Anarchy as the Closure of Metaphysics: Historicity and Deconstruction in the Work of Reiner Schürmann

Sergio Villalobos-Ruminott
University of Michigan

Volume 11, 2017


The work of Reiner Schürmann has become increasingly relevant for contemporary thought as it attempts to problematize western metaphysics from a Heideggerian standpoint. This reference to Heidegger is already problematic since his work has been at the center of an ongoing discussion that started up by the end of the Second World War and has recently been reactivated due to the publication of the Black Notebooks (Schwarze Hefte).[1] Certainly, any reference to Heidegger should consider his involvement with National Socialism along with his undeniable anti-Semitism, but Schürmann, far from what has been called the repressive hypothesis of liberal intellectuals, proposes a reading of philosophy that he deems deconstructive; a deconstruction that is not to be mistaken with Derrida’s singular approach to Heidegger and logocentrism.[2] In other words, Schürmann performs a deconstruction of the epochal organization of philosophical thinking that questions the granted fundaments of any given moment in history. It is a deconstruction of the epochal hegemonies articulating the history of philosophical thought enabled by, but not reducible to, his particular reading of Heidegger’s work. This is of course another important element that characterizes Schürmann’s intervention, namely, he is not only concerned with Being and Time and its shortcomings, but with what has become known as Heidegger’s Gesamtausgabe. This is important because the Gesamtausgabe is becoming increasingly available for scholars in different languages, complicating the naturalized assumptions that Heidegger was, on one hand, unable to move beyond his erratic, even if original, first formulations; and, on the other, that the logical continuation of destruktion should be located, somehow, in contemporary Derridian deconstruction.

In what follows I elaborate some comments on the main lines worked out by Schürmann in his confrontation with western philosophy. I also make a brief commentary on how Schürmann reads Heidegger and why this reading is relevant today. I contend that his philosophical intervention not only enables a complex ‘re-habilitation’ of Heidegger’s thought, but that it also opens this thought to the ongoing process of globalization, understood as the planetary articulation of metaphysics’ defining project. In this last point, both his particular understanding of the “closure” of metaphysics as well as the status of notions such as anarchy, epochality, historicity, and hegemony, among others, are at stake.

Of course, the complexity of his thinking could not be reduced to a single presentation, because what matters is not just a particular idea or system of ideas, concepts, formulations, hypotheses, but a reading of the whole western philosophical tradition in order to make possible, even logical, his particular intervention.[3] To engage with Schürmann is to read, through him, the western philosophical tradition and to punctuate this tradition, its history, according to his emphases. I would say that here we already have a first problem: how the history of western philosophy, as the constant forgetting of being (and this is already an interpretation of that history), reaches its own “realization” which, as we will see, is also its own exhaustion (or withering away), and how this realization allows us to ask again the question of being in a non-traditional way? Furthermore, how, in its most radical moment, the history of metaphysics opens itself, through its realization, which is also its closure, to being as an aletheological modality of presence? In other words, what is the logic of this apparent paradox and what are its mechanisms? Do these mechanisms belong to reason and its strategies, critical practices, “subjects”, or do they require a different organization of our historical understanding of thought? Finally, what does it mean that metaphysics reaches its own closure in and as modern techné, not only technology to be sure, but the Cartesian constitution of subjectivity as the kernel of modern thinking? At the end of our reflections I also make some observations regarding the pertinence of Schürmann’s reading of western philosophy in general, and Heidegger’s in particular, for a thinking of politics beyond what is usually identified with political philosophy or political theory, which is generally fed by the principial economy that Schürmann’s anarchic thinking is trying to “deconstruct” in the first place. What matters in this post-hegemonic, non-principial, and an-archic understanding of the political is important not only in terms of the history of political thinking but also in relationship to our current moment.


Reiner Schürmann is a complex thinker. Besides a series of articles that have been incorporated into his main books -or are waiting for a critical edition[4], we can consider five relevant books: his memoires Les Origins (1976-recently translated into English as Origins 2016); Wandering Joy (1978); Heidegger on Being and Acting. From Principles to Anarchy (1982), Broken Hegemonies (1996 in French, 2003 in English), and the recently published volume entitled On Heidegger’s Being and Time (2008), which corresponds to an unfinished manuscript on Heidegger’s Sein und Zeit and two complementary pieces by Simon Critchley that attempt to “en-frame” Schürmann’s interpretation of Heidegger’s “main” book.

Martin Heidegger is the main reference in his works. However, it would not be fair to reduce Schürmann to the condition of a “Heideggerian scholar”, even if he might be one of the most important Heideggerian thinkers of the 20th century. His engagement with western philosophy moves from Aristotle to Aquinas, from Meister Eckhart to Luther, from Plotinus to Schelling, from German Idealism to Heidegger, and from Nietzsche to Foucault, Derrida, and Hanna Arendt, among many others.[5] From his first publication to Broken Hegemonies, we perceive a double movement of deepening and expansion of his particular understanding of philosophy as an epochal organization of the history of being, where a “philosophical epoch” is organized around a series of first principles that work as nomic injunctions determining hegemonic configurations of meaning, articulated by a fantasmatic referent (The One, Nature, Consciousness). Most important than these historical-transcendental referents is the very mechanic associated with the hegemonic articulation of meaning in every epoch, which reduces the history of being to a sort of “logic of recognition” that brings to presence the heterogeneity of being through the hermeneutical and normative force of those referents. For Schürmann, the force of the referents consists in their ability to give sense, to give reason if you like, to a particular historical reality; but this donation of meaning is also a translation of the diversity—even, the radical heterogeneity—of being to the principial economy that orients such an epoch. This is the force of the principle of reason, and defines the labor of professional philosophy and the philosopher as a public servant of humanity. But here lies also the tragic component of philosophy, which is the sacrifice of the singularity of what it is to the condition of “a case”, that is to say, the conversion of the singular to the particular that is already meaningful thanks to its constitutive relationship with the universal. In fact, this universal is nothing but the process of universalization of the nomic injunction that articulates the hegemonic order of an epoch.

