material realm. Therefore, a qualified theist is one that understands that God(s) have predicates.
The theist is a person who believes in God, whatever that may be, and the atheist does not believe in God, whatever that might be. That being said, faith itself is considered irrational, so both the theist and atheist are more similar than they would like to admit.
The basic question asked in this work, though cannot be answered definitely, is “Is it possible for the atheist to claim that there is nothing beyond the world without entering into contradiction.” (Kojève 2018, xvii). The atheist is the one that mostly uses rationality as their basis of belief, but on what basis can they claim to be more rational than the theist (if proving the existence of God is unfalsifiable)?
For Kojève, how people believe to interact with the external world is very important to his conclusions. Firstly, we have the human being in the world – this is one that interacts with the material world. The concept of homogeneity is used, and this is to give us the notion that our own experiences are similar enough amongst other humans that we can all assume that we interact with the world in more or less the same way so that it can be described in general terms. Homogeneity is the concept that things outside the self are similar enough for us all.
The concept of estrangement is that it only applies to human beings, and that the world presents itself to us and as such we cannot escape from this world and remain sane. Kojève posits that things are ‘given’ to us, but it is God that does the giving (for the theist). The theist is aware of this stuff given to us and therefore suffers anxiety. The atheist cannot care less about such things and therefore suffers not.
The big question in this work is how can God reach thorough the realm of the outside world into our plane of reality? It reminds me of the difficulty of passing from subjectivity to objectivity – are such things possible and how can we do this without sacrifice of quality?
Kojève’s greatest accomplishment in this work is the position on death itself. He posits that we all agree that there is a passing to an outside world, to some degree, when we die. This is simple enough to grasp as we can witness the death of others. Where things become complicated is when it comes to understanding our own deaths, because we can never experience our own deaths (as it occurs after we lose consciousness, and consciousness is the sense that enables the other senses to process external information). The concept that we cannot imagine our own demise or nothingness is very important, and one that is ought to have the highest dissemination to the world as possible.
Death is both nothingness and thingness at once, which is similar to the problem of the existence of God: “Death is thus available to us only in its unavailability, as unavoidably enigmatic, the genuine, essential, and ineluctable mystery.” (Kojève 2018, xxii) This is the basic human condition. How we deal with that differs on whether or not we are an atheist or a theist. All of us face death with horror, in one way or another. This is why the medieval art featuring people facing all kinds of horrible violent deaths with a stone, uncaring face is seen as ridiculous rather than pious, to contemporary minds.
Where Kojève goes wrong is his stance on suicide. For him: “…suicide is the highest expression of freedom.” (Kojève 2018, xxiii) He is not technically wrong, as overriding our own self-preservation instincts requires a strong will, but the problem is that if we cannot fully comprehend our own demise or nothingness then how is this freedom? In suicide we aren’t merely experiencing the unknowable, but forcing it on ourselves. We shall explore this topic further near the end of the paper.
The theist sees death as the release of the soul from the body. The atheist sees this as simply being done with the world, and just wants to be done with living within it. Most people believe in a little bit of both theistic and atheistic aspects of death.
Regarding suicide, is it overcoming pain and fear, or is it a submission to it? There are those who survive suicide attempts all the time, so do know this we would have to ask them. Suicide is also prevalent within other species – there are well documented cases of animals drowning themselves or stop eating until they die, after they lost a mate or suffered some other tragedy. That being said, all the problems with our own lives end with our lives, for better or worse. That doesn’t mean it has no effects on the living, however.
This problem is similar to God the infinite – another concept that cannot be proven. The infinite, for Kojève, is the surpassing of limits, yet no such thing is possible because there is only the finite: “No attempt at liberation from the world is possible. Our interaction renders us vulnerable, limiting our freedom and ultimately tying us down to death. If Kojève were to say that only a God could save us, it would be that God achieved by Kirillov in suicide.” (Kojève 2018, xxv) If life is such a burden then why would we want to be free of its limits? Satisfaction is found in the conquest of limits, with no challenges to overcome then nothing is there to look forward to, an existence without purpose or meaning. Perhaps the true freedom is not freeing ourselves from limits, but from the shackles of fear of not overcoming limits.
Kojève is quite correct that both the atheist and theist want to break out of our obvious limits and achieve greater things, outside the world (or our perception of it). He is correct that speculation cannot provide proof, but this is the beauty of philosophy. We deal in matters that cannot be proven objectively, and in the absence of objective (material world) proof it is the best we have. The same goes for knowing when to mark the proper end for ourselves (like Hegel’s ‘End of History’). This question, I believe, is the same as understanding our own deaths/nothingness. Our end is the end of life – therefore to go into understanding that we need philosophical speculation to take the first steps towards knowledge.
The concept of courage in the face of death is described as simply a cover up for our own fear. Indeed that is the definition of courage – doing something in spite of a strong feeling of fear. It must be stressed that fear will always exist, so denying it exists at our own deaths would be inauthentic. So, an atheist would be one that feels they are ‘honest’ in the face of death – that after their body dies that is the end of them forever. The theist would be one that ‘hides’ behind hope that there is some kind of life (existence) after death.
