Heidegger and the Politics of 'Besinnung'

- an anti-fascist reading of the later Heidegger


The paper argues that Heidegger’s later thought is of an essentially anti-fascist nature. By critically engaging several of Heidegger’s later texts the paper makes the attempt to transport Heidegger’s mode of thinking (i.e. Besinnung) into the sphere of the political. Towards the end of the paper attempts will be made to spell out how ‘a politics of Besinnung’ leads to very real political interventions.


Martin Heidegger (1989-1976) is – still today – a highly contested philosopher. In what sense? The fact that he was an active member of the Nazi party (NSDAP) and that he temporarily functioned as rector of Freiburg University from late April 1933 promoting the Führer-principle and Gleichschaltung makes many a reader's approach to the writings of this philosopher problematically awkward to say the least. My impression is that still today he is not welcome in certain politically correct academic circles, and what is more, he is shun from the public debates that seem to freeze him out as nothing but yet another Nazi ideologist. Nonetheless, what I want to do in the present paper is to argue that Heidegger's later thought is essentially anti-fascist, and that it even projects the possibility of a radical alternative to fascist as well as contemporary politics. This alternative, as we shall see, is what I choose to call a 'politics of Besinnung'.

            To begin with I will account for the essence of Heidegger's later thought in order to show how the act of Besinnung is, so to speak, his central dogma. After that we will turn our attention towards what I have called 'the fascist core of National Socialism' in order to account for the essential features of National Socialism in accordance with the kind of thinking advanced by the later Heidegger. To grasp the essence of National Socialism is important when wanting to understand the logical connection between the later Heidegger and the politics of National Socialism itself, and to understand this connection is of importance when wanting to understand the political potential of Heidegger's later thought in general. Thus, this is my ambition: to show how and justify that Heidegger's later thought can, and indeed ought to be severed from the actual politics of historical National Socialism, that his philosophical orientation is essentially anti-fascist, and that it is nonetheless calling for radical means in order to bring about a new way of living on the earth in terms of a poetic dwelling respecting the truth of Being.

The Essence of Besinnung

In order to account for the essence of Heidegger's later thought we will, for explanatory reasons, focus on a single text. Digressions will, of course, be made, but only when these are appropriate in relation to the overall narrative of the main text of our investigation. The text we will be focusing on is ‘Die Zeit des Weltbildes’ (abbreviation: ZW) originally presented as a lecture in 1938 – i.e. four years after Heidegger withdrew from the post as rector at Freiburg University, which means that already at this point he had been given the opportunity to make thoughtful reflections on his own political aspirations and the essence holding sway within the political movement of National Socialism. In ZW Heidegger even gives us certain hints at or fragments of no less than an explicit critique of National Socialism in the mode of Besinnung (see Heidegger 1977: 99-100), but before I even begin to discuss the relation between the Heidegger’s later thought and the politics of National Socialism, let us take a look at the essence of Besinnung itself.

            As an archetypical example of his later thought Heidegger begins ZW by making an announcement concerning what he will be questioning. In this case he will be questioning concerning the essence of the modern age. Now, in order for Heidegger to begin to sound out the essence of the modern age he must first question concerning the essence of modern science because this above all else is an essential phenomenon of the modern age due to its ubiquitous presence. We just have to think of some of the things that have been produced by means of scientific progress, which we regularly encounter on a daily basis. Take, for example, televised weather forecasts, industrially produced equipment to be used in the kitchen, electrically driven elevators and escalators, digital advertisement on huge billboards in city centres all over the world, etcetera. The list goes on forever it seems. Thus, due to its ever encroaching presence science has gradually become essential to understand when one wants to grasp the essence of the modern age in general.

            Now, on Heidegger's account, the essence of modern science is what he calls Forschung, and thus in order to make progress in our investigation concerning the essence of modern science and in order to make progress in our investigation concerning the essence of the modern age, we must account for what he takes Forschung to be. Initially, the kind of knowledge produced as results by Forschung is essentially determined by the specific Vorgehen that tacitly secures the way in which beings as a whole are to be experienced, handled and rationally processed by the science in question. This tacit dimension of the Vorgehen of Forschung that goes into the scientific production of knowledge by opening up the specific realm of entities to be investigated by the particular science in question Heidegger calls Grundvorgehen, and this is, in turn, itself determined by the projection of a scientific ground plan, the so-called Grundriss. Now, in order to illustrate the way in which these essential aspects of modern science (i.e. Forschung, Vorgehen, Grundvorgehen, Grundriss) relate to one another, Heidegger accounts for the way in which the particular science called physics operates in order to produce the kind of knowledge that it does. We will go through Heidegger's account of the essence of the science called ‘modern physics’ in order to let the essence of his later thought appear not just in abstracto, but in concreto.