The tragic component of philosophy, therefore, is the consequence of the very articulation of its own economy, which is enabled by a double bind in which the privilege of one path of thinking always implies the repression of another path that contradicts the first.[6] Only with the re-activation of the repressed path, a re-activation that is experienced through a crisis or as an exhaustion of the epochal economy and its principles, the repressed question of being becomes possible again. However, the main three epochs of the history of philosophy (understood as onto-theology) correspond to long periods of time and are associated to the classical configuration of Aristotelian archeo-teleological foundation of the One, the mediaeval stipulation of Nature, and the modern ascent of the Subject.[7] Consequently, the “withering away” or exhaustion of modern principles (related to the Cartesian subject) as expressed in our en-framed technological world coincides with the withering away of the whole onto-theological tradition and its principial articulations, which characterizes the an-archic condition of techné and defines what is to be understood as metaphysical closure.

In other words, Schürmann’s confrontation with the philosophical tradition is in tone with the Heideggerian task of the destruction of metaphysics.[8] His particular deconstruction nonetheless moves in the following way: First, identifying the principles articulating a given epoch or moment in the history of being, say, the principles that reduce being (its singularity) to a problem of meaning and knowledge (to the relationship between particular and universal). Second, understanding the way these principles work as productive devices that give language to that epoch (in a way, these referents or fantasms work in Schürmann like Kantian categories).[9] Third, identifying the way in which professional philosophical discourses work as translations and adjustments of the diversity of sensible experience, or the world (facticity and thought), to the normative configuration donated by principles (the philosopher, and Schürmann means the professional philosopher, brings principles to the fore as referents that enable the rationality of the real, its legibility). In this sense, the work of the professional philosopher is not just the corroboration of the hermeneutical force of the principles, but also, and critically, the adjustment of reality to those principles. Heidegger’s destruction of metaphysics becomes in Schürmann a crucial interrogation of philosophy as a professional practice of power, the power of a “donation” that is always a “reduction” of being to “meaning”.

Concerning the notions of epoch and epochality a further clarification is needed. More than a rigid structuration of the history of philosophy as onto-theology, an epoch is defined by the specific set of principles determining the relationship between thinking and acting; principles that organized themselves according to a historical configuration of the relationship between theory and practice. The epoch is neither homogeneous, nor it is one-dimensional, but in Schürmann’s all-inclusive analysis, an epoch presents some regularities that are empirically apparent, making the very deconstruction that characterizes his approach possible. In general terms, an epoch has a moment of inception, a moment of apogee, and a moment of decadence (withering away of principles), and Schürmann emphasizes, in his main elaborations (Heidegger on Being and Acting, and Broken Hegemonies), the inception and the decadent moments without exhausting the problem. Therefore, epochality as a nominalization of the historical organization of philosophy should not be considered as determinative, in so far as the very history of philosophy is a philosophical problem and, even more important, this epochal organization withers away as the metaphysical tradition also achieves its realization in modern techné.[10] Technology, then, is not only the principle of a new (ultra- modern) epoch, but also the very disarticulation of any epochality, as it implies an an-archic proliferation of being. In this sense, Heidegger’s closure of metaphysics (which does not coincide with the analytical promise of a non-metaphysical philosophy) appears now in Schürmann as the impossibility of restituting the determinative relationship between theory and practice, which is, at the same time, the impossibility of restituting any form of principial politics.

Accordingly, his understanding of deconstruction (Abbau, and he translates this as deconstruction over dismantling) implies a new task for thinking, or if you want, a new tension between philosophy and thinking (as a practical activity anarchically articulated around the constellation of being). To put it in other words, if the task of thinking is the deconstruction of principial economies that capture normatively the being of be-ing, in order to access a sort of releasement of “being without a why”, this thinking is not concerned with the history of thought or with the meaning of that history, neither with a critical engagement or an exegetical reading of the main texts of the “tradition”. On the contrary, thinking thinks being, and being is not an entity, neither the first nor the more important referent, but a constellation of “presencing” that unconceals or discloses itself in our confrontation with the “world”. As a consequence, Schürmann’s deconstruction of the epochal history of philosophy leads to a topology of being.[11] Thus, the world as the constellation of beings that comes to presence does not point toward a hidden structure, a final reason, a secret teleology, but to its anarchic presencing to Dasein. The task of thinking therefore is not the “clarification” of Dasein’s existential conditions to access the transcendental site of a rational subjectivity (the line that goes from Descartes to Hegel, and from Kant to Husserl), and this would be an important difference between the phenomenological epoché and the deconstructive epoché, if we might put it this way. In Schürmann the epoché opens to an-arché and this an-arché interrupts the pros hen as a distinctive philosophical operation the inception of which is to be found in Aristotle’s Physics as the defining book of western metaphysics. This is possible, of course, because Schürmann reads the Heideggerian epoché as a sort of inversion of the Husserlian epoché, an inversion of the parenthesis that was meant, in the first case, as a suspension of the natural attitude. With that inversion, the parenthesis now suspends philosophical subjectivity and its transcendental intuitions, freeing the world from the infinite tasks of rational consciousness (translation and adjustment) and freeing thinking from the subject (transcendental consciousness).

In this sense, Schürmann dwells at the end of professional philosophy whose task was, among others, the elucidation of the history of philosophical knowledge according to epochal principles. But to dwell at the end of philosophy is also to suspend its professional task (clarification), understanding that every new moment in the philosophical history of being produces, through a particular idiom, its own fantasmatic reversal. In fact, to dwell at this end is also to resist the temptation of transitioning to a new—ultramodern—language, to a new categorical institution, even if the transition is done in the name of Humanity (reason, justice, peace, etc.), as in Husserl’s self-appointed task.[12]

This is, therefore, Schürmann’s question: what is to be done at the end of metaphysics? Which is not to be understood as a naïve question that takes for granted this end as an empirical phenomenon. The end of metaphysics is not a fact; it is, on the contrary, the historical moment in which the modern principles articulating the hegemonic order of thinking break away or, as he puts it, wither away. This sort of exhaustion of the hermeneutical and normative force of principles interrupts the ability of philosophical discourse to reproduce ad infinitum its meaningful configuration, and opens up to anarchy as a new relationship with being. This is the moment when thinking topologically the pre-sencing of being leads to a sort of radicalization of Heidegger’s Existential Analytic, that is to say, to the aletheological constellation of presence, in which intentionality and human reason are not relevant, and the philosophical anthropology that dwells at the center of modern philosophy is put away in a non-intentional relationship with the things in their coming to be.

