First posted on Tuesday, 6 August 2013 at 21:06
Under the liberalism, everything is subordinated to the human subject. Ideologies founded on transcendent values, originating in a higher external authority, are simply not countenanced. Such was the dominance of totalitarian humanism by the twentieth century when Martin Heidegger (pictured left) launched his revolt against human centred thinking.
In his philosophy, Heidegger left the still unexploded time bomb to turn against modernity and its liberalism. As far as he was concerned all former philosophical thought was to be understood as anthropocentric. He also believed that humanism had now run its course.
Power was at the heart of Western thought’s approach to being, according to Heidegger. Humanism was the tendency to understand being through and something about us, not being itself, and thereby gain a kind of conceptual control over being.Experience, reality or objectivity must always conform to the individual’s concepts, not the other way around. It has been noted above how this undercurrent of thinking emerged to dominate our understanding of time and space, as well as the disciplines of science, politics, economics and art. It led to the evolutionism and progressivism of modernity.
In modern science and technology, being is made subject to human creation. Being is thought of as something over which individuals have control; as something that’s strained through some feature of the individual’s understanding.
Heidegger believed that this human-centric worldview was at the root of what Nietzsche called our will to power. Western philosophy’s development had been an expression of the human will to power, by which we seek to dominate being rather than understand it. It is the polar opposite of way that being was experienced before the onset of modernity. Here man did not stand back from the world and observe it, he was totally engaged and immersed in a hyper-realism. The experience of the world was immediate, often demanding symbolical representation ‘as gods, demons, elementals, and spirits ruling over places and phenomena’ (Julius Evola, Revolt Against the Modern World).
With the culmination of the Nietzshean will to power, however, man had becomes eparated from the world. The resultant subjectivist pathos and angst that were the characteristics of the disorder lived as order, or humanism, became the central concerns of existentialism.
In the 1947 paper, Letter on Humanism, Heidegger repudiated Satre’s explicit identification of existentialism with humanism. For Satre, existentialism and humanism were almost the same thing.
In Satrian existentialism, there was no God, nature, no society to guide ortell me what to do. Satre had a Promethean, heroic notion of the human subject. We must make choices as individuals and that is what gives human beings their dignity.
So existentialism, by negating God, in Satre’s version, left us with ourselves. Nature in Satre does not matter. Being is all-important, not consciousness, which is an entirely different thing. Thus for Satre, humanism and existentialism became the same thing.
This conflation of humanism and existentialism was exactly what Heidegger criticised. All humanism did was provide man with a warrant to dictate a conceptual scheme to being. Humanism is traditionally connected to idealism and subjectivity, the notion that the human subject is the centre of things or is the most valuable of things, that through which we find a reflection of true being. Satre’s humanism was just an extenuation of the history of western metaphysics, the inner meaning of which was made most explicit in Nietzsche’s ‘will to power’. This final empowerment of man is probably what made Satre’s existentialism so compatible with Marxism.
Heidegger radically opposed the view that man should not be the lord of being, but rather the shepherd of being. A true humanism that recognised the truth of being, would know that the essence of the human is simply its openness to being.
What Heidegger was trying to recover here was an experience of the world that was immediate; a pre-Socratic experience in Heidegger’s opinion, but in many ways too, a pre-Reformation experience.
He wrote in conclusion to his Letter on Humanism that ‘the thinking that is to come is no longer philosophy, because it thinks more originally than metaphysics, a name identical to philosophy. Philosophy itself, like metaphysics, has placed humanity in the centre rather than being itself. That must come to an end, he stressed, if we are to think in a new and meaningful way.
In the 1953 essay, The Question Concerning Technology, Hiedegger wrote that technology enframes, or limits, beings as standing reserve. By standing reserve he meant technology treats being as stuff to be manipulated. His metaphor for standing reserve is inventory, i.e. all the materials waiting to be used. Technology enframes beings that way. The use of modern technological devices along with the scientific theories that underpin them, justify them and are used in operating them, impose a framework, or a structure though which we understand the world. This treats all being as resource or inventory, a status which covers over the being that is disclosed. All being is understood as resource to be exploited,and this includes the ubiquitously named human resources.
We, in the modern world, no longer experience being as it disclosed itself to earlier generations. For practically the whole of history, being disclosed itself and also concealed itself. Our ancestors understood some things and not others.
But in our age, there is a threat to any understanding of being. Science and technology are themselves the completion of the metaphysics that were asserted during the Renaissance and Reformation, which treated being through presence or the present, one mode of time, and projected onto this presence the ideas or concepts that were once the creation of the philosophical imagination. Being was shrunk to what was present, and the present was made dependent on the mind’s ideas.
And the mind’s ideas are subject to education, entertainment and misinformation - in short, indoctrination. And what is the result? Ignorance, not merely of the money-dominated foundation to the current disorder lived as order, but of being itself. Man is left to lead a life that is completely antithetical to the order of being, the cosmic order, and is wholly ignorant of the fact.