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Heidegger & Ethnic Nationalism

4,524 words


Heidegger doing his thing

Parts 1 and 2

Author’s Note:

This is the text of a lecture delivered at the London Forum on Saturday, May 27th. I want to thank Jez Turner, the London Forum team, and everyone who attended this event.  

Martin Heidegger, the most celebrated and influential philosopher of the twentieth century, was an ethnic nationalist—and not just any old ethnic nationalist, but a supporter of German National Socialism. Moreover, Heidegger’s National Socialism was not merely the superficial infatuation of a politically naïve intellectual. Instead, it was a logical outgrowth of his philosophy. Which means that today’s nationalists can draw upon the most formidable thinker of our time to deepen, sharpen, and defend the ethnonationalist idea.

The kinds of political order that men create are based on their fundamental worldview: their sense of who they are, where they fit into the world, what is right and wrong, and what is politically possible. These are the questions of “metapolitics”: those things that come before the political, i.e., the intellectual and cultural presuppositions of political orders. Modern globalism follows from modern man’s self-image and ethos. Modern man is rootless and cosmopolitan. Modern man is individualistic. Modern man uses science and technology to pursue the mastery and possession of nature.

These three traits are beautifully illustrated in the opening pages of Ayn Rand’s novel The Fountainhead.[1] [2] Howard Roark, the novel’s hero, has just been expelled from architecture school, basically because all he cared about learning was the science and technology of construction. He rejected the aesthetic tradition of architecture because he had his own vision. Supremely confident he can go it alone, he laughs off the setback and goes swimming.

Rand describes Roark standing on a cliff overlooking his swimming hole. The water is still, so the rock is doubled by its reflection. There is blue sky above and blue sky below, so the rock appears to be floating in space. Then Rand adds an interesting little detail. Instead of the man standing on the rock jutting out of the earth, it appears that the rock is floating in space, “anchored to the feet of the man.”

Roark does not laugh when he looks at the world around him. He does not see the living rock. He sees building stones. He does not see trees. He sees lumber. He sees the word as nothing more than a stockpile of resources to be appropriated and remade according to human plans—his plans. “These rocks, he thought, are waiting for me; waiting for the drill, the dynamite and my voice; waiting to be split, ripped, pounded, reborn; waiting for the shape my hands will give them.”


You can buy Greg Johnson’s Graduate School with Heidegger here [4]

Howard Roark is rootless: he does not stand on the earth. Instead, the earth is just a big ball of natural resources floating through the void anchored to him. Howard Roark is an individualist. He rejects tradition in favor of his own “unborrowed” vision. Finally, Howard Roark uses science and technology to master and transform nature according to his designs.

How do cosmopolitan man, individualist man, and technological man all hang together? Do they spring from a common root? The answer is yes, and it is a deep root, teaching all the way back to the origins of Western philosophy and natural science in ancient Greece.

In traditional societies, the notions of order do not differentiate between the human and the natural worlds. The Chinese talk about the tao, which is the “way” of both natural and human things. The same is true of the Greek notion of nomos, from which our ideas of the laws of men and the laws of nature derive.

The early Greek natural philosophers, however, noticed that there was a difference between the ways of the natural and the human worlds. Human ways of life—languages and customs—vary from place to place (meaning that men have different cultures) and from time to time (meaning that cultures have histories). Human ways of life are particular, not universal. They are not unchanging, but Protean and restless and hard to pin down.

Nature, by contrast, was the same everywhere, and it changes so slowly that the Greeks thought it never changed at all, just went through endless cycles. The early Greek natural philosophers believed that the universal is better than the particular, the unchanging is better than the changing, and cyclical change is better than non-cyclical change (including “progress”). Nature’s laws are better than human laws. Nature allows certitude and predictability, whereas human customs lack these advantages. Thus the early Greek natural philosophers replaced the old idea of the way of things with a distinction between nature, which is universal and unchanging, and convention, which is particular and mutable—varying from time to time and place to place, never repeating or returning to the same. And they held that nature is better than convention, thus we should guide our lives by nature and not convention.

Consequently, the beginning of the philosophical life is to take an inventory of the human condition. When we do this, we discover that there is a human nature, unchanging and common to all men—such as our bodily desires—and a crust of conventions that vary from time to time and place to place and that were taught to us by the people around us long before we were self-conscious, much less capable of exercising critical reason. These conventions include language, myths, and morals, some that help and others that hinder our ability to live according to our nature.