This is the historical modulation of the ontological difference that is crucial in Schürmann’s work. Not only is the question of the ontic status of this ontological anarchy what matters here, but also the very articulation of the ontico-ontological question and the problem of the co-belonging of being and its multiple “worldly” manifestations. If this anarchy were to be read only at the ontological level, we would be re-introducing an ontological hierarchy even if only to break away from it. But, if ontology as first philosophy is deconstructed (which was the task of destruktion), then the homologation of anarchy and politics needs further elaboration. This is attested by the anxiety that Schürmann’s anarchic reading of philosophy in general, and of Heidegger in particular, produces among his contemporaries. But before moving to that point, something else needs to be said with regard to the relationship between destruktion and deconstruction.


As we indicated before, it would be important to understand Schürmann’s particular practice of reading as a very idiosyncratic confrontation with metaphysics, one that cannot be reduced to Heidegger’s destruktion, Nietzsche’s genealogy or Foucault’s archeology. Schürmann makes his resistance to Derrida’s deconstruction clear despite the attention it has received in France (and elsewhere) since the late 1960s. One of the points in question here is precisely the reception of Heidegger’s thought. In the opening pages of his monumental Broken Hegemonies, we read the following comment in passing.

To deconstruct hegemonic fantasms, one cannot trust in interpretative throws of the dice, nor let this be produced by a fortuitous collision of signifier and significance, nor attack the texts from their margins. It is necessary to go straight into the ticket-to the theses upon which a text as well as an epoch rest, theses that get themselves twisted up as soon as they are declared to be legislative.[13]

(Broken 15)

In other words, instead of entertaining oneself by playing with the flexibility of signifiers, the polysemy of the text, the archi-writing and the trace of meaning in the a-grammatical order of history, Schürmann proposes to assume the almost impossible task of deconstructing the hegemonic organization of metaphysics as history of thought. And right here one might wonder, somehow against Schürmann, up to what extent this hegemonic configuration is, itself, already a fantasmatic insemination necessary to trigger the task of thinking. I am not only thinking about the difference between différance and hegemony, between the fantasmatic referent and the specter (as an incalculable or excessive remainder of presence), but also the way in which the hegemonic configuration of metaphysics could be read as a retro-projection carried out from the viewpoint of modern ontological anarchy as a strategy to justify a historical-transcendental hypothesis about the realization of metaphysics. This “realization”, not a vulgar teleology to be sure, however, imposes itself as a particular practice of reading concerned with the tradition, the texts of the tradition, that emphasizes in them the principial articulation of meaning (“the theses upon which a text as well as an epoch rest”) and not what we might call the heterogeneous play of signification dwelling at the absent center of every text. For this heterogeneity complicates the principial organization of meaning, bringing to the fore the counter-forces and resistances that are always working through the text and its different interpretations. These resistances somehow distort the conventional identification of the text and the principles, perverting the philosopher’s “donation” of meaning (his reading of the text) while opening the texts to another donation, to another an-economic economy, which does not take place in the continuum temporality of the tradition, organized according to the hegemonic logic of the different epochs, neither within the margins of professional philosophy.[14]

Let me remain here for another moment. The hegemonic articulation of metaphysics as postulated by Schürmann would itself be nothing more than a reading enabled by the post-hegemonic condition of anarchy. But, if the texts themselves are always something more than just the economy of principles that articulates them, if the texts present resistance to the main law of interpretation that articulates them, would this not imply that post-hegemony is nothing more than a hypothesis formulated to control, conjure away or exorcise another phantasm in Schürmann himself, the specter of différance?

To be sure, I am not claiming that philosophy is an open-ended battle of interpretations, a battle that implies leaders and generals, caudillos and pastors of being, since this is, precisely, the history of metaphysics from which Schürmann, through Heidegger, wants to depart. But, what I am questioning is the very relationship between the finality, the realization of metaphysics, its temporal status, and the notion of “broken hegemony” that produces the idea of an “after” hegemony. I would even dare to say that the way out of this problem lies within the problematization of the question of anarchy and its relationship to techné. Since it is in the technical (not only the technological) subsumption of life where we also find its disarticulation from principles. Technics as the realization of metaphysics already contains an indomitable anarchy. Therefore, when Schürmann reads the tradition, there is always a double register, a double reading: one pointing towards the way in which the principles work through the texts, enabling them, giving them language; the other reading, performed from anarchy, always reads the suffering of the texts, the way the principles extort and conjure texts and thoughts according to their laws of constitution and interpretation. In other words, if destruktion’s positive aspect is always more important than its negative one, then in Schürmann’s double register what matters most is not the “critique” of the principial economy that works as an hegemonic articulation of metaphysics, but the releasement of that reading into a Gelassenheit, which implies a relation to being other than the metaphysical one (a being without a why).

But this also calls for a more acute differentiation between Derridian deconstruction and the singular way Schürmann understands this “method”. And given the contributions that contemporary thinking owes to Jacques Derrida, the argument is too important to just ignore. Let me quote Schürmann one more time.

To deconstruct action is to uproot it from domination by the idea of finality, the teleocracy where it has been held since Aristotle. A deconstruction, then, is not the same as a destruction. At the end of the Introduction to Being and Time Heidegger announced a “phenomenological destruction of the history of ontology”. By that he meant a way of rereading the philosophers. The subject matter of destruction is made up of philosophical systems, of books. With the help of that method Heidegger hoped to retrieve the thought experiences from which each of the inherited ontologies was born. The subject matter of deconstruction, on the other hand, is provided by the constellation of presencing that have succeeded one another throughout the ages. […] The Abbau cannot contain itself within a ‘region’, within a determinate science, or a discipline. Action is not deconstructible in isolation. This is why the first task is that of a phenomenology of the epochal principles.

