The Tragedy of the Political: Heidegger and the German Conservative Revolution Open Access

Johnson, Rylie (Spring 2023)

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This project investigates Martin Heidegger’s account of the political by staging a confrontation between his thought and the German Conservative Revolution, represented by Ernst Jünger, Carl Schmitt, and Oswald Spengler. I demonstrate that Heidegger’s political orientation is in line with conservative revolutionary thought and this accounts for both his affirmation and subsequent disillusionment with National Socialism. While he initially viewed the party as vehicle for both German renewal and another philosophical beginning, Heidegger’s disillusionment would lead him to reject not only the concept of the political, but also the practice of politics, which he renders synonymous with metaphysical will to power and the exercise of violence. This transition is explained by Heidegger’s confrontation with Schmitt and G.W.F. Hegel in the early 1930s and his later confrontation with Friedrich Nietzsche and Jünger. Through the first two, Heidegger tries to determine a concept of the political consistent with the spirit of National Socialism. Through the second two, he uncovers the nihilistic will to power at the very heart of the political. Nevertheless, Heidegger continues to engage in political thought by critically distinguishing the modern concept of the political from the ancient Greek πόλις, presented in Sophoclean tragedy. Characterized as question-worthy, open, abyssal, and submergent, I argue that the πόλις is an-archic, i.e., foundationless, and is for this reason opposed to the foundational exercise of political power. However, I problematize this binary. From his confrontation with Spengler, Heidegger constructs a tragic historical narrative – the history of beyng – which affirms the Untergang (submergence) of beyng so that it might bring about another beginning. Insofar as the political is a symptom of submergence, then Heidegger would have to render it as a historically necessary condition for renewal. For this reason, I demonstrate that Heidegger leaves the πόλις and the political tragically entangled. The tragedy of the political explains how Heidegger’s thought is both revolutionary and conservative; provides a foundation for addressing the current use of Heidegger’s thought by the contemporary identitarian right; and, lastly, problematizes Heidegger’s break with National Socialism, by demonstrating that he cannot provide a normative critique of political violence.

Table of Contents

Introduction: The Heideggerian Century and its Shadow

Part 1: Tragedy and Decision

Chapter 1: Heidegger's Historical Anxiety: Spengler and the Crisis of Historicism

Chapter 2: Between Emergence and Submergence: On Heidegger's History of Beyng

Part 2: The Political and Power

Chapter 3: Fire from Water: Heidegger's Confrontation with Hegel and Schmitt

Chapter 4: Being and Power: Heidegger's Confrontation with Nietzsche and Jünger

Part 3: Πόλις and Identity

Chapter 5: The Tragedy of the Political: On Heidegger's An-archic πόλις

Conclusion: Identitarianism and thee History of Beyng


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