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12. On the Politics of Gadamerian Hermeneutics

A Response to Orozco and Waite



In “The Art of Allusion: Hans-Georg Gadamer's Philosophical Interventions under National Socialism,” Teresa Orozco accuses Gadamer of having written “Plato and the Poets” to justify Nazi suppression of liberal humanist education and “Plato's Educational State” to support national conservative efforts to reform the regime. Geoffrey Waite repeats her accusation in “Radio Nietzsche.” Whereas most twentieth-century readers of Nietzsche have unintentionally fostered his elitist politics by adopting a perspectivist reading, Waite charges, Orozco shows that Gadamer did so intentionally. In my view, there is little evidence to support either charge.

Gadamer never joined the National Socialist Party. “For this reason,” Orozco admits, “he was elected rector of the University of Leipzig by the occupying Soviet powers in 1947.” Although, as Gadamer has stated publicly, “there was no question of his joining one of the organizations of the National Socialist Party because of the importance of remaining loyal to his Jewish friends,” she argues he nevertheless was “obliged to make political concessions in order to advance his career.”[1] Orozco does not (and presumably cannot) cite any statement, vote, or action by which Gadamer explicitly supported National Socialism. Her argument depends completely upon associations she draws between the historical circumstances and things Gadamer said about Plato. “Gadamer's articles were entirely in keeping with then current research and did not appear to represent anything unusual,” she concedes. The goals of Gadamer, in implicit contrast to those of his teacher, Martin Heidegger, “did not extend to such ambitious projects as the question of the meaning of being or revolutionizing the discipline of philosophy.” Only by looking at the articles he wrote on Plato explicitly in the context of German politics under the Nazis did she discover the nefarious character of his apparently innocent scholarship.


One might have expected a critic examining Gadamer's scholarship during the Nazi period to have noted the explicit contrast between Gadamer's actions and statements, on the one hand, and those of his teacher, Heidegger, on the other. Orozco never makes this connection. Although Gadamer repeatedly acknowledged his philosophical debt to Heidegger both before and after the war, he did not follow Heidegger politically. Unlike Heidegger, he never joined the party or gave speeches defending its policies; nor did Gadamer assert the “essential truth” of National Socialism, as Heidegger did, after Germany was defeated and the party forcibly removed from power. Heidegger himself broke relatively early with the ruling authorities. If Gadamer wanted to reform the party from within, as Orozco goes on to argue, he might have tried to make some sort of “political” alliance with his mentor. He did nothing of the sort.[2]

Perhaps because Gadamer warned critics about dismissing Heidegger's thought solely on political grounds, Orozco claims that Gadamer “argues for a strict division between the scientific and political domains” (TM263, GW1:268). She does not offer any citations to support this claim, which flies in the face of Gadamer's insistence on the importance of breaking down such a strict line by asking what is the meaning of, or what is true in, historical texts for us living now. For example, in “Plato and the Poets,” he states, “it cannot be our purpose to dispose of Plato's decision [to expel the poets from the city] by saying that it is merely the function of some particular distant and irrelevant moment in history” (DD41). Gadamer later reiterates this point more generally and defends it at much greater length in his theoretical masterpiece, Truth and Method. We cannot learn the truth of any historical writing in a merely “scientific” manner by determining its meaning solely in its own time and place; in his famous teaching about the “fusing of horizons,” he argues that we must go on to ask what in the writing remains true for us here and now. Contrary to her own claims about Gadamer, that is what Orozco accuses Gadamer of doing when she criticizes him for implicitly justifying Nazi repression of intellectuals by giving an explication of Plato's expulsion of the poets in the Republic.

Orozco does not accuse Gadamer of believing in the truth of National Socialism. On the contrary, she charges him with a kind of political opportunism. In the two essays he wrote on Plato during the Nazi period, she suggests, Gadamer presented his teaching in a manner designed to foster his professional career by pleasing relevant groups or authorities. By demanding that “his educated and cultured audience … respect the expulsion of the poets [in Plato] as a decision made within the framework of the founding of the state,” in 1934 Gadamer “indirectly attacked the reservation and skepticism about the burning of books [by the Nazis in 1933] which was widespread among the humanist elite.” He thus demonstrated the utility or “meaning” of his particular form of Platonic scholarship to the authorities.

When he returned to Plato's Republic in 1941 to find a way to respond to “the decay of the state under tyranny,” he was seeking a way “to identify with the national conservative faction of National Socialism without, however, publicly declaring his opposition to its more popular forms.”