(Heidegger on Being and Acting 10)

What is at stake here, therefore, is not the vulgar accusation that reduces Derridian deconstruction to a limited practice of reading, focused primarily on the texts and negligent at the moment of confronting the “real” world. Neither it is a problem related to the property of the notion of deconstruction, which Schürmann not only differentiates from destruction but also localizes in Heidegger’s elaborations of the early 1920s, when he was concerned with Aristotle’s hermeneutics of facticity and the re-foundation of phenomenology.[15] What is at stake here, on the contrary, is the relevance those two thinkers attribute to Heidegger’s later work. Despite it being a crucial and complicated problem that needs to be addressed in another moment, I would content myself here with suggesting that Schürmann’s engagement with Heidegger is more systematic and relevant to his own thinking than the way Derrida reads Heidegger in order to, somehow, depart from him.

Of course, Derrida’s engagement with Heidegger is careful and decisive, and with the recent publication of his 1964-65 seminar on Being and Time (Heidegger. The Question of Being and History 2016), one can see the extent to which Heidegger is relevant for Derrida’s understanding of the problem of metaphysics, historicity, and the task of deconstructing ontology and not just the history of ontology. However, it would be counterproductive to homologate or even to conflate Heidegger and Derrida’s treatment of metaphysics, onto-theology, and logocentrism. It would be equally counterproductive to assume that Derrida’s deconstruction of Heidegger’s shortcomings (the problem of authenticity, the “vulgar” notion of temporality, his unnoticed metaphoricy, his entrapment with the metaphysics of presence, etc.) not only exhaust Heidegger’s thinking but also position Derrida’s thinking as the natural overcoming of Heidegger’s philosophy. And we should add to this the fact that Derrida was always careful, and would never consider positioning himself in such a vulgar (historicist) narrative.

However, Derrida’s careful reading of Heidegger does not seem to go systematically beyond the main issues already articulated in Being and Time, and I would say that his own interpretation of that book from the point of view of a radical historicity has many merits, one of which is the postulation of that radical historicity as irreducible to any form of ontology, which is something that has been mostly dismissed within Heideggerian studies. But Heidegger died in 1976 and the discussion about his later writings is quite complex and ongoing.[16] Schürmann, on the contrary, with a closer reading of these later works, presents his own philosophy as being founded in Heidegger’s overall discoveries, which implies an idiosyncratic reading of the Gesamtausgabe that is neither the interest nor the claim of Derrida.

Clearly, I have just presented the problem without giving a convincing solution, but I did so on purpose, since what matters for me now is showing how the reading of Heidegger’s oeuvre is a crucial issue in Schürmann’s works. Let us, then, make some observations on this particular reading.


One should not forget Heidegger’s explicit epigraph to the Gesamtausgabe, which is an indication of the way in which he wants his works to be read. “Ways, not works”, as if with this precise enunciation the conversion of his thinking into a systematic philosophy were forbidden.[17] Schürmann however, in a very singular way, reads Heidegger’s thought as a process that goes from the end to the beginning, a reverse or backward reading that is not fed by the idea of an analytical or conceptual progress, but a reading oriented to the configuration of a problematic that becomes more evident when one is able to consider all the ways in which Heidegger presented his findings. It is not the inversion of a lineal (historicist) understanding of philosophy, rather it is a contestation to the naturalized split between a Heidegger I, concerned with the Existential Analytic, and a Heidegger II, after the famous Kehre, when he allegedly abandoned his first philosophy and replaced it with the problem of the poem and the truth of Being.[18]

Of course, his backward reading of Heidegger is totally consistent with his reading of the whole philosophical tradition, but it is not just consistent, it is a distinctive characteristic of his operation. In fact, one could organize a reading of Schürmann in the same way, and show the ever-increasing reach of his thinking. But this matters little. What actually matters for us is what I would call a prismatic reading of his works, a reading articulated in three main centers or circles from which it disseminates outwards. 1) His reading of Being and Time (On Heidegger’s Being and Time). 2) His reading of Heidegger’s oeuvre (Heidegger on Being and Acting). And 3) his Heideggerian reading of Western metaphysics (Wandering Joy, Broken Hegemonies, etc.). Whether one moves from the general to the specific content of his works, or from the punctual to the widest reach of his elaborations, the circles appear to overlap each other. At the same time, one should be attentive to the decisions enabling such readings, since Schürmann is not an exegete neither a historian of philosophy. In this sense, he brings to the fore a new relation with the tradition, from Aristotle to Hanna Arendt, a relation expurgated from lineal narratives and the idea of progress.

I limit myself here to making a few points about his reading of Heidegger. Regardless, it should be clear that when Schürmann interrogates the tradition of western philosophy he is not just reading it in reverse, but is also bringing the whole tradition to a place in which the “vulgar” conception of temporality that feeds the conventional history of philosophy is suspended. Reading Heidegger in that way is like reading the eventful condition of thinking once this thinking reappears, disarticulated or re-activated, beyond the normative nomos of the professional history of philosophy, in a time other than the time of metaphysics.

I have used this term ‘re-activation’ intentionally to refer to Schürmann’s emphatic break with a transcendental phenomenology and with the infinite task of a rational subjectivity that is able to decipher the sense of the world ad infinitum. This is the insuperable distinction between his reading and Simon Critchley’s reading of Heidegger (On Heidegger’s Being and Time). For Schürmann Heidegger had parted ways with Edmund Husserl by the time of the publication of Being and Time, since his Existential Analytic, which was more than just a continuation of Husserl’s phenomenology, marked a radical reorientation of philosophy. This is a reorientation that goes from phenomenological investigation to what he calls a topology of being. Thus, it is the displacement from the infinite task of transcendental subjectivity (from Descartes and Kant to Husserl) that Schürmann emphasizes in Heidegger’s finitude, a finitude that makes it possible to move from the question of being to the question about the meaning (truth) of being, in which the meaning of being no longer lies in the subject’s critical abilities. At this point Schürmann introduces, thanks to his reading of the later texts, the idea of a Topology constituted by a historical modality of presencing, a modality that cannot be reduced to transcendental syntheses and subjective operations. Obviously, Schürmann is able to read Being and Time in this way because of his emphasis on the turn and the radical reorganization of Heidegger’s work after Being and Time. But this turn is not a particular moment in Heidegger’s thought, it is rather an ongoing process that would always have been taking place in his writings, and whose consequences are evident when we read Heidegger in reverse. In other words, Schürmann is de-emphasizing the influence that Husserl, neo-Kantianism, and historicism had on Heidegger in the 1920s, and emphasizing the subtraction of human Dasein from the question of being. Here, then, is a synthetic justification of his decision of reading.