To become a philosopher, we must free out minds from prejudices—from beliefs that we have uncritically accepted from our society. Plato likened society—the world of authoritative shared opinions—to a cave in which shackled prisoners are forced to watch the equivalent of an Indonesian shadow-puppet play and mistake it for reality. He likened the process of becoming a philosopher to liberating oneself from the prison of the cave of opinion and toiling upward to the surface of the Earth where one can live in the sunlit world of truth.

The beginnings of individualism and cosmopolitanism are basically the same: to obtain objective knowledge of universal, unchanging nature, one must liberate one’s mind from the realm of opinion or custom, which are inherently social, meaning that they are shared by a whole community. One must, in an important sense, cease to be a citizen of one’s homeland, for a citizen believes that the traditions of his homeland are authoritative. But if the philosopher is not a citizen of Athens or England, what is his homeland? When Diogenes the Cynic, who was born in Sinope, was asked the name of his hometown—his polis—he did not say that he was a citizen of Sinope, but a citizen of the world. The cosmos was his polis, from which we get the word cosmopolitan.[2] [5] To say that one is a cosmopolitan is to say that one is an emancipated individual who lives by reason in accordance with nature, which is universal and unchanging.

How does cosmopolitan and individualist man become technological man? The common root of all three is the use of reason, emancipated from social prejudice, to gain knowledge of nature. Once the cosmopolitan individual decides to take his bearings from reason and nature rather than custom and convention, he looks within and finds his natural human desires for food, comfort, security, etc. Then he looks around nature with unblinkered eyes for ways to satisfy himself. Having discarded any merely social conventions, he has no impediments to gratifying his wishes at the expense of nature. Scientific and technological progress was up and running.

Two other attitudes allied with the quest for objective knowledge feed into technological progress.

First, just as the philosopher looks below the crust of opinion to get to the truth of nature, the scientist looks below the surface of nature—and the myriad natural kinds—to find a few simple underlying natural laws that allow him to better understand and transform nature according to his will. Thus to the scientist, the natural world we see around us looks more and more provisional. It looks increasingly like a stockpile of resources for human projects.


You can buy Greg Johnson’s From Plato to Postmodernism here [7]

Second, the Will to Power is implicit in the very notion of objective knowledge. For why prefer the universal and unchanging to the particular and protean? Because the universal and unchanging is secure. You can always count on it. Thus it provides a secure foundation for our plans. There is a well-founded cliché about ugly Americans abroad going to McDonald’s rather than eating the local cuisine. But there is a logic to it, because the food at McDonald’s is universal and unchanging, so you always know what to expect. That is why I don’t eat the food at MacDonald’s, but I do stop in to use the toilets, because you can always count on clean restrooms as well. The driving force of objective conceptions of knowledge was a subjective desire for certitude and control that, over time, gave rise to such ideas as Platonic and Aristotelian forms, Cartesian representations, and eventually the operationalization of science in terms of technical feats of prediction and control.

But what if, as Heidegger argues, the primary source of meaning in life and the primary source of moral and aesthetic measure is our participation in the worlds of shared custom and opinion—in various ethnic communities—the very things that cosmopolitan, individualist, and technological man is concerned to leave behind? Heidegger’s answer is that a world deprived of meaning and measure will become a world of unbounded nihilism—nihilism spreading out in all directions.

A world without measure is also a world without borders and boundaries. It is a world in which distinct nations and races will disappear, for liberation from particular collective identities is the toll we pay to play the whole cosmopolitan game, and if the satisfaction of our desires is what life is all about, why let racial differences constrict your potential dating and mating pool?

But the universal, homogeneous global state will be no utopia. What is the meaning of life for cosmopolitan-individualist-technological man? Basically to appropriate, transform, and consume nature. And doing so without measure leads to what Heidegger called “the gigantic” (das Riesige): the realm of exploding populations, of cities surging upwards, plunging downwards, and sprawling out in all directions—a world where the new is always improved and more is always better—a world where knowing that you can do something is equivalent to knowing that you should do it—a world of an ever-expanding humanoid biomass, throbbing, swarming, and pullulating over the globe—until, at last, we crash into objective limits that we refused to see and factor into our plans, and the earth becomes a scorched boneyard, in which some of the skeletons enjoyed the privilege of a long string of numbers in their bank accounts before the lights blinked out forever and the world returned to being just lifeless matter in space.

