The following paper was originally written for a course on Heidegger’s opus magnum: Being and Time (Sein und Zeit). Heidegger was briefly seduced by the ideology of National Socialism during the expansive rise of the Nazi Party in the Third Reich. He even renounced his own renowned teacher, Husserl, because he was a Jew. Heidegger never repented of his brief Nazi affiliation. However… his ideas have penetrated the core of western thinking because – regardless of his politics, whims, passions, and human faults – he has managed to disclose, articulate, and present the TRUTH of what it means to be a human being. Notwithstanding, and perhaps even highlighting his own failures of temporal judgement, or judgement within a temporal context, he explores what it means to be an individual, what it means to “be-with” other unique individuals, and what it means to be authentic.
This author takes the natural trajectory of Heidegger’s thought to its inevitable conclusion – a conclusion that the traditional (multitudinous and enthusiastic) condemners of Heidegger abuse because of an over-zealousness for both political and ideological revenge. They have attempted to pervert or blot-out his philosophical contribution, throwing the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak. This author recognises what value lies in the truth, no matter WHO discloses it, because the truth is no less true, even if it is uttered by a man who was once a NAZI.
The aim of this essay is to show that the nature of community is as diverse as the nature of the individuals that comprise it. But, like individuals, a community can be either authentic (for the most part) or inauthentic, depending upon how readily it confronts its own identity and how it handles death. Death seems to be the key to understanding human nature and how we engage reality. This author believes that authenticity exists not only on the personal level, but also on the level of community. This means that responsibility, values, and morality come into being, are preserved, nurtured, and shared on the community level as well as the personal level. In fact, ethics are never merely a personal disposition or choice – they necessarily require the cooperation of the authentic community where tolerance itself can never be tolerated, and individuals never stoop to “agreeing to disagree”. The degree to which our contemporary communities have disintegrated in terms of authenticity is evidenced by the shabby morality that extols the false virtues of tolerance, pity and niceness.
The conclusions that this argument entails may seem obvious to many who live according to common sense: but we know that common sense is no longer the logical arbiter of human judgement and practice. This author endeavours to show that philosophically and ontologically, this common sense has a solid ground that is supported by the phenomenological ontology of the rational sciences – a study that has been long-forsaken by the liberal agenda. Please indulge the author in her initial textual exegesis. The main thrust of her presentation begins after the Heideggarian introduction.
The Authentic Community and the Role of Death
(as a moment of Life) in Defining that Community
The being-historical of Dasein forces us to reconsider the absoluteness of Heidegger’s claim that my death is radically mine and mine alone. Heidegger is not wrong that on one plane of experience – in the experience of unity as singularity and individuality – my being-toward the unique and irreplaceable existential moment of my death is, truly, mine to the exclusion of all other beings conceived as singularities. But this is only one level of experience. If it is taken as the only legitimate mode of authentic existence, then Heidegger’s seemingly unconditional dismissal of any real claims to co-experience, sympathy, empathy or solidarity in death cannot be doubted. However, it seems that in his discussion of death, Heidegger is more interested in making the distinction between the authentic self as the being-toward-a-unique-death and the inauthentic “they” self rather than exploring the ontological structure that is constitutive of all Being and for which Dasein is the key – an exploration that may provide an ontological justification or a “back door” way of understanding death as an authentic existential moment for a community as such. Heidegger’s movement from an analysis of death toward an understanding of the historicality of Dasein reveals an appreciation of Dasein’s ontological experience of unity as community within an historical or epochal enunciation of the “we”, which suggests that if Heidegger were to resume his discussion of death after his consideration of historicality and community, he may be less inclined to unequivocally preclude the possibility that while death is always mine, it is never merely mine.
I am going to push Heidegger’s thought beyond his claims regarding the particular Dasein in a particular time, to their consequences for the community. It seems that rather than being the fracture or fragmentation of the community, death as such (not necessarily only my very own death) strengthens the unity of individual entities if it is faced authentically by each individually and each as regards their being considered as being-in-an-authentic-community. While resoluteness certainly begins with an individual Dasein facing his own unique death at a singular moment in time, it does not remain locked within the narrow perimeters of singular atomic existences. It does not remain there, alone: it defines and grounds the There of true communal authenticity.
Heidegger’s analysis of the relation between the individual and community begins with Dasein’s mode of average everydayness – an inauthentic selfhood that is characterised by the very averageness or sameness that exists among others who are like “me”. This is the “they-self” which suggests desires and goals, propriety in behaviour, and normalised patterns of action, expectation and achievement. Heidegger notes, “With Dasein’s lostness in the ‘they’, that factical potentiality-for-Being which is closest to it (the tasks, rules, standards, the urgency and extent, of concernful and solicitous Being-in-the-world) has already been decided upon” (SZ 268). In everydayness, Dasein surrenders itself to the regularity and conditioned routine of this averageness, in the same way that it falls into habits of expression like empty pleasantries and “small talk”, and so the “they” determines the self of everydayness. The “they-self” of average everydayness is like living as the lowest common denominator between all beings who are more or less the same, and so it is the furthest mode of being from true authentic existence.
