Prior to the question that alone always seems
to be the most immediate and urgent, What
ought we to do? we must ponder this: How
must we think? Thinking is indeed the proper
acting insofar as to act means to comply with
the essential unfolding of being. . . . This
original correspondence, carried out for its
own sake, is thinking.
If the claim is at all defensible that in today’s culture subjectivity is withering as the last in a long series of ultimate referents, then the possibility of construing a ground for action also disappears. The deconstruction of practical philosophy is one accompanying feature of the transition from the late modern issues of consciousness and its acts to the issue of closing modernity: “the being of entities in its unconcealedness and concealment.”2
What may begin to hold one’s attention in that transition are the many ways, changing with time, in which things enter into mutual relations. There is nothing stable in this ‘unfolding’. Nor is there anything that would allow for a normative discourse, legitimating action, to be construed. We think by ‘complying’ with the economic mutations of presencing. We act in the same way. In the epigraph above, it is apparent that thinking does retain a priority for Heidegger. We act as we think: permeable or impermeable to the ceaseless renewal of presencing-absencing. But for the deconstructionist project, the two questions—“What ought we to do?” and “How must we think?”—remain distinct only as components of the heritage we have to assume. Working through that heritage reveals the common essence of thinking and acting: corresponding to ‘the essential unfolding of being’, thanking’.
I will spell out briefly what for Heidegger are the constitutive parts of the phenomenological potential, and then see what becomes of them with his discovery of the economies of presence. Heidegger lists three “fundamental elements” of phenomenology: reduction, construction, and destruction.3 Later, when his focus shifts from past ontologies to past modalities of presence, he speaks of “deconstruction” rather than “destruction.” Nevertheless, the three elements survive—although in a new guise—the discovery of the economies of presence.
Their new guise dissociates them from any reference to the I. Their severance from egology allows transcendentalism to move from the priority of one present entity (the ontic precedence of Dasein) to the priority of presencing. This metamorphosis of the a priori introduces history into the transcendental conditions. Husserl could not recognize such historicity, which is “essential in being,” because of his subjectivist bias.4
Through the reduction, the phenomenology of intentional consciousness traced the objects of natural perception back to experiences of my “pure ego in the pure current of my cogitations.”5 For Husserl, the reduction led to the discovery of the transcendental ego as the origin of perceptions. The phenomenology of being-there, on the other hand (early Heidegger), discovers quite a different origin through the reduction: occurrences in the world are reduced to the opening of regional projects through which being-there discloses those occurrences.6 Finally (later Heidegger), to examine entities for the sake of their historical modality of presencing is to practice yet another type of reduction. Such a modality institutes and preserves an epoch. Here the reductive gaze passes from the epochally present to epochal presencing. This kind of transcendentalism operates under another pre-understanding and another preliminary question than did the reduction to ‘phenomena’ in the strict sense, whether phenomena for consciousness or for being-there. As directed against the primacy of consciousness, the later form of reduction is anti-humanist. Through the new pre-understanding, unconcealment is established as prior to any act of consciousness and any project. But as a quest for conditions, the reduction remains transcendental. Unconcealment as the a priori—an aletheiological economy—arranges everything that can become a phenomenon into an order of presence, which may last decades or centuries.7
Phenomenological construction8 consists in explicating the pre-understanding that guides first the intuition of essences, and later the projection of entities for the sake of their being.9 To construct is to grasp a horizon of intelligibility, be it (a) the world for acts of the ego or (b) temporality for being-in-the-world. With (c) the discovery of the economies of presence, “to construct” does not mean to constitute either formal egological ideas or existential structures. Here to construct, then, is to open up the epochal horizon where a principle reigns and to trace the law that it imposes, from its ascension through its withering away. The historical modalities of presencing remain as unthinkable for the young Heidegger as they were for Husserl. However, whether of universal ideas (a), existential structures (b), or epochal fields (c), phenomenological construction always does violence to the empirical, ontic, historical manifold. Construction establishes a preliminary from which interpretation proceeds: in the case of the later Heidegger, the modes in which an entity comes to presence within a given epochal order. Therefore, the description of the reversals within history is continuous with hermeneutic phenomenology, for which “interpreting is not acquiring information about what is understood, but elaborating the possibilities projected in understanding.”10 The three types of construction—(a) theory of intentional acts, (b) fundamental ontology, (c) economic topology—formally resemble each other insofar as no research can dispense with a preliminary grasp of that which it seeks. All three are phenomenological and transcendental: whether the preliminary is human or aletheiological, construction determines its function, each time, through a question. It is only a way of asking questions.11 The preliminary that is “constructed” by the phenomenology of economies is the three-tiered difference between entities present, their historical field of presence, and the event of their presencing. Meanwhile, there is presencing. To construct that difference is thus to say ‘meanwhile’ and to say it temporally: while the Inca reigns over Precolombian Peru, words, things, and deeds are ‘presencing’ to one another according to the decimal system. . . .