Kojève is quite right to posit that an atheistic religion can exist if they limit themselves to believing in a non-existent nature of whatever God other people believe in. It is a matter of belief in the unfalsifiable versus the non-belief in the unfalsifiable, which brings us to another very interesting point in Kojève’s work – the discussion of atheism or theism does not belong within the realm of religion. This discussion goes beyond the confines of religion to encompass the foundations of how we think — logic.
Kojève’s work does bounce back and forth between concepts, as if he is having a conversation with himself – talking himself into a position, then thinking himself out of it. He understood that the atheist/theistic world views encompass the types of world they live in, and to understand those views properly is not so simple. At this time it would be appropriate to interject into the rather odd style of writing used by the translator. Obviously the translator has a firm grasp on the material, however there are some irregularities that would require some clarification.
For example, Love refers to God as ‘him (Kojève 2018, xxxii)’ when the proper way to refer to God is Him. Love later quotes Kojève as referring to God as Him (Kojève 2018, 15), so the grammatical inconsistency must have been known. It is not a catastrophic inconsistency, just one that peaks me to ask why such a thing was done in the first place. The other is the choice to refer to the generic person as she. Indeed, in the past ‘he’ was usually used, and this style of using ‘she’ is certainly en vogue these days, for whatever reason. I would have recommended to get away from any gender specific pronouns, if one’s goals were to avoid appearing sexist by using only one pronoun in particular over another.
The terms used are much appreciated, like ‘giveness’, but understand that these are not translation errors, but an expression of how a Russian or Frenchman in the 1930s would express such concepts of being an animated meat robot inhabiting a class M planet within a finite universe composed of matter and energy – and with all those things that go along with that. Another language oddity here is the usage of the term ‘tonus.’ The use of it here does not match the English dictionary definition of the word; being “The normal tension of a muscle at rest.” (Merriam-Webster 2019, 1) – unless Love is inadvertently using the French word tonus, which is tone in English, and in that case the word ‘tone’ works just fine in the contexts of this text. All that aside, we may now return to the text itself.
Concerning death and giveness, Kojève prompts some very interesting ideas. For example, Kojève himself is quite dead today, yet his words still reach out to me when I read his works – so in a way he is not truly nonexistent in the same way his body no longer functions. This paradox of ‘giveness’ Kojève talks about is quite interesting, perhaps we may need to accept this paradox as insolvable. We cannot have a conversation with Kojève, as we can only read, listen and reflect on his works. Kojève’s giveness continues after his physical death, but the living cannot present their giveness to him (in a way that affects himself as a living thing). That is, the dead can give to the living, but not vice-versa (unless we count the living keeping the memory of the dead alive, this can be a sort of giveness, but what is it – the dead giving to the living or the other way around?). This may not be solved, but at least it is something that will require more study in the future.
As far as we can understand life and death, death is seen at the destination at the end of all life, but this is not as important/valuable as the journey. Skipping ahead to the destination (by dying early) does not do anyone any favors. Journeys require destinations, but the destination itself gives little value in comparison to the experience of the journey. For example – there is little value in simply getting 100% on a test if passing it required no learning or effort. Indeed: “Life is not death, but without death there is no life.” (Kojève 2018, 61) Therefore, death is the impassible limit on life, and without limits there is no life. Therefore, we need limits in our lives for them to be considered lives. Finitude is necessary to complete our concepts of life. Additionally, one’s death is not entirely valueless – one may die well (self-sacrifice), poorly (by killing innocent people along with themselves), or everything in between.
Where Kojève goes awry is on his stance of suicide. On one hand, the concept of non-existence is unthinkable to a person, yet: “Suicide is the conscious and voluntary end of the existence of the human being in the world.” (Kojève 2018, 82) So, how can anyone consciously and voluntarily enter into a state of existence in which they have no possible way of understanding it? A contract is not considered valid unless both parties understand what they are agreeing to, so the person committing suicide is entering into a contract where they have no possible means of understanding it. If one is unable to know what one is agreeing to, then that is hardly a decision one are capable of making.
This is why we have laws against underage drinking or sex – the individual may be physically capable of drinking beer or having sex, but we have learned that under a certain age of mental development people are unable to understand the consequences of those types of behavior. Therefore, by granting any kind of positive attributes to suicide is at best naïve and worst morally repugnant as we know that there is no age in which we can be mentally competent enough to know that killing ourselves is the right choice.
Indeed, our freedom is linked to our finitude, both in the idea that yes we can drop dead at any moment and for a myriad of reasons. I believe Kojève is saying that we can understand that we are mortal and can die at any time, but at the same time not truly know what it is like. The freedom we have in life is knowing that there is an end, so we have this motivation to act in the here and now. If we were immortal – what would be the rush to accomplish anything? Free from the shackles of immortality, we strive to learn, to extend our ‘giveness’ to the outside world.
