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"Measuring the Millennial Moment of Globalization
against Heidegger's Summer Semester 1935,
and Other Politically Incorrect Remarks"

Theodore Kisiel
Northern Illinois University
DeKalb, IL

© 2001, Theodore Kisiel

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"Globalization" has literally become one of the most current of the modish concepts of the new millennium. Among other things, it conjures the very current image of a lightning-speed electronic circulation of vast sums of currency whipping around the world's financial markets in a global cash flow whose reverberations sometimes verge on a cascading collapse. Such a globally impelled "crash," whether by impersonal market forces or by computer hackers, would make the worldwide depression of 1929, at least in its velocity of impact, pale in insignificance, For globalization is essentially a time-space term, i. e., a dynamic term which spells out an infinite velocity in manoseconds through its virtual abolition of space into bilocative simultaneity and its instantaneous reduction of time differences. Of greatest interest is the movement that occurs literally across the surface of our "globe," therefore around the world understood as "the late great planet earth," if I might borrow a phrase from another millennial thinker of our late century. Small wonder that Hal Lindsey has recently added the new buzz-word "globalization" to the list of apocalyptic revelations already found in the old Bible to prefigure Armaggeddon.

But today we are interested in another millennial thinker earlier in our late great 20th century. For Martin Heidegger, as a German citizen as well as a philosopher and university teacher, had to face his own Armaggeddon forewarned by dire predictions of the decline of the West. Heidegger, in 1935 already an established philosopher of be-ing and time, space and the world, was himself no stranger to the modern historical phenomenon of globalization if not yet the precise word. For the early twentieth century had already undergone the first of two global world wars and the worldwide economic depression when Heidegger's native Germany proclaimed with much fanfare the rise of a millennial Third Reich as its indigenous home-grown response to the forces of globalization then working on it at the heart of old Europe, both from within and from without. As late as SS 1935, Heidegger is still hoping against hope that the "philosophy of National Socialism" would find its way to "its inner truth and greatness" as a movement and countermovement, which for him meant finding its way to a uniquely German resolution to the widespread crisis developing from the "encounter of globally defined [planetarischen] technology and modern man" (EM 152).1 We now know that this remark in the 1953 edition postdates the 1935 course by at least a year or two, when Heidegger first began to see clearly that technology was the essential driving force of globalization, serving to account for the phenomenon of total mobilization that Ernst Jünger first saw emerging during the First World War, for the titanic dimensions of the worldwide depression emanating from American capitalism and, worst of all, for the monstrous giganticism of total politization of a totalitarianism (already called a "total state" by the budding Nazi political philosopher, Carl Schmitt, in 1931).

But from our present vantage of post-Y2K 2000, having for the time being survived the dreaded cyberdisaster of the internetted worldwide web of communication and its functional distribution of all of our energy resources and services, and having witnessed the global giganticism of systematic holocausts by a passing parade of superpowers, the scope of an interpol police network of spy satellites astronomically capitalized by megacorporate mergers, the convenience of stratospheric transportation networks and satellitic transmission of instantaneous media events that enwrap the "global village" at every hour of the day by CNN, I believe it is worth looking back at Heidegger's course of SS 1935 and its first halting steps of developing a sense of the global essence of technology, in order to measure just how prescient Heidegger was, both in his earliest descriptions of the phenomenon of globalization and in his projected analysis of its consequences. Even his reactionary "folksy" (völkische) solution to the problem of globalization is worth revisiting, in view of similar recurrent reactions up to the present day, by way of protests against the World Bank and International Monetary Fund in Seattle and in Washington D. C., reactions in the Third World countries and even in the backwoods of advanced nations, like Jörg Haider's Carinthia deep in the Austrian Alps. We need only to punch in "globalization" into our search engine in order to witness the worldwide reaction from a multitude of locales to the devastating disruptions to the local traditions and mores of life of indigenous cultures brought on by the impersonal forces of capitalist globalization. The latest attempts to overcome the tensions between the global and the local have in fact led to a variety of ingenious regional accommodations epitomized by the Aufhebung of the new one liner, "Think globally, act locally."

