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Lukács, Heidegger and Fascism

sacrificing the majesty of the masses and the positivity of their practices to the discourses and the
illusions of a few dozen ‘non-representative’ individuals. In the labyrinth of their real and imaginary
travels, I simply wanted to follow the thread of two
guiding questions: What paradoxical route led these
deserters, who wanted to tear themselves free from
the constraints of proletarian existence, to come to
forge the image and the discourse of working class
identity? And what new forms of false construction
affect that paradox when the discourse of workers
infatuated with the night of the intellectuals meets
the discourse of intellectuals infatuated with the
glorious working days of the masses? That is a question we should ask ourselves. But it is a question
immediately experienced within the contradictory relations between the proletariat of the night and the
prophets of the new world – Saint-Simonians, Icarians
or whatever. For, if it is indeed the word of
‘bourgeois’ apostles which creates or deepens a crack
in their daily round of work through which some
workers are drawn into the twists and turns of another
life, the problems begin when the preachers want to
change those twists and turns into the true, straight
road that leads to the dawn of New Labour. They want
to cast their disciples in their identity as good
soldiers of the great militant army and as prototypes
of the worker of the future. Surely, the SaintSimonian workers, blissfully listening to these words
of love, lose even more of that tough workers’ identity that the calling of New Industry requires. And,
looking at the matter from the other direction,
surely the Icarian proletariat will be able to rediscover that identity only by discrediting the
fatherly teachings of their leader.

Perhaps these are so many missed opportunities,
dead-ends of a utopian education, where edifying
Theory will not long delude itself that it can see
the path to self-emancipation beaten out for any
proletariat that is instructed in Science. The
tortuous arguments of L’Ateliep, the first great newspaper ‘made by the workers themselves’, suggest in
advance what the agents detailed to spy on the
workers’ associations which emerged from this twist-

ing path were to discover with surprise: that once
he is master of the instruments and the products of
his labour, the worker cannot manage to convince himself that he is working ‘in his own interest’.

Nonetheless, we should not be too quick to rejoice
at recognising the vanity of the path to emancipation
in this paradox. We may discover tha.t obstinate
initial question with even greater force: What precisely is it that the worker can pursue in his own
intepest? What exactly is at work in the strange
attempt to rebuild the world around a centre that the
inhabitants only want to escape? And is not something
else to be gained on these roads that lead nowhere,
in these efforts to sustain a fundamental rejection
of the order of things, beyond all the constraints of
working-class existence? No one will find much to
strengthen the grounds of his disillusionment or his
bitterness in the paths of these workers who, back in
July 1830, swore that nothing would be the same again,
or in the contradictions of their relations with the
intellectuals who aligned themselves with the masses.

The moral of this tale is quite the reverse of the
one people like to draw from the wisdom of the masses.

It is to some extent the lesson of the impossible,
that of the rejection of the established order even
in the face of the extinction of Utopia. If, for
once, we let the thoughts of those who are not
‘destined’ to think unfold before us, we may come to
recognise that the relationship between the order of
the world and the desires of those subjected to it
presents more complexity than is grasped by the discourses of the intelligentsia. Perhaps we she.ll gain
a certain modesty in deploying grand words and
expressing grand sentiments. Who knows?

In any case, those who venture into this labyrinth
must be honestly forewarned that no answers will be

Translated by Noel Parker*

Plato, The Republia, trans. Jowett, VI.49S.

* With acknowledgement for help and suggestions from
Pete Dews, Jonathan Ree, Mike Shortland,
Carolyn Sumberg.

Lukas, Heidegger and Fascism
Mark Tebbitt

It has long been acknowledged that there is a
necessity to develop a rational Marxist response to
20th-century existentialism. The post-War debates on
this subject have almost inevitably tended to focus on
the development of Sartre’s philosophy, on his dialogues with official Marxism in France, and above all
on his dialogue with himself, evolving his own personal interpretation of existential Marxism [1]. The
problems arising from these debates have revolved

around the question of the extent to which these two
apparently irreconcilable views of the world can be
genuinely and fruitfully synthesised. There have been
a great number of variations on this theme in postWar France, many of them attempting to broaden the
basis of Marxist philosophy [2]. When we turn back
to consider the significance of Heideggerfs philosophy, however, the problems we are facing are
entirely different and much more uncomfortable.


Whereas Sartre spent the latter half of his career
in a remorselessly honest attempt to move both
politically and philosophically from existentialism
to Marxism, Heidegger continued to deepen his philosophy in an explicitly mystical direction and remained an unrepentant adherent to the extreme right.

Many have argued that Heidegger’s Nazi affiliation
was due to his political naivety and that in any case
it had no deep connection with his philosophy. There
has been a good point to this argument in as far as
it has resisted the crude tendency to dismiss a
philosophy on political grounds. It is nevertheless
an unconvincing argument. The significance of
Heidegger’s philosophy – as we shall see – lies
precisely in the fact that it was intrinsically but
not unambiguously bound up with European fascism.

Far from being a reason for dismissing its this is
exactly why it is necessary to penetrate its meaning
more deeply. The criticism of Heidegger is of course
only a special case in the recent history of equivocation over the question of ascribing responsibility to
certain intellectuals for the rise of fascism. In
this debate two fundamentally opposed attitudes have
prevailed. On the one hand we have seen a widespread
tendency towards a moralistic denunciation and scornful ridicule of, for example, Nietzsche’s philosophy,
focu~ing on the more obnoxious social ideas, his
sexism and contempt for the ‘herd’ and so on. On the
other hand we find the equally strong tendency to
play down these aspects, to insist that fascism perverted every text it used, emphasising Nietzsche’s
ironic role-playing and allegedly profound humanism.

Neither has it been uncommon to alternate between
these two attitudes, between profound admiration and
moral denunciation [3]. There has certainly been much
genuine confusion as to which is the ‘real’ Nietzsche.

In other words, more attention has been paid to the
subjective intentions of the writers concerned than
to the objective meaning of the ideas which had been
evolving in the 19th century and which were coming
into focus in the 1920s in Heidegger’s philosophy.

The approach to Heidegger which I propose to adopt
in order to penetrate this confusion and thereby the
meaning of his central concepts will certainly seem
paradoxical. It is based on the standpoint of
Luk~cs’ general philosophical and aesthetic perspective. As is well known, Luk~cs repeatedly and
unequivocally portrayed Heidegger’s philosophy as
intrinsically irrationalist and fascist [4], and this
would seem to leave us in the position of those who
dismiss Heidegger out of hand. However, it should
~ecomeclear that it is only from the point of view
of a rigorously objectivistic Marxism that Heidegger’s
real meaning and importance can be drawn out. If we
place Heidegger’s philosophy in the context of that of
Luk~cs, we can show that it is deeply personal and
obscurantist in appearance only, and we can. also
develop a more clear picture of the real choices and
conflicts of the 1920s which have not yet been
resolved. In so doing, we can at the same time
bring forward some ideas which are lying just beneath
the surface of contemporary philosophical debates.

To establish the framework of this analysis we
need to make a number of – admittedly controversial presuppositions concerning the nature and development
of Lukacs’ philosophy. The most important one is
that after approximately 1918 there is an essential
theoretical continuity – notwithstanding the appearance of a radical and abrupt departure – between the
early and the latest works. This continuity is manifested primarily in Lukacs’ consistently rationalist
approach to the phenomenon of reification, and it
exists to the extent that we can refer to his philosophy as a whole – not just History and Class
Consciousness – as ‘a theory of reification’.


Secondly, it is important to understand that this
theory is not an idiosyncratic synthesis of Marx and
Weber and thereby a form of original ‘revisionism’

[5]. What Lukacs’ theory constitutes throughout is
a fundamentally objectivistic reading of Marxist
philosophy and aesthetics. It is not a relativistic
critique of Soviet philosophical orthodoxy, but on
the contrary is a progressive deepening of the Marxist philosophy of dialectical materialism, an attempted realisation of what has been formalised by the
rigorous interpretation and enforcement of this
philosophy in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.