The concept of death and suicide aside, Kojève does a marvelous job of placing atheism and theism within their proper spheres. Both sides pride themselves on their differences, but they are actually more alike than they would admit, and Kojève puts them together enough so that dialogues can be opened: “By equating the non-atheist with the theist, I have identified all of what is not the world with God or, better, with divinity.” (Kojève 2018, 98)
Kojève is correct to posit that one’s atheism or theism infuses itself into their very work – most importantly into their science or philosophy. It is a far too common occurrence for people to assume that because they do a thing for a paycheck, the particular ideology they prescribe to will not affect their jobs in anyway. Every time someone kneels on the prayer mat, or consumes the host wine, or stands at attention to the national anthem – are strengthening their own ideology – and through it will influence the way we perceive and act within the world in a way they cannot be aware of. Atheism or theism is an important part of one’s ideology, and since ideology is the unseen mover that shapes peoples thoughts and actions, then it is fair to say it influences everything we do or think.
Both the theist and atheist feel the other is lacking in something and do not truly understand the other’s position. The theist has as a part of themselves that is something outside the material realm, while the atheist does not. Kojève is right to claim that secularity and religion is not the same realm of understanding as atheism and theism – as those are matter of logics. Religion and Secularism play by their own rules, by that they have their own axioms that fall outside logic itself. Christian religious studies simply assume God exists, and from there all their work goes from that point. The same for atheistic works – they assume no God exists and from there all conclusions are reached. Kojève’s conclusions predate either and seek to understand where both views originate.
On further study – it would appear both are closer to the realms of religion than logic: “…the God of science is not the same as the God of religion, this is nonetheless God.” (Kojève 2018, 122) Better understood, however, is that the beliefs of both atheists and theists are within the realm of religion, but the particular values of each are understood in the realm of logic.
We cannot describe either position exactly, as there are varying degrees of theist and atheism most of us hold onto. Still, Kojève does a good job in describing each as best as humanly can. All in all, this was a fine introductory text to Kojève’s positions on death, suicide, atheism and theism. Additionally, even those unfamiliar with his other works can enjoy this text as an introduction to these concepts presented here. Indeed, I would recommend it to anyone interested in these topics as a foundation to further study in the matters at hand.
The only drawbacks to the text are the few oddities of language usage, and that the text itself does not give us more. It is as if Kojève was wise enough to have the concrete answers on what it means to be atheist and theist, but is hiding it from us – so we are wanting more (if we can call this a drawback). A truly successful paper in philosophy, like art, is one that sparks the imagination, encourages debate, and leaves us open to a new slew of problems that we were previously unaware of. Considering these criteria, this book is a resounding success.
Kojève, Alexandre. 2018. Atheism. Translated by Jeff Love. New York: Columbia University Press.
“Tonus.” The Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/tonus. Accessed 9 December 2019.
As a classicist and ancient historian, I have always been intrigued by Heidegger’s frequent references to the Greeks and what he described as their “original,” in a Nietzschean sense, appreciation of the essence of Being. Then, again, I am deeply aware of the truth pertaining Glen Most’s statement about classicists and Heidegger (“Heidegger’s Greeks,” Arion 10.1 (2002) 83-98 at 96):
“For the professional classicist, there is almost nothing at all of interest in Heidegger’s work on Greek philosophy and poetry—which no doubt says as much about professional classicists as it does about Heidegger. Heidegger’s work remains entirely marginal to the classics profession, except for a very few classicists who are themselves largely marginal.”
While this partly explains my protracted grappling with this review, it also relates most clearly why Marder’s book has been so tantalizingly appealing to me.
First, although classicists are not habitually interested in Heidegger, they are interested in theoretical advances that may defend their interpretations of ancient Greek texts from the usual charge of being irrelevant and almost a pastime for recluses. Phenomenology has been one of the latest theoretical approaches to be adopted by scholars of ancient religion (such as the great Walter Burkert) and Heidegger is regarded as “the father of phenomenology,” given that for him Aristotle was certainly influenced by a rhetorical culture in defining man as a political animal and that the constituent parts of Da-sein (the speaking, listening, and caring which characterize Heidegger’s concept of Being-There) provide a common ground between rhetorical politics and phenomenology (S. Elden, “Reading Logos as Speech: Heidegger, Aristotle and Rhetorical Politics,” Philosophy & Rhetoric 38.4 (2005) 281-301 at 286-288).
Second, Marder’s book struck a chord with me because the author sets out to make a significant point, that is, to advocate our duty to engage with Heidegger rather than continue to ignore him because of his antisemitic sentiments. The controversy surrounding Heidegger has intensified since 2014 when the first books of his Black Notebooks were published with Marder noting in his Introduction (xi):
“What reawakens each time with the controversy, or what reawakens it, is the desire to expel Heidegger and to expunge his contributions from the canon of Western philosophy or from what may be legitimately taught, interpreted, and discussed in self-respecting philosophy departments.”
In attempting a bold, but not out-of-place, in my view, comparison, I have often felt a similar attitude towards the Classics in post-colonial Australia; I vividly remember a professor of English, who exasperated with Norman Lindsay’s misogynistic adaptation of classical models, asked a doctoral student in a full amphitheater: “why do you want to study this stuff?” The conflation of Norman Lindsay’s views with the right (and even need) to study them produces a gross methodological error, one fraught with greater dangers than people gradually feeling at ease with expressing socially dangerous sentiments. Not trusting students to make the differentiation is indicative of how little confidence we have in our educational system(s), let alone the staff responsible for teaching it. In this regard, Marder’s Introduction is indeed powerful and invests the rest of the book with a renewed sense of purpose, a purpose which many scholars in the humanities are likely to empathize with. This is important given that eight out of the nine chapters comprising this book have been published before in some form and that this reader felt at times that Marder should refine the chapters further to accomplish his purpose of defending the study of Heidegger in a more concerted way.