SS 1935

To begin with, much of the famous pincers passage in SS 1935 is worth mulling over line by precious line for its prescient insights into globalization from a Eurocentric vantage point:

This Europe, in its unholy blindness always at the point of cutting its own throat, lies today in the great pincers between Russia on the one side and America on the other. Russia and America are, when viewed metaphysically, both the same: the same hopeless frenzy of unchained technology and of the boundless organization of the average man. When the farthest corner of the globe [Erdball, terrestial globe vs. terra firma] has been technically conquered and can be economically exploited; when any incident you like, in any place you like, at any time you like, becomes accessible as fast as you like; when you can simultaneously “experience” an assassination attempt against a king in France and a symphony concert in Tokyo; when time is nothing but speed, instantaneity, and simultaneity, and time as history has vanished from the Dasein of all peoples; when a boxer counts as the great man of a people; when the tallies of millions at mass meetings are a triumph; then, yes then, there still looms like a specter over all this uproar the question: what for? — where to? — and what then? [ short, the question of be-ing of the 20th century...]

We [Germans] lie in the pincers. Our people [das deutsche Volk], standing in the center [the very "heart" of Europe], suffers the most intense pressure — our people, the people richest in neighbors and hence the most endangered people, and for all that, the metaphysical people. We are sure of this vocation; but this people will secure a fate for itself from its vocation only when it creates in itself a resonance, a possibility of resonance for this vocation, and comprehends its tradition creatively. All this implies that this people, as an historical people, can expose itself, and with it the history of the West, from the center of their future happening, to the originary realm of the powers of be-ing. Precisely if the great decision regarding Europe is not to fall upon the path of annihilation — precisely then can this decision come about only through the development of new, historically spiritual forces from the center. (EM 28-29)

From our vantage of post-Y2K, there are a few remarkable features of this passage that immediately stand out (= 4 extended remarks on the pincers passage):

1. Radio Time. The instantaneity and the simulaneity of the time technologized by global communication, which for Heidegger abolishes the time of situated history, the time of Da-sein, in 1935 reflects the media of the radio along with the wire services, but just as readily also reflects with uncanny foresight the more sophisticated media systems of 2001. One needs only to replace "boxer" with "basketball superstar" or any visiting celebrity you liked from Planet Hollywood to slightly update the examples of the power of multimedia simulcasts to create our heroes, and villains. Indeed, the remark on "the tallies of millions at mass meetings are a triumph" could have been a sly critique of the much publicized Nuremberg rallies of 1933 and 1934 carried by radio. Leni Riefenstahl's film glorifying National Socialism, "The Triumph of the Will," would be based on the 1935 mass political rally. Ironically, Heidegger himself used the radio in 1932 to announce why he preferred the radio-free solitude of the Black Forest to the hub-bub of the Berlin chair of philosophy, preferring German Boden (peasant ground) over metropolitan Asphalt.

2. Philosophical Geopolitics. This unabashedly Eurocentric and Germanocentric text reflects, virtually to a cliché, the geopolitics of beleaguered Mitteleuropa in the first third of the 20th century, which quite naturally became the guiding idea of the Nazi foreign policy of expansionism in portraying Germany as the "endangered nation in the middle."3 But Heidegger transposes this squeezed "German Dasein" in the land-locked vice-like grip imposed by the "lay of the land" (Lage) of Europe first to the metaphysical level, which means to apprize Germany, along with Russia, America, and other seemingly geographical entities, "in regard to their world character and their relationship to spirit" (EM 34). The facticity of geography and the geopolitics that it has induced in the course of the "world history of the earth" (EM 34) are turned into questions of metaphysics by way of the idealistic concepts of spirit, spiritual world, and its world history. Geographical location (Lage) is thereby transposed into the unique "spiritual position" (geistige Lage: EM 34) in which Germany, "the metaphysical people" most threatened by its abundance of "neighboring" folk, found itself philosophically and temperamentally in the fin-de-siècle period now burdened by the traumas of defeat in war and its territorial-economic aftermath, and squeezed on two fronts from without as well as within by the two most advanced global technological "isms" of the century. On the one front, Germany is threatened by the "spirit of capitalism" (Max Weber's phrase) and, on the other, by its metaphysical kin, the "specter" (the Communist Manifesto's opening line: cf. EM 29) of Bolshevism then "haunting" Europe and the entire planet. "But geopolitics conducts us back again from the earth and the planet to the world and to the world as a world of spirit. Geopolitics is none other than a Weltpolitik of spirit."2