The destruction is first of all a methodological consequence of the return to ‘the things themselves’. Already for Husserl, the task of liberating the objectively given from the theoretical overlays and prejudices amassed by the tradition entailed a dismantling of philosophies in order to attain the pure intentional experience hidden under non-scientific theories. But neither the phenomenology of subjectivity nor that of Dasein can proceed with what Heidegger calls the “critical deconstruction of transmitted concepts toward the sources from which they have been drawn.”12 Since these “sources” are intentional experiences for Husserl and being-in-the-world for the early Heidegger, the deconstruction of transmitted concepts remains distorted—incomplete and entangled in metaphysics—as long as the sources are sought in man, that is, as long as these experiences and this being-in-the-world are not situated in a history of modalities of presence.13 The phenomenological deconstruction of the history of ontology is complete and disentangled from metaphysics only as a phenomenology of epochal economies. The ‘thing itself’, the very issue that the deconstruction frees, consists in the numerous ways entities have of rendering themselves present, of presencing. These numerous ways result from the concrete shifts in our history. Wherever philosophers inquire merely about entities as present, analyzing for instance their composition, that coming to presence and its route remain implicit, ‘always already’ operative, but unthought. The destruction wrests from inherited systems presencing as a rare thinker may have experienced it. The concepts from his writings are ‘destroyed’ as doctrine, and they are reconstructed to reveal how he may have acknowledged, even if obliquely, being as a temporal event. The destruction is the positive appropriation of the tradition14 because it recaptures what has always made us think, but has remained masked by metaphysical dogma.15 The deconstruction, on the other hand, wrests from past established orders the event of presencing that happens always and everywhere in each entity that becomes a phenomenon. The successive orders are ‘deconstructed’ as they form a culture and reconstructed to reveal the event that gathers entities into historical constellations. Deconstruction differs from destruction by its disinterest in past authors, but it is identical with destruction in its quest for an understanding of being as time. From destruction to deconstruction, the text analyzed shifts from writing to epochal history.
The task consists, then, in thinking being as presencing and as differing from its economic modalities. This task for thinking will be completed successfully only through a deconstruction of the principles that administer an age. That is where phenomenology, now radicalized, encounters the problem of acting. As I have said, the political is situated in the confluence of words, things, and deeds. How are we to act publicly, how do we participate in common affairs, if this precarious confluence is the sole a priori legislator we can heed or ‘thank’? A legislator more than a little inconstant.
There is no more irrevocable finitude than that of the epochal regimes as they prescribe what we can do; and no more transient norm than that of those principles whose arising opens and whose foundering closes an era. The representation of something ultimate which, because it objectivates presencing, matters most in any temporary public order is necessarily a finite a priori.16 Epochal principles are always ontic givens. Each of them opens modalities of possible interaction and forecloses on others. An epoch, then, is “reduced” to the way things, words, and actions are mutually present in it; it is “constructed” out of the difference between present entities and their presencing; and it is “deconstructed” so as to let presencing as such become accessible to our inquiry. But if it is true that the event of presencing founds nothing, that it cannot even be understood as long as the very search for a foundation is not renounced,17 the critique of grounds and reasons amounts indeed to deconstructing action: taking it out of its seemingly natural embeddedness in doctrine and meaningful order, and examining it as one site where presencing occurs. To the question “What ought we to do?” the answer is, then, the same as to the question “How ought we to think?” Love the flux and thank its economic confluences. . . .
The consequences of this deconstruction are most obvious in the political domain. We will trace them through the birth and the decline of referents for action: from the Aristotelian substantialist pattern for political philosophy, to the substitution of the ‘event’ for any ontic standard for practice.
—You speak incessantly of a ‘letting’. This
gives the impression that what is meant is
a kind of passivity. [ . . . ]
—Perhaps a higher doing is concealed in releasement
than in all deeds of the world
and in the machinations of
collectivities . . .
— . . . which higher doing is however no
—Accordingly, releasement lies—if one may
speak of lying here—outside the distinction
between activity and passivity.