The main body of the book consists of three Parts, focusing respectively on Phenomenology (3-65), Ecology (69-129) and Politics (133-173). Each Part contains three chapters.
Part I consists of the following chapters: “‘Higher Than Actuality:’ The Possibility of Phenomenology” (3-26), “Failure and Nonactualizable Possibility” (27-46), and “The Phenomenology of Ontico-Ontological Difference” (47-65). In the first chapter, Marder takes start from Heidegger’s view, expressed in paragraph 7 of Being and Time, that phenomenology does not lie in its actuality, but we should rather understand it as possibility (3). Drawing on the History of the Concept of Time, Marder analyzes Heidegger’s understanding of possibilities as existentially necessary for Dasein, especially since for him the impossible is the index of death (5-6). Furthermore, according to Heidegger, “the grounding possibility of phenomenology is “received” … from its “meaning in the human Dasein” (20). Hence, fundamental ontology (the acceptance of Dasein and its existence prior to inquiring about its meaning) is Heidegger’s response to Husserl’s phenomenology; according to Heidegger, by defining the phenomenon as the representation of the world in our consciousness, Husserl privileges consciousness in relation to the object. Of course, possibility needs actuality, otherwise the phenomenological approach to experience risks being separated from reality; Heidegger’s reflects on actuality in his Letter on Humanism where he argues that the accomplishment which constitutes the essence of action depends on how we perceive “productivity” since active fulfillment may well come in the form of letting be (22). This Destruktion of traditionality, enabled by Heidegger’s appreciation of fulfilling a possibility as productive but not productivist, allows for a new appreciation of efficacy in phenomenology as well as the link between intention and intuition (23).
From a classicist’s point of view, Heidegger’s observations are extremely useful in how we perceive and interpret ancient socio-religious experiences; to bring a concrete example to the discussion, ancient religion students have dedicated considerable effort to “categorizing” ancient religious experiences as “rites of passage” or “mysteries,” admittedly in an attempt to grapple with theories from anthropology or socio-linguistics. While there is little denying of the overlap between the categories construed, or the superficial enthusiasm with which classicists have at times adopted theoretical models, we are still hung on the need for classification which is a priori intrusive and inevitably anachronistic (see, for example, the refreshing article by H. Hays, “The End of Rites of Passage and a Start with Ritual Syntax in Ancient Egypt,” Rivista Studi Orientali Supplemento 2 (2013) 165-186). The same can be claimed for classifications of ancient magic, with a mind-blowing yet established in scholarship differentiation between plant-based magic, mainly entrusted to women, and aggressive, erotic magic typically encountered in the hands of men … The concept of possibility introduced by Heidegger can at least function as a halting point to allow for reflection on how certain ancient authors toyed with possibility and their audience’s assumptions or to use Heideggerian language, their “horizons of understanding.”
Marder’s second chapter is equally instructive to this direction, in my view, as it discusses the link between possibility and the sense of failure that overwhelms us when we consider our finitude, the possibilities that we will inevitably fail to actualize because of death. Importantly, our temporality, our ex-istence is essential to Dasein and to our perception of the ec-static character of time. Reading closely Heidegger’s Being and Time, Marder argues that “[T]here can be, and there is, a nothing that has broken free from lack, and that is both the abyssal foundation of fundamental ontology and the springboard for an alternative theory of failure” (32). It is in this nothingness that our existential failure can give birth to numerous other possibilities, what he calls the “fecundity of failure” (31). Importantly, Heidegger understands this “falling” (Verfallen, BT 219) in relation to the Dasein’s ability to understand itself. This falling into the ordinary and mundane expresses the worldliness (the everydayness) of Dasein and is a movement away from the Self, a movement toward inauthenticity; to restore our authentic Self we need to be able to listen to the silent call of conscience or be ready to be anxious about it (39; also, see J.B. Steeves, “Authenticity and Falling in Martin Heidegger’s ‘Being and Time,’” The Jerusalem Philosophical Quarterly 46 (1997) 327-338). To me, the notion of “falling” (especially in light of possibility being higher than actuality) has obvious Christian overtones (and though one could argue the same about the Greek Underworld, Heidegger, as Most (2010, 86) notes, often addresses his Church congregation). Marder does touch upon this on pages 90-91 when he describes the economization of our existence and the devastation of the polis but does not really engage with the idea. Further, although Marder analyzes Heidegger’s differentiation between malfunction and failure in relation to techne in Time and Being (44-46), he does not involve the Aristotelian concept of phronesis which Heidegger did discuss.
