Back to article(s) index


Two things particularly strike me about this book. The first is that Fukuyama’s reasonable idea of a human nature that experiences an adventure of life, meeting it with emotional responses that have an integral element of shock - this notion of human nature, taken in earnest, would require that genetic engineers should be kept away from humans entirely. They should not be allowed to make interventions on therapeutic grounds, any more than for reasons of enhancement (assuming this distinction would hold up in contemporary law). But this man of the American mainstream does not feel he can face his constituency making an argument like that.

Secondly, there’s an air of helplessness that, willy-nilly, enters those final passages of a book that is very much “up for a fight”. Professor Fukuyama, challenging the American parent’s right to make his offspring look like a Californian beach boy, does not really feel on firmer ground than Professor Heidegger denouncing the effects of the radio in rural Germany. The American Frankensteins have the wind in their sails, and he knows it.

* * *

In the only piece of writing from Gaelic Ireland that seems to be a comment on Baconism - Pairlement Chloinne Tomais, written in Lord Bacon’s time by Muiris Mac Daibhi Duibh Mac Gearailt - the prediction is that it will end in squalid chaos. More common, however, among the Gaels was a fastidious refusal to let the mind be bothered about such things at all. One should be content to do whatever good things could still be done (like making poems) and wait patiently for the chance to reestablish a way of life that would reconnect with the traditions of Ireland. In the Gaels’ opinion, it would seem that the best way to solve those problems which the Baconians and their modern- world critics were wrestling with in the 1630s and 1730s and 1830s and 1930s, was not to have those problems in the first place. (I consider that this long-protracted Irish spiritual resistance is of immense value to the world, and its history ought to be known.)

Something of these attitudes was smuggled even into the culture of the 20th century Irish independence movement. I can’t remember now where I saw Tadhg O Donnchadha (a literary historian and translator of German poetry, of no small merit) considering the idea of a return to Gaelic Ireland: “Going back? I think most people would be glad to go back, if they could!” - But of course, this is a thought-crime. From Ireland to Slovakia, wherever and whenever I have voiced some critical comments on what technology is doing to the world. I’ve been liable to hear those words, “You can't go back!” - pronounced with true solemnity, with the conviction that announces a central article of faith.

Very well, you can’t go back, unless you are back. There won’t be much point trying to make the posthumans human again. We can’t go back, but... could we possibly go... sideways? (This is the issue in Alexander Dugin’s Fourth Political Theory (The first three are Heidegger’s metaphysical triplets, Fascism, Communism and Liberal Democracy) though it is depressing to find that a man who has written excellently about the inherent racism of the cult of progress and, among other things, how it degrades the generations of the dead - seems to have a lasting attachment to writers of the 1920s and 1930s - Julius Evola and Ernst Junger for example - whom it is hard not to regard as deranged …


Although Heidegger personally lived a rather 'primitive' rural life I don't think he believed in the possibility of 'going back'. For him technology was the product of more than two thousand years of a process of thinking that began with the debates in Greece over the nature of 'being'. Technology implies a particular idea of being which developed in the West and has now overspread the world. Heidegger was working on a different idea of being which would have different consequences. He offers no solution to an immediate problem. It may well be that the problem of 'climate change', for example, created by industrialisation, can only, in the short term, be 'solved' by industrial means. The 'multipolar world' wanted by Alexander Dugin, who counts himself as a disciple of Heidegger, can only be achieved by war, which also implies a highly advanced technology. We, on the other hand, might hope that through the type of thinking of which Heidegger is the best known representative another future is in the course of being prepared. To quote the famous interview he gave to Der Spiegel that was published under the title 'Only a god can save us' just after his death:

'Heidegger: I know nothing about how this thought has an "effect." It may be, too, that the way of thought today may lead one to remain silent in order to protect this thought from becoming cheapened within a year. It may also be that it needs 300 years in order to have an "effect."

SPIEGEL: We understand very well. However, since we do not live 300 years hence but here and now, silence is denied us. The rest of us - politicians, half-politicians, citizens, journalists, etc. - must constantly make decisions. We must adapt ourselves to the system in which we live, must seek to change it, must scout out the narrow openings that may lead to reform, and the still narrower openings that may lead to revolution. We expect help from philosophers, even if only indirect help -- help in roundabout ways. And now we hear only: I cannot help you.

Heidegger: Well, I can't.

SPIEGEL: That must discourage the non-philosopher.

Heidegger: I cannot [help you], because the questions are so difficult that it would run counter to the sense of this task of thinking to suddenly step out in public in order to preach and dispense moral censures. Perhaps we may venture to put it this way: to the mystery of the planetary domination of the un-thought essence of technicity corresponds the tentative, unassuming character of thought that strives to ponder this unthought [essence].

SPIEGEL: You do not count yourself among those who, if they would only be heard, could point out a way?

Heidegger: No! I know of no way to change the present state of the world immediately, [even] assuming that such a thing be at all humanly possible. But it seems to me that the thinking that I attempt might be able to awaken, clarify, and confirm [a] readiness [for the appearance of a god] that I have mentioned already.

SPIEGEL: A clear answer! But can - and may - a thinker say: just wait - we will think of something within 300 years?

Heidegger: It is not simply a matter of just waiting until something occurs to man within 300 years, but rather to think forward without prophetic claims into the coming time in terms of the fundamental thrust of our present age that has hardly been thought through [at all]. Thinking is not inactivity, but is itself by its very nature an engagement that stands in dialogue with the epochal moment of the world.'

That is perhaps how we can best see our task, not just in the realm of 'thinking' but in all the other realms of disinterested intellectual life - poetry, painting, music for example - at the present time.