Dasein awakens from its lostness in the “they” when it heeds the voice of the “call of conscience” that summons it to its ownmost “Being-guilty” (SZ 269). The “call of conscience”, for Heidegger, is the beckoning of the authentic self to the inauthentic “they-self” absorbed in the world, fallen, idly chatting and curious, determined and limited by the possibilities that “they” have defined for life, and the verdict – guilty! – is the revelation of the self to the self of its ownmost possibilities and the responsibility for taking up one’s uniqueness as such. Heidegger says that being-guilty, “has the signification of ‘being responsible for’ – that is, being the cause or author of something, or even ‘being the occasion’ for something” (SZ 282). In this case, the weight of the responsibility that Dasein carries is not in factical existence as ‘having-been-thrown’, but in “being the basis of a nullity” (SZ 283). Heidegger states, “Uncanniness brings [Dasein] face to face with its undisguised nullity, which belongs to the possibility of its ownmost potentiality-for-being” (SZ 287). Dasein’s guilt is not an indictment under accusation of failure or privation – it is, simply, the claiming of the ownership of Dasein’s ownmost being.
This disclosure of conscience appeals to the singularity (or individuality) that is “mine”. Heidegger defines this as the being that is stretched-along-between-my-birth-and-my-death, and the being-towards-death that no other can experience. He writes that death, “reveals itself as that possibility which is one’s ownmost, which is non-relational, and which is not to be outstripped” (SZ 250). Being-towards-death authentically means realising not only that “death exists” and “one dies” but that I will die, and that my anxiety is unique, my resoluteness is unique, my temporality is unrepeatable, and the meaning that I attach to the consistency that I consider myself to be becomes what is ownmost to me. No matter how absorbed by the world and the “they” I become, I never cease to be “I”. And it is this persistent and nagging truth that “haunts” us.
We desire to understand our singularity, but this can be perverted into a desire to possess our being (i.e. to have what we are). Our narcissism is never perfect – i.e. we can never be completely absorbed in the “they” or the world – and so, that singular unity that is “mine” (here, now) and only “mine” demands self-recognition. Our uniqueness refuses anonymity; and even if it is, at times, silent, it is not mute. The “call of conscience” is the evocation of the self that has encounters with other selves in meaningful situations (in nature, at home, at work, at church, etc…) that are as important as death inasmuch as they concentrate the wholeness of life in the moment. The authentic self bites into the “comfortably numb” self in the “call of the afar upon the afar” (SZ 271). This call is not a communication of linguistic information, like a mental telegraph – it is the echo of the one-and-the-same voice that is mine in the everyday sense listened to by myself.
Heidegger does not speak in such terms, but, it seems that the “call of conscience” is best explained as listening to your self. Listening to the self involves a kind of existential honesty, a generosity open to the surprising event of the shining of being. Silence is a “letting-be” (Gelassenheit) of aletheia in the clearing of Dasein. The linguistic embrace of truth is the authentically pious taking-up (projection) of (or towards) being. There is a transitive and intransitive sense in which silence exists: transitive inasmuch as we actively tune-out of our attunement with the chatter of idle talk, and re-attune our attitude towards the meaning of the encounters that constitute our being-in-the-world-with-others; intransitive inasmuch as the silencing occurs or happens while we free ourselves for the horizon of possibilities that Dasein’s ecstatic being anticipates or hopes for. And yet, this anticipation or hoping is not in any way an expectation that will inevitably result in the satisfaction of the appetite for possession. This listening silence is what Heidegger calls “reticence”: “Keeping silent has been characterised as an essential possibility of discourse. Anyone who keeps silent when he wants to give us to understand something, must ‘have something to say’” (SZ 296). Dasein’s wanting to have a conscience – “this reticent self-projection upon one’s ownmost Being-guilty, in which one is ready for anxiety – we call ‘resoluteness’” (SZ 296-297). That “the self is brought to itself by the call” means nothing other than that Dasein learns, by listening, to recollect its dispersed (and often disintegrated) self, re-cognise itself as a self, and experience as a unity among unities, a sense of unity that is complex and yet less confused.
Often the “call of conscience” – while it will always be the calling of the self to the self – is echoed or reverberated in the being of others. Sometimes, like Narcissus, we only really hear our own voice (or recognise our own being) if we hear (or see) it as other. The otherness of our own selves seems necessary for the “redemption” of being. Therefore the other is within, and the ultimate authentic ownmost self is the “exterior” that is the being recorded in language. Our language (which is always ours and never just “mine”) serves to return me to myself. The different senses of unity rebound and reflect and mutually interpret each other. Our language also en- ables me to reflect, discover, and enable the other in Dasein to discover, reflect and become, authentically, the being that each unity is as a singularity, as community and as absolutely ONE. Heidegger claims, “In the light of the ‘for-the-sake-of-which’ of one’s self-chosen potentiality-for-Being, resolute Dasein frees itself for its world. Dasein’s resoluteness towards itself is what first makes it possible to let the Others who are with it ‘be’ in their ownmost potentiality-for-Being, and to co-disclose this potentiality in the solicitude which leaps forth and liberates. When Dasein is resolute, it can become the ‘conscience’ of Others. Only by authentically Being-their-Selves in resoluteness can people authentically be with one another – not by ambiguous and jealous stipulations and talkative fraternizing in the ‘they’ and in what ‘they’ want to undertake” (SZ 298).