The final chapter of Part I focuses on Heidegger’s attempt to situate himself between the phenomenologies of Husserl and Hegel. The notion of types or perhaps possibilities of phenomenologies is enticing and Marder does engage masterfully with Heidegger’s reading of both philosophers. Here, Marder follows two hypotheses: first, Heidegger employs the Hegelian phenomenology of spirit to refute Husserl’s positions and second, Husserl and Hegel come to stand for “the encryptions of ‘ontic’ and ‘ontological’ phenomenologies, of consciousness and of spirit” (49). Heidegger attempts to bridge the “ontico-ontological difference” by gathering together, “without mixing them, dialectical fire and phenomenological water.” Although Marder makes clear that Heidegger does not reject Husserl outright, he concludes that his intentional consciousness caters for a relative being and relative knowledge (53, 56). By trying to substantiate his historically conditioned appreciation of Dasein (i.e. non-metaphysical), Heidegger employs the concept of Mitdasein (being-with) which allows for our existence with objects, with ourselves and importantly with the Hegelian absolute, that is, we can participate in the self-knowledge of the absolute as analyzed by Hegel in the final paragraphs of his Enclyclopaedia Philosophy of Spirit (59-60). At this point, I was feeling rather smug with my progress in following Marder’s often longwinded arguments, and at the same time guilty for having missed the affinity of Mitdasein with post-structuralism (Woerman, M. Bridging Complexity and Post-Structuralism: Insights and Implications, Switzerland: Springer, (2016) 243ff. on Nancy and Heidegger), when it occurred to me that Marder does not explain how the consciousness of Mitdasein (as well as authentic Dasein) can be non-metaphysical. I say this because to my mind, although Mitdasein is enabling us to approach the absolute through Hegelian self-reflection, it necessarily implies a sense of isolation and/or separation from the objects which we “are with;” this thought has a very Platonic as well as Nietzschean ring to it which is, of course, totally metaphysical. Here, Marder does not offer the non-expert much guidance.
Part II consists of the following chapters: “To Open a Site: A Political Phenomenology of Dwelling» (69-92), “Devastation” (93-111), “An Ecology of Property” (113-129). In chapter four, Marder explains Heidegger’s application of the concept of failure in the context of the Greek polis, which is linguistically tied to the word polos (=swirl) (70); the latter is characterized by a perennial openness both in the sense that its members are renewed continuously but, also, in the sense that the questioning that takes place in the polis can never be concluded. Heidegger objects to the common translation of polis as state or city-state because it suppresses its ecological stance (72). Notably, he toys with the Nietzschean notions of hypsipolis and apolis, often through his grappling with Sophocles’ Antigone (73-74) which indicates that Heidegger recognizes oikologia, which in Heideggerian terms would be translated as house-being or house-gathering, as a concept often realized by those who substitute the site of the polis with the site of history – another deeply Platonic idea (cf. Republic, 592b on the Heavenly city), but, also interestingly agreeing with several stories of ancient founders who were never afforded civic identity. I am here thinking of Heracles, but, in defense of Marder’s point that to appreciate Heidegger’s preoccupation with the polis is inherently antisemitic, I would like to add the example of Moses, who led his people to the promised land, but was not allowed to cross the river and enjoy Canaan. Heidegger employs a geometrical appreciation of the dwelling; as Marder explains (75) dwelling, or being a Dasein, is conceived as the meeting point of a vertical dimension that refers to geographical situation and the political and a horizontal dimension that refers to the ethos of the polis. In fact, it is in the context of the polis that Dasein is revealed to be a Mitsein, being-with (76). Having the Platonic example at the back of my mind, I was not clear at this point how Heidegger deals with those exceptional (philosophizing?) individuals who manage to exchange the actual dwelling for the site of history; how does the notion of Mitsein apply in these cases? And, importantly, if the openness of the dwelling relies on it becoming hostile to the individual (as in the case of Antigone), should we consciously seek to rise above the Mitsein? Possibly questions of a novice in Heidegger’s thought, but in advocating the study of Heidegger, Marder could have spent a bit more time trying to guide the less advanced reader. Marder then argues that ecology has been replaced in modern societies by a political and ethical economy, which privileges quantitative valuation (78). Discussing Heidegger’s contribution to the concept of nomos, Marder notes: “The work of ‘mere fabrication’ of the law by human reason corresponds to the degradation of ēthos to the ethical with the help of morality …” (79). The intense economization of existence has allowed for the reign of nihilism, defined as the “danger of self-destruction” (82). In HHI 48, cited by Marder on 91, Heidegger explains: “What I mean by ‘economization’ is the encumbrance of the things and the world they co-create with the time, spatiality, and language (nomos) that are alien to them.” Heidegger charges the Romans with mistranslating the politikón, as the product which arose “out of the existence of the Greek polis,” with the Latin Imperium (83) (as well as with attaching to the Greek word gē = earth the notion of territory by translating gaia/gē as terra, 84). Admittedly, I am grateful to Marder for including the etymological arguments of Heidegger’s thought to his analysis, I found them delightful. Heidegger urges us not to confuse the need for housing with the desire for dwelling (87). By now, however, I really thought that Marder would press the question of people without terra and flung into history (regardless of whether this was a choice) … maybe the reader should be more patient for a treat later in the book?
