Utopian Turtletop. Monsieur Croche's Bête Noire. Contact: turtletop [at] hotmail [dot] com

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Martin Heidegger, hero of the Resistance?

It’s always amusing to see a professor at one of the leading nuclear-weapons-research institutions in the world, the University of California, comparing his act of not voting to being a member of the French Resistance. (It’s true that he leaves himself an out by mentioning that, after all, he has to pay his rent like any washer of dishes or digger of ditches.) A keen historian such as himself should not be surprised when Heidegger comes immediately to mind, though the comparison is not entirely fair, because Heidegger explicitly praised Hitler*, while the closest our historian has come (and it’s not very) is to raise a cheer for Ezra Pound on the grounds that he was anti-bourgeois, almost as if to say -- better a fascist anti-Semite, like Pound, than a bourgeois. (And by the way, it’s Shapiro, not Schapiro, and his out-of-print book-length sequence The Bourgeois Poet is witty and alive.)

It’s wacky to follow the dialogue over a cliff, according to Godwin’s law, but the really funny part is where our interlocutor says, really, he means no offense in comparing his friends to Vichy-ite collaborators because they vote. (And apparently, per the comments to this post, they really are friends.) “Now now, old boy, please do not be insulted when I say to thee that thou art indeed a miserable cur and a scoundrel; I really do like you, old boy, despite your scurrility.”

But it’s interesting to take our dear professor at his word when he tells us that the insult here is incidental; it leaves the analogy pointing at self-aggrandizement. Join the Resistance! It’s easy! Don’t vote!

Joking aside, this nonsense is objectionable precisely because Joshua/Jane is preaching acquiescence in the form of resistance. Here is the relevant passage -- the Third Choice is Resistance, following
the First Two Choices, Nazi or Vichy:

History teaches as well that it requires no ideological purity, nor claim of same, to make the third (or any other) choice; that such choices are humanly (if not ideologically) open to everyone; and that such choices might be seen as supremely pragmatic. They require no test of purity at all, but the merely posing of the question, What would refusal look like, what would negation look like in this intolerable situation?

According to this, there is no need either to act on the answer or even to answer the question at all. Merely to pose it is to join the Resistance. Without a vision of alternative action or alternative society, which he does not begin to provide, what Joshua calls resistance is really acquiescence and quietism, nothing but a self-congratulatory song of surrender.

*Heidegger really was a Nazi. He is in the picture with an X below him.

And this is from a speech he gave as a professor at a Nazi-associated university.

German Students! The National Socialist revolution brings complete upheaval to our German life. . . . Do not let dogmas and “ideas” be the rules of your being. The Führer himself and alone is the German reality, present and future, and its law. Learn always to know more deeply: from now on every matter requires decision and every action responsibility. Heil Hitler!
* * *

P.S. I do not condemn Joshua for his job -- I went to college, some of my old pals are professors now, one of my best friends works for UCLA -- I simply could not resist the vision of Heidegger as freedom fighter. The self-aggrandizement in Joshua's post really trivializes the risk and sacrifice that members of the Resistance faced. Maybe Joshua faces similar risks in his non-blogging and non-professional life, but all he gives us to go on is what he writes.

I'm shaken and moved by your analysis of these comments/issues. I think what you're responding to is, ironically, itself a kind of "foreclosure of thought" -- the thought being that people have to live with hope if they're to live at all, and that hope may thrive in an engagement with reality more than in an academic rationalization of defeat and retreat.

Another irony is that, at least in places like California (where Joshua C. is) and New York (where I am), there are third, fourth, and sometimes even fifth choices beyond not voting -- namely, fringe-party candidates. Thus I was able to satisfy both my desire to participate in the political process and my dislike of Hillary Clinton by voting for the Libertarian senatorial candidate. I don't even remember his name -- Jeffrey something -- but he wasn't the lesser of two evils. He was an alternative, and that was MY resistance. Those of us who have that option should use it.

P.S. I liked your remarks about "Free as a Bird," too! Great record.
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