Thirdly, and following from this, the theory constitutes an unqualified defence of the achievements of
natural science, rationalist philosophy and realist
literature, simultaneously on the basis of an unqualified rejection of positivism, formal rationalism
and naturalistic realism. If this interpretation runs
sharply against the grain of the more familiar interpretations of History and Class Consciousness as
Luk~cs’ last burst of youthful idealism, as an outstanding romantic expression of German lebensphilosophie and anti-scientism, it is because this interpretation has largely been due to the tendency to
blur the distinction between dialectical and formal
rationalism [6]. Finally, the presupposition regarding the internal development of the theory is that it
constitutes not a volte-face but a natural advance or
qualitative leap from a rigorously objective provisional (and incipiently materialist) idealism to a
thoroughgoing (dialectical) materialism. Through the
course of this development, the relevant aspects of
the theory of reification which we shall now consider
remain essentially unchanged.

In 1923 Lukacs’ project of an explicit and elaborate definition and history of the phenomenon of
reification was abruptly cut short by the hostile
reaction from the official Communist movement to the
publication of History and Class Consciousness [7].

This project nevertheless remained as the theoretical
basis of all of Lukacs’ subsequent writings. It provided the framework for his systematic analysis of
the history of modern philosophy and literature and
for his extensive criticism of contemporary literature.

What this project involved was the development of a
definition of the phenomenon of reification, an
identification of its historical and cultural origins,
and a number of proposals concerning an appropriate
response to this phenomenon. Reification is defined
essentially as a universal formalism, at first
afflicting and eventually dominating and pervading
modern thought. Its historical origins are precisely
located in the material process of production, in the
beginning of the production of commodities primarily
for exchange. The proposed response to this formalism in thought is based on a defence and expansion of
modern rationalism, i.e. on the emergence of a wider
rationality [8]. What we are concerned with first
here is the definition of reification.

The concepts which appear most prominently in the
central chapter on reification [9] are those which we
normally associate with vaguely humanist or vitalist
critiques of ‘the modern way of life’. The rationalisation which extends from the technological requirements of industry through every aspect of our lives
is the most striking example. Lukacs’ descriptions
of the dehumanising effects of the ever-increasing
mechanisation of industry on society at large,
suggesting an existential nightmare in the modern
factories and offices, are not exactly original.

Neither are the ideas that follow from his observation of the process of rationalisation: the de-vitalising reduction of quality to quantity and mathematical series; the elevation of the principles of
precise calculability and objective systematisation

to deal with all problems, etc. etc. [10]. It is
often assumed that this was the last expression of
Luk~cs’ ‘romantic’ period, a revival of the German
romanticist reaction against the soul-less enlightenment which accompanied the rise of science and
capitalism. Similarly, it is regarded as an essentially irrationalist attempt to shift Marxism away from
science on to a loosely based sentiment of opposition
to the conditions created by modern industry. This
interpretation is in fact a complete falsification of
the argument at the heart of the book, and it has
only been sustained by a failure to recognise the
dialectical movement of this argument. This movement consists in the fact that Luk~cs entertains
subjective possibilities in order to move more
deeply to the objective heart of the matter. The
above-mentioned subjective elements are indeed
introduced – as they must be; they can hardly be
denied – but they are by no means the substance of
the argument. In fact the most substantial and controversial thesis which Luk~cs is putting forward in
this chapter – and throughout the book – is that a
subjectively revolutionary critique of capitalism
which remains on the level of a merely negative
value-judgements a condemnation of the inhumanity of
imperialism, is objectively as effective a consecrationof the existing order as an explicitly reactionary defence of it. Furthermore this criticism is not
restricted to the most excessively subjectivist
political philosophies with tendencies towards a
tragic resignation, but is extended to every critique
of capitalism which remains trapped in the reified
categories of thought [11]. What we find behind this
thesis is the constant assumption that it is necessary to articulate a deeper conception of objectivity
in order to change reality and to outface the profound subjectivity of irrationalism. Far from
playing with irrationalism himself, Luk~cs is continually upbraiding formal (bcurgeois) rationalism
for its failure to recognise, comprehend and outface
irrationalism, and to deal with the problem of the
irrational itself [12]. Hence the central importance
of the concepts of rationalisation and mechanisation
is that as material processes in the development of
capitalist industry they have automatically generated
formal (reified) patterns of thought, which are
characterised as quantification, precise calculability, separation of form and content, etc. (It is the
real life-process that determines [the reified] consciousness.)
He is arguing that the mechanical and
formally rationalistic modes of thought which have
thus become predominant, producing causal determinism,
mechanical materialism etc., are inherently incapable
of even understanding the problem of irrationality.

What is important to Luk~cs’ theory is not the idea
of an anguished protest against capitalist dehumanisation, but rather the strictly objective historical
thesis that human consciousness has been radically
restructured and constricted; that something has
literally happened not only to the ‘modern way of
life’ and the conditions of proeuction, but also to
the way in which we think (our ‘consciousness’) over
an exactly identifiable historical period. The
primary ideological results of this development are
the increasing formalisation of reason and perception,
giving rise to formal rationalism and a constricted
empiricism, and thereby a progressive distancing of
thought a.nd perception from the real world. The
effect of this formalisation is not only to conceal
and distort the real nature of social relations, but
also to conceal and distort both objective material
reality as such (‘the character of things as things’)
[13] and its subjective component J the human reality.

In the most general terms, then, this is the objective situation as Lukacs sees it in the 1920s. Broadly

speaking, the phenomenon of reification is understood
as the formalisation of life and thought.

The wider context
When understood in this manner it is clear that the
concept of reification, even if it is not referred to
as such, is by no means confined to Luk~cs’ philosophy. Apart from its explicit sources in Marx and
Weber it can be used to designate a very broad
tendency in modern philosophy and imaginative literature. As we shall see, however, Luk~cs’ theory is
clearly distinguished from, and even fundamentally
opposed to most expressions of this tendency. Nevertheless, if we grasp the scope of the general context
in which these initial resemblances appear, we can
begin to understand the connection between the philosophies of Heidegger and Luk~cs.

Despite Heidegger’s partly successful attempt to
break out of the tradition of Western philosophy and
to reformulate its questions, he can be fairly defined
in terms of a number of philosophical traditions. On
the basis of a secularisation of Kierkegaard’s highly
unorthodox protestant theology and a development of
Nietzsche’s attack on modern science, rationalism and
ethics, Heidegger evolved the first systematic
expression of what has come to be known as 20thcentury existentiaZism. Secondly, he transformed
Husserl’s purportedly scientific phenomenoZogy into a
method for directly disclosing (intuiting) the essence
of reality, the things in themselves which modern
bourgeois philosophy since Kant has regarded as
inaccessible. Thirdly, Heidegger’s philosophy as a
whole can be seen as an advanced stage of the development of 20th-century vitalism (ZebensphiZosophie),
turning it to focus on the mood of despair.

However, it is quite illuminating to bear in mind
the fact that Heidegger, like most people~ was also
responding to not strictly philosophical influences.

In 1927 he replied to Luk~cs in somewhat sarcastic
vein that reification was not exactly an unknown

It has long been known that past ontology works
with ‘Thing-concepts’ and that there is a danger
of ‘reifying consciousness’. But what does this
‘reifying’ signify? Where does it arise? …

Why does this reifying keep coming back to
exercise its dominion? What positive structure
does the Being of ‘consciousness’ have, if
reification remains inappropriate to it? [14]
The general awareness to which Heidegger is referring
existed far beyond the bounds of academic philosophy.