To see whether Orozco's charges are credible, we have to look at what Gadamer actually wrote in “Plato and the Poets” in 1934 and in “Plato's Educational State” in 1941. In his first essay he began by emphasizing the paradoxical character of Plato, an obviously poetic writer, turning against poetry. There was a problem here that needed explanation and explication. Although earlier philosophers and poets questioned both the truth and the morality of traditional myths, Plato attempted not merely to purify poetry of untrue mythology and bad moral examples, but also to abolish imitation entirely. Since Plato's own dialogues are imitative representations, we have to distinguish the character of Plato's own words and the effect he intended them to have from the law forbidding imitations he proposes in the Republic. “The meaning and intent of [Plato's] critique [of poetry],” Gadamer insisted, “can be established only by [taking account of] the place where it occurs. It is found in Plato's work on the state within a program of education for the guardians of that state, a state which is erected before our eyes in words alone” (0048). As he reports in the Seventh Letter, Plato had become convinced that political reform would not occur until rulers were educated differently. In other words, philosophers must become kings. But Gadamer cautioned,

One misses the full seriousness and importance of that requirement… if one takes the projected educational program and the ordering of the state literally. This state is a state in thought, not any state on earth. That is to say, its purpose is to bring something to light and not to provide an actual design for an improved order in real political life. (DD48)

What is brought to light in Plato's Republic is the natural conflict within the human being between the bestial and the peaceful and the consequent need to bring order to the soul through education. “Such a description seems reminiscent of the humanist ideal of the ‘harmonious personality’ which is to be formed by developing the whole range of one's human potential—an aesthetic ideal to be achieved by a proposed ‘aesthetic education of the human race,’” Gadamer observes. “But for Plato harmony means the tuning of a dissonance which is inherent in man (Republic 375 c)” (0054).

Orozco never mentions Gadamer's insistence, both in this essay and the next, that Plato's Republic does not constitute a blueprint for political reform or that the education described there is explicitly said to culminate in philosophy, that is, in the asking of questions. The end or goal of the “political” education Plato proposes is thus explicitly anti-authoritarian. According to Gadamer,


the exposition of this ideal state in the Republic serves in educating the political human being, but … [t]his education … is anything but a total manipulation of the soul…. [T]his education is not authoritative instruction based on an ideal organization at all; rather it lives by questioning alone. (DD52)

Neither Plato's Republic nor Gadamer's interpretation of it constitutes the rationalization for authoritarian rule that Orozco claims.

Orozco finds a “remarkable … shift of emphasis” in Gadamer's second essay, “Plato's Educational State,” to the need to resist tyranny only because she completely ignores Gadamer's emphasis on the reformist character of Plato's thought in the first. In both essays Gadamer argues that Plato saw a need to reform the traditional Greek education in music (poetry or the works of the “Muses”) and gymnastic because that education had been perverted by the sophists into a means of, if not a justification for, pursuing one's self-interest. Evils in cities would not cease, Plato thought, until rulers became philosophical, because philosophy alone would enable them to resist the temptations of wealth and fame. Gadamer himself emphasizes the continuity between the two essays when he begins the second by observing that “the concern here is not even with the right laws for the state but solely with the right education for it, education in citizenship. Ultimately, however, the latter is education in philosophy. This dialogue is a philosophical discussion in which an ideal state is constructed, a Utopia which lies far removed from any reality” (0073). Later Gadamer explicitly states that he “will not repeat the demonstration [provided in the earlier essay] that this state, constructed in words alone, only assumes a political character involving actual power and sovereignty once the discussion comes to the warrior class” (DD83). The warriors embody the tension between the violent drives that lead to tyranny and the gentle philosophical rationality that Plato found in the soul of every human being, the tension that made education necessary. As Gadamer states in his first essay, “It is the goal of paideia to bring about this unification … of the philosophical and martial natures in him … which keeps the human being from becoming either a tame herd animal (a slave) or a rapacious wolf (a tyrant).” Philosophy enables a man to resist the temptations of power by enabling him “to distinguish the true friend from the false one and what is truly just from flattering appearances. It is philosophy which makes such distinguishing possible, for philosophy is loving the true and resisting the false” (0056–57).

It is difficult to believe that the man who penned these words was seeking to justify Nazi book burning or concealing his opposition to the popular form of National Socialism.[3] With the (in) famous “myth of the metals,” Plato's Republic might well have been taken to provide a kind of justification for the eugenic policies of the Third Reich. Gadamer does not deign to mention it. Nor does he suggest that Plato's expulsion of the poets from

his “city in speech” (or word, logos) should or was intended to be put into practice anywhere. He explicitly argues to the contrary.