            As any other modern science physics accomplishes the production of objective knowledge in a specific way and it is the specificity of this way of production that Heidegger wants to bring to language. The specificity of physics is to be found in an analysis of its Grundvorgehen in terms of the projection of the Grundriss. As Heidegger puts it: “Durch den Entwurf des Grundrisses und die Bestimmung der Strenge sichert sich das Vorgehen innerhalb des Seinsbereiches seinen Gegenstandsbezirk.” (Heidegger 1977: 77) In this sense, due to its presuppositions, modern physics is to be qualified as mathematical. What does this mean? On Heidegger's account the term 'mathematics' stems from the Greek notion of ta math?mata designating “was der Mensch im Betrachten des Seienden und im Umgang mit den Dingen im voraus kennt” (ibid.: 72). Now, in order to sound out the mathematical essence of physics we must question concerning the presuppositions made by the projection of the Grundriss. Because physics is the particular science that studies natural phenomena with respect to their material corporeality and motion, and even though physics can do so in a variety of ways, “der in sich geschlossene Bewegungszusammenhang raum-zeitlich bezogener Massenpunkte” (ibid.) remains for it the indispensible work hypothesis par excellence. Because physics cannot be the science of natural phenomena experienced, handled and rationally processed as causally interacting material bodies in three-dimensional space and time without its essential Grundvorgehen and its tacitly projected Grundriss, physics cannot – as long as it is the science that it is – get to know itself as the science that it is. Whereas the objects of modern physics is made to appear in the external world from the perspective of the physician under certain circumstances, the tacitly projected Grundriss and the specific Vorgehen of modern physics that makes the objects of modern physics appear in the way they do cannot itself be made to appear under these specific circumstances. An essentially different perspective is called for in order for the science called ‘modern physics’ to appear as an object of inquiry, and when this perspective emerges ‘modern physics’ will appear as something essentially different than an object in three-dimensional space and time. Thus, in order to be the science that it is, physics must in advance carve out its Gegenstandsbezirk without questioning the implications of such a carving out, and this – we might add – is what happens in ‘the lab’ (e.g. the European Organization for Nuclear Research also known as CERN (see, for instance, http://public.web.cern.ch/public/en/About/About-en.html)). Now, in the term ‘Gegenstandsbezirk’ the most fundamental of the presuppositions of physics is concealed. This German word is a compound expression made up of the nouns ‘Gegenstand’ and ‘Bezirk’ respectively. Whereas Gegenstand is normally translated into English as ‘object', its literal meaning can only be heard in its German form. When understood literally Gegenstand is properly translated into the neologism 'against-standing', and thus it denominates that which in itself appears for us as something different from ourselves. Gegenständigkeit, Heidegger tells us in another of his later texts, is the mode of unconcealment of beings as a whole holding sway within modern physics as mathematical. (Heidegger 2000: 45) Consequently, modern physics was not enabled to see the light of day before beings as a whole were made to stand over against merely observing human beings. Modern physics, we are now in a position to conclude, is the scientific production of knowledge enabled by the rule of Gegenständigkeit with respect to the causal interrelations of moving material bodies in three-dimensional space and time. Only the kind of questioning concerning physics as a mathematical science with a view to its Grundvorgehen and projected Grundriss as essential to its production of objective knowledge of the natural world can manage to reveal what physics qua physics is. Only this kind of questioning is, according to Heidegger, worthy of the name Besinnung. For him “Besinnung ist der Mut, die Wahrheit der eigenen Voraussetzungen und den Raum der eigenen Ziele zum Fragwürdigsten zu machen.” (Heidegger 1977: 75)