Heidegger will eventually go one step further in shifting geopolitical entities from their physical location and spiritual position of a worldview to a third site, the ontological site of the concrete Da-sein of a people in its particular history, which, following the clues of ancient Greek tragedy, he will call the povli". By this transposition, the "history of be-ing" that defines the West's history from ancient Greek Da-sein to modern German Da-sein itself becomes a ontological geopolitics, a term which Heidegger never uses but which suggests itself through his use of its commonplaces, images, and quasi-geographical oppositions like East and West, Greek and German. Geopolitics is a discipline that came into full flourish in the First World War, which itself was commonly understood "spiritually" as a "clash of contending worldviews." Broadly defined, geopolitics is a study of the international politics and power relations that develop from the geographical juxtaposition of indigenous peoples, each with its unique character shaped by its particular domestic environment, beginning with the natural landscape (e.g. Schlageter's Schwarzwald) with its natural resources and viable occupations (e.g. agrarian vs. maritime) and extending to the tradition that each locale cultivates, its customs, folklore, popular mythos, art, all of which are embodied in a common language. To express these two elements of folk environment, Heidegger will develop two poietic-ontological concepts. The ways and mores of a folk's inhabitation joined in a unifying style is named h\qo" (= Brauch: tradition, custom, usage), environmentally "the habit of a habitat"; and the bodenständig(keit) (indigenous, native, autochthonous: EM 30) character of a people is used to express its rootedness in a native land or homeland and attachment to that Vaterland. NS-geopolitics was based on both blood and soil (Blut und Boden) to justify its demands for appropriate "living space" and its policy of displacing non-Germanic populations from their lands, and worse. A geopolitics of the master race has as little room for ethnic pluralism as does technological globalization with its abstract impersonal levelling of all regional differences. Despite his linguistic chauvinism of a Greek-German Dasein with its proud reputation and destiny of being an enlightened "nation of poets and thinkers," Heidegger could write a 1937 essay, "Ways toward Linguistic Interchange," in which he invites the "poets and thinkers" of neighboring France to assume their own historical mission in the struggle (Kampf) for the "salvation of the Occident" from the "metaphysical essence of technology." The struggle is therefore against the wholesale deracination of ethnic pluralism among the Western nations, through the levelling brought about not only by technological globalization but also by the cosmopolitan universalism promoted since Kant and the Enlightenment and impelled so powerfully by the French Revolution, an abstract universalism which threatens to level us all into rootless "citizens of the world," cosmo-politans.

3. Totalitarian Giganticism. Shortly after the pincers passage in the 1935 course, in a fleeting passage that is easily overlooked, we read that the counterfeit of spirit called "intelligence" is not only perverted to the goals of international capitalism and communism but also to the goals of "organizing and directing the vital resources and race of a people" (EM 36) thus to the goals of the Nazi state, which, according to one apologist, "Heidegger of course did not name explicitly, but which was recognizable to all his auditors" (Christian Lewalter). If this is the case, then the practice of German National Socialism itself is, already in 1935, "metaphysically the same" as that of Americanism and Bolshevism.