We need only mention here that the influence of
Nietzsche on the literary and visual arts was far
more extensive than his influence on philosophy. The
impact of the modernist upheaval in the arts on both
Lukacs and Heidegger was probably as great as any
development in philosophy at the time. This upheaval
was essentially a violent reaction to the formalisation of the intellect and the imagination imposed by
the straitjacket of naturalistic realism. The
defiant disruption of all customary and habitual
modes and channels of thought and perception was a
symptom of the tangibly oppressive weight of reification, of the mechanical and rationalised view of the
world. The belief in a reaZity – whether of the
external world or of a deeper subjective dimension which is obscured by the surface, by the conscious
mind, is in itself an indication of the phenomenon of
reification as both Luk~cs and Heidegger understood
it: a formalisation, a distancing of thought and
perception from the real world. The consciously
compulsive and almost invariably frustrated search
for the real, to grasp the evasive essence of
reality, is an almost universal characteristic of

modernism. In this context it is not surprlslng that
Heidegger points out that this is a well-known phenomenon, and that the important questions relate to its
significance, why it is there and why it seems to be
irremovable. As I have already suggested, Luk~cs ha.s
more convincing answers than Heidegger to these

The question of theology
Before we turn to their respective responses to the
phenomenon of reification, we should briefly consider
the theological interpretation of Heidegger’s philosophy. Roger Waterhouse ha.s put forward a highly
plausible case for such an interpretation, and has
argued that Heidegger’s later philosophy is a logical
development of Being and Time [15]. He has argued
that Heidegger was engaged in a lifelong theistic
project of putting theology on to a sound basis; that
‘Being’ is a quasi-religious concept equivalent to
‘God’, and that in listening to ‘the call of Being’

Heidegger was attuning himself, in the same manner as
the explicit theologians Bultmann and Buber, to the
voice of God, to the end of achieving a direct relationship with God. There is strong evidence for this
interpretation: not only is Heidegger constantly
allll.ding to the writings of St. Paul, Augustine,
Luther, Pascal etc. [16], but the language in which
he conducts the whole investigation of Being is
permeated with theological connotations: the inner
conscience, the human Fall, ineradicable guilt and
so on.

There are certain advantages to this interpretation. On the one hand it draws attention to the fact
that Heidegger was responding to a spiritual crisis
in Western Europe, and that he was less concerned with
‘the world’ as normally understood than with phenomena
which are for the most part completely hidden from
view. It also indicates that he was primarily concerned with the possibility of personal salvation.

But on the other hand, the theological interpretation
of Heidegger tends to draw our attention away from
the real significance of his philosophy. In the
first place, if we regard ourselves as atheists we
feel safer when we can label a philosophy ‘mystical’

or ‘theological’ from the outset: we can comfortably
think of it as ‘that load of rubbish’ before we
start [17]. Secondly, this interpretation can prevent
us from recognising the startling accuracy of many of
Heidegger’s phenomenological descriptions of contemporary states of mind, if we are thinking about their
religious connotations.

Far more importantly, however, I suggest that this
interpretation is fundamentally mistaken, and that we
should take Heidegger’s disavowal of a theological
concern at face value [18]. He expresses no belief
in either the existence of God or in any form of life
beyond death. His belief in the finality of death
is not only settled and explicit, it is the very
basis of his philosoph)T. ‘Nothingness’ means what it
says. It is one of Heidegger’s central themes that
the call of being has been constantly misunderstood
through the ages as the voice of God. Consequently
Heidegger’s preoccupation with the history of
theology is based on his belief that the full realisation of atheism depends upon a relentless dialogue
with theology, rooting its hidden presence out of our
view of the world. ‘Being’ is not equivalent to
‘God’, but on the contrary the experience of it is
the profoundly alarming experience of the absence of
God. Heidegger regards the doctrinal disputes in
traditional theology as distorted expressions of the
conflicts of beliefs concerning the relationship of
human consciousness to terrestrial reality (Being).

The ‘loss of Being’ is precisely this distance

between awareness and reality: he is seeking to draw
us back, not to an immediate relation with God, but
to a direct awareness of the real. He is searching
for personal salvation, not from eternal damnation,
but from the hell of empirical reality, of being
perpetually caught in appearances. The only way in
which it makes any sense to describe such a philosophy as theological is paradoxical: an atheistic
‘theology’ based on an understanding of the panicstricken consequences of the disappearance of God
from our mental framework, in the ‘Death of God’

tradition initiated by Nietzsche. We can consistently
argue – without in any sense defending religion – that
it is partly the reckless nature of this attack on
theology which links Heidegger’s philosophy so
closely with Fascism. In the Nietzschean tradition
it is a deliberate promulgation of a radical despair,
induced by the declaration that the human world, in
going beyond religious belief, has irrevocably lost
its centre of gravity. His attempt to resolve this
despair is doomed from the outset because – as we
shall see – he has decisively rejected the principles
of rationalism.

Das Man
The concept at the heart of Heidegger’s philosophy is
the one which ha.s caused the most difficulty and confusion in interpretation, not least because of the
translation problem. But a genuine understanding of
any of the central concepts depends upon a clarification of the concept of Das Man. If this remains in
the dark, so also will the general significance of
Heidegger’s probing into the meaning of time, and his
search for a deeper conception of subjectivity. So
what does it mean?

The long-term project envisaged in the introduction to Being and Time was a concrete analysis of the
different ways in which time can be experienced [19].

The published text was only a preliminary opening
for this project, which was never itself realised.

The preparatory analysis of Dasein (the human reality;
literally: being-there), however, does already
revolve around the time factor, even where this is
not explicit. A searching analysis of the phenomenon
of time was to become the central project because the
normal, unreflective and automatic manner in which we
experience this phenomenon, Heidegger maintained, is
closely connected with the equally unreflective
manner in which we accept the reality of appearances
in general. In particular, our normal conception of
time has the effect of repressing our awareness of
different modes of subjectivity and of establishing
a universal mode, that of Das Man, which in this
passage is translated as ‘the Others’ and as ‘the
they’ :

Dasein, as everyday Being-with-one-another,
stands in subjection to Others. It itself is
not; its Being has been taken away by the Others.

Dasein’s everyday possibilities of Being are for
the Others to dispose of as they please. These
Others, moreover, are not definite Others.

On the contrary, any other can represent them.

What is decisive is just that inconspicuous
domination by Others which has already been
taken over unawares from Dasein as Being-with.

One belongs to the Others oneself and enhances
their power … The ‘who’ (of Dasein) is not
this one, not that one, not oneself, not some
people, and not the sum of them all. The
‘who’ is the neuter, the they. [20]
A number of interpretations of Das Man immediately
present themselves. On a superficial level we can
submit to the translation problem, regard it as a
dark and esoteric concept, and remain mystified as

to its deeper meaning. Secondly, it is easy to
imagine Das Man being spoken in a deeply contemptuous
tone of voice, and to regard it as a nauseatingly
elitist hatred of the mediocrity of the masses.

Alternatively, these passages can be read as expressions of acute paranoia – the isolated individual
always persecuted by ‘the others’, by ‘them’. From
another point of view, it can be interpreted as
implying a positive critique of repressive social
arrangements from an individualist point of view.

There is certainly an element of truth in such
interpretations, but they tend to divert attention
from the central issue: the enforcement of a universal mode of subjectivity which actively but inconspicuously represses every other mode. This pervading consciousness, then, the consciousness of Das
Man, can be expressed as that of an abstract collective – for which no individual is responsible – which
swallows and represses every individual, and generates a false conceptjon of the individual in its own
image. To express this in terms with which we are
already familiar from Luk~cs’ theory: the group consciousness standing beyond the pale shadow of the
apparently free individual provides the system of
mechanisms which sets up barriers to prevent
individual thought from escaping its prescribed
limits, from penetrating the world of reification
and discovering the real world. This collective
mode of subjectivity is the result of the formalisation of consciousness; Das Man is us: it represents
the formal and abstract way in which we think in a
reified culture. In this sense, Das Man is bourgeois
man, who falls back against traditional (bourgeois,
~eified) forms of thought, and in so doing falls back
against ‘the world’.