In chapter five, Marder examines the question “what do we do when we devastate the world?,” noting that Heidegger anticipated “an abandonment of being” (93). He then introduces the distinction between destruction and devastation (94): “Staying with the logic and the vernacular of the preceding chapter, I am tempted to say: destruction destroys housing, while devastation devastates dwelling, striking not at the actual but at the possible, at the possibility of actuality.” For the next few pages, Marder details Heidegger’s desperate attempt to find hope in the face of ecological destruction, eventually glimpsing it in what Heidegger mentioned in HCT 18 (19): when the system fails possibility or the possibility of possibility, then possibility enters concealment. Thus, when devastation has completed its terrible effect both within and outside us, the concealment of the beginning harbored within Dasein offers the possibility of a new beginning (97). At this point, Heidegger appears almost poetic, perhaps even fatalistic. The worse effect of devastation in us is the “incapacitation of logos, of articulation” (99). Devastation, according to Heidegger, “transmits a scorching desert silence” which “cuts into Dasein and severs it from its world.” Again, to me, Heidegger’s thought at this point is pregnant with theological concepts, especially the eastern hesychast tradition (as an adaptation of pagan philosophical silence) and was a bit disappointed that Marder is not interested in the topic, though this observation is an aside rather than a criticism for the work which here becomes much more legible in terms of style. Going back to the problem of articulating devastation, Heidegger suggests discussing it as “evil,” though he suspiciously claims that “the devastation of the earth and the annihilation of the human essence … are somehow evil” (101). Heidegger appreciates evil as the opposite of logos, rather than in moral terms, but again here Marder avoids saying more about Heidegger’s antisemitism and how this plays against the fascist devastation of logos. Heidegger finds the positive aspects of devastation in the trace of its energy (103); devastation “procures its energy from a contentless and abstract possibility and, in effect, reconfigures energy as this possibility” (104). Although such an appreciation of devastation seems to almost brash off the Nazi regime and their followers as the mere means of devastation, Marder reminds us that Heidegger’s thought is here preoccupied with more mundane forms of devastation, primarily in the forms of economic rules (105). Finally, we come to the question, “what is to be done” about the onslaught of unconditional calculation? The answer being a. “fight the obvious temptation to get over it” (CPC 140/216 cited in Marder, 108) and b. endure it (GA: 94: 292, also on 108). Marder reminds us that here that being proactive is not necessarily a philosophical category, especially given Heidegger’s belief that in doing something we contribute to the expansion of devastation (109). Although Heidegger argues that devastation destroys the in-between space in which the polis exists, there is an in-between possibility in devastation too, the space between abandonment (of being) and releasement which may still save us (111).
In chapter six, Marder discusses the notion of property in the context of Marx’s political economy (113). Since Plato and Heidegger believe that the philosopher’s task is above all to “un-forget being in the midst of a profound ontological amnesia” (114), very much in line with the ancient conception of oikonomia, the modern institution of economy perplexes the mission of the philosopher: “the un-forgetting of being must engage in a painstaking analysis of economism and its corollary modes of appropriation that endanger planetary existence.” Marder here proposes to examine “how the ecologico-phenomenological attitude subtends an economic-political approach to ‘property’” by putting Heidegger in dialogue with Vladimir Bibikhin, a Russian philosopher who translated much of Heidegger’s work into his native language (114-115). Taking start from the post-Soviet privatization, construed by Bibikhin as the “capture of the world” (117), Marder explains how Heidegger allows Bibikhin to articulate the challenges of his society as a symptom of our overall tendency to “world-devastation and the obviation of logos inherent in the economic or economistic attitude.” Finally, Marder considers fascism and technocratic liberalism as alternatives to the ecology of property (119-122). Toying with the double meaning of the Latin capio as grab and grasp(=understand), Marder explains liberalism as preoccupied with grasping without being-grasped to which fascism responds with the reverse option of being-grasped without grasping (119) – notions which both Heidegger and Bibikhin employ in their struggle to restore the ecology of property (120). Here, we have a pseudo(?)-choice between the indifferent grasp of beings or the ecstatic surrender to them. For Heidegger, Marder concludes, “ontological history proceeds by way of ending, its ‘process’ twisting into the ends, a pair of them-fascism and technocratic liberalism-now looming large before us as the only destiny” (121). In his effort to free up some space between calculative rationality and thoughtlessness, Heidegger comes up with the notion of “inceptual thinking,” which diverts “the task of thought from the capture of the world,” to “dwelling with and in the world, all the while articulating and being articulated by this difference between ‘with’ and ‘in’” (123). Pages 127-129 focus on Bibikhin’s intricate method of translating Heidegger whereby he “makes his own what is of the other” while “making other what is his own” (127). Marder obviously enlists Bibikhin as an important ally to his argument about the usefulness of Heidegger’s thought (and crucially in trying to argue that what has been often construed as his antisemitism may in fact, be Heidegger’s indulgence into a separate trail of thought to the point of naivety or even lack of sensitivity), but his point remains latent and is never fully articulated.
Part III consists of the following chapters: “The Question of Political Existence” (133-144), “The Other ‘Jewish Question’” (145-161), “Philosophy without Right” (163-173).