Convinced that the meaning of all statements is determined by their historical context, Orozco attends solely to the context—to the scholarship to which Gadamer explicitly responded and the political events and divisions of the times at which he wrote. She does not appear to have bothered to read what he actually argued in his own name. As a result, she emphasizes the political readings of Plato to which Gadamer refers early in both his essays; she does not note the way in which he explicitly distances his own understanding of Plato from them. Likewise, she concludes that because both Gadamer and Alfred Baeumler criticized “the ideal of a harmonious personality and of the ‘aesthetic attitude,’” they must have criticized the scholars who advocated such on the same grounds and have drawn the same conclusions from their criticisms. Nothing of the kind follows, either logically or factually.

To support her “opportunistic” reading of Gadamer, Orozco should have attempted to show that Gadamer's reading of Plato changed when the Nazis came into power. That is, she ought to have documented changes from the Habilitationschrift Gadamer wrote under the direction of Heidegger in the late igaos and his essay “Plato and the Poets.” Likewise, she should have pointed out the way he modified his understanding of Plato in the Idea of the Good, after the Nazis had been defeated. If he made “political concessions” in his work in order to further his career, there should be evidence of such “concessions” or changes. Orozco does not provide it.[4]

Since Gadamer never explicitly mentioned National Socialism in either of the essays he wrote under the regime, one might conclude that the relation between what he wrote and the political context necessarily remains a matter of “interpretation.” But are there no canons or standards of interpretation? That would be truly ironic, and perhaps even more devastating to Gadamer than the charge that he collaborated with an immoral regime in order to advance his own scholarly career, since he devoted his major work to articulating just such standards. According to Gadamer, interpretation must begin with an attempt to understand the act, text, or author in its own terms. If no such attempt is made, critics remain confined within their own current understanding, unable to expand their horizon by encompassing or incorporating another. The first step in the case of a literary text is obviously to read what it says. But, if one actually reads what Gadamer contends that Plato advocated—namely, the replacement of traditional “poetic” education by philosophy as the only means of freeing rulers from the temptations of power—one cannot conclude, as Orozco does, that Gadamer was explicating Plato to justify political persecution of intellectuals in Nazi Germany. Gadamer's advocacy for the need for a new education in philosophy in the context of Nazi Germany brings Gadamer closer to his

teacher, Heidegger—particularly since Gadamer not only defines philosophy essentially as questioning but also describes the goal of the education as making it possible for someone to “be for others” instead of simply for himself. Yet Gadamer did not ally himself with Heidegger or his politico-educational project when it would have appeared to have been personally and professionally advantageous to do so. In a context in which, Orozco makes clear, it was positively dangerous for an intellectual openly to criticize the regime, Gadamer emphasized the contemporary relevance of Plato's critique of power politics and his advocacy of philosophy as the only way to overcome the attractions of sensual pleasure and fame (considerations to which the leaders of the Nazi party are known not to have been indifferent). Gadamer had obvious practical reasons to mute his criticism of the brutal power politics of the party in power; he had no “practical” reason (beyond the ethical imperatives of friendship and decency) to mute his support.

In a footnote to his essay, Waite suggests that Gadamer may have had a rhetorical reason for remaining silent about the relation between his interpretation of Plato's Republic and the political circumstances in which he found himself. (Waite concedes that Orozco's case is purely circumstantial.) Arguments often persuade readers more effectively, Waite observes, if the author leaves them to draw the conclusion from the stated premises on their own.[5] The question, however, is what are the “premises”? Is the “argument” that Gadamer says that Plato recommended the expulsion of the poets and Gadamer thinks that Plato's proposals are both wise and relevant to the present, that the Nazis repressed (which is not even the same as expelling [with honor! cf. Republic 3g8a]) intellectuals, so that we conclude therefore that Gadamer thinks Nazi policy was not merely justifiable, but wise as well? Or, is the argument that, according to Gadamer, Plato “expelled” the poets as part of his argument that the founding of a just regime required that rulers be philosophically educated, that such philosophical education is necessary to free rulers from the temptations of power politics, so that Plato's argument is still relevant to us now, because (implicitly) the heads of the government are obviously neither philosophically educated nor immune to the temptations of power? In that case, the government is and will remain unjust until both magistrates and citizens begin questioning what they now think is good.[6]

The aspect or element of Gadamer's understanding of both Plato in particular and philosophy in general that most distinguished him from his mentor was his insistence on its ethical character. (Whereas Heidegger dismissed “ethics” as a subject of the hoary “metaphysical” tradition he was attempting to “destruct,” Gadamer entitled the Habilitationschrift he wrote under Heidegger's direction Plato's Dialectical Ethics.) Philosophical dialogue and textual hermeneutics are essentially ethical, Gadamer argued from the beginning until the end of his career, because they entail respect for the integrity

and independence of the other, not only in the initial attempt to understand but also in the peaceful, nonviolent character of the accord or agreement at which the dialogue aims. Orozco's criticism of Gadamer demonstrates, by way of contrast, the unfortunate results of ignoring what an author explicitly says and does in favor of a contextual reconstruction of both his meaning and intent from the postulated effects or results, ex post facto, as it were. She castigates Gadamer for having contributed to the criticism of the classical humanists as well as the sophists, whose teachings have sometimes been associated with liberal politics.[7] But liberal doctrines of right have never countenanced guilt by association or conviction merely on the basis of circumstantial evidence, to say nothing of innuendo, of the kind Orozco employs.