As I have suggested, the truth of this is only
brought home by the recognition of the time factor.

This process of formalisation has aZready been
completed. The past tense is crucial. In
Heidegger’s philosophy the being of the individual
‘has (aZready) been taken away by the Others’. It is
something which has already literally happened. In
Luk~cs’ theory, the reification of consciousness is
something that has already happened, it is a socially
established fact. For both Luk~cs and Heidegger
(Marxism and Fascism) the distance between consciousness and reality is a firmly established fact, and
this is only possible because the awareness of this
distance is repressed.

The crisis of subjectivity
If our normal conception of time is responsible for
concealing the undeniable historical fact that the
formal way of thinking (the reified consciousness)
is not the only way, then it is evident that a
serious examination of our normal conception of time
will at least reveal the possibility of other ways
of thinking, of other modes of consciousness. If we
focus our attention on the meaning of Heidegger’s
existentialist expression of individuaZism, we can
cast further light on the connection between this
changing awareness and our changing conception of

It is common knowledge that existentialism is an
extreme form of ‘individualism’, but it is not always
acknowledged that it bears virtually no resemblance
to the traditional liberal defence of the individual
[21]. From the point of view of either Marxism or
existentialism, the formal declarations of the constitutional rights of the individual are usually
regarded as at best merely abstract and ineffective,
and at worst as sanctimonious and hypocritical drivel.

It is not, however, merely a question of a fai1ur~ to
put into practice what is guaranteed on paper; the

existentialist conception of the individual is
radically at odds with the typically liberal
expression of it.

If we look again at the wider cultural background
upon which Heidegger was drawing in his articulation
of the relationship between the individual and the
COllective, we can see how profoundly his conception
of the individual differed from the liberal conception. Classic liberal theory revolves around the
elaborate definition of the area of individual freedom which should be defended against the claims of
the state. The liberal defence of individual human
rights, then, is based on the idea of a defence of
the existing individuaZ in society. This is the
first – apparently sane and obvious – conception of
subjectivity with which we are concerned. It requires
something of a leap of imagination to grasp the motivation behind the widespread and violent rebellion
against reification and with it this conception of
subjectivity, in the early decades of the century
[22] .

On the basis of this most commonplace and
immediately obvious conception of subjectivity,
oppression and violence are quite visible and clearcut: ‘the individual’ is protected from the (predominantly physical) arbitrariness of the state. From
the point of view of the new mood which was arising,
however, the focus was shifting from explicit to
hidden violence, the emphasis was moving from open
oppression by the state to the less visible and less
tangible oppression of individuals by the social
collective at large. From this point of view it was
making increasingly less sense to speak of ‘the
defence of the individual’, when it was the very
identity of the individual which was in question.

The commonplace assumption that was being challenged
was that, despite the overbearing claims of the
collective, individuals had retained their integrity,
that there was still something there to be defended.

So the sensible conception of subjectivity which is
automatically generated by reification is based on
the assumption that the empirical ego which shows its
face to the world is co-extensive with the ‘real
subject’ .

The typically modernist ‘subjectivism’, then, is
only superficially explicable as a reaction against
the corrupt and shallow cynicism of the world of
parliamentary politics or the ma.nipu1ative world of
the spreading bureaucracy, or even as a rejection of
the cash-orientated philistinism of the artistic
establishment. It ran deeper than this in its
attempt to apprehend a more real mode of subjectivity
which is concealed by the one-dimensional conception
of the empirical ego. A sceptical response to this
conception – and the corresponding assertion of a
hidden subjectivity – is clearly connected with an
unusually developed sense of the passage of time.

On the first conception, the interests of the individual have to be balanced with those of the collective. It is acknowledged that the collective presents
a threat to the freedom of the individual, and its
area of integrity is defined to resist the threat.

On the second conception, a slight shift of emphasis
reveals an entirely different situation. The question
is no longer an abstract and ahistorical one if we
see the subjectivity of the individual, not as ‘being
threatened’, but rather as aZready being in the process of being crushed or eliminated, aZready in the
process of capitulating to the pressure, to the
oppressive weight of the collective. If this is the
case, something has been lost already, it is not in
danger of being lost. The relation between the
individual and the collective is seen to be a historically changing one. Consequently the general
question is reversed from one of a defence of indiv17

idual rights to that of a potentially aggressive
assertion of already violated rights, a movement to
resist the crushing of the individual, a struggle to
re-appropriate personal space from Das Man, the
anonymous collective.

This was the essential atmosphere of the crisis of
subjectivity which was taking on alarming proportions
in the expression of a growing ontological insecurity
with respect to the substantiality of the human
subject. But the crisis went much deeper than this,
and so of course did Heidegger’s philosophy. Within
the consciousness of this crisis there was a further
shift away from the conventional conception of the
subject, and a third distinct conception of subjectivity begins to emerge, which undermines the first
and second conceptions even more radically. Yet the
third is already implicit in the second.

If we take up the point of view of ‘the real
individual’ behind the mask which it presents to the
world, society increasingly takes on the aspect of a
conspiratorial organisation for the suppression of
originality and novelty, and for the enforcement of
its own norms of averageness, and this repression is
seen as the essential feature of the entire culture:

Being-with-one-another concerns itself as
such with averageness, which is an existential
characteristic of the ‘they’ … In this
averageness with which it prescribes what can
and may be ventured, it keeps watch over
everything exceptional that thrusts itself
to the fore. Every kind of priority gets
noiselessly suppressed. Overnight, everything
that is primordial gets glossed over as something that has long been well known. Everything gained by a struggle becomes just something to be manipulated. Every secret loses
its force. This care of averageness reveals
in turn an essential tendency of Dasein which
we call the ‘levelling down’ of all possibilities of Being … etc … etc … [23]
The new tragic individualism, from Nietzsche to
Heidegger, was based on this perception of the enforcement of averageness, of the quiet de-fusion of
ideas which run against the grain, ‘the grain’ being
the ideas implanted by reification. As we have seen,
the fear the.t this enforcement engendered was that the
real individual was literally in danger of being
obliterated by the collective. The next stage of
development of this crisis is an entirely logical
one, but it opens up a profoundly alien dimension of
subjectivity which cannot possibly be absorbed by any
conception of reason. This transition occurs when
the fear of the obliteration of the real individual
by the collective gives way to a deeper fear, which
is constituted by the dawning realisation that this
is not merely in the process of happening, but that it has already happened, the process has been
completed. If this is the case, that the individual
subject has already been displaced by a collective
subject (Das Man), and has itself entirely disappeared
then the individual is already thinking the thoughts
of the collective, or the collective is thinking
through the individual.

In Being and Time, Heidegger is making the
assumption that this displacement has long since
occurred. Over the course of the analysis he
attempts to demonstrate the transitions of consciousness from the first to the second, and then to the
third conceptions of individual subjectivity, as outlined above. His central concern is with achieving
and maintaining the second transition in order to
reveal directly the existence of an entirely forgotten
dimension of subjectivity. The consequences of the
first transition are unnerving, but those of this
second shift are almost immeasurable. Here we can

only indicate the implications in general terms.

