Heidegger, Left and Right:
Differential Political Ontology and Fundamental Political Ontology Compared
In this essay, I shall engage the post-foundational political thought of the Heideggerian Left (HL) from the position of what I call the fundamental-ontological conservatism of the Heideggerian Right (HR), confining my analysis of the former largely to Oliver Marchart’s Post-Foundational Political Thought: Political Difference in Nancy, Lefort, Badiou and Laclau (2007) and the latter to Aleksandr Dugin’s Martin Heidegger: The Philosophy of Another Beginning (2010).
My thesis is that the HL’s partial appropriation of Heidegger’s thought leaves them open to a challenge from the Right that both is sensitive to and goes beyond that appropriation. My aim is to provoke a theoretical confrontation between the two positions. My hope is that this presentation of the fundamental-ontological conservatism of the HR will provide a valuable contribution to the ongoing debate about the theologico-political problem in the post-Heideggerian political-philosophical space.
I shall proceed in five stages. First, I offer a definition and brief discussion of the terms “Heideggerian Left”, “post-foundationalism”, and “quasi-transcendental”. Second, I examine the notion of “political difference” and its dependence on Heidegger’s distinction between the ontic and the ontological. Third, I introduce the notion of the fundamental-ontological and the corresponding notion of the fundamental-political. This leads, fourth, into a comparison of the HL’s and HR’s understanding of the “Seyn-event” and to a brief account of das Geviert, “the Fourfold”, and its importance to the HR. Fifth, I explore the consequences of the previous sections for the so-called “theologico-political question”.
The Heideggerian Left
As Marchart uses it, the term “the Heideggerian Left” refers to a group of theorists centred in France who, using Heidegger, tried to accomplish two things: (1) a movement beyond scientism, (2) the re-working of Heidegger’s thought into a “progressive direction”. The second aim is the one I want to emphasize and examine in this paper. It is important that this progressive “re-working” of Heidegger’s thought was motivated by “an awareness of the dubious if not despicable political inclinations of Heidegger himself”. Wary of his association with the National Socialist regime, these thinkers sought to employ only so much of Heidegger’s analyses as could serve Leftist political opinions and projects.
Although I shall not pursue a comprehensive disambiguation of the HR position from the Nazi position, for it is practically enough merely to say that the former opposes the latter as a pernicious manifestation of Gestell, I must draw attention to a consequence of the HL’s reworking of Heidegger. It brackets that in him which it finds either actually or potentially objectionable, not on philosophical or ontological grounds, but because of a presupposed link to his “political inclinations”, as though to admit or consider them philosophically would set one on the road to Nazism. In fact, there is a pressing need to consider these bracketed aspects of Heidegger’s thought and to assess their consequences for political theory. Far from lending support to Hitlerism and the principles of the National Socialist regime, they provide the theoretical resources for a fundamental-ontological conservatism, opposite liberalism, communism, and fascism.
Post-Foundationalism and the Quasi-Transcendental
Post-foundationalism refers to an approach that seeks to weaken the ontological status of “metaphysical figures of foundation” — for example, nature, essence, totality, universality, and so on. The result of this weakening is the rejection not of all such figures, but of those claiming to be ultimate foundations.
On the post-foundationalist account, foundations are plural, contingent, and depend on a decision. Because “no necessary political consequence follows” from the absence of ultimate foundations, “a leftist version of post-foundational thought is in itself a political decision”. Of course, there is a variety of founding political decisions that one could make. Consequently, “[the] post-foundationalist world is a pluralistic world”; and “the practical implication is a fecund flux”. As Marchart puts it, “the pluralisation of grounds and of identities within the field of the social is the result of [the] radical impossibility [of an ultimate ground]”. Indeed, “the impossibility of [a singular, present] ground is the necessary condition of possibility for grounds in the plural”.
Marchart distinguishes post-foundationalism from non-foundationalism and anti-foundationalism. It is not non-foundationalism, because it is not “directed against attempts at founding politics”. Nor does it represent a simple denial of foundationalism, which, as anti-foundationalism, remains wedded by negation to the foundationalist logic. Rather, post-foundationalism accepts the ultimate baselessness of any claim to an ultimate foundation, while nevertheless admitting the necessity to establish contingent foundations through a decision.