The hermeneutical dilemma is noteworthy here: in reading Heidegger forward, that is, from the Existential Analytic to the Topology, an “idealization of unity to the detriment of plurality” might be construable out of a few sparse texts of his. But in reading Heidegger backward, from the Topology to the Existential Analytic, the evidence is to the contrary. Presencing then appears more Nietzschean, deprived of metaphysical principles, “chaotico-practical.” Instead of a unitary concept of ground, we then have the “fourfold”; instead of the praise for the firm will, detachment; instead of the integration of the university into the civil service, protest against technology and cybernetics; instead of a straightforward identification between Führer and right, anarchy.

(Heidegger on Being and Acting, 14)

Thanks to all of this, Being and Time does not appear as a failed attempt to break away from metaphysics, an attempt that Heidegger would later abandon in the name of The Poem of Being. On the contrary, this idiosyncratic reading makes it possible to understand that seminal book not by the logic of evolution and development, but as a book whose questions would be ever present in Heidegger’s thoughts and would go through different formulations. Of course, what is at stake here is the status of Dasein’s existence and its relationship to being. Not the meaning of its existence as determining being, but the status of beings in their relation to being. However, to understand this one should not invoke the infinite task of phenomenology, but, rather, the worldly confrontation of Dasein with the historical conditions defining its existence (and one should keep in mind here the influence of Dilthey’s elaborations on historicity as well as Heidegger’s reading of Aristotles’ “hermeneutics of the factical life”). The relationship of being and beings, therefore, cannot be reduced to the coordinates of a meaningful human experience, as Heidegger moved from the “ambiguities” of his Existential Analytic towards the aletheological constellation of being without a why, without a subjective principle or a principle of reason. Anarchy, therefore, more than a political movement, is the very condition of being already understood in this antihumanistic way.

In this sense, the whole metaphysical tradition appears as a permanent attempt to reduce the radical historicity of being to a normative injunction emanating from the principles that organize the epochs of being’s history. It is a history that is subsumed to an ongoing spacialization of temporality that would have reached its realization in the modern age. What this realization means is precisely the point here, since the full spacialization of temporality is also the moment in which the very principial economy that organizes metaphysics seems to wither away. The epoch of the realization of metaphysics, the age of the image of the world, is not the epoch of its overcoming in a naive, analytical way. It is the epoch in which that very epochality enters into a radical crisis, a demonic disjunction between the granted relationship of theory and practice. Actually, the demonic crisis of principles triggers the anarchy, and this anarchy is not a state that happens at the end of metaphysics, but something that happens to the whole history of being, bringing it to presence in a way other than the metaphysics of presence. Of course, we are talking about a presence that is not the illusory aspiration for plenitude, but a presence in which the world, the being of the world happens without a reason, without a why (aletheological constellation). By the same token, this demonic crisis, this interregnum, does not point towards a new economy of principles, a sort of reconfiguration of an even better hegemony, attuned to modern “being”; on the contrary, this demonic crisis is the very suspension of the transitional logic that put together the history of being as an evolving process. The demonic condition of history is a Topology of radical immanence where there are no gods or salvation; a Topology that appears concerned with the space beyond the metaphysical spacialization of temporality and as the dissolution (withering) of any ontology of our time (even the object oriented, foam-like, and the plastic ontologies of contemporary thought).

In order to advance such a reading, Schürmann re-reads the Existential Analytic from the later developments of Heidegger’s thought, making the argument about the way in which Heidegger himself would have understood the condition surrounding the Dasein’s confrontation with its facticity as historically produced and not as already given. From the series of writings around Contributions to Philosophy (The Event, Mindfulness, The History of Beyng, etc.), until his later interventions (for example, his Bremen and Freiburg Lectures and his Four Seminars, among others), what would appear, according to Schürmann, is the most radical innovation of Heidegger’s thought, which, contrary to the caricature of an old fart resistant and opposed to technology, is precisely an enabling (and non-anthropological) thinking about techné and technology. Let us quote Schürmann one more time.

Heidegger’s last writings could therefore be read as the attempt to elaborate the chief traits of an economy of presencing that is not reducible to one arché —the traits of a plural economy.

If this is the case, it is clear that the “the phenomenological destruction of the history of ontology” promised in Being and Time, can be fully understood —and carried out— as a deconstruction only from the standpoint of Heidegger’s last writings.

(Heidegger on Being and Acting 13)

Only from Heidegger’s elucidation of being as an aletheological constellation without a why, non-reducible to human experience, to the figure of man, to the archeo-teleology of action, to the principial economy of metaphysical epochs, and to the principle of reason and the teleocracy of meaning, one could ponder the relevance of Gelassenheit, without falling into an unfortunate representation of Heidegger as a mystic thinker.[19]


This is certainly an important point, as we already argued, since with this reading Schürmann is proposing a historicized version of the ontological difference, a version in which the ontological status of anarchy does not appear to be adequate for understanding the political.[20] Is Schürmann actually supporting political anarchy? What is the status of the auto-nomos injunction at the end of metaphysics? Let me just say that I am not concerned with asking of Schürmann what has been infinitely demanded of Heidegger: an ethics that regulates being in the world (a principial demand). My concern resides in the way in which this ontico-ontological difference tends to disappear, as the very deconstruction of the principial economy feeding metaphysics as onto-theology gives way to the question of being as a question of history (historicity) and as an aletheological constellation of being. Certainly, this withering away of principles, this exhaustion of the philosophy of history, relates itself to the question of the political in a non-normative way.[21]

Schürmann’s deconstruction of principial thinking triggers a conception of history, action, and politics beyond its repeated reduction to the logic of the fundament, principle and determination of praxis by the constitution of a philosophia prima that would legitimize and give reason to political actions. This is the inescapable consequence of his anarchic deconstruction of the archeo-teleological configuration of western metaphysics and, as such, this anarchy does not have much to do with the historical movement or movements associated with anarchism.[22] Nonetheless, it would be equally erroneous to assimilate this anarchist deconstruction to democracy, precisely because before this assimilation a sustained discussion about the historical constitution of democracy needs to be carried out. Otherwise, democracy would appear as an end, value or goal restituting in that way the very teleocracy that his deconstruction wanted to suspend.[23]