“Conversation on a Country Path about
In order to understand how Heidegger uproots action we have first to make sure in what sense Handeln (“acting”), while as irreducible to activity in a narrower sense as to passivity, still remains a political category. Acting, like thinking, is a surrender to the economies of presence. Action is thus absorbed in releasement, the highest deed. At first sight, there is nothing very political about this. That impression may change, however, if we can clarify how action allies itself with speech and with things—the alliance I have used to describe the political. The key distinction will be one between an acting opposable to thinking and an acting akin to thinking. This elementary distinction will make it possible to grasp exactly which notion of the political the Heideggerian critique uproots. By definition, the metaphysical quest for an ultimate foundation seeks a hupokeimenon, a ‘substrate’. Metaphysics is a fundamentalist quest. Therefore it should not be surprising that the substantialist notions of the political, inherited from Aristotle, are the ones that the deconstruction undoes before all others, and that all others are undone by means of the substantialist notions.
1. Heidegger does not always appear to distinguish clearly between acting as opposed to πάσχειν—being acted upon, suffering, ‘passion’-and doing as opposed to being inactive. The ‘highest deed’, inseverably one of thinking and of acting, is sometimes called Handeln and sometimes Tun.19 There is thus a broader concept of acting that transcends traditional antonyms such as action-passion, doing-not doing, acting-thinking, theory-practice, and even πϱάττειν (to act, tun)-ποιεv (to make or fabricate, machen). This broader concept is releasement. Gelassenheit is indeed poietic in an anti-humanist sense, it ‘produces’ the economies. Heiclegger makes Parmenidean formulations his own in saying that noein, the act in which thinking receives economic presencing, and einai, an economy’s self-production, are one and the same ‘letting’.
The clearest way of disentangling Heidegger’s restricted concept of action from his broader one consists in separating them by the ‘turning’: man until now (der bisherige Mensch), that is, until the metaphysical closure, “has for centuries acted too much and thought too little.” Here we have the traditional, restricted concept of action opposed to contemplation. But “from now on” (fortan), that is, beyond the closure and as a result of the turning, action will mean something else. To act will be “to bring something where it belongs and henceforth leave it there.” Here we have the broad notion, which joins acting and thinking in releasement. So that there can be no misgivings about the anticipatory character of this broad notion, Heidegger adds: “None of us will claim to carry out, however remotely, such a thinking, or even a prelude to it. At the very most, we may succeed in preparing for it.”20
The other acting, which has remained unthought, will necessarily differ from action as conceived by the tradition issuing from Aristotle. It cannot be confused with the praxis assigned its goal by reason and sustained by the will. The representation of a goal to be attained—if not the construction of a human faculty, the will, aiming at it—dominates the concept of action from the very opening line of the Nichomachean Ethics: “Every art and every inquiry, and similarly every action and pursuit, is thought to aim at some good.”21 The question is: are τέχνη and μέϑοδος, πϱᾶξις and πϱοαίϱεσις “similarly” dominated by an end to be attained? Theoretical teleocracy seems rather to be born from reflection about technē alone, so that we ‘aim at’ something, strictly speaking, only in the domain of fabrication. From there the rule of end has imposed itself on reflection about “inquiries,” and finally on each and every form of acting, each and every form of choice. The rule of end has constituted the concepts of scientific investigation as well as those with which we account for moral decisions.
The broad notion of action, one may say, situates the restricted notion as a genus situates a species. Teleocracy provides the specific difference that determines not only poiēsis and technē, but also praxis. It demarcates the phenomenal region where an end reigns. From this regional preeminence follows the very telling kinship between Aristotelian Ethics and Politics: the patterns of analysis in each are not home-grown. They are taken neither from ethical nor from political phenomena. Grasped at their birth, in their home territory, teleocratic representations refer to the substantial changes artisan man is capable of effecting. From there Aristotle extends them to all philosophical disciplines. Teleocracy, however, reveals its total sway over thinking and acting only when examined in its historical outcome, contemporary technology. Considering the birth and the apotheosis of teleocracy, Heidegger can say that “the essence of technology” has “remained unthought until now.” It will be thinkable only in virtue of a broader, non-teleocratic concept of action. “That all this has remained unthought until now is due primarily to the fact that the will to action, that is to make and be effective, has overrun and crushed thinking.”22
An acting other than “being effective” and a thinking other than strategical rationality is what Heidegger puts forward under the name of releasement. It is unthought and unthinkable for metaphysics, which remains captivated by teleocratic design. But if such captivity results initially from technical phenomena, extrapolated—that is, from a metabasis eis allo genos—then it could be said that Western philosophy (and perhaps not only philosophy) has remained the captive of Aristotle’s Physics.
At what price can substantialist patterns be applied to political phenomena at all? To be sure that a price is involved, let us first see with what right these phenomena can be characterized by the interdependence of actions, words, and things. Let us see, in other words, how politics ceases to be pervious to special, ‘disciplinary’ discourse when studied through the economies of presence.