Foundations are contingent in at least three respects. They are “temporally contingent in that they are no longer determined by the past, by an immutable Nature, by social origin; they are objectively contingent in that they could always be different; and they are socially contingent in that they [do not] depend on consensus”.
Another important component of post-foundationalism is its notion of the “quasi-transcendental”. The term “quasi-transcendental” indicates three things: (1) that the absent fundamental ground is necessarily absent (i.e. supra-historically and hence transcendentally so); (2) that the experience and realization of this arises in specific historical and empirical conditions; and (3) that there is a necessity “both to uphold transcendental questioning…and to weaken it from within”. Although the first of these might give the impression that the absence of a ground serves as a fundamental ground for post-foundationalist political thought, this would only be so if it necessarily grounded a certain politics, which it does not.
In short, then, plurality, contingency, the decision, and the quasi-transcendental are features of the post-foundationalist worldview. They are shared by both the HL and the HR. In the following two sections, I identify the major area of disagreement between them: their key topographical determinant.
As indicated by the title of Marchart’s book, the notion of “political difference” plays a central role in the thought of the HL. The HL conceives of this difference by analogy with Heidegger’s “ontological difference” between the ontic and the ontological, i.e. between beings (das Seiende) and being (Sein). In this section, I focus on Marchart’s account of this notion and propose a RH variation of it.
According to Marchart, HL theorists interpret political difference as a “founding difference that has to be conceived as negativity”, as a result of which “the social…is prevented from closure and from becoming identical with itself”. Thus, in its social connotation, it should be thought of together with such terms as “openness”, “difference”, “displacement”, “deconstruction”, “undoing”, “undecidability”, “play” and “freedom”. Opposed to it are primarily the notions of closure, fixity, and self-identity — in short, of whatever can be thought of as analogous to that which was on the receiving end of Heidegger’s Destruktion.
I’d like to introduce the term “differential political ontology” to designate the ontological difference and the political difference in their interdependence. Differential political ontology risks falling into the trap of what Marchart calls “philosophism” when it tries to think differential ontology “as such” at the expense of — that is, without — the political. Similarly, differential political ontology risks falling into a kind of “aphilosophism” when it emphasizes the political, or the pair “politics-political”, to the exclusion of the ontological difference.
Marchart writes of this interdependence as follows:
…we cannot but think about Being other than in the sense of the political; being-qua-being turns into being-qua-the political. On the other hand, between this ontological realm of ‘being’ and the sedimented realm of social beings we encounter an unbridgeable chasm, an abyss, which, by dividing the ontopolitical from the ontic side of politics, at the very same time unites them in a never-ending play (and it is this play which in itself is of a deeply political nature).
In differential political ontology, then, the difference between politics and the political is itself a political (and ontological) difference. It is where life is lived. The onto-political itself is not accessible and remains “out of reach for every ontic politics”: “[t]he presence of the political as the ‘ontological’ moment of society’s institution…can only be inferred from the absence of a firm ground of society”. At the same time, “nobody has ever seen ‘politics pure and simple’ either”, because this “paradoxical enterprise that is both impossible and unavoidable” is always bound up with the political. Thus, in discussing differential political ontology, a reference to either term in the pairs “politics-ontics”, “political-ontological”, and “political difference-ontological difference” should be understood as implying the other.
The following chart depicts five ways of conceiving of the relationship between the political and politics, which Marchart calls “figures of displacement”:
For Marchart, all five of these figures belong to traditional political philosophy and are guilty, each in its own way, of displacing politics (in Parapolitics, e.g., we see politics displaced from its proper relationship to the political). This displacement is itself political, even if it is not explicitly so. Differential political ontology, for its part, can be depicted as follows:
In the following section, I develop a RH response to the LH vision of differential political ontology. This section uses certain terms differently from the way in which they are used and understood by the LH. After I set out
the structure of the argument, I turn to a comparison of these central terms.