By insisting on reading Gadamer solely in terms of the historical context—academic as well as political—Orozco not merely ignores the explicit contrast Gadamer draws between his own reading of Plato's Republic, which he insists is not a blueprint for actual reform or action, and that of previous political interpreters. Because he was known to associate with members of the Stephen George circle, she also suggests that Gadamer shared their opposition to the Weimar regime. He may well have sympathized with the critics. There were many reasons for Germans to be unhappy with the Weimar government; it was imposed by the allies, and it proved to be weak and ineffective. Being critical of Weimar did not necessarily make someone a Nazi sympathizer.[8]

At the beginning of her essay, Orozco complains that Gadamer rather than Jurgen Habermas was named the “most successful philosopher” in the federal republic because the latter was concerned more with social science than philosophy. The difference between Gadamer and Habermas does not appear to lie in their concern with social science, however. In Truth and Method Gadamer presents his own “hermeneutics” or method of interpretation as a critique of and alternative to what he argued were futile attempts to construct a “science” of man on the model of natural science. Moreover, Habermas and Gadamer agree on the nature and utility of interpretation. Habermas not merely concedes but positively urges that the kind of herme-neutical appropriation of the intellectual tradition Gadamer advocates is a necessary and useful component of any social order (and the study of it). But, Habermas contends, such an attempt to preserve the inheritance of the past by adapting it to changing circumstances is inherently conservative. It must, therefore, be supplemented both with technical knowledge of how to control the material foundations and with critical exposure of the cultural myths that develop over time as such.[9] Like his teacher Heidegger, Gadamer argues that such technical approaches tend to transform and thus threaten to destroy what is distinctively human. The difference between Gadamer and Habermas does not lie in the extent of their concern with social

science, therefore, but in their respective evaluations of the accuracy and danger (or utility) of technical or technological studies of human affairs. Their respective evaluations of technical knowledge arise, in turn, from their different understandings of the nature of human reason or logos, which Gadamer associates primarily with language and Habermas links more to logic. And these different conceptions of reason produce different political inclinations or stands. If Orozco wanted to critique Gadamer's thought in terms of its political effects or implications, like Habermas she could and should have proceeded to do so much more directly.

Gadamer may be criticized for not publicly opposing the rise and rule of National Socialism in Germany in word or deed. If that is the objection Orozco and Waite wish to make, they should say so. The question then would be whether “political correctness” or plain old morality requires a man to become a martyr (like Bonhoeffer). Is it not possible for a person to conclude “prudently” (in the Aristotelian and not the Kantian sense) that it would be better to preserve not merely one's own life and career, but also the lives and livelihood of one's family, friends, and students, by trying to foster change from within, gradually, by means of persuasion rather than force? Such a prudent course of action might require one to remain silent at times or to deliver criticisms indirectly in a veiled manner. In his Philosophical Apprenticeships, Gadamer describes his own behavior during the Nazi regime very much in these terms.[10]


Gadamer does not appear to be an appropriate focus or even secondary target of Waite's dis-covery of “Radio Nietzsche.” In the volumes of Gadamer's Collected Works, there is only one piece on Nietzsche, a brief explication of the literary character of Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Waite does not even mention it.

Stated in less “figurative” terms than Waite himself employs, the paradox Waite promises to illumine is how Nietzsche, initially embraced by right-wing critics of egalitarian politics, could become the major, indeed virtually the sole, philosophical source of left intellectuals in the late twentieth century. Waite attributes this apparently surprising turn of events to Nietzsche's exo/esoteric form of writing. Although he explicitly called for the emergence of a new race of “supermen” and the end of “herd” or “slave” morality, Nietzsche also gave his readers reason to dismiss such calls for radical inegalitarian political reforms. The “will to power” is only interpretation, Nietzsche declares in Beyond Good and Evil, aphorism 22; and in that “Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future,” Nietzsche seems to describe himself more as a “free spirit” who seeks to demolish old “idols” or illusions than as a “prophet” (cf. The Gay Science, aphorism i) striving to establish new gods,

