Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Kind of busy this week, but I wanted to excerpt a portion of Richard Wolin's review article from the February 9th New Republic (not available online)entitled "Kant at Ground Zero," which deals with the responses of philosophers to the events of 9/11 and their aftermath. The most interesting parts for me deal with the reaction of the so-called "left Heideggerians"--Jean Baudrillard, Slavoj Zizek, and Paul Virilio--to the attacks:

As good Heideggerians, they are simply incapable of naturally appreciating the validity and the worth of democratic political institutions--civil liberties, republican government, and self-determination. For Heidegger, after all, the United States was nothing more than a technological Moloch: the "site of catastrophe," and extreme manifestation of civilizational Untergang or decline. In keeping with this perspective, the pamphlets of Zizek and Baudrillard exude a barely concealed glee about Osama Bin Laden's "divine surprise" in September 2001. For Baudrillard, the attacks represented a glorious, long awaited instance of wish-fulfillment: the Al Qaeda terrorists may have perpetrated the deed, but the act itself was something the entire world had long dreamed of and desired. For the post-modernist sage, criticism of the attacks cannot mask

the prodigious jubilation of seeing this world superpower meet with destruction....In essence, it was [the terrorists] who committed the deed, but it is we who wished for it.

In late 2001, Baudrillard granted an interview to Der Spiegel...When interrogated about whether the spread of human rights and democracy to the Middle East and the Third World was desirable, the postmodernist philosopher replied in the negative. Human rights, he claimed, are merely a cover for superpower global hegemony: "I believe that human rights have already been subsumed by the process of globalization and function as an alibi. They belong to the juridical and moral superstructure--in sum, they are advertising."

Wolin calls this kind of speech "unadulterated nihilistic contempt for democratic norms" of a type not seen since the Nazis. Exactly. (Hermann Rauschning's early book about Hitler, The Revolution of Nihilism. comes to mind). Even though I abhor facile comparisons to the Nazis, I think the comparison is unavoidable here. That the original Heideggerian himself, Martin Heidegger, devoted himself to Hitler more slavishly than any other intellectual, is not a coincidence. The neo-Heideggerians' hero-worship of the Islamists tends to highlight the affinities of Islamic fundamentalism and Nazism.

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