An economy is a system. In it, certain variables group themselves and function for a time according to a nomos, a law. Since this law is one of interaction, all epochal variables are essentially public. Now the public variable par excellence is language. Its primacy was emphasized by Heidegger from the beginning, when his guiding question was that of the meaning—better, the ‘sense’—of being.23 It was restated in another way after his discovery that systems of presence are not unvarying, a discovery that directed his guiding question toward the epochal truth of being.24 However, the variability of language in accord with epochal systems, as well as the primacy of language in the manifestation of being, was enunciated expressly only in the last writings, when the guiding question had become that of the topology of being: “Man’s relation to language could transform itself in a manner analogous to the change in his relation to being.”25
Language, in its synchronically public and diachronically variable character, is not sufficient to constitute the political domain. By itself, deprived of other speakers whom it addresses and of things that form its subject matter, language opens a phenomenal domain that is not that of the political, but, as I have said, of the text.
Actions in the narrow sense, too, may occur in isolation, without reference to speech and things. The deeds that constitute the highest forms of ‘being-with’ tend perhaps to remain deprived of speech and performed because of nothing.
Things, finally, can remain non-public for centuries. Theirs is then an ontic absence, excluding them from a given economy.
But when words, actions, and things conjugate in an always provisionary network, an economy of presence comes about. As so constituted, it is public. And since it is the locus where a plurality of agents participate in the discourse and affairs epochally within their reach, an economy so constituted is furthermore political. Understood this way, the political domain excludes none of the variables that form an epoch. It also is in no way discretional, subject to option. Such is at least the case if it is agreed that Heideggerian ‘being’ is best transcribed as mutual ‘presencing’, i.e., as the event of phenomena entering into interdependence.
From the topological viewpoint, relative to the loci of presencing, the political is the transcendental opening in which words, things, and deeds find their site, it is the ‘locality’ (Ortschaft) of linguistic, pragmatic, and practical loci. So understood, it obviously escapes disciplinary analysis. It is not a field for one of the traditional branches of philosophy or one of the social sciences. And yet Heidegger does not leave us entirely unequipped for dealing with the organization and exercise of power, the issues handled by political philosophers. This kind of organization and exercise constitutes ways of responding to historical ‘stamps’ on presencing. What the social sciences study are the modes in which a given era corresponds to its epochal principle. The price one pays for such a disciplinary treatment of politics is that the ontologicai difference—here between ‘locality’ and ‘locus’—disappears from sight. Heidegger understands action entirely in terms of that difference: “All effecting rests in being and is directed toward entities.”26 All possible efficacy is prescribed by the predominant modality of presencing. Action in the strict teleocratic sense, then, shows itself to be born with the principial economies over which a supreme end reigns. But when the representations of some ultimate end fade, action as the pursuit of goals appears as a ‘humanist’ delusion. With the withering away of the principles that generate telē, action metamorphoses along with the economies. That is the hour when releasement can come into its own—the hour of closure—the hour when principial dispositions yield to anarchic ones. All political efficacy rests in the coordination, which can be either principial or anarchic, of words, actions, and things.
If this phenomenological conception of the political is granted, can one seriously go farther and oppose it to one metaphysical conception, which would in addition rely on a group of premisses foreign to their domain of application? For Heidegger, every beginning contains within itself the fullness of the phenomena that will issue from it; thus if political substantialism could be traced to the founder of metaphysics, one might indeed suspect that it holds sway over the entire subsequent era. The opposition between a phenomenological and a metaphysical conception of the political would then boil down to the question: Where does the substantialist framework that Aristotle imposes on his Politics originate?
2. Heidegger’s attitude toward Aristotle is ambiguous. This holds not only for the notions of phusis and alētheia.27 From Being and Time onward, Aristotle appears like one whose philosophical breath has been sustained by the question of being, but who has also given to the elaboration of that question a turn that has proved ill-starred. At stake in this ambivalence is the notion of hupokeimenon, of substrate. That, after Aristotle, the question of being “subsides as a thematic question for actual investigation,”28 is a consequence of his substantialist conception of being. Aristotle is the first to have asked explicitly, ti to on, what is being? In this sense, Heidegger claims constant kinship with him. But Aristotle is also the first to have answered that question by pointing to sensible substance. His ontology is lodged within the domain Being and Time called Vorhandenheit, subsistent being. In this respect, Aristotle instead prefigures and inaugurates the long errancy that includes even Husserl.
