Monday, 12 June 2017

Heidegger's arithmetic

Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour Party leader, has been feted as winning a great victory – with The New Statesman, for example, publishing a piece called Jeremy Corbyn won a great victory. His party won 262 seats and Theresa May’s Conservatives won 318.

Has the Left lost all grasp of arithmetic? Unfortunately not. What we are seeing is a political arithmetic from a very sinister time in the first half of the twentieth century in Germany: Heidegger’s arithmetic, from his 1927 work Being and Time.

Martin Heidegger was, famously, “Hitler’s philosopher”. He rebelled against the phenomenology of his mentor, Edmund Husserl, which allowed each person an equal right in collectively constructing the world; instead Heidegger divided humanity into two: the “authentic” and the “inauthentic”.

The authentic are the people who, in Heidegger’s view, matter: the elite, even the Master Race. Their thoughts count for much more than the inauthentic, the rest of humanity in an amorphous herd whom Heidegger calls “the they”, whom Heidegger accuses of the tendency to establish a dictatorship of “inconspicuousness and unascertainability”. It’s not difficult to see how those eager to apply a veneer of intellectual respectability to that franchise of street-fighting gangs called the Nazis saw something they could use in Heidegger’s philosophy and adopted it as their ideology. The classification of the inauthentic as the Other, the they, powered the Holocaust.

In 1940-41 Jean-Paul Sartre read Being and Time while a prisoner of war, and would use it as an inspiration for his existential work Being and Nothingness, in which he retains Heidegger’s classification of “the they”, defining it again as the Other, an amorphous mass that “disintegrates” when one tries to understand it.

Sartre’s importance is not so much in what he wrote, but in that his work provided a bridge for Heidegger’s influence to travel from the Right to the Left – Jacques Derrida, for example, was dismissive of Sartre as “merely another metaphysician”, but his breakthrough and most influential work, On Grammatology, is full of references to Heidegger.

There was a golden age of socialism in Britain. It started in 1948 when Clement Attlee’s government instituted full and equal suffrage with the Representation of the People Act 1948 and founded its corollary, the NHS. And it was ended when the OPEC oil crisis of the mid-1970s swallowed up the money that makes any golden age possible. In the wake of this, the socialists who followed used Heidegger-ridden logic to justify their rejection of democracy as a means to pursue the socialist agenda, a justification that was, in their eyes, intensified when the OPEC-fuelled crisis reached full penetration and swept Margaret Thatcher to power in 1979 after the “winter of discontent”.

That’s when Heidegger’s arithmetic became as fully accepted by the hard Left as it had been by the Nazis – not that surprising when you consider politics is a circle, so that as left and right descend below the horizon of democracy they continue to become more distant from the open society, but get closer to each other: see the diagram on the book cover below. So we had Militant running Liverpool City Council in the 1980s, justifying the misery it caused to its own working-class employees by the glories of the Revolution to come: Heidegger’s arithmetic in action.

Heidegger’s arithmetic is also apparent in the attitude of former Home Secretary Diane Abbott sending her son to private school while opposing increasing grammar-school places for working-class children: the offspring of “the they”, the inauthentic, must be denied any opportunity to be able to compete with the children of the elite, the authentic, so as to deny them an intellectual foundation from which they might set out to frustrate the goals of the elite. These goals have never, at any time, had anything to do with enabling the many - the working-class, "the they", to better their lot.

And Heidegger’s arithmetic shines through in Jeremy Corbyn’s composure as a general who has won a great victory: his hard-Left MPs are the elite, and any MPs opposing them, even if they are numerically superior, are inauthentic and therefore their numbers count as nothing.

Nothing is so toxic to Heidegger’s arithmetic as full and equal suffrage democracy, which is why Corbyn has radicalised a horde of young idealists to oppose democracy by calling for restricting the franchise to those under 60. If they succeed in this it is the beginning of the end for democracy: the next step will be epistocracy, where people have to pass exams before they are deemed able to vote by a state who would only pass those who would vote according to its wishes. At present, the only qualification you need to vote is the capacity to suffer because of the deeds or misdeeds of your government, and this must remain so if you wish to be safe from your government.

If this radicalised cadre manages to decentre full and equal suffrage as a means of deciding who rules, we can only make our opposition to our rulers known by unrest, which runs the risk of sliding into civil war. And that’s why Heidegger’s arithmetic needs to be put into history’s waste disposal unit.

Read more about Heidegger, the risks to democracy, and Brexit:

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