The initial shift of emphasis from open to covert
oppression by the collective leads to an urgent sense
of historical movement and a deeply critical awareness
of the repressive features of bourgeois society. But
in order to go beyond this and penetrate the truly
subjective dimension, we would have to move into a
world which is experienced as timeless (or, more precisely, to cultivate an awareness which is not conscious of the passage of time), a world in which
history is a trivial irrelevance. A sense of history
– and hence of reality – gives way to an obsession
ldth the meaning of time. Secondly, the political
implications of focusing on this ‘timeless’ dimension
are ambiguous. In the world as we know it – either
in its static appearance or its historical reality the struggles by individuals to resist oppression are
seen from the ‘timeless’ point of view as illusions,
because the ‘individuals’ themselves are no more than
homogeneous interconnected fragments of Das Man,
encountering and speaking to one another with one
voice, in an entirely mechnical universe. (If anyone
speaks against this voice, s/he is experienced as
‘odd’, ‘weird’ or ‘insane’, depending on the volume
of the voice of the real individual making itself
Any resistance to Das Man is apparently
futile. But Heide.p.;ger’sl position is not politically
quietistic; it was this democratic tyranny which the
Nazis were determined to destroy.

Thirdly, these changing conceptions of the
individual subject have far-reaching psychological
implications. With the development of the crisis of
subjectivity the individual fear of the collective
completely changes its nature. From the familiar
apprehension of others as representing a limitation
to one’s individual freedom, it initially develops
into a relatively unambiguous fear which is essentially claustrophobic, with the individual constantly
experiencing the other(s) as a threat and facing
invasions of its own personal space [24]. But with
the second transition which Heidegger is making, this
permanent ‘crisis-consciousness’ is transformed into
a drastic identity crisis, the extremity of which is
manifested as a bewildered confusion as to the
direction from which the threat is coming. The
initially unambiguous threat from the others (Das
Man) becomes a threat from oneself as one of the
others (Das Man has already invaded the self: ‘one
belongs to the others oneself and enhances their
power’), and a threat from the emerging hidden self
against the others. The cleavage between the self
and the others becomes a cleavage within the subject
itself. If from this point of development the
identity crisis (am I myself or one of the others?)
is resolved by focusing on the threat posed by the
erupting inner self, the fear is transformed from a
relatively healthy and ‘rational’ paranoia into an
anxiety (the object of which is not in the world) in
the face of the app.earance of an entirely alien
presence: the inner self. Such an experience is undoubtedly to be understood as psychotic, even if, to
the person undergoing it, it is more real than anything previously experienced. Heidegger, of course,
is not deterred by the alien nature of the inner
subject, but on the contrary is encouraged by it and
presses forward to analyse the subject in its own
subjectivity (or ‘the unexpressed ontological foundations of the “cogito sum'” [25]), beyond the voice
of Das Man, allowing the alien presence to make itself felt, and describing the way in which its
usually hidden presence determines the structures of
everyday thought, language and behaviour. Heidegger
is only able to embark on this project when he has
established the transition from the second conception
of subjectivity (the subject against the others) to





the third (the subject divided against itself). With
this transition, the meaning of Das Man changes
accordingly: it becomes more than a tangible and
menacing presence, a threatening distortion of human
potentiality, it becomes the human race as such.

Heidegger’s continued search for the real subject
can thus be seen as explicitly anti-humanist in

To summarise briefly at this point: what we have
understood as the crisis of subjectivity in the early
modernist period is essentially a radical rejection
of the everyday conception of the human individual.

This ‘subjectivism’ develops from a profoundly
critical expression of relativism into a chaotic
nihilism, from the point of view of which the real
world becomes completely insubstantial and inconsequential. When we look at a development like this,
there is a strong tendency to regard it as initially
positive and enlightened, until it takes the dark
turn inwards. We should not forget, then, that it
is the first stage of this development which is
already linked closely with fascism. The danger to
‘the real individual’ is represented by the allconsuming demands of the shallow collective, the
process of democratisation from the principles of
the French Revolution through to 20th-century socialdemocracy and conununism. It is only from the standp6int of a Marxist analysis that the constricted
nature of relativism becomes apparent.

Dialectical reason against irrationalism


If we return now to consider the essential principles
of Lukacs’ overall perspective, we can clarify the
main points of a Marxist criticism of Heidegger’s
existentialism. The starting-point of Lukacs’

theoretical analysis from 1918 onwards is the phenomenon of crisis in the capitalist economy, and its
manifestations in every area of social life. At the
heart of his philosophy there is a very simple and
sound idea concerning the nature of the social and
intellectual crisis which was developing in the
early years of the 20th century. This was based on
the observation that there was a spreading dissolution of the ability and will to comprehend the social
and natural reality of the modern world: despite
constantly renewed efforts to do so. In any revolutionary age, he points out, there is a three-way
tension between the increasingly unconvincing defence
of the old synthesis, the elements of disintegration
of this synthesis, and the attempt to find a new

It is the significance of this three-way tension
which is drawn out in the argument in the central
chapter of History and cZass Consciousness. The
argument revolves around the problem of irrationality.

As I pointed out earlier, Lukacs stands unequivocally
in the rationalist camp, speaking simultaneously
against irrationalism and formal rationalism. In the
opening section [26] he describes the inunediate
situation in the early 1920s: the dehumanised society
which is the end-product of the historical process of
capitalist rationalisation, now faced with the manifestation of the hitherto concealed problem of
irrationality, with the sudden eruption of crisis.

He emphasises the impact of the crisis on every level
of thought: the ‘laws’ of the formally closed systems
of the sciences fail to function, and the expected
patterns disappear in the chaos, which is experienced
in the daily life of bourgeois society as ‘a sudden
dislocation of mundane reality’ [27]: the qualitative
existence of ‘things’ suddenly appears. The capacity
for rational prediction and organisation is reduced
to a paralysed impotence. Luk~cs acknowledges the
bourgeois attempts to construct a philosophical

synthesis to integrate the special sciences, to
comprehend reality as a whole and hence to overcome
the problem of irrationality, but points out that
this would imply ‘an inwardly synthesising philosophical method’ (i.e. a dialectical method) [28],
which would inunediately point beyond formal rationalism and bourgeois society. It would mean among other
things the abandonment of the separatjon of the
sciences which is essential to the reified consciousness.

In the second section [29], the irrationality of
the crisis is set in the context of the historical
development of the philosophical attempts – from
Descartes to Hegel – to systematically and thoroughly
deal with ‘the problem of irrationality’, to impose
reason on reality and consolidate the achievements of
the scientific revolution [30]. Lukacs’ gradual
:larification of the essential themes of this
immensely complex process of rational enlightenment
is itself too complex to repeat here. The point
that is most relevant to this discussion is that in
the intellectual struggles against the religious,
mystical, superstitious and magical modes of thought
of the Middle Ages, the crucial transition in this
process came about with the (humanist) hypothesis
that the world would make deeper sense if we were to
assume that it had no independent existence, that
reali ty is -the product of mind, that the obj ects must
conform to the subject, rather than vice versa.

Hence our ‘rational’ forms which were derived from
the principles of mathematics were to be seen as
inherent in the objects themselves [31]. This
deliberately ideaZist assumption involved the adoption
of an imaginary point of view from which we were able
to see reality as rational. The assumption that the
phenomena which conflict with the categories of
reason do not exist is obviously strictly speaking
untrue, but it has been a highly effective means of
advancing our kpowledge of the phenomena.. -This
explicit inversion of subject and object was the
theoretical basis of the humanisation of the world,
and as such was the essential condition of overthrowing a world-view essentially based on transcendental explanations of the world, i.e. explanations
from a point outside the inunanent development of the
world. The central importance of this theoretical
development – the inversion of subject and object derives from the fact that it was only made by the
scientists and philosophers in accordance with the
same transition in the generaZ consc1.~ousness of
society. The growing rationalist belief that there
is no breach in the natural order of things was a
direct result of the development of industry, not of
abstract ideas. When the results of this inversion
were seen to be so rational and advantageous, its
initially hypothetical n~ture was rapidly forgotten,
not least because the new point of view clearly was
closer to the truth (the structure of material reality) than the ousted point of view which had not
subordinated the objects to the categories of formal
reason. This then was the point of view upon which
the bourgeois comprehension and rationalisation of
the phenomena was based when it was still an increasingly confident rising class. With the apparently
firm establishment and extension of the ‘rationalist’

view of the world, the bourgeoisie was still able to
naively equate its own forms with the world as such.