But it was only after Hitler's announcement of the "Four Year Plan" over a year later in September 1936 and the resulting impact that this "total mobilization" of the German military-industrial complex, tacitly in preparation for a total war in four years, would have on the universities that we find the first true evidence of wholesale, albeit (as usual) discreet, resistance to state policy and planning on the part of Heidegger. With this 'total' entry into the industrial and arms race in preparation for a war of world domination, National Socialism, purportedly in search of geopolitical 'living space' and scarce natural resources, unequivocally places itself on the same metaphysical plane as capitalism and communism. The "movement" purportedly in search of its uniquely German roots now levels itself, like them, to a mere technological worldview with a global bent toward world domination. At this point, Heidegger gives up his fading hope of a difference in the decisions made by narrow-minded party functionaries like Rosenberg and Baeumler and those made by Hitler himself, the statesman whose originative deeds would create a new state and the higher order of a "nation of poets and thinkers." After he develops a more refined sense of the essence of technology regarded as the completion and end of Western metaphysics, Heidegger will characterize Hitler as the supreme technician of a System as much being imposed upon him as manipulated by him, by way of a shrewd calculative thinking totally devoid of any vestige of the deliberation-of- sense (Besinnung) or meditative thinking required of the statesman.3 In his first approximation of the metaphysical essence of technology in "The Age of the World Picture"(talk in June 1938), which revisits the pincers passage three years later in order to characterize the geopolitical situation as a "struggle of global worldviews" ( 87/134f),4 Heidegger explicitly names the "national socialist philosophies... the laborious fabrications of such contradictory products," (92/140) as being among such worldviews (but as usual, discreetly, in an appendix that was not read!). He singles out the phenomenon of the "gigantic" (das Riesige: also the "titanic, colossal, mammoth... monstrous!") that appears in various guises and disguises in the course of the technological conquest of the "world as picture"--referring not just to the oversized machines, the "Behemoths,"5 but also the gigantic numbers of atomic physics, annihilation of mammoth distances by the airplane and radio, etc.--and observes that this manifold phenomenon of giganticism cannot be explained by the catchword "Americanism" and its presumed worship of bigness (87f/135) e.g. in Hoover dams and Ford assembly plants. For "Americanism itself is something European" (103/153), and the modern worldviews that come from Europe develop their own gigantic displays e.g. in propaganda ... "when the tallies of millions at mass meetings are a triumph"! Titanic giganticism is but one of the results of the "global" thrust of modern technology, already manifesting its totalizing consequences in the early 20th century in global phenomena like the world war and the worldwide economic depression, then developing into the Nazi juggernaut and Leviathans of totalitarian fascism and communism, and nowadays, global capitalism.

Globalization thus continues to define the rest of the history of the 20th century, as Heidegger notes in his 1966 Spiegel interview (206/54),6 which we who have managed to survive him to the very brink of the millennial Y2K "know" all too well, at least by way of acclimatization. Is it a betrayal of Heidegger's thoroughly backward peasant provincialism when he confesses his fright upon seeing the first pictures of the earth beamed from outer space by satellites? We now truly have the global "world as picture" constructed by human subjects, the lords of the late great planet earth. "We don't even need an atom bomb; the uprooting of human beings has already occurred. All we have is purely technological relationships. There is no longer an earth [Erde] upon which man now lives and dwells" (206/55), but only a global Erdball, a terrestrial globe, a planet, an errant wandering star. In the same context (which discusses the key sentences in EM), the old Heidegger poses another question that is still quite relevant today, after the fall of the Wall (but not Wall Street), in our own epoch of super-globalization: "How can any political system be coordinated to the technological age, and which political system would that be? I know of no answer to this question. I am not convinced that it is democracy" (206/54). Clearly, terms like globalization and its totalitarian effects, the political, democracy, the earth (as local-mythical dwelling place versus planetary- technological globe), modern versus postmodern, the relation of the earth and the world versus the earth-globe and its worldviews, etc., need clarification and thoughtful coordination. With the emergence of the category of the gigantic, even the favored Heideggerian term "greatness" (Größe) has acquired a powerful ambiguity, in becoming quantitative magnitude (Größe). Is this now Hitler's and so National Socialism's "greatness"? Does Hitler's response to his time reach the "stature" (Größe) of the hero of a Greek tragedy, as the Holocaust revisionists would have it? Or is this a travesty of language, its "monstrosity," a parody created by the global inflation of publicity and propaganda, such that "a boxer counts as the great man of a people" (EM 28)? The increasing availability of the Heideggerian intertext may help in clarifying the development of the constellation of these basic terms. But if only we had the Collected Edition on CD-Rohm: an instant index!