Heidegger does not explicitly continue the implications of the authentic being-together of Dasein, and his analysis seems to suggest that any individual resolute Dasein can authentically be-with any other individual resolute Dasein inasmuch as we are speaking of Dasein qua Dasein. This is certainly true, but if the peculiar individuality of each Dasein is taken into account not in the consideration of individuality as such, but as a particular singularity that is comparable to, similar to or akin to other singularities (i.e. not insasmuch as they are singularities but in the way that they are as singularities), it would seem that there could exist not merely the authentic being-with (as applicable to any two or more resolute individuals, any time, anywhere), but a more coherent, constant authentic being-with of an authentic community. Such an authentic community would be more constant, internally coherent, and vibrantly alive to its resoluteness as a group of individuals that share an identity or a collective “personality” because they share truth in a positively unique way as a group within which the language of being becomes a dialect, individual purposes become communal values and individual time becomes the historical epoch of a community distinguished by historical events experienced together.
I think that understanding Dasein’s movement out of immersion in the inauthentic “they-self” toward authentic resoluteness in the face of death – which includes also a movement out of an inauthentic “they”-community and the possibility of dwelling in an authentic community of authentic singular beings – is riveted on understanding the different senses of unity that Heidegger is certainly aware of, and that he purposefully refuses to disambiguate. The equivocity that is operative in his exposition is the only safety from the vertiginous heights of the abyss. Consider the three senses of unity, the useful confusion of which protects us from the terror of the truth: 1) the uniqueness of the singular being-there that is bounded by this birth and this death, whose death is not experienceable by any other, and who calls itself “I” to emphasise its singularity as one among many 2) the unity of community, class, species, kind which can be defined by a lowest common denominator (inauthentic community) or common interests and values that are accepted and affirmed by each member (authentic community), and which calls itself “We” – and here we find concepts like the Being of beings, or the Life of living things, (etc.) and 3) the Absolute Oneness about which we can say nothing essentially or manifestly because it defies all relation (including metaphor and linguistic approximation). Heidegger, being a careful reader of Plato’s Parmenides, is able to employ the equivocity of these different senses of oneness precisely because they are not mutually exclusive; in fact they are necessarily equiprimordial, co-implicatory and revealed in the meaning of Dasein’s historicality.
We have an arrogant and confused tendency to view our own singularity as the beginning and end of all meaningful experience – it is both the origin and the goal of a life that is defined chiefly in terms of autonomous self-determination. This view assumes a fundamental authenticity and independence that either denies community as a formative force for our being-in-the-world or demonises its power as consumptive, numbing, assimilating and equalising. However, when Dasein takes up its resoluteness in the face of death, is it not possible to return to community as the opening that enables others to encounter their ownmost potentiality for being, and, in turn, to foster an authenticity that is proper to the true unity of authentic individuals? In other words, if there is an authenticity that the unique and singular Dasein discovers when it listens to the call of conscience, faces death and recovers itself from average everydayness, i.e. an authenticity that belongs to singularity as such, then could there not also be an authenticity that belongs to community as such? It seems that authenticity is in some way essentially tied to unity. But because we are dealing with three equiprimordial and essential dimensions of unity in the experience of Dasein, it seems inconsistent to confine authenticity to the experience of unity as singularity. Therefore, the community is not only the ground and nursery for “they-thinking” and “they-being” in the mode of average everydayness – a community has its own kind of identity and authenticity that is: 1) important internally (for the disclosure of the nature of the relation between individuals that constitute the community) as well as externally (for the community as it exists in-the-world alongside other communities, collectives, ecosystems, and all of the alloplastic, organic, and physico-chemical strata) 2) not merely the sum total of the authentic moments of individuals. The authentic community would be the articulation of the “We, now” in the epochal sense of community.
In such a community, there is a “wholeness” of unity that extends beyond the wholeness of a singular individual defined by its thrownness into the world and its being-toward death. In fact, the community as such came into being in the same manner as a singular Dasein – in the thrownness of an historical event. For example, the Jewish people as a group experience the sort of communal authenticity characterised by a thrownness into history as the “chosen people” manifested in their covenant with God, a set of values that is not monolithic in their various expressions yet still internally consistent through shared traditions and practices, and a struggle all its own defined by the threats of other communities external to itself. The very persistent general fear and superstition of members (individuals and groups) of the world at large with respect to the Jewish people – a fear and hatred that climaxed with the Holocaust – threatens this authentic community with extinction. And so, because of its authenticity, the authentic community faces the potentiality of death much as a singular Dasein does, but not exactly as an individual does. Because the community is greater than the sum of its parts, it may continue to survive even while its individual members do not – as long as there are some remaining to carry on the values and language (i.e. language in the broader ontological sense of Truth disclosed in the logos) of the community. The community may die either because every member is exterminated or because the community as a whole loses the integrity brought about by the unity of its realistic vision and the terms of its own death. If the community ceases to face the potentiality of its death because its members forsake the responsibilities of maintaining the rights and practices of a tradition that shares a set of values, and identify with groups other than the community of which they were a part, the community will die even though the singularities of which it was comprised still survive.