It seemed inconceivable that this ‘rationalism’

could ever be threatened. The problem of the
irrational, however, persisted underground so to
speak, and with the advance of effective rationalisation it was becoming increasingly difficult to even
perceive [32]. Briefly, wh~t it constituted was the
problem of the persistent exist~nce of the content
of the rational forms (which were seen as reality as

such) and consequently the problem of comprehending
reality as a whole (as a form-content complex).

Those philosophers who did perceive and respond to
the persistence of the problem initiated ‘a parting
of the ways in modern philosophy’ [33]. Luk~cs
illustrates this development with a quote from
Fichte which he repeats several times, as capturing
the essence of the problem:

What is at issue is the absolute projection of
an object of the origin of which no account can
be given, with the result that the space between
projection and thing projected is dark and void;
I expressed it somewhat scholastically but, as
I believe, very appropriat.e1y, as the projectio
per hiaturn irrationalem. [34]
This image of a dark and empty chasm opening up
between subject and object is an expression of the
recognition that the categories of formal reason do
not ‘fit’ reality, that they cannot be successfully
imposed upon it. Consequently, the parting of the
ways in modern philosophy consisted in the split
between dialectical and formal thought. On the one
hand, the continued recognition of the precariousness
of modern rationalism and hence of the humanisation
of the world led to a series of attempts to change the
point of view again, to find a position from which
the ~opening chasm’ disappeared, from which reality
would appear rational again. On the other hand, the
apparent disappearance of the problem of irrationality led to an increasing formalism and the renunciation of any kind of ‘metaphysics’, from which point
of view the problem could not even be recognised.

The rejection of formal rationalism and the search
for the new rational standpoint is the subject of the
rest of Lukacs’ analysis, and its focus moves gradually forward again to the inevitable manifestation of
irrationality breaking through the formal systems of
rational ‘laws’ in the crisis of the 1920s. In one
sweeping movement he lays the philosophical basis for
the genuine resolution of this crisis by revealing
the essential transition from the ultimate failure of
the ingenious attempts of the dialectical bourgeois
thinkers (in particular, Schiller, Goethe, Fichte and
Hegel) to find the new point of view, to Marx and
Enge1s’ grasp of this new synthesis, to the potentially revolutionary consciousness of the rising proletarian class. The very awareness of the proletariat
had to be based on this new point of view: if it was
to defeat the bourgeoisie it had to be in possession
of a wider rationality than that of formal bourgeois
rationalism. (Zinoviev was not amused.)
As the
problem of the irrational (the opening chasm between
subject and object) persisted because of the discrepancy between the ‘rational’ forms and the reality
which they were supposed to explain, a new conception
of form and thus a new conception of the subject had
to be articulated. For the dialectical philosophers
who perceived the nature of the problem, there was
clearly no question of reversing the subject-object
inversion and submitting again to appearances and
thus to irrationalism. The new point of view had to
be based on the realisation of the formal subject
(which had been progressively de-humanised and formalised in the process of rationalisation), a point of
view from which reality as a whole could be seen as
a continuously integrat0d immanent development: i.e.

inheriting and transforming the principles of
bourgeois rationalism. The commitment to rationalism
in this whole movement is settled and exp’licit. This
was nothing other than the provisionally idealist
basis of a genuine (dialectical) materialism, in the
same sense th~t the Kantian idealism was only a preliminary to a partially successful (mechanical)

In the third and longest section [35], Luk~cs

attempts to articulate the new standpoint of the
proletariat, the new synthesis which was in the process of emerging. We need hardly go over this as it
constitutes the familiar ground of the basic principles of dialectical materialism. But it is in fact
the most condensed section of the book, releasing a
flood of ideas which Luk~cs was clearly not able to
control. In retrospect, he described it as a fantastic project, and attempt to ‘out-Hege1 Hege1′, a
mythologising of the proletariat as the identical
subject-object of history [36]. His analysis here
was based on the optimistic assumption that the revolutionary transformation of consciousness – analogous
to the one which had enabled the bourgeoisie to
establish formal rationalism and consolidate its
social position – was already taking place and therefore that the process of dissolution of the fixed
categories of reification was irreversible. Most of
the ideas contained in this section were nevertheless
consolidated and incorporated into Luk~cs’ later
philosophy. It is only important in this context to
point out that the analysis continues to revolve
around the problem of irrationality as manifested in
crisis, and that in order to comprehend reality as a
whole, it was essential to abandon the (bourgeois)
standpoint of the immediate experience of reality,
which was the basis of the principles of formal

Heidegger’s irrationalism
What concerns us here is the relevance of the above
argument to Heidegger’s philosophy. If it is true,
as Luk~cs later argued [37], that Heidegger was not
only subjectively ~ligned to the extreme right, but
also that his philosophy objectively represented the
most reactionary sections of the bourgeoisie in the
1920s, we have to show how his philosophy stands in
relation to formal rationalism.

Throughout Being and Time Heidegger repeatedly
defends the deeply objective nature of the phenomenological method, which he claims is based on a strict
neutrality which allows the phenomena to show themselves as such. In the introduction he acknowledges
– as does Luk~cs – the contemporary ‘freshly awakened
tendencies’ in the formal and specialised sciences to
exhibit reality as it is in itself [38]. It seems,
on the face of it, to be an analogous project: to
reveal the content of the forms which the ‘rationalist’ forms have obscured. The distinction of course
is fundamental: Heidegger, unlike Luk~cs, is arguing
that reason as such is incapable of penetrating the

There is a substantial sense, however, in which
Heidegger’s claim to objectivity is justjfied. It
should be clear from our earlier description of the
logic with which the progressively deeper dimensions
of subjectivity are revealed is a very real logic,
rooted in experience rather than in mere form. The
systematic manner in which he penetrates these dimensions is absolutely remorseless, and it represents a
serious challenge to the formalism of more conventjonal bourgeois thought. What he actually demonstrates
most effectively is the rare ability to transform
‘merely subjective’ ideas into alarmingly real
images. He draws together into a remarkable synthesis
the scattered imaginative insights of modernist
literature and presents a lucid and literal expression
of their typical themes; the sense of wonder over the
passage of time and the apprehension of a timeless
dimension, the feelings of human insubstantiality,
homelessness and alienation in the world are expressed
not merely as ‘very real’ experiences, but as
a1ternatrive ways of looking at the world, as real


This intuitive insight, however, cannot be regarded
as genuinely objective. The psychological impact of
relativism is entirely dependent upon it being held
in contrast to a fixed and shallow conception of
objectivity. The recognition that the adoption of
different points of view can change the structure of
reality, that the act of perception structures its
object, is only the first step in the dialectical
movement towards the real structure of material
reality. Relativism only takes this first step and
precludes the possibility of finding objective
reality, because it presupposes the equal validity of
every point of view. Hence the deeply unfamiliar
points of view which we have seen Heidegger adopting
in order to see the world in the light of anxiety,
destroying the serene consciousness of modern rationalism, are invalid not because they are unfamiliar
but because he makes this relativist presupposition
and a priori abandons the search for objective reality. Hence he is not even looking for the new point
of view from which we could see reality as a rationally interconnected whole.

When we look at Heidegger’s philosophy in the
light of the historical development of the problem of
irrationality as outlined by Luk~cs, we can see its
objective significance as a stage in the development
of irrationalism. A number of points of criticism
have been made concerning the irrationalist character
of Heidegger’s philosophy.