Yet it is necessary to think together this anarchic understanding of action and the very disarticulation of the hegemonic order defining the epochs of the history of being. This non-hegemonic understanding of thinking not only implies a different relation to the history of thought, and to the modalities of presence proper to metaphysics, but also implies a radical questioning of the principles informing the political demand of our modern age, among them, the subjective principle of strategic rationality and its will to power. Here, therefore, is where Schürmann’s anarchic and post-hegemonic thinking, beyond its identification with savage democracy or with a new political philosophy, prevents any restitution of the determinative relationship between theory and praxis. Here, in the technological era, in which en-framing appears as a singular experience of our dangerous time, also lies that which saves us, in as much as technological en-framing, far from being homogenous and unilateral, is the proliferation of being in a double bind that refers to the very configuration of our epoch and, at the same time, to a place beyond it, to a different topology of being which does not coincide with the metaphysical spatialization of time.[24]

The crisis of the nomos, far from being the matter of a regional discipline, an ontic phenomenon, is the symptom of the very exhaustion of the geopolitical order of our modern age. It is necessary then to think the logic of deterritorialization of our global times without opposing it to an identitarian, territorial, and strategically oriented rationality, which always implies the restitution of a new principial economy organizing action. This is the problem that Schürmann elaborates with his reformulation of a “practical philosophy”, a philosophy that is not based on principles and does not work as normative injunction, but, rather, as a philosophy that has action without arché as its main concern. This is possible because the technological era is both the full articulation of metaphysics and its different economies of presence, and the closure of metaphysics as the withering away of those economies. To think there, in the double bind of our time, is to suspend any demand imposed upon us from any sort of authority that appeals to the sacred or transcendental source of its legitimacy. Of course, technology “is still a principle, but already a principle of anarchy,”[25] and this oxymoronic condition enables us to move beyond the customary relationship to presence, interrupting the blindness that constitutes our way of being, in order to establish a new relationship with the tragic condition of history.[26]


01. In this overheated and ongoing debate one might, in a preliminary fashion, organize the different contributions to it as: 1) those that constitute the very first reaction to Heidegger’s involvement with National Socialism, in Germany; 2) those related to the internationalization of the debate due, among other things, to the translation of the German contributions and to the publication of Victor Farías’s book; 3) those related to the particular reception the so-called Heidegger case received in America, and 4) those associated to the reactivation of the debate due to the publication of the Black Notebooks. By the same token, one might organize the arguments, tentatively again, as those that: 1) think of the involvement as a punctual mistake; 2) think of Heidegger’s involvement as the consequence of his entire philosophy; 3) represent Heidegger’s thought as a symptomatic expression of conservative ideologies, the jargon of authenticity, a linguistic habitus, or a form of the Kriegsideologie of his time, etc.; 4) consider Heidegger’s involvement as a symptom of a more complex relationship between western philosophy and politics, for which Heidegger is just another (very important but not the only) example of the long-standing attempt of philosophy to over-determine history and political practices. In the context of recent debates around the Black Notebooks, Peter Trawny’s Freedom to Fail. Heidegger’s Anarchy (2015) and Heidegger and the Myth of a Jewish World Conspiracy (2015) seem relevant, as well as Donatella Di Cesare’s Heidegger e gli ebrei (2016) and Jean-Luc Nancy, The Banality of Heidegger (2017).

02. This ‘repression hypothesis’ is a term adapted by William Spanos from Foucault’s understanding of the repressive hypothesis of power. Besides Spanos’s complex and abundant elaboration on this issue, I recommend in particular his “Heidegger, Nazism, and the Repressive Hypothesis: The American Appropriation of the Question” (1990), and his book Heidegger and CriticismRetrieving the Cultural Politics of Destruction (1993). On the other hand, and even if it is quite unfair to reduce the complexity of Spanos’s reading of the problem to a couple of lines, it is important to mention that he is referring to the American appropriation of the Heidegger case in the context of the Vietnam War and its aftermath, where instead of confronting the brutal imperialist policy of the United States in Asia and elsewhere, American intellectuals decided to embark on the denunciation of Heidegger’s philosophy as a direct attack on American culture and democracy.

03. Despite some attempts to relate his readings of Eckhart’s mysticism and Heidegger’s Gelassenheit with Buddhism, and his early contribution to the thinking of abandonment (délaissement) in Eckhart, Heidegger and Suzuki (“Trois penseurs du délaissement” 1974-75), most of his references remain within the western philosophical tradition.

04. He was the author of an important number of pieces that appear, mostly in English and French, in professional journals. For an almost complete account of his works, see the New School Web Page dedicated to him at:

05. This is an interesting point since conventionally, and given the level of specialization in contemporary universities, a Heideggerian scholar would occupy her/his whole life with the reading and interpretation of Heidegger’s oeuvre, while Schürmann, who shows a deep knowledge and command of this oeuvre, seems more occupied with the same problems that Heidegger addressed, and not only with the way Heidegger elaborated them.

06. Besides several elaborations regarding this tragic “mechanism”, and his own understanding of Gregory Bateson’s notion of double bind, we might note Schürmann’s inclination to present classical tragedy already as an enactment of this “mechanism”. In fact, it is in the “originary” experience of the classical heroes (Creon, Agamemnon, Eteocles, Antigone, and others), where the contradictory injunctions (laws) and the mandatory blindness (to one or the other) imposed by the epochal principles are lived as tragedy, and it is there where Schürmann finds the best illustration of the tragic component proper to the nomic configuration of epochal thinking. See his “Ultimate Double Binds” (1991), and “Technicity, Topology, Tragedy: Heidegger on ‘That Which Saves’ in the Global Reach” (1993).

07. It would be in the third part of his book on Heidegger on Being and Acting (97-151) where we find a rigorous articulation of this epochal organization of the history of philosophy, whose main referential figures are, Aristotle, Duns Scotto, and Leibniz. However, Broken Hegemonies is not only the continuation of that historical hypothesis, but a radicalization of its heuristic potential as it attempts an organized reading of the whole western tradition, again, in three main parts (“In the Name of the One”, “In the Name of Nature”, and “In the Name of Consciousness”).

