Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, Heidegger: The Four Thinkers of the Apocalypse

Hegel’s statement that “history is rational’ is one of the most misunderstood statements in the history of thinking, as is his statement that “Christianity is the true religion, but not in its true form.” The two statements must be understood together and with the idea of the ‘end of history’ as meaning at root the end of the ‘world’ projected as Western history, and thus exchangeable with the end of Christendom, the end of Western science, the end of capitalism and the end of the metaphysical determination of man. End in each case means simultaneously completion, fulfillment, which includes its inversion, and end in terms of the exhaustion of the positive possibilities inherent in each and in their intertwining.

To begin with the statement ‘history is rational’, Hegel points out that this is not a result of thinking or research, but something he ‘happens’ to know, i.e. he knows it via a personal event that revealed history as such. That history is rational can be simultaneously understood as ‘rationality founds history’ in the sense of Western history, and thus Western history is inherently rational. It cannot be anything but rational. As the thinker who responded to the ‘end of history’ and therefore the end of rationality, understood in the Western sense, Hegel was the completion and inversion of both. That Christianity was the ‘true’ religion thus has to mean that it is the rational religion, since truth is determined throughout Western history as a rationally adequate concept. Yet in order to understand its truth, and thus be in its true form, it must transcend both its history and its rationality, which must involve transcending belief itself.

Rationality, though, is only one of the four intertwining and equiprimordial threads that determine Western history as Western society in a general sense. The others comprise:

  • Exchange as a movement (or motive) that we experience as capitalist
  • Belief as literal
  • The determination of man as rational animal which is simultaneously a forgetting of man as that-for-whom things presence

The completion and inversion of each is thus also required and fulfilled in the most powerful way by Marx, Nietzsche and Heidegger respectively. As intertwined, though, the completion of all of them may be accomplished without its having simultaneously ended in the sense of giving way to something else.

The intertwining can be seen in that man as rational animal is simultaneously man that believes in the rational and the real as measurable, exchangeable, and thereby ownable, which includes both Christianity insofar as it is both rational and belief-based, as well as science insofar as it is both rational and belief-based. As opposed to the purely mythic, metaphorical understanding that preceded those, I refer to both Western religion and science as onto-theological in Heidegger’s sense and therefore mytho-logical. The rationality of each is always based on a non-rational, metaphorical understanding that is exchanged for literal belief. At the same time, this literalism is predicated on a specific economy of exchange, one that provides a means of accounting-for based on the notion of record-keeping as accounting itself. As such, man himself can be projected as a rational animal, which means at root the “keeper of the measure” as ratio. The equiprimordiality of the different perspectives can be experienced in that record-keeping as the keeping of measure as currency simultaneously determines what can be accounted-for as ‘real’, which within Western society always therefore means simultaneously what can be owned, or property.

This determination of the real, though, simultaneously determines Western science as evidential and eventually experimental, and Western religion as ethical judgment via measure, which is projected from the beginning as ending in a judgment of judgment itself – a ‘Last Judgment.” As the keeper of the measure, the measuring facility or hypokeimenon in Plato eventually takes the place of the entire human being in the Cartesian subject. Yet this Cartesian subject is simultaneously dependent on the literalism of belief incorporated into Christianity along with the belief that religion as such can be interpreted both literally and rationally. The experimental nature of science, which replaces its originally evidential aspect, is predicated on a projection of reality-as-a-whole as rational, literal, and measurable, and one that excludes human beings, other than as the measuring subject, which becomes determined only as having no determinate properties other than being-that-for-which the projection is projected. The notion of the real as having properties is itself rooted in its being property, since only in a transitive manner can a non-human thing ‘have’, since ‘having’ is itself rooted in the experience of mineness, something that can only occur for a being endowed with understanding of some sort.

Nagel’s recent book Mind and Cosmos details the failed history of science to reintroduce consciousness, and thus account-for it. However his belief in science forces him to adopt, against his naturalist atheist predilection, both some sort of ‘naturalistic’ teleology, along with the irreducibility of both reason and consciousness. Nagel is at pains to keep the irreducibility of reason and consciousness separate, although reason can only be as an experience of rational consciousness. The reason for this is quite obvious: an irreducible rational consciousness a priori to reality-as-a-whole and particularly to reality-as-developmental demonstrates a fundamental contradiction between developmental accounts of reality such as evolution and naturalistic atheism, since what name could one give to such a rational consciousness that must be prior to all reality?

Nagel, though, neither thinks as powerfully nor as clearly as the thinker we began with and with whom his name rhymes. Any rational developmental account of non-human reality must inherently posit reality as rational and therefore as historical, projecting “nature” as some sort of metaphorical record-keeper. As such evolutionary accounts always view non-human reality as natural history, and must refer to the natural-historical record as their evidence. The difficulty, as Hegel saw clearly when he denied that nature could be historical, is that the metaphorical projection is not simply non-rational but irrational, in the sense that it contradicts its own assumption that rationality is a result of prior development. Rationality, as keeping the measure and thus based on such record-keeping, cannot be an a priori assumption for such record-keeping, nor can it be assumed as operative prior to its own development. At what point we can no longer project the past as historical and rational is debatable, but that there is a point beyond which we no longer can say what development itself might mean, never mind assume it to be rationally comprehensible, is both obvious and, in terms of science as explanation from origin, devastating.

The ‘apocalypse’ itself is neither the end of reality nor even the end of humanity, but it is the end of man as rational animal, the end of the world as Christian, the end of philosophy as metaphysics and the end of economy as capitalist. In Bataille’s terms it is the end of a particular “restricted economy of thinking”. As such, it is simultaneously the end of a particular restricted thinking of economy.



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