If the beginning of Western philosophy and science are leading to that end, maybe it is time for a new beginning. In 1930, Heidegger began to think that the National Socialist movement was just the new beginning or inception (Anfang) he had hoped for. National Socialism stood for rootedness in a particular homeland, language, and tradition, as opposed to cosmopolitan rootlessness and the beep beep, boop boop of machine communication and the cha-ching of commerce, which are the true universal languages. National Socialism was about collectivism over individualism, the common good before individual interests. And National Socialism was very, very “green,” seeking to preserve nature and human-scale living from the depredations of industrialization and giantism. Thus in 1935, Heidegger declared in one of lectures that the “inner truth and greatness” of National Socialism was based on “the confrontation of global technology and modern man.”[3] [8]

Heidegger eventually became disillusioned with National Socialism. He came to see it not as the new beginning for which he hoped, but as just another form of modern technological nihilism. After the war, he promoted the myth that his support of National Socialism was just the blunder of a naïve and essentially apolitical thinker. We were supposed to believe that Heidegger was just a political Thales, who fell down a well while gazing at the heavens.

But nothing could be further from the truth. Heidegger’s philosophy was always political—and specifically ethnonationalist—both before and after the Third Reich, although after the war he took pains to obscure this fact. After the war, Heidegger largely refrained from speaking about political topics, but as a philosopher he patiently laid the metapolitical conditions for a new post-totalitarian critique of cosmopolitanism, individualism, and technological nihilism. In short, Heidegger was one of the founders of what we today call the New Right.

Heidegger’s magnum opus is Being and Time, which was published in 1927. Being and Time is an implicitly political work, rife with the language of the Conservative Revolutionary movement, including its valorization of the Front experience of the First World War as a model for a new ethic of hardness, seriousness, and solidarity, as well as its condemnation of the hedonism, selfishness, and shallow social conformism of Weimar.

But the politics of Being and Time goes much deeper, for it attacks the very root of cosmopolitan-individualist-technological man, namely the idea of objective knowledge emancipated from the realm of collective opinion.


You can buy Jef Costello’s Heidegger in Chicago here [10]

This is not the occasion to delve into technical philosophical arguments. But Heidegger’s conclusion is that all cognitive activities—even those of philosophy and science—are made possible by language and other social practices that are learned ultimately by participation in a community that is particular, not universal—changing, not eternal—provincial, not cosmopolitan. In other words, at the root of every cognitive act is ethnic identity. In Heidegger’s words, “I believe that there is no essential work of the spirit that does not have its root in originary autochthony.”[4] [11] Thus, contrary to Plato and other Greek philosophers, deracination is not the path to wisdom but the path to the folly of nihilism, which is playing itself out today on the global stage.

One expression of the cosmopolitan ambition of classical philosophy is to leave human languages behind and find a universal, objective form of communication. Heidegger’s thought is so fundamentally opposed to cosmopolitanism that he declared that the two truly philosophical languages were ancient Greek and German. Heidegger believed that thought is a gift of language and culture. One needs a certain cultural and linguistic heritage to spy the fundamental truths necessary to launch a new philosophical age. The Greek language and culture gave us the beginning of Western philosophy. German language and culture gave us a new beginning, and, starting in 1930, Heidegger believed that National Socialism might carry out the new beginning of thought on the cultural and political plane, bringing an end to the modern world.

If even philosophy is a product of language and culture, does that mean that Greek philosophy is only true for Greeks, and German philosophy is only true for Germans? No, Heidegger is not that kind of relativist. Seeing new truths requires a certain viewpoint, but once discovered such truths are true for everyone. Only the Greeks could have launched the first inception of Western thought, but it spread to all of Europe and then encompassed the globe. Likewise, even though only the Germans could have created the new inception, it is true for all of us and has the potential to transform all life on earth.

Greek philosophy was a product of the Greek language and culture. But it overlooked its own contingent and particular origins. The Greek objective conception of knowledge presented an image of man uprooted from language, customs, and place, a citizen of the world. The consummation of the first inception is modern technological civilization, in which man thinks of himself as entirely rootless and thinks of the world as merely a stockpile of resources to be manipulated and ultimately consumed. By contrast, the German new beginning will lead Western man back to rootedness, an acceptance of finitude and uncertainty, and a sense that we are part of the natural world, charged with being its guardians, not its exploiters and consumers.

