Commentary on Political Economy

Sunday 20 November 2011

Heidegger and Weber - Ontology, Science and the Trennung

A lifeless machine is congealed spirit. It is only this fact that gives
the machine the power to force men to serve it and thus to rule and
determine their daily working lives, as in fact happens in factories.

This same congealed spirit is, however, also embodied in that living
machine which is represented by bureaucratic organisation with its
specialisation of trained, technical work, its delimitation of areas of
responsibility, its regulations and its graduated hierarchy of relations
of obedience. (M. Weber, Parlament und Regierung)

We saw in the Nietzschebuch how Nietzsche unleashes in the Goetzes-Dammerung (Twilight of the Idols) a pitiless tirade against the “dialecticians” Socrates and Plato who are guilty in his eyes of seeking to suppress the “self-interested” speculation of the Sophists against their championing of the “purity” of the “philosopher’s quest for the “dis-interested and dis-passionate” Truth. In the earliest clear statement of his own novel quest for a thoroughgoing critique (Nietzsche saw himself as a “fearless critic”) of “the Will to Truth”, Nietzsche describes in Uber den Wahrheit und Luge how human beings abandon the Hobbesian bellum omnium of the state of nature to form the status civilis and by so doing are prompted by “con-venience” – by the social con-ventum or social contract – to enter into, precisely, “con-ventions” that by their very “symbolic conventionality” in fact “exclude” the physio-logical reality of individual needs by “equalizing the unequal”, by comparing the incomparable. The Will to Truth consists just in this “crystallization” of human reality into “symbols” such as language, logic and mathematics that consequently come to replace and “mask” the “intuitive” reality of the individual’s “representation” (Vorstellung, also “dissimulation”) of his own “self-interest” in the original state of nature. The merit of the Sophists for Nietzsche is that their “rhetorical” pursuit of self-interest is a more genuine expression of human reality than the pretended “dis-interested” dialectical philosophical efforts of Socrates and his disciples. The Sophists “know” that “the Truth” is a mere “perspective” and that what matters are the “interests” of human beings – of the “body”. Socrates and Plato instead absurdly believe in “the real world” and thereby render it into “a fable”, into “another world” so per-fect as to be unreal and unattainable – the empyrean of “Platonic Ideas”. It is the “crystallization” of human reality through the “ontogeny of thought” or “the perspective of the herd”, the dictatorship of “self-consciousness” that Nietzsche combats vigorously. Between poiesis and techne, Nietzsche prefers the sensuousness of the latter.

Ernst Mach begins his magnum opus, Knowledge and Error, by emphasizing exactly this distinction between the “dis-interested” pursuit of truth by “the scientist” and the more “mercenary” efforts of the “artisan” interested only in short-term and “opportunistic” material gains. This “distinction” or “dichotomy” between the “true pursuit” or “the pursuit of truth” on the part of the philosopher for the “being of beings” or ontology – the Aristotelian prima philosophia - as against the “interested” efforts of the Sophists for the utility of “beings”, for “applied philosophy”, for mere “practical science”, is what Heidegger condemns in the very opening pages of his imposing Metaphysical Foundations of Logic (lectures delivered in summer of 1928).

The philosopher has [13]

taken upon himself the seriousness of the concept, of fundamental

questioning. Everything routine, everyday, average (fallenness) is

the opposite of this endeavor. The sophist, on the contrary, as rationalizer

and know-it-all, appoints himself to work on human beings,

persuades them they must worry about one another's

spiritual needs. (pp.12-3)


In the direction of this basic problem, the decisive determination

of human Dasein lies in the insight that that which we call the

understanding-of-being belongs to Dasein's ontological constitution.