institutions, or doctrines. Attacking feminists in Beyond Good and Evil (aphorism 231), Nietzsche once again claims explicitly that these are merely “my truths.”[11] Since the truth as traditionally understood is not the personal possession of any individual—especially when he seeks to communicate it to others by writing—later readers have concluded that Nietzsche cannot be serious. Such statements should not be taken literally; they must be read “figuratively.” In the late twentieth century a consensus on the need for such a “figurative” reading has developed, a consensus that extends from left to right, as Max Horkheimer, Theodor Adorno, and Hans Georg Gadamer demonstrate in the conversation broadcast in August 1 950 in commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of Nietzsche's death. (Waite locates Gadamer on the right on the basis of Orozco ‘s article.) In fact, he argues, Nietzsche's texts carry the “radio-active” seeds of Nietzsche's explicit anti-egalitarian-ism within them. So long as the complex, partly explicit, partly implicit character of Nietzsche's teaching concerning the necessity of an “order of rank” is not merely ignored but explicitly denied, that teaching is insidiously disseminated along with the “new, gentler” Nietzsche promulgated most prominently by Gilles Deleuze.[12] Waite singles Gadamer out to show how far the consensus extends and the extent to which the implicit teaching remains unrecognized. Even a philosopher who agrees with Nietzsche's inegalitarian politics now fails to recognize his own agreement or the character of Nietzsche's texts!

Waite attributes Nietzsche's insidious influence to his use of suppressed premises—in the rhetorical form of argument known as the enthymeme.[13] But it is difficult to see what “premises” Waite thinks Nietzsche suppressed. Nietzsche was perfectly open about his desire to see the emergence of “sovereign individuals” (Genealogy of Morals II. 2) and the possible utility of modern mass political movements for establishing the right conditions (Gay Science 1. 1 1). The example of the effect of Nietzschean rhetoric Waite gives is more illuminating. In What Is Philosophy? Deleuze and Guattari take Nietzsche’ remark that philosophers “must no longer merely permit themselves to accept concepts as gifts … but rather first of all make them, create them, and present them persuasively to others” as their thesis. In adopting a thought of Nietzsche's, Waite implies, they contradict both his and their own words in practice. The saying itself seems to be circular insofar as the persuading of others must render those others nonphilosophers.[14] But that is Waite's point. Apparently seeking to engage others for the sake of educating or even freeing them, the philosopher in fact dominates. Plato is the example par excellence—even though he taught the opposite. Presenting philosophy as contemplation or dialogue, he was actually seeking to forward and support a “social, conceptual, and rhetorical” hierarchy of “spiritual” or “intellectual” leaders (philosopher-kings). His project was rather self-consciously taken up and “incorporated” by Nietzsche, who passed it on

to Deleuze and Guattari without their understanding how their commitment to the “creation” of ever new “incorporeal concepts” served these “pre-modern, archaic, ideological interests and agendas.”[15] So long as “individuality” and “originality”—especially imaginative “creation” (as opposed to mere production)—were valued, Nietzsche recognized, there would continue to be an intellectually or “ideologically” based order of rank. By insisting that there was no “truth” and that everyone could have his or her own “interpretation,” Nietzsche made his thought look radically untradi-tional and yet at the same time protected and preserved the essentially elitist core.

According to George Bataille, “Nietzsche's position is the only one outside of communism.” At the end of the cold war and the apparent “death of communism,” Waite observes in this volume, “Nietzsche and Nietzschean-ism have become totalitarian, globally hegemonic” (20). By exposing the ineradicably intellectualist, and hence elitist, core of Nietzsche's thought, Waite hopes to reverse the outcome by de-structing the only position outside communism, so leaving the latter dominant and unchallenged.

There are several difficulties with Waite's project, however. First, there is the presumed method of analysis. Toward the beginning of his essay Waite claims to be employing a “Straussian” mode of reading “between the lines” for non-Straussian political ends (see note 5). In Persecution and the Art of Writing Leo Strauss argued that past philosophers did not always state their own position and arguments straightforwardly in public; from fear of political and religious persecution for their unorthodox views, they have (like the medieval Jewish philosopher Moses Maimonides) engaged in a kind of secret writing. But, Strauss warns:

Reading between the lines is strictly prohibited in all cases where it would be less exact than not doing so. Only such reading between the lines as starts from an exact consideration of the explicit statements of the author is legitimate. The context in which a statement occurs, and the literary character of the whole work as well as its plan, must be perfectly understood before an interpretation of the statement can reasonably claim to be adequate or even correct.[16]

Waite rests his argument on relatively few statements by Nietzsche, taken more from letters and the Nachlass than from published works. He does not consider “the literary character of [any] whole work,” much less its plan. The elitist politics and project he claims to find by reading between the lines can be found very explicitly on the surface.[17]