How then did the Germans give rise to a new beginning for philosophy? For Heidegger, a new inception changes the meaning of everything. It is a pervasive change in the Zeitgeist that cannot be ascribed to particular thinkers. Instead, individual thinkers are merely responding to and articulating a change that transcends any individual mind.

At the core of the new inception is a sense of what the German Idealists called the finitude and historical conditionedness of consciousness. Kant argued that our knowledge of reality is limited to what can be given to our finite cognitive faculties. Hegel and Heidegger argued that the finite conditions of consciousness include linguistic and cultural practices that vary from time to time and place to place. Unlike the first inception, in which consciousness tries to make itself absolute by emancipating itself from history, culture, language, and “prejudice” in order to comprehend its own origins, the new inception argues that this is impossible. Consciousness cannot comprehend its own origins. The Kantian categories are just there. The contingencies of language and culture are just there. You can’t get behind them to explain them.

Greek philosophy thinks of knowledge as an objective, “God’s-eye” view of the world and thus sees rootedness and participation in particular languages and cultures as an impediment to knowing the world. German philosophy rejects the idea that human knowledge should be measured by an inhuman standard of objectivity and thus sees rootedness and participation in particular languages and cultures as a necessary condition for the kind of knowledge that is possible for humans to achieve: a finite, human’s-eye view of the world.


You can buy Collin Cleary’sWhat is a Rune?, featuring extensive discussions of Heidegger, here [13]

Not all languages, cultures, and individual perspectives are equal. Some conceal more than they reveal. But to win the kind of truth that is available to man, we have to replace bad perspectives with better ones, crude languages with subtler ones, primitive cultures with advanced ones—not try to chuck language, culture, and perspective altogether for a chimerical conception of objectivity. Finite, perspectival human knowledge may be rife with uncertainty and constantly subject to revision and growth, but for all its imperfections, it is the only kind of knowledge we have ever had, and it has been good enough to create both the wonders and the horrors of the modern world.

Heidegger’s opposition to cosmopolitanism in Being and Time is so adamant and systematic that he does not even talk about human beings, which is a universal notion. Nor does he talk about man as the “rational animal,” which is just a composite of two universal notions. Instead, Heidegger speaks of “Dasein,” which is a German word for existence, but it is usually left untranslated in Heidegger’s texts because he uses it as a technical term. Pick up any Heidegger book, and turn to a random page. Chances are, you will see Dasein with a capital “D.”

Heidegger hears “Dasein” as a composite of “Da” (there) and “Sein” (being). So Dasein means “being there.” For Heidegger, we are not rootless citizens of the world. We are Dasein, a being who is essentially rooted in a particular language, culture, and place. Contra Plato, Heidegger does not think of the “Da”—our language, culture, and place—as first and foremost a prison that prevents us from knowing the real world. Instead, he sees the “Da” as what enables us to access the world in the first place. Dasein is always sometime and someplace, but his world opens out in all directions and into the past and the future. Dasein is inherently parochial, not cosmopolitan. Dasein is no abstract or atomized individual but a concrete individual rooted in a shared language and culture. Note well that this is true even of self-declared cosmopolitans, individualists, and technological supermen. What’s the difference between us and them? They too have roots, but they are just in denial about them. Cosmopolitan, individualist, technological man is also fake, phony, inauthentic man.

Authenticity means being honest with yourself about your identity and living accordingly. For Heidegger, we cannot construct our identities. We cannot invent, much less reinvent, ourselves. We cannot choose who we are. Instead, our identities are handed to us by our language, culture, and lineage. For Heidegger, freedom comes in only in what we do with the identity that is given us. Our most fundamental choice is whether we own up to our identity or deny it. Authenticity is owning up to who we are. Inauthenticity is refusing to own up to our identity and instead living according to fantasies about who we are, fantasies projected by ourselves or others.

Whether we choose authenticity or inauthenticity, we remain the same person, but in radically different states. The authentic person lives according to his nature, which the Greeks defined as well-being (eudaimonia). The inauthentic person lives contrary to his nature and thus lacks well-being.

For Heidegger, being a German ethnic nationalist, rather than a cosmopolitan liberal or Communist, was simply a matter of authenticity, of owning up to his ethnic identity—his particular linguistic and cultural “Da”—and living accordingly. And when the world opposes you living according to your nature, well-being requires self-assertion. If others push you around, you have to push back. You have to take your own side in a fight.