Aristotle’s ambivalence transpires in his political philosophy. On the one hand, he has the merit of criticizing the utopian rigorism of Plato’s Republic by attacking its source, namely, the conception of an abstract and universal political eidos. Aristotle formulates this critique for the sake of a more empirical doctrine of the city. This fidelity to the phenomena, to the tode ti, makes “Aristotle’s thinking more Greek than Plato’s.”29 On the other hand, however, Aristotle has, as it were, betrayed his own sense of the phenomena by imposing on the Politics the cadre of the four causes, the principles of natural movement and analogy.30
How does the causal theory of nature arise? Could natural causality impose itself on the mind because before all else man experiences himself as a cause? He fabricates works. Beside these, he observes things that grow and that he does not fabricate. Nature is a cause, too. Could his causal conception of nature then arise out of his experience of human fabrication, as a transposition of it? For Heidegger, only because there is a cause of artifacts—namely, man—has “phusis been taken from the outset as ‘cause’,”31 as the other cause.
There is, then, in Aristotle a double transference of method from the doctrine of technical motion to that of physical motion and from there to politics. The affairs of the city are treated genetically, in a manner analogous to natural growth, and in the last analysis, to human fabrication. In all three domains the question is always one of analyzing the appearance of a substance. But the imposition of technical and physicist schemata makes it impossible to say what the political substance is. Here we have the other Aristotle—the non-Greek Aristotle, the schoolmaster of the West—at his best. He does not raise the question of the being of the city. At least when he sets out to apply the four causes to the polis,32 his fidelity to the phenomena seems to abandon him.
Furthermore, this transference illustrates beautifully how being-moved becomes “the fundamental mode of being” for Aristotle.33 He distinguishes among kinds of entities according to the corresponding kinds of movement: natural things, τὰ φύσιϰα (plants, animals, elements), are moved by themselves, whereas ποιούμενα (artifacts) are moved by another.34 Between the two, πϱάγματα (human ‘affairs’, especially political ones) somehow take up the middle ground, sometimes approximating the former, sometimes the latter. In Aristotle, physical kinetics obstructs the phenomenal understanding of what political life is, just as the logic of definition through genus and species—’living’ and ‘endowed with speech’—obstructs the phenomenal understanding of what man is.
Beneath movements and causes lies the enduring substrate, which Aristotle often confounds with substance.35 From substance he gains that decisive schema of thinking with whose help the political is made to resemble the physical, the pros hen schema.36 Individual ends and actions are ordered to those of the city, as accidents are to substance and, in general, predicates to the subject. From this ‘ontological’ priority of the body politic spring the common stereotypes of politics—Gemeinwohl geht vor Eigenwohl, public welfare first, private interests next—as well as all corporatisms. The polis ‘is’ in the highest degree, it is ‘naturally prior’ to the household and the individual. But its supremacy and priority result from the application of general principles borrowed from the Physics, among them, the principle of the whole and its parts: “What is posterior in the order of becoming [the city] is prior in the order of nature [the individual].”37 Correlatively, only what is naturally prior to its parts in this way is self-sufficient. The autarchic individual would have to be either an animal or a god. Now autarchy is precisely the chief trait of substance: “Nothing else is independent [χωϱιστόν] but substance, for everything is predicated of substance as subject.”38 The legitimation of the city in relation to its constituents is gained by substantialist criteria that belong properly to the analysis of fabrication. It is in making things that all acts of the artisan, all materials and ‘accidents’, must be directed ‘toward the one’, that is, the finished work. Only on this condition is there technical movement, and only then can the work be complete, independent, ‘autarchic’.
Since the very beginning of politics as a branch of philosophy, its basic patterns have been aligned with the branch that studies technical production. The substantialist notion of politics in Aristotle confirms his Physics as “the foundational book [Grundbuch] of Western philosophy.”39
Substantialism in politics and the ascendancy of the Physics over European philosophy also confirm, indirectly at least, the scope of the ‘turning’ in Heidegger. As the offspring of Aristotelian substantialism and physics triumph and reach completion in the guise of technology today, a partitioning becomes possible. Like Sanctus lanuarius, thinking can then look forward and backward at the same time. It turns toward the anarchy it prepares, without turning away from the substantialism it deconstructs. The spirit of technology is the god Janus, the spirit of the ianuae and the iani, doorways and thresholds. The ‘turning’ traces the line of demarcation between the pros hen economy and the manifold economy, between archism and anarchism.
All poiēsis always depends on phusis. . . .
Human bringing-forth depends on phusis as
arising prior to everything else and coming
toward man. Poiein takes phusis as its
measure, it is kata phusin. [It] complies with
phusis and follows its potentials. . . . He,
then, is knowing who brings forth with an
eye on that which emerges out of itself, that
is, which discloses itself.