The authenticity of a community qua community does not arise from an artificial equalisation of its members, and its internal coherence cannot be grounded on a principle of the “lowest common denominator”. In other words, an authentic community is not based or founded on what is the same in all of its members – and even more emphatically not on any attempt to force its members into sameness – but rather on the strengths of each singularity qua singularity within the community. It is within the differences between singularities and the strength of personal purposes that the common values of the authentic community are forged. It is in the cut and thrust of fiery debate that agreement is reached – and it is this debate that strengthens the shared values because they are exposed from all sides and accepted or ratified by the community because of the agreement or compromise and cooperation of its members. Compromise in the agon of the practical arena does not diminish the peculiarity of thought among participants. The being-with of members of an authentic community is much like a table that both joins in agreement and separates based on singular differences. A community that imposes values, rules and goals by compelling compliance is a most inauthentic and monotonous collective.
It is important to note that the death that each member of the community faces individually in resoluteness is not a source of fragmentation for the community as a whole, and this is precisely because the community is grounded in the differences of each singularity as a discreet unique unity. In fact, while the particular death of a particular Dasein is ownmost to that particular Dasein and can be experienced by no other in the same way that it is experienced by that one, death is experienced by the community as the loss of a voice. But this loss, no matter how painful to the survivors, does not fracture the bond of the community – it does precisely the opposite. Dasein is never non-existent, precisely because of the community. Even after death, Dasein still exists as “having-been-there” in the present of the historical community (SZ 380). Therefore the singular Dasein that is now a “having-been-there” is a reminder of the factuality of death which, in the authentic community is also a reminder of one’s ownmost death. The Dasein “having-been-there” is a beacon of the truth – aletheia, “not-forgetting” – of what is mine and what is ours. The authentic community is one that is, therefore, rooted in property – what is ownmost to each singularity.
Another example of an authentic community is the early American citizenry. The Continental Congress was a hotbed of argument and compromise grounded in mutual respect and the shared ideals of liberty, property, God and moral excellence. Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton, two of the most intelligent and ideologically different personalities present – despite their personal mutual dislike and opposition of opinion – worked together with the others to forge an agreement that both men could accept, fight and die for if need be. The southern colonies had different needs and desires than the northern ones, but they all agreed that the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness – rights that are NOT the lowest common denominator, but the highest – were definitive of their common set of values. The authentic community may not look a lot like the utopia of Plato’s Republic as far as the details are concerned, however the principles whereby Plato founded his just society are the very ones that ground a real authentic community.
There is an organic unity and necessity within the authentic community – one that utilises the strengths of difference rather than suppressing inequality by means of brutal lies and a regimatic institution of the Nietzschean form of ressentiment. Plato’s “noble lie”, in the last analysis, is not really a lie – it is a story that harbours a truth that cannot be expressed adequately in unequivocal verbal expression (much like the Hebrew Scriptures exist for the Jewish people). “All men are created equal” does not refer to equality of possessions, talent, intelligence or motivation, but rather, equality of opportunity, equality before the rule of law, and equality as a natural being before the eyes of God (or in a cosmic, ontological way). In the Crito, Plato has the Laws of Athens address Socrates when he is presented, by Crito, with the opportunity to leave Athens and escape the death penalty by breaking those very laws. The Laws represent the encoded values of the Athenian citizenry, and any member of the Athenian community (presented in the dialogue as an authentic community) had the responsibility of participation in the community either in the form of obedience to the laws (a manifestation of agreement and acceptance with the laws as formulated) or as a force of change whereby the laws that do not represent or no longer represent the values of the community are repealed or adjusted. Alternatively, if the individual believes that the laws do not represent his values and he has not been successful in persuading them to change, he not only has the option but the responsibility to leave if he is to maintain his own individual authenticity. (If he does not leave, however, the presence of an individual who has surrendered his authenticity to a more comfortable, negligent, and irresponsible inauthenticity – i.e. a lazy illusion erected on denial – his presence does not destroy the integrity of the authentic community, though it may introduce an attitude that, if spread among too many members of the community, may undermine it eventually.)
The shared values of an authentic community are accepted and affirmed by each member by the member’s participation in the affairs of the community. This acceptance and affirmation do not preclude disagreement. The authentic community is not an unattainable ideal or a phantastic utopia of complete and harmonious unanimity. It is a community of compromise, where the underlying differences of opinion and competitive desires make concord hard work, but all the more beautiful and noble because of that work. The shared value or principle upon which all other shared values stand and on which the authentic community must operate is that of majority rule. Majority rule will not become tyrannical as long as authentic individuals continue to nurture and develop the logic of truth with the shared language of reality, and the power of persuasion in the service of truth prevails over coercion, trickery, and the brutality of compulsion. The community will survive as long as its members continue to speak with an aim to disclosing and sharing truth.