            Now that we have seen how the act of Besinnung is to be accomplished, we will conclude by making some general observations so as to determine the essence of Besinnung. Our conclusion is that the essence of Heidegger's later thought consists in the very act of Besinnung. Besinnung is the sole virtue that permeates Heidegger's later thinking, and as a radical questioning it is “die Frömmigkeit des Denkens.” (Heidegger 2000, p.36). Only through the act of Besinnung are human beings enabled to intimate the truth of Being, and in this way escape the blinding preoccupation with the overwhelming manifold of calculable, quantifiable and essentially predictable beings preserved by the omnipresence of science and technology. As Heidegger himself puts it, the otherwise concealed essence of, say, modern science can only be made to appear, and thus overcome, “im schöpferischen Fragen und Gestalten aus der Kraft echter Besinnung.” (Heidegger 1977: 96) Thus, for Heidegger, the act of Besinnung consists in sounding out the historically particular truth of Being coming to presence through and the specific essence holding sway within beings as a whole. Besinnung is the act of explicitly and deliberately paying heed to what is essential concerning that which has come to be thoughtprovoking and indeed strange. In this way, the act of Besinnung is what is summoned when the familiar has become worthy of questioning. In Beiträge zur Philosophie Heidegger even fleshes out what he takes to be the three possible ways of entering into the mode of Besinnung: 1) Erschrecken (startled dismay), 2) Verhaltenheit (reservedness) and 3) Scheu (deep awe). (Heidegger 1989: 14-16) These fundamental attunements of human being are the prerequisite moods of Besinnung itself; they are the catalysis of the questionworthiness of beings as a whole and thus, consequently, of philosophy itself. In my discussion of the political implications of Heidegger's later thought we shall return to this obviously 'personal' or 'idiosyncratic' aspect of Besinnung. But before I go on to spell out the political implications of Heidegger’s later thought the time has now come to confront the fascist core of National Socialism.

The Fascist Core of National Socialism

In this section of my paper I will try to justify the claim that National Socialism is essentially a kind of fascism, but due to the fact that my paper is a 'philosophical' paper I will not venture to account for the otherwise necessary amount of historical data needed to back up the more general features of National Socialism that I will try to flesh out. What I will do is to account for some of the fundamental characteristics of National Socialism and I will do so from a philosophical point of view. As a direct consequence of this methodological choice I will be doing some cherry-picking which entails that I will not go into the historical details concerning, for instance, the systematic extermination of the Jewish people in, say, Poland during the early 1940s. Whereas the historical fact that the Nazis used the insecticide Zyklon-B as a means of getting rid of large numbers of camp prisoners is of immense importance if one wants to draw a decent picture of the essence of National Socialism, lengthy descriptions of the technical apparatus used in the process of mass murder seems to be of less significance in this regard. In any case I neither have the amount of pages nor the historical education needed to carry out such detailed analyses. My account of National Socialism will be put forward with a view to the essence of things – i.e. in the mode of Besinnung.

            Revealing the fascist core of National Socialism will be the first step of our investigation concerning whether or not Heidegger's later thought can be said to embody an essentially anti-fascist trend. In my account of the essence of National Socialism I will consult a recent publication that has already received quite some attention and renown: Robert O. Paxton's The Anatomy of Fascism from 2005.

            On Paxton's account ‘fascism’ can definitely be given specific characteristics, but any absolute definition will miss the crucial point, namely that fascism ushers in the transformation of politics into aesthetics. (Paxton 2005: 17) One of the main implications of this radical transformation of the public 'discourse' – or, perhaps, the abolition of any such – was that reasoned debate concerning what were to be done politically could no longer be pursued democratically. No 'true' consensus could be established because, as Paxton puts it, ”[t]he truth was whatever permitted the new fascist man (and woman) to dominate others, and whatever made the chosen people triumph.” (Ibid.: 16) As a consequence of this essentially idiosyncratic concept of truth and political decision making, the term 'fascism' cannot be used in the same definite way as, say, liberalism, conservatism and communism. These classical '-isms' can, more or less accurately, be given a proper definition whereas 'fascism' is principally impossible to define in absolute terms. When compared to the traditional political '-isms', fascism turns out to be, as Paxton says, a relatively 'disparate' phenomenon – its concrete manifestation varies in accordance with the particular people and state in question. In this way ”each fascist movement gives full expression to its own cultural particularism.” (Ibid.: 20) For these reasons Paxton wants to do away with the talk about fascist 'ideology', as if fascist regimes were based on a definite set of central dogmas. This view, we might mention, is in sharp contrast to the claims of fascist leaders who often stressed the centrality of ideas in their respective movements and political interventions. (See ibid.: 218) Nonetheless, on Paxton's account, fascism is not an intellectual invention. What is, on the other hand, an invention is the belief in ”[a] linear pedigree that leads directly from pioneer thinkers to finished fascism” (ibid.: 38). Consequently, the world's perhaps most famous – and in respect to our investigation most relevant – fascist leader, i.e. Adolf Hitler (1889-1945), cannot be reduced to the political by-product of a long tradition of philosophical industry destined to bring about mass oppression, systematic extermination of the enemy and the military state of exception. On the contrary, Hitler must be viewed as an extreme instantiation of the tendencies already thriving in the post-World War I Europe. ”The experience of World War I”, Paxton tells us, ”was the most decisive immediate precondition for fascism.” (Ibid.: 28) One of the traumas of World War I was the increasing fear for ”the collapse of community under the corrosive influences of free individualism.” (Ibid.: 35) This collective fear made the German people vulnerable and receptive towards the essentially reactionary and hostile rhetoric that in the end reduced all of their problems to be caused by 'the Jew' alone. This kind of rhetoric is exactly what one finds in Hitler's infamous Mein Kampf, which is considered to be the main text of the National Socialist movement. (See Olesen 2010: 73-75)