No reconciliation or synthesis is possible between the pros hen economies and the economy that takes phusis—the event of phuein, preseneing—as its only measure. If in “bringing forth” we are simply to follow “that which emerges out of itself,” all archaic constructs have to be deconstructed. More specifically, if in acting we are to espouse only the potential of “that which discloses itself” as it discloses itself, the epochal principles must wither away.
Understood through the pros hen economies of presence, the political appears as the domain where the integrative force of one metaphysical referent—e.g., “the suprasensory World, the Ideas, God, the moral Law, the authority of Reason, Progress, the Happiness of the greatest number, Culture, Civilization”41—becomes apparent in the conjunction of words, things, and deeds.42 An epochally ultimate principle is the ontic origin of such a conjunction. It assigns to ‘politics’ the extent of its possible efficacy, the sum of what is achievable in a given moment. What happens when the lineage of these mortal principles itself becomes extinct? When these principles exhaust their force and when only the potential of phusis remains for us to follow? What happens when man becomes “knowing”?
Action becomes free. What is its freedom? Let us look once more at the last of the principles, the ‘ego’ as the final offspring of anthropocentrism or ‘humanism’, and see how it withers away.
When faced with the task of justifying political phenomena, all the phenomenology of intentional consciousness can do is reduce them to public interaction of the ‘ego’. This is an awkward solution. For Husserl, the fundament of political phenomena is to be sought in the plurality of the ‘ego’, in intersubjectivity. It is true that this investigation was actually of little interest to him;43 nevertheless, in his view intersubjectivity completes phenomenology. Only the experience of the alien ego makes the social world conceivable. That world is properly the objective one for Husserl. Any association remains impossible unless social constitution emanates from the transcendental subject. The reduction, applied to another subject, discovers that it, too, constitutes a unified world of objective meaning; it discovers it, too, as a transcendental ego. Whatever the inherent difficulties in the constitution of the alter ego for Husserl,44 his avowed goal is to show that the ego ceases to be a monad and phenomenology a monadology if the experience of the other is understood not merely as physical ‘presentation’, but also as psychic and transcendental ‘appresentation’. It must be added, though, that if for Husserl intersubjectivity grounds the specifically social acts through which diverse communities are formed, these acts are, so to speak, purified of any imperative traditionally associated with practical reason.45 They are no longer acts through which the ego gives itself laws. They are not free in the Kantian sense.
The difficulty in grounding the political is even greater within the parameters of existential phenomenology. The transition from intersubjectivity to the being-there of others (Mitsein) amounts to stepping back deliberately from the issue of how collectivities are constituted. In Being and Time, this double transcendental regress disarms practical reason. Any subiectum that abides below the exchanges within social formations is set off side. Freedom as reason legislating for itself becomes inoperative. The heterogeneity among phenomenal regions—Dasein, described by the existentials, and non-Dasein, by the categories—makes it impossible to grasp the ego reflectively and establish it as the objective substrate of an organization of the social non-ego, which would itself also be objective. Since existential phenomenology is not a philosophy of reflection, it dislocates the unity of the ego and the self: “I” am eventually someone other than myself, namely “everyone.”46 An egological and reflective phenomenology could still treat the ego as a given fundament for the constitution of a social world. However, for existential phenomenology, the I is never given; therefore it cannot be put to work like an available fundament on which one might rest a theory of civil society and, in the last instance, one of the state. Such theories would provide ontic instantiations of the ontologicai phenomenology of Mitdasein. But there is nothing normative about this phenomenology. It can actually ‘ground’ opposed political theories, for example, one that exalts the state as the ultimate “ethical substance conscious of itself” (Hegel) as well as one that promotes its dissolution. To say that the existential analytic grounds the political domain can mean only that it exhibits the formal structures obtaining in that domain. But these remain indifferent to the problems of legitimation. Fundamental ontology “founds” only regional ontologies.47
The phenomenology that seeks to understand the origin through the breaks in our history discovers no ground of the political in either intersubjective constitution or in existential resolution. When the transcendental a priori is dissociated from subjectivity and being-there, any ground capable of legitimating action is lost.48 The phenomenology that understands the origin through the ontological difference between presencing and epochal presence has good reason to find itself incapable of assuring the legitimacy of public institutions.
The first of these reasons is methodological. It results from separating the two questions of ground and of origin. As ‘presencing’ the origin is not a ground, not a fundament. What can function as a basis for the political is a temporary principle (like the ‘puma’, coupled with the decimal system), but for the phenomenology of presencing, such a fundament is a locus that is not necessarily part and parcel of all economies. Methodologically, anarchy then appears in the transition from fundamental ontology to topology, that is, with the very elaboration of Heidegger’s sole question.