To amend differential political ontology from the Right, we must take into account the level of the fundamental-ontological, corresponding to Heidegger’s Seyn. Thus, we stipulate an analogue to the fundamental-ontological, to form a pair corresponding to the pairs “ontic-politics” and “ontological-political”. Let us, then, introduce the term “fundamental-political”. The modifier “fundamental” should not be thought of as referring to an ultimate fundament, foundation, or ground, but should be thought by strict analogy with Seyn, as distinct from das Seiende and Sein. Thus, whereas the HL operates in the ontopolitical space of differential political ontology, the HR looks to the fundamental-ontological event.
For the Right, the fundamental-ontological event is Seyn’s showing itself. Seyn shows itself, when it does, as das Geviert, the Fourfold. Thus, to understand the fundamental-ontological event, we must take a closer look at the Fourfold. Before we do so, let us clarify the term “Seyn” by contrasting the way the HL and HR employs it.
Seyn and the Seyn-Event
Fundamental-political fundamental-ontology differs from differential political ontology primarily in its understanding of Seyn. According to Marchart, Heidegger employs the term “Seyn” in order “to differentiate the evental aspect of Seyn-as-difference from the ontological level of being or Sein”. Thus, Seyn names “the event of differencing in-between the ontological and the ontic”. It is the ever-active constituting event of the two poles of differential political ontology. Seyn “is nothing completely other than ‘being’ (or ‘beings’), and yet indicates exactly the unsurpassable difference between ‘being’ and ‘beings’ — the ground/abyss that opens up in the very event of their differencing” (ibid).
That is all that Marchart has to say about Seyn in his book. On his account, to understand it as the difference constitutive of differential political ontology is enough. On the other hand, the distinction between Sein and Seyn is of principal importance for the HR. Dugin, for example, devotes the first third of his book precisely to an explication of it. I turn now to consider the role that Seyn plays for the HR.
The principal way in which the HL and HR disagree about Seyn is this: for the former, as we saw, it is the event that is constitutive of the difference between the ontic and the ontological, whereas for the latter, it bursts forth into a new fundamental-ontological domain.
The “fundamental-ontological” must be understood in contrast to the ontological. The ontological is a result of “the first beginning” of philosophy, inaugurated by the pre-Socratics. The pre-Socratics made a leap towards Seyn but did not come to it. Their leap was only partially successful. The history of Western metaphysics is the history of that partial success, or initial failure, of the first beginning. A deconstruction or destruction of that history leads us to a “post-foundationalist” position precisely because all traditional candidates for a “foundation” have been “ontological”.
Thus far, the HL and HR agree. However, at this point, the former argues that because all foundations are ontological and everything ontological is destructible, all foundations are destructible. It therefore concludes that there are no ultimate foundations, and emphasizes plurality, contingency, quasi-transcendentalism and decisionism. The HR, on the contrary, emphasizes that because the first beginning was partial and resulted in the history of the oblivion of Seyn, the second beginning must not attempt to think being (Seyn) through beings (das Seiendes) or as ontological being (Sein) — nor must it be content merely to remain in the space of difference between them — but must instead let Seyn show itself as Seyn (fundamental-ontological being-nothing). The HR, that is, is oriented towards another Beginning (die andere Anfang), as indicated by the title of Dugin’s book.
Thus, if the HL conceives of Seyn as constitutive of the pair ontological-ontic (political-politics), to the HR Seyn shows itself forth fundamental-ontologically, in the figure of das Geviert.
Das Geviert (The Fourfold)
My goal in this section is to distinguish the Fourfold from the topography of differential political ontology and to explain its importance for the HR.
We begin with two possible configurations before commenting on their significance:
Figure 1 Figure 2
As Dugin writes, “We should immediately bear in mind that the given schema represents not a spatial depiction, but the structure of a philosophical and fundamental-ontological topography; this is an image relating to Seyn-being and to thinking about the truth of Seyn-being”. And again, “[the Fourfold], both as a word and as a sign, is thought of by Heidegger as an expression of the method…of a fundamental-ontological view of Seyn-being itself through the light of its presence”. For Dugin, “[the Fourfold] is a flash that illuminates with a final light the entire structure (Gefüge) of the Heideggerian philosophy. It is the Lichtung (illumination, floodedness with light, luminescence) of Seyn-being, opening at the peak of thinking, focused on another Beginning. The introduction of [the Fourfold] is in itself [the event]”.