In chapter seven, Marder focuses on Heidegger’s 1934-35 seminar on Hegel’s Philosophy of Right for which he has been accused of putting “Hegel in the service of Nazism” by “supplying a philosophical justification for the theories of state, power and leadership redolent of this deplorable ideology” (133). Accordingly, his aim is to “tease out … Heidegger’s unique being-historical take on the political philosophy” (133) of his predecessor. Marder argues that we should “examine the 1934-35 seminar in light of Heidegger’s own philosophy, which slots Hegel into the vast project of destruction (Destruktion) of Western metaphysics in a privileged way” (134). Like in chapter 3 where, despite of being critical of Hegel, Heidegger opted for a middle position between Husserl’s relative phenomenology and Hegel’s absolute phenomenology of being, Heidegger develops a similar strategy regarding political philosophy. But this time instead of comparing Hegel to Husserl, Heidegger compares what he perceives as Hegel’s idealistic approach to political existence to Karl Schmitt’s realism.
Marder lays out Heidegger’s critique of Hegel and Schmitt on pages 135-139, concluding that he rather “oversimplifies their positions in order to cement his alternative version of political existence” (139). In addition, Marder observes that “Schmitt’s nonmetaphysical political ontology, which has all the trappings of a ‘self- developing self- assertion,’ is as attuned to existential realities and possibilities as that of Heidegger himself” (140). Heidegger tries to avoid Hegel’s “absolutization of spirit” which privileges the metaphysical being and Schmitt’s “relativization of the political (as a relation to the enemy other),” which privileges the individual beings over the political (141). Instead, he claims that “political existence transpires in the difference between being and beings that Hegel and Schmitt all but effaced” (141). Heidegger introduces a valid contradiction between domestic and international politics (since the state is Dasein and hence, the center of its world, but not of the world) and insists that the essence of the political is its existence as a historical being-in-the-world personified by its leader (141-142). Earlier Marder suggested that Heidegger appreciates the state as “historical being” (GA 86: 85) through which “spirit gives itself actuality, political facticity, and freedom” (135). Further, he argues that “‘the essence of the state’ is ‘unification’ (GA 86: 79– 80), and that the Dasein of the leader effects ‘the unification of powers’” (142). Although Marder rightly observes that “translating the vocabulary of Being and Time into political categories proves impossible,” and is critical of Heidegger’s emphasis on the role of the leader, it must be said that to this day such views are widely held by many people and regimes across the globe who loudly reject Nazism while strongly defending their right to preserve a certain, unified identity. Thus, castigating Heidegger for putting forward a Nazi-echoing political system applies to the extent that he expresses these views in 1930s Germany and perhaps that he was misled by his historical context in grappling with the Dasein-based struggle he describes. Without underplaying in the least the gravity of the Holocaust, and hence by a similar token, we could argue that there is little point in studying Plato, a male, totalitarian aristocrat whose political views have been long branded as utopian. Marder is treading carefully here, stating that “We are yet to gauge the depth of ontico-ontological difference and other aspects of Dasein- analysis in the question of political existence” (144).
In chapter eight, we finally get to the core of the discussion about Heidegger’s antisemitism. To this direction, Marder compares Heidegger’s Black Notebooks as well as a 1933-34 seminar with the title “On the Essence and Concepts of Nature, History, and State” with Marx’s 1843 essay “On the Jewish Question.” Marder “suspects” that Heidegger’s antisemitism is mostly related to his reluctance to a. turn the figure of the Jew into a question and b. interrogate the logic of coming up with a specific figuration model for the nihilistic completion of metaphysics (145). Marder’s analysis of Heidegger’s attack on Husserl on account of his Jewishness which, in his view, accounts for the limits of his philosophy, is very successful as is his point that Heidegger clearly thought in similar terms about other groups such as “the Cartesians, but also the Bolsheviks, the English, the Americans …” whom he showcases “as though they were different specimens of an indifferent metaphysical nihilism” (145). On the same page, Marder suggests that we should resolve the Jewish issue as a question through which we are not looking for an answer but for an emancipatory commingling of the questioned and the questioning in a “single –and singular– being.” Marder finds this emancipatory path in Marx and his rejection of religion through which the conflict between Christians and Jews which makes the foreignness of the latter irreconcilable is resolved. The second stage of Marx’s emancipation is a critique of state per se (i.e. not the Christian state) and the third what Marx calls communism. The essence of Heidegger’s problem with the Jews or rather, the problem embodied by the Jews in his society, is this: “The question of the role of world Jewry is not a racial question, but the metaphysical question about the kind of humanity that, without any restraints, can take over the uprooting of all beings from being as its world-historical task” (GA 96: 243 cited on 151). Hence, Marder explains “[T]he ontic displacement of traditional Jews, sublimated in the secular version of Jewish cosmopolitanism, has mutated, on Heidegger’s reading, into the ontological deracination of the world and of being itself” (152). Marder offers a very insightful analysis of how Heidegger’s fear of the worldlessness practiced by the Jews was already articulated by Hegel but also of how, despite claiming that race did not play a role in determining the kind of humanity we aspire to, he did fall prey to racial stereotypes (154). More problematic is his understanding of the Jews’ calculated overbreeding as a way of overpowering life and leading to nihilism (153). Marder claims that, overwhelmed by the