July 10th 2019
“Das man” is the phrase that Martin Heidegger, the Nazi philosopher, applied to the majority of people.
In his signature work of 1927, Being and Time, he did not envisage this majority to be composed of individuals but instead imagined them – us – to be members of a herd.
Das is straightforward enough, being one of the German words for “the”; man is the impersonal pronoun, as in “one has had quite enough pan-Germanism”.
The usual translation is “the they”, which gives an indication of the Otherness Heidegger invested in the phrase and those he predicated it of, and a minority translation, “the anyone”, is similarly tinged. Das man, he maintained, were intent on dissolving the authentic in a beggar’s broth of “inconspicuousness and inascertainability”. His authentic individuals, in stark contradistinction, inherited the mantle of the Übermenschen, whose ambivalence Nietzsche himself admitted even as they sprung from his fevered imagination. Heidegger’s work was the bridge between Thus Spake Zarathustra’s Overman and the cod-Aryan master race poised to bring chaos to Europe.
One might have hoped that the Second World War, and in particular the Holocaust, demonstrated the catastrophic consequences of categorising whole groups of people as the internally undifferentiated Other. Unfortunately events have demonstrated otherwise, and as the latest in my series examining alternative “isms” l would like to coin “manism” as the historical and contemporary application of das man to groups, thereby distinguishing them in the minds of the attributors from the ranks of the authentic, who in reality are no different from the Othered.
It is difficult to overestimate the influence of Heidegger’s thoughts on authenticity and inauthenticity upon the modern Left, which sees its own more as the benchmark of credibility, to the detriment of any and all dissenting views. How did the thoughts of a Nazi become so important to today’s New Jerusalem?
During the Second World War, Jean-Paul Sartre was radicalised by Heidegger’s work while languishing as a prisoner-of-war in occupied France. After escaping in circumstances that have never been satisfactorily explained, he wrote Being and Nothingness in 1943, which was, in essence, a Gallic rewrite of Being and Time.
Given Sartre’s otherwise strident criticism of Nazism, his best-known work is curiously apolitical; in fact, his entire corpus shows little original thinking, and his main claim to fame must be as a transmitter of Heidegger’s thought from occupation to liberation, placing the philosophical seeds of dictatorship within Europe’s recrudescent democratic systems and thus priming them for the integration process.
The Nazi connection is significant. No matter the extent to which fascism attempts to rebrand itself as antifascism – and we need to remember that Nazism conquered all European fascism except, arguably, Soviet communism after Stalin – its distinguishing feature, antisemitism, never fails to come to the fore. Antisemitism follows Heideggerian discourses of authenticity and inauthenticity as surely as night concludes day; this is how the dead hand of Nazism 2.0, all soft shoes and rounded corners, has been walked into mainstream Left-wing parties in Europe and thence the United States in plain sight.
Correspondingly, we’ve seen the global financial crisis that began in 2008 blamed on Jews, which admittedly goes back to myths about Jews controlling world finances that far predate the Nazis. On the other hand the international BDS (Boycott, Divest and Sanction) movement, orientated towards bankrupting Israel-based businesses, is rooted in the Nazi slogan kauft ihr nicht bei Juden (don’t buy from Jews) and as such situates its taproot in the same toxic soup of prejudice that marginalised the Jews of Mitteleuropaever further, making the Holocaust possible.
Marginalisation, then, is the defining mark of manism. Once a population is designated das man it becomes the excluded Other, and hatred of that group can be leveraged for two reasons.
The first is evident: pushing the group further and further from the centre of polite society until it is minimally engaged with social, cultural, economic and political life, if at all. We saw this with Jews once, and we are seeing it again.
We are also seeing it in the context of the UK’s European Union Membership Referendum, in the aftermath of which then-Labour MP (now leader of Change UK) claimed that many Leave voters were “racists and fascists”, then complained bitterly about the last of the trinity of epithets, “Nazi”, being applied to her. It’s manism in action: she, judging herself to be authentic, demands the right to insult those she disagrees with, but reacts with fury when those she has Othered as das man respond in kind.
The marginalisation of a group, moreover, allows the marginalisers to predicate their own prejudices of the group thus alienated, and a key point of manism is that the marginalisers often have privileged access to traditional media, using their heft to demand that social media also marginalise their targets even further, as we have seen happen to any politician who dares voice pro-democracy sentiment in the EU exit debate. Thus, manism enables Orwell-grade reversals: fascists become anti-fascists, while Democrats, in turn, are cast as fascists.
The second reason, however, is less evident. Those who are Othered constitute only one of two target groups, the other being that which the marginalisers intend to become their own power base, encouraging them to export their hatred to the marginalised group in order to facilitate cohesion.
This is seen most clearly in religion, specifically the histories of the Abrahamic religions over the last 2,000 years, after first Christianity then Islam calved from Judaism and very quickly developed parricidal tendencies. As just one of many examples, we could point to massacres of Rhineland Jews leveraged to create an esprit de corps among the soldiers of the First Crusade before their campaign against Seljuk invaders in the Holy Land. But intra-credal factionalism is also rife: for example, Martin Luther’s crusade (in all but name) against freedom-fighters in the Peasant Wars of the Holy Roman Empire, which encouraged nobles to export their mutual antipathies towards each other to peasants and serfs in order to help them build up the Augsburg Confession as a pillar of the Establishment, every bit as oppressive as the Catholic Church it claimed to be reforming.
One can sometimes detect a mixture of manism’s two agendas: chaos created by modern jihad veils a program to force estrangement of Muslims through manipulation of public opinion, making them co-conspirators in their own Otherment so as to make the more vulnerable among them ripe for radicalisation. Here we have a powerful double-bind, gripping alienated and alienating targets in a sense of apartness which redoubles their vulnerability to addictive social-media hate preaching, a process mirrored by exclusive and excluding neofascist units who ensure a ready supply of recruits for when the hard core manist Left, no less fascist, needs to supply its followers with an atrocity to strengthen their faith.
Look for man-ism in any walk of life where there is a power-base to be established. Look for its tell-tale signs: a group that is being excluded, and another group that is being brought together by doing the excluding.
I’m sad to say I’m in a position to assure you that you won’t have to search for long.