The content that shows forth in the fundamental-ontological topography of the Seyn-event consists in four domains: Sky (World), Earth, Gods (the Godly), and Men (i.e., humans). Dugin considers a number of various permutations and arrangements of these four components, beginning with the following:
In his gloss on this image, Dugin writes: “[The Fourfold] is precisely Seyn-being, which, coming to be realized in Ereignis, introduces war into everything, establishing the tension of the great axes of the world”. These “great axes” are fundamental-ontological force-lines of war. Being as Seyn is war, “because it simultaneously includes ‘yes’ [the event] and ‘no’ [nihilation; i.e. das Nichten im Seyn]”. The separation of the no/nothing/nihilation/destruction from Seyn-being “deprives [the latter] of the possibility of happening, and consequently of beings being born, being born in war and to war”. For Heidegger, this analysis corresponds to Heraclitus’ formula concerning war as the father of things”. Consequently, in this orientation, the Fourfold schematizes two major fundamental-ontological battles: the battle between Sky and Earth (ouranogeomachy), and the battle between gods and men (anthropotheomachy).
However, Dugin also discusses various other orientations of the Fourfold. In one, for example, gods and men have gathered together as neighbours, rather than as antagonists, and the major battle is fought between Sky (World) and Earth. In another, Sky (World) and Earth are “betrothed” and anthropotheomachy is intensified:
Of the second rendering, Dugin writes:
The very symmetry of such a depiction of das Geviert urges us to place God at the top in the singular. It is possible that the absence in Heidegger of precisely such a schema in fact explains his stubborn reluctance to answer even somehow the question concerning “the multiplicity of gods or the availability of the one God”. But at the same time he obviously has in mind the prospect of a sole God in the fundamental-ontological system of coordinates, to which his use of the word “God” in the singular and, in particular, in the combination “the last God” (namely “God”, not “gods”) attests. But Heidegger carefully avoids forcing any speeches about God from the justified apprehension of falling into the old metaphysics and ontological theology, which is tantamount to a failure to philosophize in the space of another Beginning.
In such a rotation of das Geviert, the maximum opposition and confrontation between gods and men, who in the previous version of das Geviert were seen rather as neighbours, is displayed. Here their relations acquire a more hostile character. The gods war with men, attack them, inflict sores and sufferings on them, mock them, despise them. The gods can kill men, laugh at them, turn their lives into hell. Sometimes men begin to storm the light, aerial citadels of the gods, and sometimes they are successful in killing them (“God is dead, you have killed him, you and I”, wrote Nietzsche). Compared to men, the gods are deathless, but compared to Seyn-being, mortal, since Seyn-being is the event and carries in itself nothing as the possibility “to nihilate”, “to destroy”.
These brief remarks help us to see the way in which the Fourfold can be used to think about the problem of the relationship between man to god (the gods, or the godly) in various ways. Fundamental-ontologically, there is no pressing need to fight for “secular” politics, nor is there the necessary implication of a turn towards “theocracy”. The schema of the Fourfold suggests that there can be friendship or enmity between men and gods, without a singular God having to stand at the sole upper peak of the structure that shows forth through the event.
The Fourfold indicates more than just the fundamental-ontological structure of the new beginning. Dugin shows that it can also be used as a map onto which the oblivion of Seyn-being in the history of Western metaphysics can be superimposed in order to reveal the extent of “desertification”, or the breakaway from Seyn-being, at each stage of that history. For instance, he marks the Platonic period by the following transformations and substitutions: the Idea covers Sky, Earth is turned to matter, man takes hold of logos and affirms his self-identity rather than having logos taking hold of him in an openness to Seyn-being, and the gods flee. Consequently, the Fourfold looks like this:
Figure 6: The Fourfold after Plato:
Later, we shall meet with the following disfiguration:
Figure 7: The industrial topography of the Fourfold:
Worst of all from the perspective of the HR is the distorted topography of “post-modernity”:
Figure 8: The topography of “post-modernity”
To conclude this section, Seyn’s showing forth in the Fourfold should not be thought of as a steady ground or foundation: “To think that Seyn-being is and is always something invariable and eternal is a profound delusion. Seyn-being shows itself in opening (sich er-eignet); it is always fresh, is always risked and is never given wittingly” (ibid). It is this contingent opening of Seyn-being in the Fourfold at the new beginning that is the centre of emphasis and attention for the HR.