08. Let us make this even more evident. The conversion of western philosophy to a metaphysical tradition articulated according to the onto-theological reduction of beings to Being is already a petitio principii, insofar as one might insist on reading the “tradition” in different ways. If one assumes this conversion, a problematization of this tradition as history is still needed, since what matters in this conversion is a particular (interested) organization of the history of philosophical thought. Here, since Hegel’s modern onto-theology, the history of philosophy has become increasingly relevant for philosophy itself, and this is evident, even if not totally problematized, in Heidegger’s engagement with western metaphysics. What, then, is the role of the “history of philosophy” and the very form in which this history is organized in Schürmann’s all-inclusive account of western philosophy? Is it, as Reginald Lilly sustains, a history that still depends on (even belongs to) Hegel’s articulation of history and philosophy or, on the contrary, is the whole point in Schürmann the dissolution of that relationship into what he calls anarchy? See Reginald Lilly, “The Topology of Des hégémonies brisées” (1998). 

09. We should consider, however, that this is just an analogy since in Kant those categories “mediate” between the noumena and the phenomena, producing the synthesis of knowledge. In Schürmann the referents are constitutive or configurative of the real, but do not respond to a transcendental schematism, which is already a hypothesis, a subjective hypothesis introduced by Kant. The same thing should be said regarding Structuralism and Foucault’s epistemes. Even if there are some similarities, Schürmann claims that they refer to a particular region of being and not to being as a permanent tension between concealment and unconcealment. In the end, Schürmann insists, “It should be noted that the deconstruction remains phenomenological. The principles are not construed speculatively, but described as epochal forms of the a priori. This phenomenology is thus transcendental not in that phenomena are examined according to their subjective conditions but in that the principles provide the synchronically universal and necessary conditions according to which all that appears can show itself. The phenomenological method can be transcendental and yet at the same time antihumanistic for the simple reason that its starting point consists in a move away from man as constitutive of presence” [“What Must I Do?” at the End of Metaphysics: Ethical Norms and the Hypothesis of a Historical Closure” (1983: 53)]. 

10. It is important to differentiate between the technical ‘know-how’, ‘technicity’ as an universalized mathesis of our epoch, and technology not only as the sum of all technical instrument supplementing or assisting the action, but also as the overlapping of techné and technicity in the principial configuration of our epoch. The question concerning technology, therefore, is not an anthropological question, but an interrogation oriented to the heart of our epoch, as it is articulated by the Cartesian ratio.

11. What is the relationship between this “presencing” and the “metaphysics of presence” once the very structuration of metaphysics as history of being and as an ongoing and evolving process articulated by the succession of different ephocalities has been deconstructed? In other words, how does Schürmann’s releasement from being as meaning make it possible to reinstate the question of historicity? Surely we will need to come back to this later as what is at stake here is the elaboration of the Seinsfrage by Heidegger after what has been called ‘the turn’.

12. Of course, besides the obvious reference to Heidegger’s 1972 (originally 1969) text “The end of Philosophy and the Task of Thinking”, one should understand this “end” not in simple or ontic terms, as an empirical event that splits time into a “before” and an “after”; the end of philosophy is also its realization, and might very well coincide with a whole epoch. This end is a “line” upon which the thinker should dwell instead of just trespassing into a “new” philosophical epoch.

13. One might add this more confrontational judgment: “The word deconstruction has been popularized by Jacques Derrida. Although he is more triumphant than Heidegger about the hypothesis of closure, and although he adds to this method a few useful concepts: logocentrism, différence/différance, and so forth, I fail to see how, on the issue of deconstruction itself, Derrida goes beyond Heidegger as he claims he does” (“What Must I Do?” at the end of Metaphysics” 53)

14. Would this not be the defining relationship Derridian deconstruction establishes with the tradition and its texts? Not an exegetical or critical reading, neither a reading in which the text becomes monumentalized and homogenized according to a principial economy, since in each text, in each occasion of reading, a singular an-economy of forces, resistances, significations and counter-significations would always take place. Derridian deconstruction seems to differ, and to defer, from the principial reading of the tradition while also differing and deferring from “disciplinary” forms of criticism (and from the very conversion of deconstruction into a practice of liturgical criticism or New-New Criticism). Nonetheless, Schürmann’s deconstruction of the principial economy of metaphysics and Derridian deconstruction seem to converge at the same post-hegemonic (or an-hegemonic) topology, which is, of course, something that needs to be explored to a greater extent, particularly because Schürmann’s elaboration of such a topology comes from his sustained engagement with Heidegger’s “later” works, which is not the case with Derrida.

15. The main works here are the course of 1923, now published as Gesamtausgabe 63, and translated as Ontology. The Hermeneutics of Facticity (2008); and the course of 1927, Gesamtausgabe 24, translated as The Basic Problems of Phenomenology (1982).

16. Just to give an idea about this, one should mention William Richardson’s monumental volume Heidegger. Through Phenomenology to Thought (1974), and more recently but just within the English-speaking world, Richard Polt, The Emergency of Being (2013); Richard Copobianco, Heidegger’s Ways of Being (2015); in a somewhat antithetical position, Thomas Sheehan’s Making Sense of Heidegger (2015); and Andrew Mitchell, The Fourfold: Reading the Late Heidegger (2016).

17. Though not yet translated into English, I believe that Arturo Leyte’s Heidegger (2005) is without a compelling elucidation of this problem.

18. Of course, we owe this distinction to William Richardson’s monumental volume; however, there is some exaggeration in the way his analytical proposition has been received. Richardson, we might say, did not attempt to differentiate two mutually exclusive focuses in Heidegger, but to make the argument about the way in which Heidegger reformulated his own thinking after the 1930s. See his new preface to the English edition of his book (2002) where Richardson responded to Schürmann (even though the Preface is based on an article published in 1997). Nevertheless, it is a common place to read Heidegger’s turn (Kehre) as the abandonment and cancellation of his first philosophy, which is a hypothesis that complements perfectly the liberal repressive hypothesis that condemns Heidegger’s philosophy as inherently National Socialist. The transition from the Seinsfrage to the question about the meaning, and later, the truth of being, and his final reflections about the Gods, the sky, the earth, and the en-framing of the world, appear according to an evolving narrative. But this is the narrative that Schürmann is trying to dismantle by his in-reverse reading of Heidegger in the first place.