1. It is based on intuition, an intuitive leap
into ‘the centre of reality’. The truth is discovered
through the immediacy of ‘sheer sensory perception’

[39]. Criticisms of intuitionist theories from the
point of view of formal rationalism are unconvincing
because they tend to either deny that there is a problem (there is no deeper reality to be intuited) or
declare it to be insoluble (the deeper reality cannot
be kpown). From a genuinely rational standpoint,
Heidegger’s intuitive method is criticised because it
uncovers only subjective realities and obscures the
real world which can only be discovered through the
mediation of rational categories, on the basis of a
new point of view.

2. It is a vitalist expression of ‘the real life’

of the subject. Again, criticisms of vital ism are
usually manifested in one way or another as a denial
of the problem. Lukacs ackrowledges the problem as a
central one but focuses the question of the realisation of the subject on social relations, not on the
inner sphere of the individual.

3. The central criticism relates to Heidegger’s
response to the fundamental problem of irrationality,
the appearance of what Lukacs referred to as the
hiatus irrationalem, a dark area between subject and
object which is perceived when the rational forms
fail to comprehend the object, i.e. in a time of
crISIS. The genuinely rational response to the continuation of this problem in ‘the age of reason’ was
to abandon the conception of form which was responsible for this discrepancy, to find a point of view
from which it will not appear. For Heidegger, as for
philosophical irrationalism in general, the appearance of this hiatus in crisis is the starting point
for leading philosophy in the opposite direction:

subject and object are resolutely held apart in order
to analyse the subject in its own terms. What
Heidegger is quite explicitly trying to do is to
reverse the subject-object inversion which was the
basis of the humanisation of the world, the basis of
the Enlightenment and modern rationalism. He is
attempting to destroy rationalism as such, not just
bourgeois formal rationalism. When the phenomena are
allowed to show themselves, without subordinating
them to the categories of reason (formal or dialectical), we are again submitting to appearances and to

irrationalism in the mediaeval manner and the human
is pushed out of the centre of the world, which is a
return to the pre-Copernican position [40].

4. The argument which Luk~cs directs at relativism
and nihilism in History and Class Consciousness, when
applied to Heidegger, abruptly reduces his stature and
restores a sense of proportion. He argues that relativism, logically thought through, always leads to a
mythology or mysticism, and that this mysticism,
however apparently profound, inevitably remains
trapped within the framework of the rational systems
from which it is trying to escape, and ‘inevitably
adopts the structure of the problem whose opacity had
been the cause of its own birth’. It is simply ‘the
reproduction in imagination of the problem in its
insolubility’ and ‘immediacy is merely reinstated on
a higher level’ [41]. This is why Heidegger relies
so heavily on the psychology of ‘striking obviousness’, of radical astonishment, in Being and Time.

The states of mind he describes are recognised because
he is giving a merely heightened expression of the
problems created by the development of crisis in the
capitalist economy. In Heidegger’s philosophy the
problem, made explicit and magnified, is declared to
be the answer [42]. From a rational point of view,
we can see Heidegger’s philosophy as a continuous
circle of abstractions, held outside of the real,
alternating between the world of ‘rationalist’

illusions (reification) and the disintegration of
these illusions, inducing a wave of severe hallucinations. It is ultimately impressive only because of
the power of its language.

5. Generally speaking, then, the intellectual
phenomenon of irrationalism can be historically and
hence objectively explained in terms of the three-way
tension which was indicated at the beginning of this
section. A consciousness which recognises only the
rationality of its mm forms and equates them with
reason as such, can only see it as a two-way struggle
between reason and its enemies. From a dialectical
point of view it is seen as a three-way struggle
between the increasingly unconvincing defence of the
old existing order, the elements of disintegration
of this order, and the attempts to find the emerging
order. Or in the terms of this analysis: a struggle
between the defence of a constricted formal rationalism disguised as the expression of universal reason;
the reversal to irrationalism exploiting the hidden
but increasingly visible weaknesses of this formal
system; and the emergence of a more expansive and
realistic rationalism. It should be clear from the
analysis to this point that there is a pronounced
qualitative distinction between these three ‘forces’.

It should also be clear that Heidegger is an unambiguous and explicit advocate of the second of
these forces.

It is only of secondary importance to establish
the subjective motivation behind individual representations of reality, whether political, philosophical
or scientific [43]. The fundamental question relates
to the objective significance of these representations
On the assumption that it is not always or even
usually wilful, Luk~cs constantly exposes the resort
to irrationalism in all its forms as either an intellectual failure or a failure of nerve in the face of
the irruption of irrationality in a time of crisis.

In his ‘intransigent’ critiques of irrationalism,
what Luk~cs is trying to do is to lay bare the objective consequences of a choice of certain possibilities,
of the adoption of certain points of view from which
to look at the social and natural world. From his
point of view – a commitment to the expansion of
rationalism and the deepening of realism – the resort
to irrationalist despair (whether or not the response
is one of ‘fortitude’ or ‘resolution’) is only a


symptom of a submission to the apparent inexplicability and disintegration of the social and natural
world, induced by the experience of crisis in every
area of social life.

Irrationalism and fascism
The criticisms of Heidegger’s philosophy which emerge
from a close analysis, from a clear indication of its
direction and its deeply reactionary nature suggest
not that it should be repressed by being quietly
ignored, but rather tha.t it is essential to attempt
this clarification. It is not difficult to show the
connection between a clearly described expression of
irrationalism with its fascist political counterpart,
even if this connection opens up many ambiguities.

It is true but not particularly profound to point
out that the atmosphere of despair in which irrationalism is grounded – whether or not this despair is
disguised as a ‘celebration’ of flux and chaos – is
equivalent to the social despair which created the
conditions for the initial establishment of fascist
governments. While it is indeed true that widelyread expressions of irrationalism help to create a
‘congenial atmosphere’ for fascist propaganda, we are
in danger here of naively suggesting that an intellec~
ual lconspiracy’ was responsible for undermining
popular confidence in reason. To attribute causal
responsibility to intellectuals such as Nietzsche or
Heidegger for the genesis of fascism only provokes
yet another furious and superficial round of debate
over such issues as their ‘fascist-sounding’


It is one of the principal features of a dialectical methodology tha.t the idea of causal connections
must give way to an entirely different concept of
connection. It is the very idea of causal connection,
not that of necessary connection, which is the central
theoretical pillar of formal rationalism. It is not
only Luk§cs who has repeatedly insisted that the
perception of causal links between things establishes
only an external and illusory connection, and thereby
a distortion of the real movement of which they are
integral parts. He is one of the few Marxist philosophers, however, who has consistently gone beyond a
formal acknowledgement of this necessity. It is not
a question of replacing ‘simplistic’ with ‘complex’

notions of cause, but rather a question of estabIishing the real internal connections in historical

In assessing the objective significance of
Heidegger’s philosophy, it must be understood as a
whole, not as a collection of fragmented insights.

His response to the crisis of subjectivity is only
apparently contradictory, but these contradictions
can be resolved by understanding his philosophy in
terms of the internal development of European thought.

Its deeper connection with the political developments
in the 1920s can only be clarified if we understand
them as structurally analogous to philosophical
developments, ratper than as related in terms of
cause and effect. The question of how accurately
Rosenberg read Nietzsche or Heidegger is quite
irrelevant. The essentially three-way conflict of
intellectual attitudes to the problem of the
irrational is structurally analogous to the essential
conflicts between the various conservative and socialdemocratic defences of capitalism, the unsuccessful
fascist assault on capitalism and the entire bourgeois democratic culture, and the genuinely revolutionary movement to transform the mode of production and
establish a higher order of reason. The ambiguous
relationship in which irrationalism stands to
rationalism is expressed in its struggle to undermine
‘the tyranny of reason’ as such: in attacking reason
it either inadvertently strengthens its formal version or threatens the collapse of reason altogether,
in both cases obscuring a wider rationality which is
the basis of a genuine solution to the problem of

A concluding comment
It would clearly require more detailed evidence to
substantiate the theses which I have put forward in
this article, in particular the claim that Heidegger’s
philosophy is intrinsically connected with fascism.