Waite does not want to determine Nietzsche's intention or meaning so much as to trace the heretofore unrecognized character of Nietzsche's influence. But in this case his argument appears to be distorted by a political agenda. By slighting Jacques Derrida and neglecting even to mention Derrida's

teacher, Michel Foucault, Waite ignores the French intellectuals who have explicitly tried to purify Nietzsche's thought of its aristocratic elements and who cannot, therefore, be easily accused of having incorporated and transmitted them unawares. The reason Waite ignores Foucault and slights Derrida may be that both declared themselves to be not merely antitotali-tarian, but anticomrnunist. Unlike Deleuze and Guattari, who call themselves Marxists, Foucault and Derrida do not share Waite's Althusserian political commitments. Waite seems to be more interested in building a Marxist alliance for the ideological class war in which he thinks he is engaged than in exploring what Nietzsche's intention was or his influence is.

What then of the Germans who Waite believes are philosophically superior to the French? The leaders of the Frankfurt School claimed that they were “deontologizing Marxian critical theory” in opposition to the fundamental ontology of Heidegger. But in the 1950 radio broadcast commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of Nietzsche's death, Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno chose to follow the “Gadamerian doctrine that true philosophy is in essence dialogical…. [D]espite minor differences of opinion about Nietzsche (having to do, [Waite] would argue, with different views of Heidegger),” there was remarkably little contention. All three easily agreed that Nietzsche could not be read “literally” in a Russo-American fashion.[18]

According to Waite, both the agreements and the disagreements between the “rival wings of German philosophy” had their roots in Heidegger.[19] But Waite has remarkably little to say about Heidegger, either about his powerful influence on twentieth-century interpretations and the consequent dissemination of Nietzsche's thought or about his analysis of the meaning and effects of modern technology. He does not contrast his own account of Nietzsche's “radio-active” form of writing with Heidegger's claim that Nietzsche's doctrine of the will to power expresses the truth of the technological age. For Waite, as for Nietzsche, technology simply represents a form of power. Turning Derrida on his head (or ear), Waite suggests that the radio succeeds in separating the voice from the body even more than the written word or typewriter.[20] Rather than disclose the truth, “radio-active” technology perpetuates the traditional belief in the direct communicability of thought by imperceptibly bringing a universal message into the privacy of one's own house (and head).

If Waite had paid any attention to Heidegger, he might have discovered what distinguishes Gadamer from most, if not all, of his contemporaries. Heavily and explicitly indebted to his teacher, Gadamer shows little interest in, or influence of, Nietzsche.

In fact, Waite's essay has little to do with Gadamer except at a very general and antagonistic level. Whereas Gadamer argues that philosophy is inherently dialogical and explicitly tries to bring out the meaning of Plato's text, Waite insists that “philosophy” actually consists in a monologue designed

to form the thoughts and deeds of others, by any means available. Perceiving himself to be engaged in ideological class warfare, Waite does not try to understand Nietzsche, Heidegger, Gadamer, Horkheimer, Adorno-or Plato—and so expand his own horizon; he tries to discredit the opposition. He does not analyze or respond to the arguments of others; he merely recasts them in terms of a metaphor he himself admits is stretched. Thus, ironically, it is Waite and not, as he claims, Gadamer who furthers the contemporary dominance of Nietzsche without recognizing that he does so. In the statement from Ecce Homo about his being not merely a “destiny” (or disaster) and “dynamite” to which Waite refers, Nietzsche goes on to claim that as a result of his writing “the concept of politics will have merged entirely with a war of spirits [or minds]; all power structures of the old society will have been exploded—all of them are based on lies. There will be wars the like of which have never been seen on earth.” In urging his readers to take part in just such “ideological class warfare” Waite fosters Nietzsche's agenda more directly than any of the French or German intellectuals he criticizes. The twentieth-century philosopher who opposes such “spiritual” warfare is Hans-Georg Gadamer. Rather than merely criticize (or attack) others from our own vantage point, Gadamer insists, we must first try to see things their way. Rather than impose our interpretation or view, we must engage in a dialogue, the form of thought that Nietzsche said was decadent and democratic, like Socrates, that philosopher of the “rabble.”

Gadamer explicitly seeks to mediate. Neither Orozco nor Waite recognizes any center or middle in politics; they see only either/or's. As a result they not only fail to understand the essential character of Gadamer's her-meneutics; their writings also demonstrably lack one of the two primary political virtues—moderation.