The second reason concerns the ontological difference. An epochal principle is something, an inner-worldly entity49 that has its era. But grounding one inner-worldly entity, for example, the state, on some other innerworldly entity, an epochal principle, amounts to grounding historical entities upon historical entities, which is to ground nothing at all. To be sure, in many respects what is epochally ultimately present is incomparable to everything else epochally present. The one major referent and the many minor ones are of unequal ‘force’ (whereas “power” belongs to presencing alone50). But in its positivity any datum is ontic, whether it is an object for science,51 God,52 a vision of the world,53 or some other entity. Epochal principles such as “the authority of God or the magisterium of the Church,” “the authority of Conscience,” “the authority of Reason,” “the social Instinct,” “historical Progress,” “Civilization,” “Business,”54 are ontic referents that can be depicted; and they therefore differ from ontological conditions of possibility.
The third reason phenomenology has to abstain from any discourse about problems of legitimation stems from Heidegger’s reformulation of the traditional quest for grounds. He understands any ground as grounding—as a verb, not a noun. A poetic project, to give his favorite example, is “a ground-laying foundation,” a deed ex nihilo.55 But such a gesture becomes sterile when successors refer to it as to a principle, claiming: This is how our founding fathers have willed it. . . . The “deed of founding a political state,”56 too, is a happening without ascendants, perverted by the piety of descendants.
The ground of the political that is to be deconstructed proves to be the archē commanding an era, as well as the principle—the first in authority and intelligibility—disposing that era according to an order of coercion. The archē as commanding is the archē as commencing, but perverted into a referent. It is the ontic origin against which the turning works. With the Kehre, assuring a fundament for political action becomes literally unthinkable. In this way, topology uproots politics since the soil in which activities are implanted is no longer being-there but historical alētheia.57 The fundamental traits (the categories) that the deconstruction generates are traits of presencing insofar as it is thought of “without regard to its groundedness in entities.”58 The deconstruction allows one to understand archē as the happening in which an order, until then buried, hidden, inconceivable, and even unrealizable, comes about. Whenever this happens, the former referent loses its ground-providing, normative force. Once its time is gone by, such a referent vanishes into concealment.59 It moves out of reach again and loses its force, although in its slow death it remains with us as one ontic principle that once exerted its authority and its coercion.
The deconstruction of the ways presencing has been objectivated into epochal principles so as to serve practical legitimation yields a history of successive ontic fundaments that have “withered away”60 and have become nothing. Within the course of history, such an absence of any principle of legitimation has at times invaded the political field and for brief lapses, before one ontic origin could replace another, has set action free. To mention some examples that are not Heidegger’s: the citizens’ unions in North America around 1776, the ‘popular societies’ in Paris between 1789 and 1793, the Commune of 1871, the soviets of 1905 and 1917, the Democracy of Councils in Germany in 1918—each of these modern efforts to free the public domain from coercive force (analyzed by Hannah Arendt in reference to the American model)61 marks the end of an epoch. At these moments, the princeps—governance—and the principium—the system governance imposes and on which it reposes—are suspended for a time. In such caesurae, the political realm appears as the revealer of what the origin that connects words, things, and deeds truly is: not an entity (subject, beingthere, or object), nor an archē that rules because it begins, nor a principle that dominates a society by organizing it, but the simple event in which all that happens to be present comes to presence. These breaks in our history reveal that the origin ‘establishes’ nothing: the pair of notions archē-telos does not comprise the entire phenomenon of origin, for at these reversals of history the decision is made “to eternalize the absence of a final goal” in action.62 From such moments of breach it is also clear that the origin grounds nothing, that it is not a supreme reason, an indubitable ‘why’ from which one can derive maxims: the pair of notions ‘principle-derivative’ does not exhaust the phenomenon of origin either. The practical abolition of archē and of principium is the consequence of an understanding of origin that Heidegger refuses to render explicit, since he cuts off after his remark about the rose and life “without why”: “We cannot however pursue this thought any further here.”63
To deconstruct the ontic origins of the political would mean to recover some of the conditions of the Greek polis prior to the classical age,64 that is, before the origin as phusis, presencing, came to be objectivated as archē, the instituting of what is present. The ‘deconstruction’ of the political field and the principles established over it at the reversals of history convert into a task for living what the ‘destruction’ of metaphysical ontologies suggested as a mere task for reading, namely, to prepare a thinking that renounces ultimate referents and “to anticipate the former dawn in the dawn to come.”65