I heve only touched on the central themes of both
Lukacs and Heidegger for the sake of presenting an
overview of the conflict between them. In order to
even perceive the real nature of this conflict we
have to break down the myth of the ‘late’ Lukacs
‘betraying’ the ‘early’ Lukacs. The idea· that an
essentially subjective perspective was abandoned in
a capitulation to a shallow (Stalinist) objectivity
is a travesty which ,Teighs like a millstone on any
efforts to interpret Luk~cs objectively. This fixed
interpretation has unfortunately been reinforced by
the most recent publications on Luk~cs [44]. It is
exactly analogous to the argument that Marx
‘betrayed’ himself in writing Capital.

The argument that Heidegger’s philosophy should be
understood, not as an unorthodox theology, but rather
as the most developed expression of the self-searching
and profound relativism of the early modernist period,
enables us to understand not only the initial atheistic power of his philosophy, but also Lukacs’

demonstration that Marxist philosophy, in continuously
speaking from a higher, genuinely rational point of
view, is more comprehensive than the distorted
viewpoint of relativism.

Go 1dmann, Lucien, Lukaas and Heidegger: Towards a New Philosophy, RKP, 1977
Heidegger, Being and Time, Oxford, Blackwell, 1972
Jameson, Fredric, Fables of Aggression: Wyndham Lewis, the Modernist as
Fasaist, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1979
Kant, Immanuel, Critique of Pure Reason, Macmi 11 an , 1979
Luktics, History and Class Consaiousness, Merlin Press, 1971
Luktics, The Destruation of Reason, Merlin Press, 1980
Mann, Thomas, The Magic Mountain, Penguin Books, 1960
Marx, Karl, Capital, Lawrence and Wishart, 1954
Poster, Mark, Existentialism in Post-War Franae: from Sartre to Althusser,
Princeton University Press, 1975
Sartre, J. -P ., Being and Nothingness, Methuen, 1958
Stern, J .P., Nietzsahe, Fontana, 1978

Sartre, Critique of Dialeatiaal Reason.

See Poster, Existentialism in Post-War Franae, for a critical survey of
these attempted syntheses.

See J.P. Stern, Nietzsahe, as a recent example of such prevarication.

See especially Luktics, The Destruation of Reason.

Weber’s influence on Luklics has been greatly exaggerated. Lukacs draws





extensively on the insights of Weber, Simmel, Toennies and others, but is
unambiguous in regarding them as essentially bourgeois.

This is not to suggest that there was no confusion in the way in which
Luktics presented hi s argument at this stage, nor that it was entirely free
of contradiction. As I hope will become clear from this article, some
confusion was inevitable in the circumstances, and the contradictions are
ei ther apparent or peripheral.

Al though this was largely on political grounds, Luklics’ position was
profoundly misunderstood – as it also has been in many Western Marxist
circles – as philosophical relativism.

It should go without saying that this intellectual process is regarded as
an essential component of the practical revoluti onary overthrOl~ of capitalism. Luklics is not shifting the emphasis from ‘action’ to ‘consciousness’,
but on the contrary is stating the conditions in which they can be brought

Luklics, History and Class Consaiousness, ‘Reification and the Consciousness
of the Proletariat’.

See especially HCC, pp.83-ll0.

HCC, especially pp .161-72.

He is also emphasising the inevitability of this failure, unless the standpoint of formal rationalism is transcended.

HCC, p.92.

Heidegger, Being and Time, p. 487 . Luklics does in fact answer these questions


with considerably more historical precision than Heidegger, who is more
concerned with proving that reification is the permanent structure of the
human mind. That not only this question but the whole book was largely
conceived as a response to Luk§cs has been convincingly demonstrated by
Goldmann, in Lukacs and Heidegger. But, as Lukacs has himself pointed out,
Heidegger’s philosophy as a whole is an implicit cri tique of Marxist
philosophy as such.

Radical Philosophy, Nos. 25-27.


It would, however, be as logical to argue, for example, that Popper’s preoccupation with Marxism shC’ws that he was a communist.

I am not for a moment suggesting the.t this was what Waterhouse intended;
but I am sure he would agree that this attitude towards existentialism in
particular is not an uncommon one.

See, for example, BT, p.320.

BT, pp.63-64.

BT, p.164.

Philosophy and Social Work:

The LegitiMalion of a
Professional Ideology
D. J. Clifford
In the 19th century there were close links between
philosophy and social work. The moral social and
political issues that arise in social work were of
vital concern to British neo-idealists, and social
work as a profession owes much to the influence of
these philosophers at its foundation. However, social
work soon lost its interest for philosophy, until in
the last two decades British analytical philosophers
have started to pay it some attention once again.

Unfortunately, the interest that has been paid so far
has not been very beneficial. Often it has been a
rather distant, patronising interest as expressed in
the view that ‘ … so long as philosophy and philosophers remain withdrawn from the substantive issues
(of social work), it is inevitable that ideology
should flourish’ [1], as if philosophy itself were an
indubitably objective and neutral tool of analysis.

This paper will argue that not only have recent
philosophical contributions not been neutral, they
have positively helped to reconstruct and sustain
ideological values in the social work profession.

Values in social work
As social work is commonly regarded as a liberal
semi-profession, it is not surprising to find liberal
values reflected in its literature. It is a frequent
assertion that social work ideas reflect the values
‘ … held to be central to the existence of Western
liberal democratic society, and to Britain in particular’ [2], and these include above all ‘ … the
primary importance of the individual’, and’ … a
parliamentary democratic system of government’ [3].

Like J.S. Mill, liberal social work values are concerned with simultaneously protecting the freedom of
the individual, and also allowing for the morally
important influence of the community to exert, in
some degree and in some respects, its effect on
individual character. The liberalism underlying
social work illustrates this moral concern with individual action in the context of a participatory democratic society. The moral attitude is more fundamental them a specific political commitment, and is

compatible with a variety of political views. It is
the moral concern with both the individual and society which legitimates a type of interventive activity
aiming to balance the interests of the individual, and
the interests of others to their ultimate mutual
benefit, as expressed in the British Association of
Social Work’s code of ethics: ‘The profession accepts
responsibility to encourage and facil~tate the selfrealisation of the individual person with due regard
for the interests of others.’ [4]
Some social work authors ignore the question of
values, taking a ‘scientific’, medical or practical
orientation towards their subject matter – and usually
committing themselves to broad liberal values by
default. However, many social work texts, facing the
pressing moral and political dilemmas of social work
practice, do make explicit reference to values. It
is the formulation of a largely forgotten philosopher
of social work, E.C. Lindeman, which became the basis
for expressing liberal values in many social work
texts. He was a teacher at the New York School of
Social Work from 1924 to 1950 and was deeply
influenced by Dewey. His work has been studied,
utilized and popularised by G. Kcnopka, whose book
on group work refers to Lindemann’s ‘ … distinction
between primary and secondary values, the first ones
representing basic ethical demands, and the latter
ones growing out of cultural mores which change in
time and place’ [5]. She argues that ‘The clear
~cceptance of primary values, and the demand of
honest investigation into the social worker’s own
value system are basic to social group work practice’

[6]. She identifies these primary values by saying
that ‘The key values of social work are ethical ones
since they concern themselves with interpersonal
relations. They are: “justice”, and “responsibility”,
combined with “mental health”.’ [7]
The importance of this distinction and of the
identification of primary values in social work js in
the assumptions that these values are: (1) basic
(i.e. universal, and not a subject of political and
social debate); and (2) moral (since they ‘concern
themselves with interpersonal relations’ at an individual level). These ‘basic’, ‘moral’ values thus
underlie other social or political values. The

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