            At the beginning of my account of the fascist core of National Socialism I mentioned the radical transformation of politics into aesthetics. This meant first and foremost the abolition of reasoned debate and rational deliberation as the means of political decision making. Instead of, what seemed to them, long winded parliamentarism the fascist leader introduced affectivity as the means of drawing voters in a (still) democratic environment. In this way a fundamental shift took place as regards the mode of political action in general once the fascist leader had gained the power of government. The political has no longer anything to do with agreed and deliberate consensus between legally equal citizens, but – on the contrary – has to do with mass seduction and crowd persuasion. To illustrate the fascist 'aesthetification' of the political, Paxton describes Hitler's approach in the following way: ”He played skillfully upon the resentments and fears of ordinary Germans, in incessant public meetings spiced up by uniformed strong-arm squads, the physical intimidation of enemies, the exhilaration of excited crowds and fevered harangues, and dramatic arrivals by airplane and fast, open Mercedeses. [...] While the other parties were firmly identified with one interest, one class, or one political approach, the Nazis managed to promise something for everyone.” (Paxton 2005: 65-66) What we see is an intensely 'popularist' approach to the political as such. Now, the extreme popularism and vulgar will to power qua domination of the fascist Nazis grew to the extent that, according to Paxton, ”[w]ill and action became virtues in themselves, independently of any particular goal” (ibid.: 34). In this way fascist politics can be described as an essentially 'superficial' manifestation of the political due to its immediate arousal of the senses, its profoundly pathetic rhetoric, and its reactionary unification of the masses by virtue of pointing out the common enemy (in the case of Hitler and National Socialism 'the Jew') as its predominant mode of political practise. To support this view of the National Socialist propaganda I will mention what has recently been emphasized by Søren Gosvig Olesen, namely that the 'electrifying' speeches of the National Socialist leaders (including, and perhaps especially in the case of, Hitler) mainly consisted of ”a monotonous repetition of certain words [...] repeated in rhythmic disjunctions” (Olesen 2010: 21, [my translation]). To illustrate his point Olesen mentions the obsessive use of the German words 'Volk', 'Führer', 'Rasse', 'Deutschland', 'Vaterland', 'Nation', and 'Reich'. This obviously machinic rhetoric had a tremendous impact on the German language in general and altered it significantly – if only temporarily.

