Cosmos The In Lost interviews Damon Linker.
What aspects of Heideggerian fundamental ontology are most useful for analyzing the contemporary American political scene? Why?
Is this a trick question to get me to confess my National Socialist sympathies?
But seriously, this isn’t the best moment to reflect on what Heidegger’s thought has to teach us about politics, given that we’re currently deep into the latest in a long string of episodes devoted to evaluating Heidegger’s Nazi sympathies and anti-Semitic proclivities. I think I’ll mostly leave the details of that whole nasty and knotted business aside and simply say that I consider Heidegger to be an extra-political philosopher — to a fault. If a fox knows and cares about many things and a hedgehog knows and cares about one thing, Heidegger was a hedgehog on steroids. He cared about the question of Being to the exclusion of every other conceivable question, very much including questions wrapped up with politics. Which doesn’t mean that he was an apolitical person. On the contrary, for much of his life, but especially in the mid-1930s, he was intensely political — but in a way that was profoundly and pathetically ignorant. As with everything else in his thinking, politics was about Being. Which meant it had nothing to do with politics as it’s concretely practiced in the world — as an activity about which one might attain knowledge or wisdom, either through experiential practical wisdom or theoretical knowledge by way of reflection. So it’s foolish to turn to Heidegger for political guidance in any straightforward way.
That said, Heidegger’s thought has proved enormously fruitful for my own thinking about politics in at least one sense. By raising the question of Being so radically, and by distinguishing that ontological question from all ontic investigations (that is, investigations within discrete fields of knowledge or inquiry), Heidegger forces one to reflect on the way we divide up the world into categories, classifications, domains of experience, etc. I’ve found that to be extremely useful — attempting to identify what is distinctive about politics, as distinct from morality, and religion, and philosophy.