Kant describes the essence of an ethical community as a “city of ends” where no man exists for the sake of another (communism), only for his own sake: he is an end in himself. This moral ideal is based upon an appreciation of each individual’s unique and irreducible singularity. The basis for the unity of the authentic community is the unity of the individual. Coexistence is a fact of human existence: any individual that strives for truth and the good, who lives authentically with resoluteness towards death, will necessarily also act for the good of his community, because while the integrity of each unique singularity holds a kind of ontological priority considered in relation to true community, it is also most essentially fulfilled by cooperating with other singularities in community, i.e. it is incomplete outside of its participation in community in any consideration other than a logical one. In other words, without individual singularity, authentic community would not be possible, but only within authentic community does individual singularity truly come into its own authentically. Pure monadic existence is only a theoretical, scientific, present-at-hand way of considering Dasein, which is about as useful as trying to identify simultaneously the position and momentum of an electron. This is because singular Dasein both does and does not possess the whole of its singularity within the duration of its life: it does inasmuch as there is a continuity of the “I” as the energy behind acts for which it is responsible, and it does not inasmuch as it is living, and its the futural potentialities are indefinite. The more singular Dasein is considered in isolation or outside of the relationality that constitutes its being, the greater a caricature we produce. Outside of a community there is neither the “they” nor the “I”. I am “I” in my phenomenal uniqueness because of my difference from all others. I am an authentic “I” because I have let myself “be summoned out of [my] lostness in the ‘they’” (SZ 299). “I AM” truly and most completely within my authentic community, because it is that “into-which” I am thrown and “within-which” my possibilities are presented, within-which the consequences of my choices form my unique being, to-which I bequeath my achievements and memory, a-part-of-which I shape the historical personality and purpose of my community and in the fabric of which I AM immortalised has “having-been” integral, formative and essential.
The inauthentic community is best reflected in the oppressive communist regimes of the Soviet Union, North Korea and China, and the soft-communist socialism that is more nationalistic in its expression. In communism, the entire value system is based on what the “they” deems acceptable. Difference and inequality are systematically eradicated by force. The inauthentic community is depicted as the “society” of prisoners that are bound underground in Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave” (514a-520a). The members of this “community” do not see each other or themselves, or anything as it is in truth, only as shadows. Their only system of valuation is based on the honours and praise of the “they” for doing what they all do – guessing things from the shapes of the shadows. The prisoner who leaves the cave is ridiculed and killed upon his return because he is different, and his experience of truth is not limited to an inauthentic “they”-self.
In the inauthentic community, there is no property (because property is indicative of inequality and advantage), no ownership, and therefore there is nothing that is ownmost, even death. In such a collective, death is a certainty, but my death is not, since it is virtually interchangeable with all other deaths as such – it remains a fact beyond the horizon of my vision, and my continual flight from that approaching horizon is a torture enforced by the suppression of my potential authenticity by the tyranny of untruth. In such a community where everything is “in common”, my work does not belong to me, the products of my efforts do not belong to me, the right to judge, evaluate, appraise, trade, etc. does not belong to me, my purpose does not belong to me and my death does not belong to me. In fact, in such a community, nothing belongs to me, I belong to the community, and my death belongs to the community. Because I do not even own my own death, there is, no real “I”. All veritable “belonging” must first come from the integral individual, without which there is no real “belonging”, only domination, and for this reason, in the “collective” which can never truly be a community, I do not have a purpose of my own. Only the community has a “quasi-purpose”, and a meaningless one at that. Each pseudo-“I” exists for-the-sake-of the collective. If I have no purpose, then there are no values. An inauthentic community is one with perverted values, because value is essentially tied to property, and my ownmost property is my death. In the inauthentic community, the chain of causality is inverted: rather than my singularity, my irreducible uniqueness, my desires and choices, i.e. my purpose forming the values of the community, the community indoctrinates me. But were do those “values” come from? No one can say because the collective is a tyranny of the “they”. If we abide by the logical frivolity of the inauthentic collective, we condemn ourselves to a hellish and suicidal wasteland and find ourselves orphaned of origin, purpose, and goal. Total or partial surrender to the inauthentic collective is nothing other than the very worst form of masochism which ultimately results in perfect nihilism.
One may argue that my death is, perhaps, the only thing one may still “own” under the oppression of communist inauthenticity, and it is true that the “I” that is a cog in the vast machinery of redistribution will cease to breathe at some time. However, the factuality of my death is all that exists, not the fundamental, ontological meaning of my death or any ability to appreciate my ownership of it in any authentic way, because I have never existed for my own sake, and my unique, irreducible individuality has been covered-over and subsumed to a “greater” cause or agenda that is not a purpose.