            Now that we have accounted for the relativization of truth, the transformation of politics into aesthetics, and the – historico-politically considered – fateful importance of mass seduction through essentially reactionary and pathetic rhetoric having an immediate sensual impact on the people due to its insistence on the enemy, we will take a look at the perhaps most essential strategy and tendency of National Socialism. In fascist states one of the most fundamental political moves is, on Paxton's account, ”to subordinate the individual to the community.” (Paxton 2005: 142) The traditional freedom of interchanging immersion into the private and the public sphere respectively is removed in order to enable a total control of the ontogenesis of the individual. To illustrate this we will point to the fact that ”[a]ll children in fascist states were supposed to be enrolled automatically in party organizations that structured their lives from childhood through university.” (Ibid.: 143) In National Socialist Germany nothing short of a revolution of youth culture took place between the end of 1932 and the beginning of 1939 where ”the Hitlerjugend expanded its share of the ten-to-eighteen age group from 1 percent to 87 percent.” (Ibid.: 144) By intensifying the degree of indoctrination of the children of the German people – i.e. its demographic future – the inherently fascist National Socialists were capable of, to put it sharply, having ”the public sphere swallow up the private sphere entirely” (ibid.). By thus uniting the German people through forced indoctrination from childhood on Hitler and his fascist regime were in a position to exercise their power in the attempt ”to control the national culture from the top, to purify it of foreign influences, and make it help carry the message of national unity and revival.” (Ibid.) In this way, we might sum up poetically, the essence of the kind of fascism known as National Socialism consists in the will(ingness) to force the hands of fate, and thus to consciously determine the destinal direction of a historical people from a finite point of view through the aesthetification of the political and the use of intensely popularist means in order to gain the sufficient amount of power needed. German National Socialism was an inherently fascist kind of politics, and today it shines forth as the perhaps clearest example of what happens when reactionary and vengeful tendencies within a people is persuaded and seduced to help bring about an apotheosis of a single finite human being, thus turning him (in the case of Hitler) into a seemingly omnipotent Godhead altering and annihilating the lives of others at will. Thus, in conclusion, National Socialism ought to be seen as an essentially fascist kind of politics, and we will now turn our attention towards the anti-fascism of Heidegger's later thought and the possibilities of a politics of Besinnung.

Towards a Politics of Besinnung

Now that we have seen that to think in the mode of Besinnung is the essence of Heidegger's later thought, and that the essence of Besinnung is to think with a view to Being and the essence of things, the time has come to make progress in regards to the political implications of Besinnung itself.

            In his lecture course on Friedrich Hölderlin's (1770-1843) hymn ‘Der Ister’, Heidegger makes several comments concerning politics. Politics, he tells us in 1942 during the Second World War, is today dominated by an essential and unconditional Fraglosigkeit. (See Heidegger 1993: 118) Contemporary politics is firmly planted in the mode of certainty. It is without the ability and will to doubt, it cannot question concerning the essence of the beings involved in its decision making processes, and thus it is lost and imprisoned in the realm of mere beings without a view to the truth of Being. It is, as Heidegger puts it, because the political is “die technisch-historische Grundgewissheit alles Handelns” that it is characterized by an essential questionlessness concerning itself. (Ibid.) In this way we see how Heidegger finds a fundamental connection between the essence of modern science and contemporary politics. With respect to their essence they are one and the same insofar as they are essentially characterized by questionlessness and Gegenständigkeit, insofar as they both are in the mode of Besinnungslosigkeit. Science and politics are both realms in which something is constantly being achieved, in which progress is made in a general sense. For this reason they are both examples of what Heidegger calls Betrieb, they are ongoing activity. (See Heidegger 1977: 83) “Besinnung”, Heidegger tells us, “ist weder für alle notwendig noch von jedem zu vollziehen oder auch nur zu ertragen. Im Gegenteil: Besinnungslosigkeit gehört weithin zu den bestimmten Stufen des Vollbringens und Betreibens.” (Ibid.: 96) Now, if we are to give meaning to the expression 'politics of Besinnung' we must, to begin with, present it as a radical alternative to the mode of contemporary politics, i.e. the mode defined in terms of technical-historical certainty, questionlessness and consequently Besinnungslosigkeit – and we will do so recalling that the obsessive preoccupation with mere beings due to the aesthetification of the political carried out by the fascist leaders of National Socialism amounts to nothing else than the same questionlessness and Besinnungslosigkeit. For this reason Heidegger's alternative to contemporary politics will also show itself to be a radical alternative to the National Socialist movement he so vigorously decided to support in early 1933.

            If, at all, we are to talk about a ’politics of Besinnung’ in relation to Heidegger's later thought we must do so in the following way. Heidegger invites us to get to know a fundamentally new possibility for our respective futures; a new way of dwelling having consequences for our choices as regards what to affirm and what to reject. The name of this new way of dwelling is, as we have already intimated, a politics of Besinnung. A politics of Besinnung has to do with the individual’s mode of political orientation for it has specific implications for the ways in which he/she is to ponder what to do, politically and otherwise. Heidegger’s conception of Besinnung has implications for the political as such, but only indirectly and in a negative sense, for it touches upon the life of the reader in a general and fundamental sense, and its foremost concern is that the Being of beings is made to appear in language. The accomplishment of Besinnung clears the path for the articulation of a poetic dwelling respecting the truth of Being, and in order to unpack this expression (i.e. a poetic dwelling respecting the truth of Being) I will consult Heidegger's 1954 text ‘Bauen Wohnen Denken’ (henceforth: BWD). But before I do that let us take a look at a passage from Heidegger's 1934-35 lecture course on Hölderlin’s two hymns ‘Germanien’ and ‘Der Rhein’:


”Wir hörten schon, dass das geschichtliche Dasein der Völker, Aufgang, Höhe und Untergang, aus der Dichtung entspringt und aus dieser das eigentliche Wissen im Sinne der Philosophie und aus beiden die Erwirkung des Daseins eines Volkes als eines Volkes durch den Staat – die Politik. Dies ursprüngliche, geschichtliche Zeit der Völker ist daher die Zeit der Dichter, Denker und Staatsschöpfer, d. h. derer, die eigentlich das geschichtliche Dasein eines Volkes gründen und begründen. Sie sind die eigentlich Schaffenden.” (Heidegger 1999: 51, [my emphasis])


We are told that the historical Dasein of a people (i.e. their Being or essence) emerges from out of poetry, and further that from out of poetry stems also the knowledge of philosophy and from both springs the making of the Dasein of the people qua people of the state, i.e. politics. 'Politics' is understood in terms of the completion of the Dasein of a historical people, it is their mode of dwelling, and dwelling, Heidegger teaches us, is closely connected to both building and thinking. In what sense? In order to understand human being as essentially political, we must first try to bring the relation between building and dwelling into question, and this is exactly what Heidegger does in BWD. Here Heidegger expounds the interconnectedness of the three activities, Bauen (building), Wohnen (dwelling) and Denken (thinking). Building, he tells us, is not carried out without a view to a certain kind of dwelling because building is essentially the active appropriation of the immediate surroundings in the midst of which living is always already taking place, and thus it is essentially characterized as a certain 'letting-dwell'. In this way, building is to be understood in terms of techné – a Greek word that Heidegger uses to designate a mode of revealing beings as a whole. (See, for instance, Heidegger 1994a: 72 or Heidegger 2000: 14) For this reason building is not to be reduced to a neutral production of, say, a table made of wood or a metal fence. Building is essentially a letting-dwell in the sense of an appropriation of one’s immediate surroundings with a view to a certain kind of living – whether or not it is known to be so by the particular carpenter or smith in question. Through building beings as a whole are made to appear in this or that specific way and thus building does not leave beings to themselves but appropriates them with a view to the particular dwelling in question. Thus, for Heidegger, dwelling is the more primordial of the two, from which it follows that ”[n]ur wenn wir das Wohnen vermögen, können wir bauen.” (Heidegger 2000: 162) Now, the intimate connection between and essential belonging together of building and dwelling can only be made to appear if we have already begun to think. Thinking, it turns out, is what is crucial in matters of building and dwelling. As Heidegger says concerning the fateful role of thinking in relation to the appearence of the interdependence of building and dwelling: ”Vielleicht kommt durch diesen Versuch, dem Wohnen und Bauen nachzudenken, um einiges deutlicher ans Licht, dass Bauen in das Wohnen gehört und wie es von ihm sein Wesen empfängt.” (Ibid.: 163)

            It is crucial to note that for Heidegger the thinking of the relation between building and dwelling ”in demselben Sinn wie das Bauen [...] in das Wohnen gehört” (ibid.). By taking this last remark into consideration it becomes clear that the kind of thinking advanced by Heidegger (i.e. Besinnung) is itself pointing in the direction of a certain kind of dwelling. This, we might add, is in accordance with the trail of thought pursued in the 1951-52 lecture course ‘Was heisst Denken?’ in which Heidegger makes manifest the way in which human beings are essentially ‘uninterpreted’ signs pointing in – for the human beings in question – unknown directions:


”Wir sind überhaupt nur wir und sind nur die, die wir sind, indem wir in das Sichentziehende weisen. Dieses Weisen ist unser Wesen. Wir sind, indem wir in das Sichentziehende zeigen. Als der dahin Zeigende ist der Mensch der Zeigende. [...] Was in sich, seiner eigensten Verfassung nach, etwas Zeigendes ist, nennen wir ein Zeichen. Auf dem Zug in das Sichentziehende gezogen, ist der Mensch ein Zeichen. Weil jedoch dieses Zeichen in solches zeigt, das sich entzieht, kann das Zeigen das, was sich da entzieht, nicht unmittelbar deuten. Das Zeichen bleibt so ohne Deutung.” (Heidegger 2000: 135)