prejudice of his time, Heidegger did not pay enough attention to the unique Jewish attachment to tradition as a valid alternative to space – a situation drastically altered by the Zionist project. Here, I would like to offer two points: first, although the Zionist project offered substance to Israel as a nation state, subscribing to a political ideal that originates in the nineteenth century, the spatial aspects of Jewish belonging were extremely pronounced in ancient accounts of the Jewish history; regardless of the debates about the exact dating of the Tanakh books, the idea of the Promised Land is ubiquitous in them (e.g. Genesis 15: 18-21; Exodus 23: 31; Numbers 34: 1-2; Deuteronomy 19: 8-9). Further, I wonder to what extent Heidegger would regard the Zionist project as enough response to the stubborn clinging of the Jews to the idea of foreignness (149), from a Mitdasein perspective. Second, for me, the “homelessness of modern man” (GA 9: 340) that Marder identifies as Heidegger’s main problem with modernity has given rise increasingly in the second half of the 20th and the 21st century to a number of cultural identities (which may or may not include racial, religious, and other dimensions), often in response to experiences of marginalization (e.g. Greek-Australian, Italian-American etc.), often competing with each other (e.g. Christian Black American vs homosexual Christians), certainly breaking down with tradition in some ways yet confirming it in others (e.g. both groups may subscribe to the idea of national army service), which would disrupt Heidegger’s appreciation of history as written by races or peoples (GA 96: 56 cited on 155) as much as the case of the Jews. I was urged to make this association by Marder’s observation on page 158 that Heidegger “converts the figure of the Jew into a complexio oppositorum (i.e., the complex of opposites, where otherwise antithetical traits coexist without the work of dialectical mediation) abounds.” Still, from this perspective, Heidegger’s failings make him totally relevant and worth-studying nowadays in the same way that Plato’s authoritarian regime, in response to the problems of Athenian democracy make him a core reading (for everyone really). Interestingly, Plato remains locked into the walls of the ancient city-state in the same way that Heidegger remains trapped in the nation-state. To put it differently, Heidegger adheres to a single version of history (cf. 159 where Marder notes Marx’s differentiation of the Jewish question according to the national context in which it is raised).
The last chapter of the book, co-authored with Marcia Sá Cavalcante-Schuback, tries to address “the relation between philosophy and politics, when both politics and philosophy lose their footing and their right” (165). According to Marder, “[T]hat is why the case of Heidegger mobilizes a question that is also ours, demanding an ‘active reading’ à la Lacoue- Labarthe, rather than the reading of a historian or a philologist.” I found this comment uninformed: historians and philologists have long insisted on post-structuralist rigor. As a trained philologist, Heidegger did not fail because of his penchant for etymology, his one-dimensional application of a discipline onto his understanding of Dasein. He failed, as the authors acknowledged on 164, because despite thinking the possible he kept consulting the actual, a kind of bias to which all scholars, all thinkers are susceptible. Here, the focus shifts on Heidegger’s reading of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right which tries to reunite “philosophy and politics (the latter, in the guise of right) precisely in the common destiny of their end as completion and exhaustion” (166). Heidegger sees in National Socialism the answer to the danger of Hegelian dialectics which produce an endless exchange; Heidegger refers to the scope of dialectic as “Back and forth— going— Dissolution— confusion,” (HPR 136 cited on 167) leading to “the loss of right.” Feeling that by the 1930s democratic liberalism and socialism had run their course, unable to produce anything new, other than “the back-and-forth of an exhausted dialectics” (168), Heidegger recognizes in National Socialism a “letting-emerge” of new possibilities. Another side of the problem is Heidegger’s insistence on actively fomenting the emergence of new forms to achieve “self-assertion.” His proposal can work only if “implemented together with the people grounding the state” (168). Marder admits that in embracing National Socialism as a way of transforming the essence of being by “rethinking and reorganizing power and work” was Heidegger’s biggest historico-political blunder (169). Still, Heidegger was not incorrect in his criticism of Hegelian dialectics; in his view, unlike Socratic dialectics, Hegel “does not invent a method for seeking the truth of being but identifies the truth of being itself as a method” (172). Heidegger continued to associate dialectics with actuality well into the post-war period and be frustrated by its inability to recognize phenomenological possibilities. The chapter concludes:
“… the darkest excesses of metaphysics tend to be repeated and magnified in every attempt to master and idealize finitude, putting it at power’s disposal. Do living and thinking ‘without right’ provide a sufficient insurance against this possible repetition […]? Our wager in this chapter has been on the incomplete dialectics of the without and an enduring search it instigates for the right to philosophy and to politics with others. Whether or not it could work, only being as time would tell” (173).
Appropriately philosophical, this conclusion lacks the force of the Introduction. Overall, the book achieves its goal of re-introducing Heidegger in philosophical debate though less so in political theory (for example, it would be interesting to see how Heidegger’s theories would be challenged by the increasing contemporary phenomenon of stateless people). I found Marder’s use of texts to support his arguments extremely valuable (and philological). The book would have benefited from a list of the sources used. Finally, although I applause Marder’s intention in putting this book together, he could have done more work to address his purpose in a more systematic way. That said, the book is still a must for every student of philosophy.