In the authentic community, my death is mine but never merely mine in a similar way to other sorts of property that are mine but are useless or meaningless without the presence of others. In other words, property is only mine because of my actions and choices within a community – the only things we can and do truly own is our acts and our desires. These acts and desires are the substance of the temporality that is my being. Notions of property are extended to immaterial and material things like mind, occupation, and extended things (house, land etc.). But while we speak of “my mind” as a reservoir of my unique ideas, opinions and memories, I do not possess rationality or mind as such. Similarly I speak of “my job” or “my shoes” (both of which have to do with place, the former in relation to a function that satisfies a purpose involving beings outside of my own being, and the latter a physical location which no other can occupy either simultaneously or without my permission) but I do not possess work as such nor nature. Even the belongings or land I acquire by effort, trade or conquest will eventually become the belongings of others – when I die, someone or nature will inherit my house, someone will take over my job. I can only create with what I am already given, i.e. I shape my destiny based on my fate. I am given possibilities, and I create the life that I take up through my choices.
I do not, however, choose death – it is an inevitable fact. I will experience my own death that others can never experience, yet I do not have or possess it in the ordinary sense, if possession entails a notion of control. Even if I commit suicide, I am only choosing the manner and the time of my death, not the fact of death. I do, however, choose the style in which I treat my death: I may surrender to the falling evasion of the inauthentic-being-towards-death, or I may face my guilt that is the basis of my nullity and the ownmost-potentiality-for-being with resoluteness. The “mineness” of the possibilities that face me, the “mineness” of language and of death challenges our understanding of ownership. If we limit our notions of ownership to a consumptive form of possession, we limit our capability to a crude animalistic materialism. But ownership that is riveted in an unconfused appreciation of singularity and of the acts and choices committed by each singularity is the basis for understanding death and the relationship between the individual and the community. When it comes to material things, Locke explains that at the most basic level, the work that I perform on things transfers them into my ownership (if I gather fruit from the trees, they become mine because I acquired them through my own effort). In a sense, this same principle can be applied to non-material things, like death: I am thrown into the world, but the potentialities of being, including the ownmost potentiality of my being that is not to be outstripped, becomes mine when I take it up. I am handed down to myself, and in assuming my being in responsibility and through the call of conscience, I take up that being and, in turn, hand myself down to the community of which I am a part. Heidegger writes, “The resoluteness in which Dasein comes back to itself, discloses current factical possibilities of authentic existing, and discloses them in terms of the heritage which that resoluteness, as thrown, takes over… Once one has grasped the finitude of one’s existence, it snatches one back from the endless multiplicity of possibilities which offer themselves as closest to one – those of comfortableness, shirking, and taking things lightly – and brings Dasein into the simplicity of its fate. This is how we designate Dasein’s primordial historizing, which lies in authentic resoluteness and in which Dasein hands itself down to itself, free for death, in a possibility which it has inherited and yet has chosen” (SZ 383-384). In other words, we are thrown into the world, but our being belongs to us when we take it up as our own.
The material world provides a useful analogy with the ontological reality that confronts Dasein. I can produce many things, but their value is in trade, i.e. being shared. What I gain from commercial transactions is mine in that it does not belong to other singularities considered as such, and yet these profits are not merely mine because they are useless to me if they stagnate under my possession. “Mineness” refers to an extension of my being, and if any part of my being is not acting, it is disintegrating. If I acquire many material things, and I hoard them, locked away – if I never put them to use but keep them for the sake of keeping them, then while they continue to exist, they are acting (they are actively be-ing) and I am the one not acting, or rather acting only to prevent my own action. This is a self-defeating autotoxic situation that amounts to my being, being devoured by the extension of itself – “mineness” swallowing up the “me” of which it is a “mine”. If we avoid this rather rare phenomenon, we discover that the “things” we possess and own are the thriving interface of the community – as extensions of ourselves, they become the tentacles of our being through which we encounter others, communicate, comport ourselves, reveal, conceal and accomplish our being without the confused illusion of completeness. Nothing we can acquire, be it money, land, fame, friendship, or knowledge can complete us in the way we dream of being completed (like Aristophanes’ “split-aparts” in the Symposium). We are simultaneously a whole (called “I”), and therefore complete, but also forever incomplete in our singularity because of our singularity. And yet because our singularity is only a singularity in community, there is a degree in which our completion achieves an asymptotic perfection within the community. Where does ultimate completion and perfection lie? In the abyss, the origin, the death of all communities, the death that is the birth of the Absolute One… but this must remain for the end (of this essay).
Anything gained by me is gained by the community that belongs to me and to which I belong. Similarly, the way that I own the language that I use is unique from the way any other individual does: language itself is not mine alone just as nature is not mine or his or theirs, but I appropriate it and make it my own, and I dwell in it as in a house. When I die, my heirs may inherit my worldly possessions, my values, my language and perhaps part of my purpose: they will not inherit my death because within the span of my temporality in the world, my death is the final punctuation mark – a moment so singular, unique and unrepeatable that, like the point that suspends Foucault’s pendulum, it anchors the “towardness” of my life, establishes the ground of my purpose and meaning and the foundation for my values. It is the unmoved mover. That moment, immovable for me, moves within the temporality of others who survive me. It moves them, not in the sense that it moved me, but it moves them, nonetheless, to recognise the voice of their own conscience, the voice of their own unmoved mover.