19. And not because mysticism is regrettable as such, but because it has been represented as a naïve and idealist conception of the world. Here, then, the relevance of his reading of Eckhart in tandem with Heidegger (Wandering Joy, 1997).

20. See, for example, among the first reactions to Schürmann’s “anarchy”, Bernard Dauenhauer’s “Does Anarchy Makes Political Sense? A Response to Schürmann” (1978) and Vittorio Hösle’s “The Intellectual Background of Reiner Schürmann’s Heidegger Interpretation” (1997).

21. I am thinking here of what Miguel Abensour, reading Claude Lefort, has called savage democracy (“’Savage Democracy” and ‘Principle of Anarchy’” 2002), and of what John Krummel elaborates when comparing Schürmann’s anarchic ‘ontology’ with Cornelius Castoriadis’s instituting imagination (“Reiner Schürmann and Cornelius Castoriadis Between Ontology and Praxis” 2013). I would just add that: 1) herein lies the relevance of Aristotle and the particular emphasis Schürmann places on the Physics, rather than on the Metaphysics. I am in no condition to further elaborate this point here, as it requires a confrontation with the nomos, its autonomy and its heteronomy, and a radical problematization of sovereignty’s double bind. And 2) this is the place to interrogate the so-called alternative reading of the metaphysical tradition, a reading other than the Heideggerian (and Schürmann’s) articulation of it as onto-theology, since what dwells behind this argument is a reading of a savage and materialist ontology enabled by the works of Lucretius, Machiavelli, Spinoza, Marx, Althusser, and Deleuze, among many others. This, of course, would be an interesting confrontation; somehow, one between the remainders of historicism and its defining political demands, and the destruction-deconstruction of such demands, among them, the onto-theological demand of politics as such.

22. Far from repressing any particular articulation of political anarchy, Schürmann is more concerned with disarticulating any restitution of the principial arrangement of political praxis, including some historical anarchist movements that seem to replace one principle by another.

23. This is the way Schürmann reads Heidegger’s hesitation toward democracy as the best political system in the technological era. This hesitation is not a critique or a dismissal of democracy, but a hesitation related to its positioning as the legitimate goal or end for any political action, a sort of transcendental value, indeconstructible, and the only important aspiration for any human action. In this sense, democracy appears as a principle (as an arché and as a telos) that defines our political epoch, and any questioning of its value would be rejected and denounced as inappropriate. No wonder, then, that this is the strategy of what we call, via Spanos, the liberal agenda, which instead of confronting Heidegger’s complex thought, denounces it as an aberration against democracy and the values defining the western liberal tradition. See Schürmann’s “Political Thinking in Heidegger” (1978).

24. Of course, this reading of Heidegger not only complicates the liberal repressive hypothesis, but the whole reception of his philosophy, and not in order to present a sort of “radical Heidegger”, but rather in order to suspend the whole series of categories with which we organize and identify politics (still) today. There is no redemption for Heidegger as ‘redemption” remains an onto-theological category.

25. Schürmann, “What Must I do at the End of Metaphysics” (1983: 60).

26. This is what we might call an infrapolitical relation, which I can only mention in passing here, as the promise of future work.

Works Cited

  • Abensour, Miguel. “‘Savage Democracy” and ‘Principle of Anarchy’”. Philosophy & Social Criticism. (28, 6) (2002): 703-726. Print.
  • Copobianco, Richard. Heidegger’s Ways of Being. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 2015. Print.
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  • Derrida, Jacques. Heidegger: The Question of Being and History. Chicago: U of Chicago Press, 2016. Print.
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  • ———. “The End of Philosophy and the Task of Thinking”. Basic Writings. Ed. David Farrell Krell. New York: Harper Collins, 1993: 427-449. Print.
  • ———. Four Seminars. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 2003. Print.
  • ———. Ontology. The Hermeneutics of Facticity. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 2008. Print.
  • ———. Bremen and Freiburg Lectures. Insight into That Which Is and Basic Principles of Thinking. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 2012. Print.
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  • Leyte, Arturo. Heidegger. Madrid: Alianza, 2005. Print.
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  • Mitchell, Andrew J. The Fourfold: Reading the Late Heidegger. Evanston: Northwestern UP, 2016. Print.
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  • ———. “Trois penseurs du délaissement. Maître Eckhart, Heidegger, Suzuki Part Two”. Journal of the History of Philosophy. (13, 1) (January 1975): 43-60. Print.
  • ———. “Political Thinking in Heidegger”. Social Research. (45,1) (Spring 1978): 191-221. Print.
  • ———. “Ultimate Double Binds”. Graduate Faculty Philosophy Journal. (14,2) (1991): 213-236. Print.
  • ———. “Technicity, Topology, Tragedy: Heidegger on ‘That Which Saves’ in the Global Reach”. Technology in the Western Political Tradition. Ed. Arthur M. Melzer, Jerry Weinberger, and M. Richard Zimman. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1993: 190-213. Print.
  • ———. “What Must I Do?” at the End of Metaphysics: Ethical Norms and the Hypothesis of a Historical Closure”. Phenomenology in a Pluralistic Context. Eds. William L. McBride, and Calvin O. Schrag. New York: State U of New York P, 1983: 49-64. Print.
  • ———. Wandering Joy. Meister Eckhart’s Mystical Philosophy. Great Barrington, MA: Lindisfarne Books, 1997. Print.
  • ———. Heidegger on Being and Acting. From Principles to Anarchy. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1987. Print.
  • ———. Broken Hegemonies. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 2003. Print.
  • ———. Origins. Chicago: Diaphanes, 2016. Print.
  • ———. “Heidegger’s Being and Time”. On Heidegger’s Being and Time. Edited by Steven Levine. New York: Routledge, 2008: 56-131. Print.
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  • ———. Heidegger and Criticism. Retrieving the Cultural Politics of Destruction. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1993. Print.
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  • ———. Heidegger and the Myth of a Jewish World Conspiracy. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2015. Print.