From this it clearly follows that Heidegger must himself be seen as an uninterpreted sign, but in contrast to so many other signs his thinking disables the pointing in certain directions in order to safeguard the truth of Being. The direction in which the sign of Heidegger points is the setting up of protection and the building of defences against human decadence in the form of, say, fascist politics transforming human beings into greedy masters of Being itself. On Heidegger's account this transformation of human beings into spurious masters of Being can never be accomplished for the following, phenomenologically cogent reason: ”Der Mensch kann zwar dieses oder jenes so oder so vorstellen, gestalten und betreiben. Allein, über die Unverborgenheit, worin sich jeweils das Wirkliche ziegt oder entzieht, verfügt der Mensch nicht. […] Der Denker hat nur dem entsprochen, was sich ihm zusprach.” (Heidegger 2000: 18) Human beings are always already in the midst of a certain clearing that reveals beings as a whole in a specific way – this holds true in the case of fascist leaders as well as in the case of Heidegger himself. The clearing towards which the sign of Heidegger is pointing is the enabling condition for a poetic dwelling respecting the truth of Being. But in order for this kind of dwelling and its enabling clearing to be brought about man must first have taken upon himself the task of being ”der Hirt des Seins” (Heidegger 1994b: 71). As the shepherd of Being man struggles to fight back the scientifically decadent and politically fascist attempts to force the hands of fate, as we saw in the case of National Socialism, and he/she does so out of an essential concern for Being itself. That Being comes to presence in such a way that it conceals its ownmost coming to presence is what Heidegger calls ”das Gefährlichste der Gefahr.” (Ibid.: 68) In order for human beings in the mode of fascism to appear as the masters Being, Being must itself always already have been furnished with a determinate phenomenal appearance, and if this has been done successfully, if human beings are made to tacitly believe in the possibility of an ontic intimacy with Being itself, Being is exactly what has been lost out of sight, and thus the value and questionworthiness concerning Being as the essence and truth of beings has vanished just as well. In this way human beings are made to dwell in the mode of Besinnungslosigkeit without a view to neither essence nor origin, lost in the obsessive preoccupation with mere beings.

            From these considerations it now follows that the three activities so essential to human being – building, dwelling and thinking – are only truly connected when 'proper' dwelling is brought about through thoughtful building itself. Proper dwelling, for Heidegger, is in need of both building and thinking, but it does not take place until building and thinking is made to listen to one another and thus 'practically' pay heed to what the other activity is pursuing. Only when building listens to thinking and thus becomes thoughtful, only when thinking listens to building and thus becomes constructive is proper dwelling allowed to be in the first place. The achievement of proper dwelling on earth is the meaning of poetic dwelling respecting the truth of Being. Proper dwelling is 'poetic' insofar as it manages to appropriate the immediate surroundings in the mode of human productivity (i.e. building), and it takes place 'respecting the truth of Being' due to its view to the essence of things (i.e. thinking) functioning as an immanent heuristics for the particular historical people in question.

            Thus, we are now in a position to reaffirm that Heidegger understands the primordial task of thinking to be that of rendering the inconspicuous state of affairs always already propriating within beings as a whole worthy of questioning. Only if thinking has itself become thoughtprovoking can Heidegger's philosophical ambitions be said to have been fulfilled (cf. Heidegger 2000: 130), and in the specific context of BWD his ambitions are fulfilled if and only if, as we saw, dwelling and building have themselves become worthy of questioning. If this has happened, if dwelling and building has indeed become worthy of questioning, the reader – depending on his/her biographically unique set of dispositions and aesthetic preferences in relation to becoming open to Being – is enabled to bring about proper dwelling, which will take place when the reader together with his/her fellow human beings ”aus dem Wohnen bauen und für das Wohnen denken.” (Ibid.: 164)