The authentic community is, in its essence, an historical community, and the historicality of a community is based on the essential temporality of its members, much as the unity of a community is dependent upon the integrity of the unity of each singularity that comprises it. Heidegger writes, “In analysing the historicality of Dasein we shall try to show that this entity is not ‘temporal’ because it ‘stands in history’ , but that, on the contrary, it exists historically and can so exist only because it is temporal in the very basis of its Being” (SZ 376). It seems that, while Dasein as a singularity with an irreducibly unique birth and death experiences temporality as its ownmost Being and can do so as understanding (even in a pre-ontological way) the futural projection and openness to possibilities that constitutes the unfolding of Being as time, each Dasein as a unique repetition experiences historicality only by understanding Dasein as a whole, i.e. Dasein as relation in time or Dasein as community. The singular Dasein “being-there” and the whole Dasein of community “Being-There” are mutually revelatory. In other words, even prior to the investigation of historiology, and even prior to something like the fundamental ontology that Heidegger undertakes, Dasein has already understood, in some manner, its “solidarity” (and I use that word cautiously) or “togetherness” with a world that is “ours, now”. In fact, I may go so far as to say that this experience grounds (as the ground that is always also the abyss – the falling away of the ground) the possibility of uttering “I, here, now” even though this truth is the ontologically primordial foundation for the “We, here, now”. The “there-ness” that is constitutive of Dasein is not only the “there” in a world, but “There” in a constantly unfolding epoch. Epochal or periodic “boundaries”, unlike the supposedly clear “limits” of singular Dasein, namely birth and death, are less definite and more fluid than the picture we can glimpse of Dasein as a discreet unit. And it is through an understanding of history that ultimately Dasein can really uncover the truth of what it means to Be at all.
“History” in English, comes directly from the Greek word “historia” which means “inquiry, investigation” but also “arbitration”. Thus “history” is intimately and essentially connected to the task of questioning or seeking in such a way as to disclose the truth of Being, and also in such a way as to understand this truth as a “whole”. The “arbitration” involved is more than an aesthetic selection of events arranged to create a representation that “hangs-together” in the way that an author’s verbal depiction of a situation in a novel highlights certain details among an infinite number of details that remain infinite precisely because they are not described and brought to the reader’s attention. The rich texture of a novel derives its aesthetic contours in the play of what is known and not known, and the imagination of the reader is engaged to fill the spaces made possible by the writer’s choices. Hence the aesthetic product is a cooperation of writer and reader in creating a “whole” picture that communicates some truth of Being. History, on the other hand, is not “merely” an aesthetic endeavour, but an ontological and aletheic ONE (and whether there is, ultimately, any real difference remains to be argued). History, and the historicality of Dasein, has to do with making explicit the meaning of Being of Dasein as a whole, which is essentially connected to Dasein’s authentic being-with in the context of community. The “whole” of Dasein necessarily includes what is outside of and around each singular Dasein, what is appropriated and not appropriated, what is in disagreement and conflict with the actions, desires and choices of each unique Dasein. Therefore the “whole” of singular Dasein is only truly whole considered in the broader horizon of inclusions and exclusions, the before and the “not-yet”, that define Dasein’s individuality as such. Dasein’s participation in the authentic community is an ethical-aesthetic project and celebration of unity that we call history.
Saying that Dasein is an historical being has to do with Dasein’s essential temporality, but contextualises that singular temporality within the “stretched-out” continuity of an epoch that is shaped and inhabited by community. While singular Dasein is, essentially, temporal, plural Dasein (the “Being-Singular-Plural” that Jean-Luc Nancy discusses) is, essentially, historical. Dasein can never be ‘past’, strictly speaking, even in death, because it never exists as something essentially present-at-hand. Dasein that is no longer still exists as “having-been-there”. Heidegger claims, “…when one designates a time as ‘the past’, the meaning of this is not unequivocal; but ‘the past’ is manifestly distinct from one’s having been, with which we have become acquainted as something constitutive for the ecstatical unity of Dasein’s temporality” (SZ 381).
The there-ness of Dasein in the world is only one plane on the ontological axis that explains all being with Dasein at its nexus. In other words, it is only operational in a relevant manner when we consider Dasein’s experience of unity as a uniqueness within a horizon of other unique and singularly irreducible beings. But because of Dasein’s situation as the ontic-ontological threshold – the opening being for all Being – Dasein’s experience of unity intersects a deeper ontological unity from which its “there-ness” loses its absoluteness as an anchor in the world. Each “there-ness” of Dasein is blindingly obvious in the mode of everydayness – so blinding that we may preserve this sense of “there-ness” in the pursuit of authenticity and the recovery of the truth of being at the cost of understanding what Being There means for Dasein. There is a difference between “being-there” in the everyday sense and “Being-There” in the authentic ontological sense. It is this difference that may undercut and relativise the absoluteness of death as a singular event, and save Heidegger’s analysis from the harsh condemnation that understands his discussion of death as the inevitable and irreparable fracture of community, even the intimacy of love.