4. Regional Autochthony versus Globalization. In view of its constant recurrence up to the present day, is the conservative response to the onslaughts of impersonal globalization merely reactionary, or does it contain the seed of a genuine human resolution? For this global giganticism is still in need of appropriate historical counterbalances to cope with the homogenization and other depersonalizing hazards that it entails. Heidegger was dead right in siting the tendency toward globalization in the collective com-positing (Ge-Stell) of the artefact of technology, understood as the completion and denouement of modernism's will to power. But his attempt to look beyond this age of technological globalization in order to sense its drift into the new lifestyle of postmodernity still looks for a new autochthony (Bodenständigkeit) "which could one day even be apropos for recalling the now rapidly vanishing old autochthony in a changed configuration." In the meantime, he is willing to wait. Looking out for this new autochtony calls for the attitude of "letting things be, allowing them to take their course, and openness to the mystery [of technology and its globalization]."7

The old Heidegger is perhaps not flexible enough to completely overcome his völkisch lifestyle with its conservative nostalgia for local tradition, roots, origins, that at an earlier stage in his career prompted him to opt for NS, admired for its promised völkisch resolution to the pervasive "encounter of globally defined technology and modern man." But the technocratic turn taken by NS made it subject to the same metaphysical critique that Heidegger exacts against the two totalitarian prongs of the pincers squeezing Germany on two fronts in beleaguered Central Europe, the capitalism (or positivism) of America and its obverse technological twin of communism. Since the much dreaded "Americanism" under the guise of expanding the "market economy" has now gained the upper hand as we enter our millennium, the Eurocentric structures of globalization schematized in the course of SS 1935 and excoriated by the young Jürgen Habermas in 1953, in a career-defining moment, provide at least a notorious benchmark to measure the degree and kind of globalization that we have willy-nilly undergone across the century, and to assess the solutions offered to counteract the downside of technocratic capitalism, solutions like multicultural diversity and the Heideggerian quest for a poietically individuated ecology for dwelling on the earth. What then is the most appropriate idiom for our millennial "home page": mythical language or disseminative language or both (e.g. as in Fin-again's Wake), ethical appeal, ecological romanticism, plain science fiction, or a more Eastern blend of Dionysus and Apollo? Obviously, each region, homeland, site for dwelling must adapt its unique home idiom to the new global reality, while it takes into account how other locales survive the adaptation.


© 2001, Theodore Kisiel



1. EM = Martin Heidegger, Einführung in die Metaphysik (Tübingen: Niemeyer, 1953). English Translation by Gregory Fried and Richard Polt, Introduction to Metaphysics (New Haven: Yale UP, 2000), with the Niemeyer German pagination in the margins. This course of Summer Semester 1935 also appears in the Heidegger Gesamtausgabe, Volume 40 edited by Petra Jaeger.

2. Jacques Derrida, Of Spirit: Heidegger and the Question, translated by G. Ben-nington and R. Brown (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1989), pp. 45-46.

3. Martin Heidegger, "Überwindung der Metaphysik" (1936-46) Vorträge und Aufsätze (Pfullingen:Neske, 1954), pp. 71-99, esp. pp. 94 and 96. English translation by Joan Stambaugh in Martin Heidegger, The End of Philosophy (New York: Harper & Row, 1973), pp. 64-110, esp. pp. 105 and 107. References are to no. XXVI of this collection of notes, a note that was written no earlier than late 1942.

4. The following page references are to Martin Heidegger, "Die Zeit des Weltbildes," Holzwege (Frankfurt: Klostermann, 1951), pp. 69-104. English translation by William Lovitt, The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays (San Francisco: Harper Colophon, 1977), pp. 115-154.

5. A biblical monster that soon became a common name for the German war machine. By the time of his talk, Heidegger could have cited another example of German giganticism, the ill-fated German dirigible "Hindenburg," which burst into awesome flames in Lakehurst, NJ, on May 7, 1937. "Oh the Luminosity!" cried the radio announcer in tearful anguish.

6. The following page references are to "'Nur noch ein Gott kann uns retten': Spiegel-Gespräch mit Martin Heidegger am 23. September 1966," Der Spiegel 33 (May 31, 1976), pp. 193-219. English translation by Lisa Harries, "'Only a God Can Save Us': Spiegel Interview with Martin Heidegger," G. Neske and E. Kettering (eds.), Martin Heidegger and National Socialism (New York: Paragon, 1990), pp. 41-66.

7. Martin Heidegger, Gelassenheit (Pfullingen: Neske, 1959), p. 26. English translation by John M. Anderson and E. Hans Freund, Discourse on Thinking (New York: Harper & Row, 1966), p. 55.

© 2001, Theodore Kisiel

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