            Now, in order to let the political potential of Heidegger's later thought appear in concreto we will now make the attempt to flesh out the kind of political praxis that only thrives in the mode of Besinnung. Reflecting on the essence of philosophy Heidegger says the following: ”Das Entscheidende in der Philosophie [...] besteht im Fragen, im Standhalten in der Frage.” (Heidegger 1999: 41) If the essence of philosophy is indeed the act of Besinnung – i.e. 'Standhalten in der Frage' –, and further that the act of Besinnung constitutes the essence of Heidegger's later thought, we are now in a position to say that a politics of Besinnung is a politics that does not succumb to satisfy the immediate hence unquestioned needs and desires of, say, demanding voters in a democratic milieu. Due to its inherent anti-popularism a politics of Besinnung is, in this way, constantly threatened within the boundaries of constitutively representative democracies governed like corporate businesses within the parameters of a globalized capitalist economy. It calls for a political praxis altogether different. It calls for a praxis that enables thoughtful deliberation and wholehearted questioning to thrive in the face of political decision making concerning the future of the particular society and people in question. In short, it calls for the act of Besinnung itself to be integrated into the lives of voters and politicians – in the case of democratic societies. But due to its essential anti-fascism a politics of Besinnung can only be brought about gradually through local changes. It is about a political attitude – not about a particular party program or other. To illustrate this we will mention the following examples as possible interventions that might be able to catalyse the actualization of a genuine politics of Besinnung. A politics of Besinnung would entail a radical revision of the majority of primary schools in, for instance, Denmark. It would entail that the students learn to value and respect wanderlust and questioning instead of epistemic arrogance and objective certainty, that they learn to relate autonomously to their homework assignments instead of following a schematic instruction given to them beforehand. It would, on the other hand, also entail that teachers in primary schools are educated so that they learn to recognize the virtues just mentioned as of more importance than the final exam results of the students. It would entail that the canteens were made to prioritize healthy food and fresh water enabling the students to learn more attentively and question more vigorously, and to devalue tempting candy and sugary beverages that only make the students feel tired and dull their minds eventually generating more noise and frustration in the classrooms than would otherwise have been the case. The list of examples exhibiting concrete political interventions in the name of Besinnung could obviously be extended much further if not simply indefinitely, but we will leave it at that and turn to the concluding section of my paper.


Politics of Besinnung is the name for any political intervention that concretely promotes the virtues of Heideggerian thinking which, as we have seen, essentially consists in a radical openness to and respect for Being and a profound concern for and curiosity as regards beings as a whole. Only through such a political practice are human beings in a position to clear the genuine space for a poetic dwelling respecting the truth of Being. Only if human beings accomplish to bring about a political practice that concerns itself with the Being of beings by embodying a degree of humility and awe towards the act of Besinnung is hope kindled for a future world without the fascist terrors of the 20th century. This implies that it will not always be easy to come up with pragmatic solutions in the face of problems, and it also implies that the inner meaning of a politics of Besinnung will not be exhausted in any particular party program. As Heidegger says in ‘Brief über den »Humanismus«’:


”Der Mensch muss, bevor er spricht, erst vom Sein sich wieder ansprechen lassen auf die Gefahr, dass er unter diesem Anspruch wenig oder selten etwas zu sagen hat. Nur so wird dem Wort die Kostbarkeit seines Wesens, dem Menschen aber die Behausung für das Wohnen in der Wahrheit des Seins wiedergeschenkt.” (Heidegger 1976: 150-151)


Whereas for some a politics of Besinnung will always remain a politics of silence and thus altogether not an option, for others it will bring itself to language and speak forth in the voice of Being. But it will only be able to do so if the preservers of Being has already emerged in the sphere of the political.


l  Heidegger, Martin – GA 9 (Wegmarken), 1976, Vittorio Klostermann

l  Heidegger, Martin – GA 5 (Holzwege), 1977, Vittorio Klostermann

l  Heidegger, Martin – GA 7 (Vorträge und Aufsätze), 2000, Vittorio Klostermann

l  Heidegger, Martin - GA 31 (Vom Wesen der menschlichen Freiheit), 1994a, Vittorio Klostermann

l  Heidegger, Martin – GA 39 (Hölderlins Hymnen »Germanien« und »Der Rhein«), 1999, Vittorio Klostermann

l  Heidegger, Martin – GA 53 (Hölderlins Hymne »Der Ister«), 1993, Vittorio Klostermann

l  Heidegger, Martin – GA 65 (Beiträge zur Philosophie), 1989, Vittorio Klostermann

l  Heidegger, Martin – GA 79 (Bremer und Freiburger Vorträge), 1994b, Vittorio Klostermann

l  Olesen, Søren Gosvig, Hitler. En introduktion, 2010, Gyldendal

l Paxton, Robert – The Anatomy of Fascism, 2005, Penguin Books