Excerpt #1 — Heidegger, On Nihilism

From Martin Heidegger, Contributions to Philosophy (of the Event) transl Richard Rojcewicz & Daniela Vallega-Neu (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2012), 109-110.

I make no claim to perfectly understand the later Heidegger (1889–1976), who, I am told by many specialists, is notoriously difficult even in German. (Contributions was written between 1936-1938, and most consider this to be after the date of his famous “turn”.) The editorial insertions in brackets are my own. Please do correct me if my reading is wrong.

I have often tried to press home the idea that Secularism is not simply something that a society does, or an idea that an individual might hold to (or might not hold to), but is the result of several unique historical events that have changed our horizons through events that were not engineered and cannot be reversed, that is the entire framework of our age, and determines every option we might take within it, even seemingly opposite ones. This is not a recipe for hopelessness, but for honesty. (Secularism too shall pass, I suggest, and it is yet to be seen what comes after it, although it will not simply reverse secularity, or a return to some supposed earlier golden age, or even a better one, much less shall it realize our pet ideology.) Heidegger, for all I can tell, seems to be saying something similar about Nihilism.

§72. Nihilism

means, in Nietzsche’s sense, that we lack all goals. Nietzsche is referring to the goals that increase in themselves and that change the human being (Whither?). […] In aiming at the other beginning, nihilism must be grasped more fundamentally as an essential consequence of the abandonment by being. [It might have compelled meditation and thus brought us out of our epoch and into a new beginning, but it did not, because] the truth of [Nietzsche’s] “theory” was already warded off with a sign of the cross, i.e., outspokenly or tacitly shunned as diabolical. For, so runs this self-evident consideration, where would it lead us if that were true or became true? And no one surmises that precisely this consideration –or, rather, its underlying attitude and comportment toward beings– is the genuine nihilism: the unwillingness to acknowledge the lack of goals. And so one suddenly “has goals” once again, even if merely what can possibly serve as a means for the erection and pursuit of goals is itself elevated into a goal: the people, for example. Therefore precisely where one believes one again has goals, where one is again “fortunate,” where one proceeds to making equally available to all “people” the “cultural assets” (movies and trips to the beach)  that were closed off to “most” — precisely here, in this noisy intoxication with “lived experience,” resides the greatest nihilism, the deliberate turning of a blind eye to human goal-lessness, the “ready to wear” avoidance of any goal-setting decision, the dread of all decisive domains and of their opening. The dread of beyng was never as great as it is today. Proof: the gigantic arrangements aimed at out-screaming this [110] dread.

The essential determinant as regards “nihilism” is not whether churches and monasteries are destroyed and people are murdered or whether this ceases and “Christianity” is allowed to go its way. Instead, what is determinant is whether one knows or even wants to know that precisely this tolerance shown to Christianity, and Christianity itself,  as well as the loose talk of “providence” and the “Lord God,” no matter how sincere the individuals may be who speak thus, are mere ways of escape and mere predicaments in that domain one does not wish to acknowledge or give validity to as the decisive domain regarding beyng or non-beyng. The most fateful nihilism consists in one’s posing as a defender of Christianity and even claiming, on the basis of social accomplishments, to be the most Christian of Christians. The entire danger of this nihilism resides in the fact that it is utterly concealed to itself and is contrasted, sharply and justifiably, against what could be called crude nihilism (e.g., Bolshevism). Yet the essence of nihilism is indeed so abyssal (since nihilism reaches down into the truth of beyng and into the decision about that truth) that precisely these most oppositional forms can and must belong to it. Therefore it also seems that nihilism, calculated as a whole and in a fundamental way, cannot be overcome. If the two extreme oppositional forms of nihilism battle each other, and indeed necessarily in the most strident manner, then this battle will lead in one way or another to the victory of nihilism i.e., to its renewed entrenchment and presumably in such a form as to rule out the very notion that nihilism is still at work.

Beyng has so radically abandoned beings and left them to machination and “lived experience” that all “cultural politics” and those apparent attempts at saving Western culture must necessarily become the most insidious form of nihilism and thereby its highest form. […] The preparation for overcoming nihilism is paved by the basic experience that the human being, as the one who grounds Da-sein, is needed by the godhood of the other god. What is most inescapable and most difficult in this overcoming is the knowledge of nihilism.

One thought on “Excerpt #1 — Heidegger, On Nihilism

  1. Pingback: David Bentley Hart on Heidegger: Modernity-as-Nihilism | Into the Clarities

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