1. As evidence she quotes Gadamer's own statement (PAyg; PL57) that his call to a chair at Leipzig was a consequence of “high politics.” She does not explain, as Gadamer does in the following sentence, that the “high politics” consisted of a decision by the Nazis to cease imposing political criteria for academic appointments because they needed the work of the best scientists in the universities to win the war. Gadamer had enrolled earlier in a “rehabilitation” camp in order to keep his position as a dozent; he did not exhibit sufficient loyalty to or enthusiasm for the regime to obtain a higher position so long as there were political criteria. [BACK]

2. As he himself reports in “Heidegger's Later Philosophy,” Gadamer was surprised by the “turn” Heidegger's thought had taken in The Origin of the Work of Art (which circulated in manuscript form in Germany during the 1930-5, well before its official publication in 1954 [PHa 16; GW6:252]). Gadamer subsequently spent a great deal of time and effort coming to terms with the new direction Heidegger's thought had taken, an effort that culminated in the publication of Gadamer's masterwork,

Truth and Method. He made his philosophical differences with his mentor explicit in the introduction to the second edition, as well as in the essay “The Heritage of Hegel” (TMxxxvii-xxxviii; GW2:447–48 and RAS56; GW4:477). [BACK]

3. Cf. Fred Dallmayr, “Hermeneutics and Justice,” in Festivals of Interpretation (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1990), 95–105, and Catherine H. Zuckert, Postmodern Platos (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996), 78–82, for an argument to the contrary. “Gadamer did not explicitly say anything about the relevance of his analysis of Plato's Republic to the Nazi regime in which he wrote,” I observe. “It is not too difficult, however, to see the implicit critique. If philosophical inquiry constitutes the only basis of a true community, the regime then in power in Germany was clearly unjust” (82). [BACK]

4. In fact, there is a great deal of continuity in Gadamer's thought from beginning to end. In my chapter “Gadamer's Path,” in Postmodern Platos, 70–103, I have argued that he gradually, but only gradually, indicated the ways in which he came to disagree with his teacher Heidegger. [BACK]

5. Leo Strauss makes a similar argument about the insidious character of Machi-avelli's blasphemous suggestions in Thoughts on Machiavelli; Waite claims to be employing Strauss method (against Strauss's political commitments or ends). [BACK]

6. In his Philosophical Apprenticeships Gadamer reports that his piece on Plato and the poets had “been printed under the motto: ‘He who philosophizes is not at one with the premises of his time.’ This was well camouflaged as a quote from Goethe and thus not quite a heroic act. But it was also not an accommodation” [BACK]

7. Cf. Eric A. Havelock, The Liberal Temper in Greek Politics (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1 957), and the acerbic critique of the same by Leo Strauss, reprinted in Liberalism: Ancient and Modern (New York: Basic Books, 1968), 26–34. Gadamer indicates the source of the association between the sophists and “democratic” (although not, strictly speaking, “liberal”) politics when he observes that, as Glaucon makes clear at the beginning of Book II of the Republic in his restatement of Thrasymachus's contention that “justice” consists merely in the “advantage of the stronger,” “justice” in the form of law (or convention, nomos) merely represents the agreement of weak individuals to band together to protect themselves from depredations by the strong. The person who knows (or, like the sophists, can teach someone) how to persuade the many (majority) to enact what he wants as law is, therefore, most powerful. Although Glaucon's argument has often been compared to social contract theory, it is fundamentally different, inasmuch as it does not ground the justice or “right” of the government in the natural rights of each individual party to the contract, but makes law merely a matter of conventional right based effectively on the superior power of the greatest number. [BACK]

8. One could, for example, also have been a communist. [BACK]

9. Knowledge and Human Interests (Boston: Beacon Press, 1971); “A Review of Gadamer's Truth and Method,” in Zur Logih der Sozialwissenschafter (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1 970), 25 1–90, reprinted in Fred R. Dallmayr and Thomas A. McCarthy, ed., Understanding and Social Inquiry (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1977), 335–63. Likewise, in The Philosophy of Hans Georg Gadamer, Stanley Rosen argues that Gadamer's hermeneutics ultimately fail to preserve the respect for the other, the integrity of individual texts or of the understandings

of their individual authors, that he himself thinks is essential to preserve the ethical character of dialogue by mixing or melding them with contemporary concerns. In Dialogue and Deconstruction, Jacques Derrida charges, Gadamer refuses to countenance the possibility of irreconcilable differences. [BACK]

10. “Certainly it remained difficult to keep the right balance, not to compromise oneself so far that one would be dismissed and yet still to remain recognizable to colleagues and students. That we somehow found the right balance was confirmed for us one day when it was said of us that we had only ‘loose sympathy’ with the new awakening. … I exposed myself a good deal, and when the new National Socialist Kampf organization replaced our self-serving union, I was severely slandered. … So it was that the objections of the Dozentenbund prevented the sought-after title of professor from being bestowed on me. … Of course I wanted to save my academic existence in Germany, but without making political concessions that could cost me the trust of my friends in the outer or inner emigration…. Finally I found a way. … I registered for my ‘rehabilitation’ voluntarily” (PAyG-yg). [BACK]