The ecstatic projection that is the being of Dasein is nothing other than the opening to possibilities, almost in a sense of desiring. We desire the eternal in the temporal, but we have the tendency to confuse the temporal with our supposed familiarity with the temporal. Understood as essentially futural, ecstatical Dasein is never complete, never perfect, and yet authentic being-towards-death frees Dasein from the illusion that we can or ought to perfect our life. In other words, we can live incompletely in a complete way by realising that our completeness is not in the project of being that we take up, but rather, our incompleteness is underwritten by a more profound completeness that is always already there as well as here. It is like The unfolding temporalisation of time that is history is never a mere aggregate of accomplishments of Dasein – it is the unity of Dasein through time that understands Dasein’s infinitude and articulates it through the repetitions of truth in finitude. Heidegger observes, “The resoluteness which comes back to itself and hands itself down, then becomes the repetition of a possibility of existence that has come down to us. Repeating is handing down explicitly – that is to say, going back into the possibilities of the Dasein that has-been-there… for it is in resoluteness that one first chooses the choice which makes one free for the struggle of loyally following in the footsteps of that which can be repeated” (SZ 385).
The vision of unity that history affords authentic Dasein is a surprising one. We saw Heidegger emphasise the unity of singular being as the unique and irreducible experience of authentically being-towards-my-death (1st sense of unity). We saw Heidegger refer to Dasein as a whole when he explained that the kind of being that Dasein is a being for whom being is an issue (2nd sense of unity). In the discussion of Dasein’s historicality Heidegger inexplicitly ventures to show in what way Dasein is also a radical One. The taking-up of Being that has been handed down is nothing other than another repetition of the double movement between untruth and truth, inauthenticity and authenticity, forgetfulness and remembrance, the old and the new, the past and the future. The Platonic tradition has spoken in terms of the “forgetfulness” of the body (the metaphors of the Phaedrus and the Symposium speak of the soul’s descent from heaven, the realm of the forms, i.e. truth, into the body), but the body is, as material, the principle of individuation – my singularity there in time. Heidegger never speaks in such terms, but it is tempting to see the resonance in his thought, of the motif of forgetfulness (which he refers to as fallenness, absorbtion in the “they” and inauthenticity) and recollection (which he refers to as the call of conscience, guilt, and authentic being-towards-death). Heidegger says, “Everyday Dasein has been dispersed into the many kinds of things which daily ‘come to pass’… So if it wants to come to itself, Dasein must first pull itself together from the dispersion and disconnectedness of the very things that have ‘come to pass’; and because of this, it is only then that there at last arises from the horizon the understanding which belongs to inauthentic historicality, the question of how one is to establish a ‘connectedness’ of Dasein if one does so in the sense of ‘Experiences’ of a subject…” (SZ 390).
An authentic community is not one that is characterised merely by political affiliations, artificial borders, citizenship, geography or temporal coincidence. An authentic community has a conscience that is not merely the sum of the individual consciences of its members. It therefore, also, has a guilt all its own. History is, in a sense, the “call of conscience” on a grander scale. For those lost in the absorption of the present, “historical things” are mere curiosities or collectables. But Dasein is the essential swaying of eternal Truth through time. In historicality (which is the readiness to hear this call) Dasein calls itself to itself out of the now from another time. This call comes to Dasein “here, now” from the “there, then” that is beyond my singular birth and death. The ecstatic nature of Dasein understood in the fullness of its ONEness is not confined to that stretched-out-span between birth and death. In understanding the truth that historicality reveals to us, we see that the “there” is the “here”, the “then” is the “now”. If we understand authenticity on the first level of oneness as the disclosure of true self as authentic-being-towards-death and a response to the call of conscience, then there is an authenticity that cannot be ignored on the other two levels of the meaning of oneness or self. We are comfortable with the sense of the uniqueness of our singular being, and we are even comfortable with the self as a communal self. There are disciplines and branches of disciplines that have and are endeavouring to articulate what it means to say authentically, “I am a woman”, “I am an American” or “I am a human being”. But what does authenticity mean in the radical sense of Oneness? If we embrace the kind of authenticity that characterises truthful acknowledgement of the meaning of Being a ONE in the first two senses of one-ness, are we really authentic at all inasmuch as we have not considered authenticity in the light of pure ONENESS?
The ancient Oracle of Delphi in Greece bore the inscription: “Know Thyself”. If we mistake this injunction to mean that we ought to merely “know ourselves” as finite singularities among other finite singularities, we have missed the mark. To “know thyself” is to know oneself as a unique being who is in a community relation to other unique beings, and who, ultimately, does not merely share, but IS the identity of all Being.
While we are busy “being singular plural” (and plurality is another name for community), what has escaped our notice (what we have forgotten) is what it means to be ultimately ONE, in the Parmenidean sense, i.e. authentic to the core (without, at the same time, ceasing to be ONE in the first two senses). Historicality is the call of awaking to this radical oneness. History is our being stretched out over epochs, beyond my birth and death, beyond many births and deaths. Birth and death are only relevant for the first sense of unity and perhaps the second (in the sense of inception and devolution); beyond that, they have no meaning for the identity of Dasein. In the second sense of oneness, Dasein’s being is a community in a world. In the third sense of oneness, Dasein IS. This is why Nietzsche can claim, “I am all names in history”, and this is why we can repeat, “I AM WHO AM”.