In the previous two sections, I argued that the HL and HR differ principally in how they conceive of Seyn and the topography of the Seyn-event. Specifically, the HL propose a differential political ontology, whereas the HR advance a fundamental-political fundamental-ontology. In this section, I turn to the question of the implications of these topographies for the theologico-political problem.
There are at least two distinct formulations of the theologico-political problem: (1) the problem of the divine origin of law or of the divine law, and (2) the “return of the religious” and the receding secular. To a certain extent, the second of these may be reducible to the first. Nevertheless, it is helpful to keep them analytically distinct. For instance, a discussion of the first formulation may be found as far back as Plato’s Laws. The second formulation, on the other hand, better captures a set of oft-discussed phenomena associated with certain features of modernity, such as secularization, globalization, technology, global capitalism, “religious fundamentalism”, “terrorism”, and so on. Here I consider only the second formulation, leaving an inquiry into the first for another occasion.
To begin, how does the HL conceive of the problem? Of course, there will be important differences from thinker to thinker. But are there any common features one can identify as belonging to differential political ontology? As a rule, one common feature seems to be that the HL has a commitment to secularism and democracy, whether radical or republican. Let’s look at both of these terms, “secular” and “democratic”, in turn.
First, the HL supports a secular democracy. A non-secular order, on this account, is one that remains bound to the “onto-theological”, i.e. to some purportedly ultimate ontological foundation (e.g. “God” as Sein, the soul, etc.). The problem is that as Heideggerians, the HL accepts that Heidegger “destroyed” all such foundations! Thus, what room is there for a Christianity that is merely “Platonism for the people” if Platonism itself has to go? True, a redefinition of the secular may be called for. Nevertheless, the HL’s commitment to differential political ontology apparently serves a project incompatible with adherence to a “religious” order, the difficulties inherent in the term “religious” notwithstanding.
Why, then, democratic? Marchart provides the best answer to this question. In Democracy and Minimal Politics: The Political Difference and Its Consequences (2011), Marchart argues that democracy, understood as “the meeting point between a political and an ethical logic”, is the regime that relates to the “irresolvable contingency of social affairs” such that “the absence of an ultimate ground of the social…is institutionally accepted, even promoted”. Democratic politics or the politics of democratization is involved in the differential-political-ontological process of founding and instituting itself, on one hand, and constantly subverting itself, “deliberately undermining the very foundation it seeks to institute”. For Marchart, democratic ethics is as such unpolitical, inasmuch as it recognizes its own groundlessness. However, the necessity of ongoing re-founding renders it an “antinomy”. This positive account of democracy’s inherent self-criticism resembles somewhat Derrida’s arguments in favour of “democracy to come”.
Of course, we might fairly ask whether the isomorphism of the democratic antinomy to the “play” of differential political ontology is a good enough reason to be democratically oriented; but our own thoughts aside, this reasoning does underlie the HL’s democratic politics, at least in some cases.
Matters stand somewhat differently with the HR. Whereas for the HL, the predominant impulse is to “destroy” (onto-) theology and establish a more or less radical form of democracy, in the political theory of the HR, room remains for both a post-deconstructive, fundamental-ontological theology and for pre- and post-deconstructive traditional theologies (and mythologies), with a corresponding politics that is not necessarily “radically democratic”. In this section, I shall discuss only “fundamental-ontological theology” and the question of democracy.
By “fundamental-ontological theology”, I refer to the study of the “godly” domain of the Fourfold, as it is and in its relation to the other domains thereof. The gods of the Fourfold are not onto-theological; they are not of such a status as to be subject to the destruction that was directed by Heidegger against the history of Western metaphysics. Their proper study must be carried out in the context of fundamental-ontology. I do not propose to perform that study here, however, or to give a comprehensive account of the hints and more developed interpretations of the gods given in Dugin’s book. Rather, I want to sketch very briefly and tentatively a couple of points for further research on this question.