11. The examples are mine, not Waite's. [BACK]

12. Cf. The New Nietzsche, trans. David Allison (New York: Dell, 1977) for a representative selection of essays and authors arguing for the new, more egalitarian interpretation. [BACK]

13. Waite refers to Leibniz, but it was Aristotle in Rhetoric (13543) who first defined the enthymeme as a form of argumentation especially suited to popular or political (as opposed to scientific) reasoning. However, in the section entitled “Why I Am a Destiny” in Ecce Homo Nietzsche denies that he ever spoke to the “rabble.” [BACK]

14. This is the problem Zarathustra faces in his relations with potential followers: how can a teacher exercise influence without corrupting his students? Gadamer treats the question in the essay on Zarathustra that Waite ignores. [BACK]

15. In Postmodern Platos, 10–32, 1 trace the ambiguous stance Nietzsche took toward Plato throughout his career. Sometimes Nietzsche claims to be overturning Plato; sometimes he suspects that Plato understood everything that Nietzsche himself was arguing. [BACK]

16. Persecution and the Art of Writing (New York: Free Press, 1952), 30. [BACK]

17. In a letter he wrote to Karl Loewith in 1935 (translated and reprinted in The Independent Journal of Philosophy 5/6 [1988]: 183), Strauss explained that he thought Nietzsche wanted “to repeat antiquity … at the peak of modernity.” Strauss shared Nietzsche's desire; but Strauss had come to believe that the polemical character of Nietzsche's critique of modernity on the basis of probity (a scripturally based virtue) prevented him from realizing his intention. (Strauss explains the reasons Nietzsche's attempt is self-contradictory [and hence necessarily fails] in “Note on the Plan of Nietzsche's Beyond Good and Evil,” reprinted in Studies in Platonic Political Philosophy [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983], 175–91.) Waite believes that Nietzsche is succeeding surreptitiously, because, in contrast to Strauss, Waite objects to all forms of inequality or “elitism.” He does not concern himself with the character of the promised “Ubermensch.” [BACK]

18. Waite gives a rather inaccurate account of the conversation in which he seems to mistake the polite presentation of different views for agreement. Hork-heimer, Adorno, and Gadamer do agree that Nietzsche was a poetic writer. Adorno introduces the problem of the apparently contradictory reception of Nietzsche as a

Nazi, on the one hand, and as a great philosopher, on the other. Gadamer thinks Nietzsche's importance lies (as Heidegger had argued) in his announcement of the onset of European nihilism. Horkheimer criticizes Nietzsche for the absence of dialectic; Gadamer responds that Nietzsche lacks the form, but that his thought is based upon dialectic. Gadamer then emphasizes the psychological depth and influence of Nietzsche's writings. Horkheimer agrees that Nietzsche is a forerunner of Sigmund Freud and the Marquis de Sade. Both he and Adorno fault Nietzsche for his failure to enunciate an effective social critique or program of reform, whereas Gadamer emphasizes the tragic aspect of Nietzsche's teaching concerning the eternal return. He refers, ironically, to the same statement Nietzsche makes in Ecce Homo about his being a “destiny,” of which Waite makes much. Cf. Max Horkheimer, GesammelteSchriften (Frankfurt am Main: S. Fischer, 1989), vol. 13, 111–20. [BACK]

19. In his Introduction to Metaphysics, trans. Ralph Manheim (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1959), Heidegger argued that Germany was caught between the “pincers” of the two technological superpowers, the Soviet Union and the United States. [BACK]

20. In Speech and Phenomena, trans. David Allison (Evanston, 111.: Northwestern University Press, 1973), 74–87, Derrida argues that the classical belief in the pure, undistorted communicability of ideas is based on the experience of hearing ourselves say what we think and concluding, therefore, that the expression and the thought occur simultaneously, in us as well as in the receiver. He begins Otobiogra-phies: L'enseignement de Nietzsche et lapolitique du nompropre (Paris: Galilee, 1984) (The Ear of the Other, ed. Christie V McDonald [New York: Schocken Books, 1985]) by quoting the section of Thus Spoke Zarathustra “On Redemption” in which Zarathus-tra describes the fragmented, specialized human beings in whom one organ or talent has grown so disproportionately to all others that it almost overwhelms them, e.g., the little man attached to a huge ear, in arguing that Nietzsche was implicated in Nazi politics, partly because he could not posthumously control the use of his name or writings (especially by his sister). Authors leave a “trace” that acquires new meaning, a meaning they cannot control (although they try by means of their name—hence the “politics” or attempt to exercise power on subsequent generations of readers). [BACK]

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