From a reader:
As a caveat, I have yet to read your book but am eagerly looking forward to
doing so in the near future. I have just listened to your heritage foundation
talk which you linked us to on your blog and have a few initial brief comments.
First, I recently read an interview in which you suggested that it is
important to take the best arguments of the left rather than engaging in
attacks with the excessive, even fanatical rhetoric of left wing partisans. A
sentiment with which I couldn’t agree more, but was disappointed to see you
dedicate the first twenty minutes of your talk to dismantling those thinkers
who represent the most simplistic and reactionary arguments of the left (i.e.
Naomi Wolf). To my mind these arguments are too cheap and easy for a
thoughtful person like yourself to engage.
Also, you refer to the fact that deconstruction and the criticism of
logocentrism that have become dominant themes among the cultural left find
their roots in Nazi philosophy. Are you referring to Heidegger? If so, and I
suspect you are in that he viewed his early philosophical project as being
involved in the Destruktion of the Western philosophical tradition (intimately
connected to the Derridean critique of logocentrism), I would suggest great
caution in making this link. Heidegger’s Destruktion is the immediate
precedent for Derrida’s own call for the deconstruction of metaphysical
assumptions in the Western canon, but as Derrida himself notes and Heidegger
was certainly aware deconstruction has a broader history in the Judeo-Christian
tradition (as a Catholic theologian I am particularly sensitive to the ways in
which philosophers rob religious traditions for their most fundamental
insights). The broader genealogy of this concept can be traced back to
Luther’s call for the “destruntur” of Aristotle, St. Paul’s call to destroy the
wisdom of the wise, and finally to the prophet Isiaiah.
It should also be noted that Heidegger’s philosophy serves not only as the basis
for Derrida, Foucualt, Levinas and other thinkers who are perhaps too
simplistically characterized as leftist, but also Leo Strauss’s particular
brand of political philosophy which has again perhaps too simplistically been
interpreted as providing the foundation for certain neo-conservative tendencies
in contemporary politics.
Anyhow, thanks for linking to this talk and thank you very much for your
thoughtful discussions with Peter Beinart in “What’s Your Problem.” Alas, they
represent a far too rare instance of civil and reasoned discourse between
persons who disagree on politics. I look forward to reading your book!
This is all good stuff. The short answer is that while Heidegger and various Heidegger-influenced intellectuals appear often in the latter-half of the book, I was not referring to Heideggerian dekonstruction in my Heritage speech. I don’t want to get weedy on this, at least not yet. So I’ll just leave you with a teaser from page 16, in the introduction:
The historian Anne Harrington observes that the “key words of the vocabulary of
postmodernism (deconstructionism, logocentrism) actually had their origins in antiscience tracts written by Nazi and protofascist writers like Ernst Krieck and Ludwig Klages.” The first appearance of the word Dekonstrucktion was in a Nazi psychiatry journal edited by Hermann Göring’s cousin.
Update: From a reader:
Jonah, Not to go too far into something utterly unrelated to your book (which I really do plan to read just as soon as I clear the massive and growing pile of other books I need to get through this month), but this Lutheran theology student feels a need to make a bit of a correction to the remarks of the Catholic theologian you posted this morning. I would urge him to exercise “great caution” himself in his broader genealogy of deconstruction–Luther is a very strange candidate for a place on the list, as the most radically logocentric thinker of his day. That is, we’re speaking of a fellow who objected to (theological) use of Aristotle precisely because he saw in Aristotle’s hold on theology a tendency to privilege a certain speculative theory over the spoken word itself. For Luther, words are things–he consciously rejects the old distinction between signum and res (inherited through Augustine, his greatest theological influence), that is, sign and the thing signified, and refuses to see words as merely pointers. His whole theology–view of preaching, the sacraments, scripture, etc.– is word-theology. A word can do, can give, what it says. Even more, God actually gives himself in his word. So, e.g., in his explanation of the Lord’s Supper in the Small Catechism: “And whoever believes these words has exactly what they say, forgiveness of sins.” If there’s anything in the modern Western tradition which appears at all in line with this, it’s not Heidegger or deconstruction. I would argue the later Wittgenstein has something in common with Luther.
Likewise, your emailer’s mention of Isaiah is a bit odd–there too we see a view of language, of the word, that is strongly performative in this way. E.g., Isaiah 9:8, “The Lord sent a word against Jacob, and it fell on Israel”, or the vision of the Lord enthroned in the temple in Isaiah 6–Isaiah receives the command to go and speak to the people so that they do not understand, that is, “Make the mind of the people dull, and stop their ears, and shut their eyes, so that they may not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and comprehend with their minds, and turn and be healed.” Strange, perhaps, but the point is the effect of the word–it isn’t given in order to provide information, to indicate some truth, but to actually effect a result. Anyhow, that’s too much on an obscure topic, but I thought that, as a small correction to an interesting email, it might be of some minor interest.