The linguistic and cultural aspects of our identities are learned from infancy on. They are our “second nature.” But what of our genetic lineage, our “first nature”? What role does biological race play in Heidegger’s thought? Heidegger did not deny that biological race was real, but he was uncomfortable with the importance ascribed to it by the National Socialists. For Heidegger, being white was a necessary but not sufficient condition for German identity.[5] [14] All Germans are white, but not all whites are German.


You can buy Greg Johnson’s The White Nationalist Manifesto here [16]

Being a German, Heidegger’s primary concern was German ethnic nationalism, and he believed that an over-emphasis on biological race undermined German ethnic identity. For Heidegger, emphasizing the white race posed the same danger as emphasizing the human race. Both are universals that undermine specific cultural identities. “There’s only one race, the human race,” is a slogan trotted out to undermine the particular identities of all races and nations, to break down the barriers that maintain diversity and promote pan-mixia, with the end result of global homogeneity.

But the idea that “There’s only one race that matters, the white race,” promotes the same breakdown of barriers between white ethnic groups, the same mixing and erasure of identity. And when the Second World War began, and different peoples fell under German control, the logic of biological racism led them quite naturally to the idea of assimilating biologically similar Europeans into the German Reich, which would inevitably erode the cultural integrity of conqueror and conquered alike.

So for Heidegger, biological race is important. To say that whiteness is a necessary condition of any European identity is to give race a far greater importance than accepted by the civic nationalists and multiculturalists of today. But by the same token, biological race is not the whole of any European identity, and mistaking a part for the whole is profoundly subversive of ethnic identity.

Thus, while it was true to say that Heidegger was a white man, it was truer still to say that he was a German, even more true to say that he was a Black Forest Swabian of peasant stock, but truest of all to say that he was a Heidegger, born of the union of Friedrich Heidegger and Johanna Kempf. But it was only the very specific mixture of their genes that gave us the brain of Martin Heidegger—as opposed to those of his brother or his sister. And once that piece of hardware was programmed with the software of Martin Heidegger’s particular language, culture, and experiences, new philosophical prospects opened up that we will be exploring for centuries to come.

We have seen how Heidegger’s conception of who we are undermines both cosmopolitanism and individualism by arguing that every human act—even the heroic striving to uproot oneself from tradition—is rooted in a particular language, culture, and identity, and our only choice in this matter is to own up to this fact or to continue to delude ourselves about it. But how does Heidegger undermine man, the conqueror of nature? Heidegger teaches us that we are finite. He forces us to confront the fact that we are not self-defining, self-creating beings. We are defined by forces outside our ken or control. He shows us that the very idea that underlies the modern conquest of nature—namely that we can know everything and control everything—is not something we can either understand or control. It is, instead, a mania that enthralls us. It is a mysterious something that came up behind us, reft us up by the nape of our necks, and is speeding us forward toward the planetary boneyard. There’s a real sense in which we do not have technology, technology has us.

But once we realize that we can’t understand why we think we can understand everything, and we can’t control the idea that we think we can control everything—once we see that the conquest of nature is a collective mania that arises from inscrutable sources—the spell is broken. Once our hubris is humbled before the mystery of our origins—once our Faustian strivings are contained within classical limits—we will once again see the earth as our home. And although we will strive to make the earth a safe and comfortable dwelling place, we will no longer think of ourselves as cosmopolitan nomads, slashing and burning—or swindling and looting—then moving on to greener pastures. We can even have our computers and smart phones and machines that go “ping.” But they will no longer have us.

So I bring you good news. Martin Heidegger, one of the most formidable thinkers of our time, was an ethnonationalist who offers enormous metapolitical resources to the fight of all peoples against globalization. With Heidegger’s help, we rootless phony cosmopolitans can rediscover who we really are and dwell authentically on Earth once more.

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[1] [19] Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead (New York: Bobbs-Merrill, 1943).

[2] [20] See my essay “What’s Wrong with Cosmopolitanism?,” In Defense of Prejudice (San Francisco: Counter-Currents, 2017).

[3] [21] Martin Heidegger, Introduction to Metaphysics, trans. Gregory Fried and Richard Polt (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000), p. 213.

[4] [22] Martin Heidegger, Reden und andere Zeugnisse eines Lebensweges (1910–1976), Gesamtausgabe, vol. 16, ed. Hermann Heidegger (Frankfurt: Klostermann, 2000), p. 551.

[5] [23] Martin Heidegger, Ponderings II–VI, trans. Richard Rojcewicz (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2014), notebook III, section 195, p. 139.