First, let the point be emphasized that the gods of the Fourfold are not the gods of religion:
Men, as a rule, relate too rationally and utilitarianly, too “technically”, even in their completed and elevated theologies and theosophies, to godliness. The gods of religion turn into mechanisms of punishment or forgiveness, salvation or damnation. They become “human-all-too-human”, betraying thereby that they have been replaced. Such gods do not war with man, and men do not war with them for one reason: they are not; they are constituted in isolation from Seyn-being, and consequently the clever technical methods of deft men are able to force them to do everything that is pleasing to men. Such gods are subdued gods, dei ex machina.
Because they belong within the topography of Western metaphysics, the gods of religion are “worthless and die together with the fall of metaphysics in contemporary nihilism”. The godliness that shows forth in the Fourfold, on the other hand, is “the godliness connected with Seyn-being” (ibid). Characteristically, the gods of the Fourfold need Seyn-being, impart to the Fourfold a kind of “transparent inebriation”, teach men nothing, and as it were “tickle” the world (ibid). But perhaps the most striking statement about them comes from Heidegger’s Beiträge zur Philosophie (vom Ereignis), which Dugin quotes as follows:
Since Seyn-being is a need of the gods, and at the same time it is found only in the thinking over of its truth, and this thinking over, in its turn, is nothing other than philosophy (of another Beginning), the gods need seynsgeschichtliche thoughts, i.e. philosophy. The gods need philosophy not as though they were preparing to philosophize apropos their deification, but philosophy must take place (be, become, sein), if (wenn) the gods will need to enter the element of decision once again and obtain for Geschichte (history as fate) a ground for its essent [Wesen]. Seynsgeschichte thought as the thought of Seyn-being will be predetermined by the gods.
It must be remembered that the philosophy of another Beginning is the sine qua non of the HR project. There thus appears to be a direct connection between godliness/the gods in the topography of the Fourfold and the new Beginning urged on by the HR. Inasmuch as Heidegger’s philosophy plays a central part in the so-called “Fourth Political Theory” of the HR, the “theologico-political” threads are evidently very closely intertwined for this school, though, as I have shown, the “theologico” must be considered fundamental-ontologically, as must the “political”.
What of democracy? We cannot begin to approach this question without mentioning at the outset that the HR does not share the HL’s penchant for absolute inclusion. Instead, drawing on a range of traditions including the conservative revolution, Guenonism, Eurasianism and neo-Eurasianism, they situate the fundamental-ontological moment in the particular da-Sein of a people. Nor do they adopt as an axiom that democracy is good and desirable. With this point established, the HR, we can say, reject social-democracy and bourgeois democracy as belong to the discredited and unacceptable political theories of communism and liberalism, respectively.
Instead, they propose a kind of “organic” or “holistic” democracy. Perhaps the most that can be said here to distinguish the democratic vision of the HL and the HR is to remark on the willingness of the latter to consider the ethnos the subject of political history.
Post-Heideggerian political thought has been dominated by the influence of the HL. Indeed, for a North American political scientist, it is much easier to name members of the HL than those of the HR. Even for scholars sympathetic to the HR project, there is a lack of material from available from that school. Consequently, HR positions are relatively unknown, undeveloped, and understudied.
In this paper, I have sought to remedy the situation. My approach was to set forth a partial account of the differences between the HL and HR by focusing on one major point of difference — the Seyn-event and its topography — as articulated by one major representative from each school, Oliver Marchart for the HL and Aleksandr Dugin for the HR. Finally, I tried to connect these observations with the “theologico-political problem”.
Principally, I hope to have made a plausible case that the selective use of Heidegger by the HL results in the possibility of employing a certain “remainder” for the creative elaboration of a HR political theory. That “remainder” consists first and foremost in the notions of Seyn, the Seyn-event, and the Fourfold. These provide the elements for a “theologico-politically” novel political theory, committed neither to secularism nor to radical nor republican democracy — and distant, indeed from Nazism. Now that the basic post-foundationalist foundations of this approach have been laid, the necessary work of elaborating it more fully and evaluating its fruitfulness can begin.