Human Dasein is a being with a kind of being to which it

belongs essentially to understand something like being. We call

this the transcendence of Dasein, primal transcendence (see the

second major part of the lecture course). It is on the basis of transcendence

that Dasein comports itself to beings, is always already

thrown onto beings as a whole. (p.16)


This fundamental philosophical question about man remains

prior to every psychology, anthropology, and characterology, but

also prior to all ethics and sociology. The fact that the aforementioned

appear wherever this question is more or less explicitly

alive, and are even taken for essential in its stead, only demonstrates

one thing: that this question, and with it the basic problem

of philosophy, is not and never does become easily accessible. For

this reason also it is constantly threatened by sophistry. What is

easier than, in a comfortable and interesting way, to interest a

human being in human beings, to enumerate for him his complexes,

potentials, standpoints, one-sidedness, and failings, and to

say this is philosophy? It is crucial that the human being, in this

sophistical sense, become completely irrelevant in the rightly understood

fundamental philosophical question about man. Philosophy

never "busies" itself with man in this hustling sense in which

man can never take himself to be important enough. (p.17)


Thus also the result of a philosophical effort has a character fundamentally

different from the acquisition of particular sciences. To

be sure, philosophizing-and it especially-must always proceed

through a rigorous conceptual knowledge and must remain in the

medium of that knowledge, but this knowledge is grasped in its

genuine content only when in such knowledge the whole of existence

is seized by the root after which philosophy searches-in

and by freedom. (p.18)

If we combine these seemingly opposing “perspectives” on the relationship between “knowledge and human interest”, we will see that in all cases, from Hobbes to Nietzsche and through to Mach and Heidegger, the essential feature of the negatives Denken (negative thought) is the utter denial of any inter esse in human being. From Nietzsche’s "immanentist" opposition to “crystallized” human con-ventions that “dissimulate” the antagonism of the Hobbesian feral state of nature, to the Machian “dis-interest” in the “applications” of scientific experimentation, to the Heideggerian “transcendental” destitution of the concrete “ontic” existence of “man” – in all these cases we encounter the unbridgeable “separation” (Trennung) of human beings from their “being human”, from the concrete historical and material circum-stances and con-ditions of their “species-conscious” or “phylogenetic” being.

Even Weber’s distinction between the Kalkulation of “sober modern capitalism” and the “opportunistic” nature of its historical predecessors is based on this notion of the “purity”, of the “spontaneity” of modern capitalism in its unflinching application of the Rationalisierung to the “organization of free labor under the regular discipline of the factory”. For Weber, the Trennung, the “separation” of human beings from the “pro-duction” or objectification of their own existence is both the sine qua non of “modern industrial work” – in the sense that it constitutes the “crystallized spirit” of “the lifeless machine” – and the nec plus ultra of capitalist industry – in the sense that only because of this “separation” and the “conflict” that it engenders between all economic agents is the full “rationalization” of production on the part of the “living machine” of capitalist bureaucratic rule made possible.

Essentially, and quite instructively for us, Weber duplicates for his own theory of capitalism the conditions of the state of nature, the war of all against all, that Hobbes had “hypothesized” so as to be able to establish “scientifically” the need for a “convention” by human beings to erect a State-machine that would represent rationally (!) their otherwise ir-reconcilable self-interests!

It is the feral “conflict” of the “war of all against all” – the Weberian “care for external goods”, the hypothesized “iron cage” – that allows the “crystallization” – the convention! – of the “spirit” that is represented jointly by the “lifeless machine” (the technology adopted to maximize rationally the provision for “the care for external goods”) and the “living machine”, that is, the actual living Spirit (Heidegger’s expression in his doctoral thesis on Duns Scotus) needed “to guide and govern” the “lifeless machine” and the “free labor” that operates it.

Together, the “lifeless machine” and the “living machine” merely utilize rationally the antagonism of self-interests: not a “re-conciliation” but a “decision in extremis, ob metum mortis”. – A decision at once “free” and “unfree”. Heidegger again:

It is becoming clear that with such problems we are already

immediately in the realm of the question concerning the constitution

of Dasein's being. Even more, obligation and being governed

by law, in themselves, presuppose freedom as the basis for their

own possibility. Only what exists as a free being could be at all

[20] bound by an obligatory lawfulness. Freedom alone can be the

source of obligation. A basic pro b lem of logic, the law-governedness

of thinking, reveals itself to be a problem of human

existence in its ground, the problem of freedom. (pp.19-20)

And here, as in Hobbes, the problem poses itself of how the State-machine can effectually re-present and then “govern” the self-interests of free labor involved in the rational operation of the machine . What “legitimacy” can such a Regierung have, and how can its “legality” take institutional, parliamentary form? The next stage of the critical debate will involve the Hobbesian Carl Schmitt and the Kelsenian Weber.

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