When it is said that in the age of closure acting becomes free, what is being claimed is not only that action liberates itself from ‘principles’, but more decisively that it then espouses economic fluctuations expressly as “its highest law.” “This [law] is the freedom that frees toward the all-playing conjugation of never-resting transmutation,”66 that is, toward the changing arrangements of historical alētheia. Action has always been free in this kind of freedom, in this obedience to the economies. But as long as the economies are principial and epochal, it remains necessarily inconceivable that freedom could be of the same essence as unconcealment, alētheia. We have already encountered the name of this strange freedom that gives us little to choose, to will, to legislate, to ordain. It is releasement. To be free is to do what presencing does: let everything be. “Freedom now discloses itself as the letting-be of entities,”67 as entry into an aletheiological constellation. This freedom has nothing to do with Aristotelian deliberative ‘choice’, Augustinian will divided against itself’, Kantian causality and ‘moral self-determination’, or Sartrian ‘fundamental choice in which I decide my being’. All these concepts lodge freedom, if not in a faculty of the mind, at least in man. Such humanist concepts are best summarized by Matthias Claudius: “Free is not he who can do what he wants, but who can will what he ought to do.” The anti-humanist concept, on the other hand, grafts freedom within the economic summons (Geheiss—more about this later): “The summons sets our essence free. . . . Freedom, therefore, is never something merely human.”68
Here we have a new form of Parmenidean unity: freedom is the freedom ‘of’ presencing, in both senses of the double genitive. Seen from the side of einai (in modern terms, the object) freedom consists in ‘self-disclosure’. Seen from the side of noein (in modern terms, the subject), it consists in “hearing” (hören) and “belonging” (gehören): “The destiny of unconcealing always holds complete sway over man. But it is never the fate of some coercion. Indeed, man becomes free precisely only insofar as he belongs to the realm of destiny and thus becomes a hearer.”69 The ‘turning’ can now be described as a retraining of hearing and therefore of allegiance. Under the epochal regime, within the metaphysical closure, what we lend our ear and allegiance to is the sway of principles. Beyond that closure, under the anarchic regime (if that can be called a regime . . . ) we would abide by presencing without recourse to ultimate representations. To become free is to so shift one’s attention. For contemporary man, this means discovering that the principles themselves come and go with the “destiny of unconcealing.” On the borderline of the closure, allegiance can turn to the withering principles as withering.
Where does this opportunity arise from? From technology, double-faced, Janus-like. The text just quoted continues: “Once we open ourselves properly to the essence of technology, we find ourselves unexpectedly taken into a liberating claim.”70 The Heideggerian concept of freedom thus denotes more than the “free opening” which is the essence of alētheia.71 Already in the years of Being and Time, Heidegger was saying that “freedom is, and can only be, in liberation. The sole adequate relation to freedom in man is the self-liberating of freedom in man. . . . This liberating of being-there in man must be the sole and central point that philosophy as philosophizing can accomplish.”72 The open field of manifestation—first called Dasein, then “epoch of truth”—is that in which any phenomenon ‘always already’ appears. But it must be expressly set free, which requires certain conditions. They are fulfilled only with the closure. What, then, has obstructed the self-liberating of freedom? Any representation of a metaphysical first. It follows that deconstruction is complete only as a struggle against epochal principles, the principes that reign and the principia that order.
As a category of identity, freedom is reconciled not only to releasement, but to thinking. “Said plainly, thinking is the thinking of being. What the genitive says is twofold. Thinking is of being insofar as [a] thinking, appropriated [ereignet] by being, belongs to it. At the same time, thinking is the thinking of being insofar as [b] thinking, belonging [gehörend] to being, listens [hört] to it.”73 Likewise, freedom is the freedom ‘of’ presencing. It is such since (a) “liberation alone is the proper event [Er-eignis] of freedom.”74 At the same time, freedom is the freedom of presencing insofar as (b) it belongs to the economic mutations and does not cease to comply with them.
Presencing plays its economies freely, in a “free sequence.”75 Acting is called upon to become free by just that same playfulness, although in the boundary age called technology, to enter the play of freedom means to struggle. It means to liberate the constellations of the political (words, things, and deeds) from any arch-present referent whose rule would freeze them into constant presence.
As it locates the representations of supreme entities within the closure, the deconstruction of the political completes the assignation to a site, the ‘situation’, that the destruction of transmitted doctrines meant to achieve for philosophical texts. Each constellation, like each received ontology, is to be “set free into the freedom of its own essential richness and thereby left to the site to which, of itself, it belongs.”76
The practical impact of the question of being, its consequence for the question of acting, can be described in terms of origin: if we are to understand being as mere presencing, we will have to turn our allegiance in action away from ontic origins and towards phuein, presencing, as what alone is originary. A knowing actor, according to the epigraph to this section, is one who takes his sole measure from what discloses itself. To prepare the terrain for the struggle against all pretensions to arch-presence we have to ask: Precisely which origin is freed by the repeal of epochal principles?