The “World-Jewry” as a Misnomer for “The Globalists”: Heidegger and Anti-Semitism
The publication of Martin Heidegger’s Black Notebooks is followed inevitably by an expanding industry of scholarly publications on Heidegger’s “anti-Semitism”. Exposed to the unabashed and loaded terms that he attributed to a community of people, such as “world-Jewry”, “gifted with calculation”, and so on, people who work on Heidegger split roughly into three categories. The first group is composed of those who are always-already convinced of Heidegger’s staunch Nazism. In the second group, one finds those who try, as much as possible, to avoid Heidegger’s political engagement, or the so-called, Heidegger the Man, and to focus entirely on his philosophical writings, which, they assume, can stand without the biography of its author. To these two tired perspectives, one should make the recent addition of a new group of scholars who try to suggest a subtler approach, without jumping to these two extremes. As of now, it is not yet clear what this third group wants to achieve. It seems that two very simple and interrelated questions are lurking behind their sharp acumen: Was Heidegger an evil person? And does the preceding question even matter?
Having no interest (nor hope) in turning the tables on Heidegger the Man, the third group seems to have been questioning the nature of being evil itself. Yet, just as its members refrain from both drawing hasty conclusions and not drawing conclusions, what they are trying to ascertain in their questioning also withdraws from them. This conundrum derives from the liberal topos in which they raise their question, namely the academia. What is to be ascertained in the questioning that questions evil itself proves inaccessible from an established liberal perspective with its unilateral belief in progress, development and growth (call it, “the brighter side of western modernity”). To have such an access, the “Heidegger’s anti-Semitism” industry first needs to resolve the very crisis of global modernity; that is to say, it needs come to terms with the darker side of western modernity (colonisation, domination, poverty, misery, inequities, injustices, commodification, and dispensability of human life) and grasp it as its own co-original twin. That would have an equalizing impact on the questioning, in the sense of shattering the unidirectional belief in the brighter side, which then would make it possible for the one who questions to get over the very Eurocentric framework within which one thinks.
If one indeed effects such a transformation in comportment, then it would become evident that what Heidegger calls “world-Jewry” is a misnomer for what one has begun to hear, albeit timidly, in the back-corridors of liberal thought itself, namely, the Globalist. The Globalist is a notion which seems to replace the Capitalist of the earlier century. It refers to a group of people who greatly benefit from the unlimited spread of market economy, modern technology and cultural homogenization. Does such a group of people exist? Yes. Are they all exclusively Jewish? Of course, not. Which question is relevant depends not only on the one who does the questioning (an upper-middle class academic in a western institution or a displaced Syrian family who has been living in a refugee camp in Lesbos) but also on how one does the questioning.
Living in a period where globalization was at its zenith (more precisely, the period which is associated with “high imperialism”), just like the fish, George Miller mentioned, who will be the last to discover water, Heidegger also lacked the vocabulary to articulate the very object of his thought, and he damningly misattribute it to an abstract concept that he called world-Jewry. Precisely in this sense, one is perhaps no less mistaken than Heidegger, if one solely focuses on a national narrative – in other words, if one fails to situate Heidegger in a period of rapidly changing global conditions. This is one of the aspects of how the industry of Heidegger’s anti-Semitism is undermined by the very accusations it raises against Heidegger: It creates a polemic at the level of a nation-state where no reconciliation can be found, for the issue is a global one. Neither Heidegger the Man nor the Thinker can thus be adequately understood from a Eurocentric perspective which does not hesitate to draw a line of continuity from Athens to the Shoah. Heidegger is both an agent and a symptom of a globalising world, to say the least, not a thinker living in the utopia of impossible continuities.
This nation-based internalist Eurocentrism is important for another aspect as well: the moral narrative and the monopoly on the vanishing point of the narrative. The moral narrative through which liberals endow history with meaning and direction consists in making the brighter side of western modernity visible while hiding and excluding its darker side as much as possible; and the vanishing point of this moral narrative is the Shoah. Yet, globalization constitutes a set of forces which cannot be kept eternally in such a narrative. Among others, the economic rise of China and the collapse of the moral authority of the United States prepare the possibility of the emergence of new narratives with different vanishing points. The world changes. The darker side can no longer be kept in the attic. The disenchantment is disenchanted. The end of history has ended.
With these global changes, the questions one directs at Heidegger also change. If one takes a step out of the Eurocentric container in which almost the entire industry of Heidegger’s anti-Semitism takes place (with the exception of a very recent publication entitled Heidegger and the Global Age), one would see that history does not revolve around Heidegger, but rather what Heidegger essentially does is to give a particular response to a rapidly globalising world from his own particular situation anchored in a so-called “belated nation”. To understand Heidegger, one should begin with not taking what he says for granted, but, rather, with breaking the cult that has accreted around him so as to contextualise him. As such, it will also be clear why his legacy was and is received with such great popularity in countries like Russia, Japan, Iran, China and so on – namely, not the inherent value of his ideas but the constellations of global conditions that make them relevant.