Those Nutty Germans

I was falling asleep last night reading Leo Strauss on Martin Heidegger, and after a page of stuff like "the being of being is in existential time but not of it", (I'm making that quote up, but that's what it seemed like to me at the time), and I wonder what makes them write like they do. It's as though they get in the grip of some idea, and get so excited they completely forget how to write. Now, they fact that they are in the grip of this idea means that they're often worth reading, but the fact that it made them forget how to write can make it excruciating.


  1. I expect that should be "being of beings"?

    What's going on is that they are talking in a specialized language. If you're fluent, it makes sense.

    The problem is one of perception. If you look in a math book, and don't recognize something, you know you don't know it. But if you look at a book by Strauss or Heidegger, there are words, and you know what words mean, so if you can't understand it, why, there must have been in the grip of some mysterious force.

    The real problem is that you were taught how to read so that you could follow instructions, and be a efficient worker or soldier, but not taught Aristotle and the other prereqs, necessary for understanding people who were taught.

  2. enowing,

    I can't speak for Strauss, but Heidegger is singularly unreadable in his native language as well. His is not a specialized language, but a language consisting in many parts of words he arbitrarily uses in a manner that significantly differs from common usage. Few native German speakers are able to make heads or tails out of his writing.

    It's all very impressive when you read it, but when you step back and try to figure out what exactly it is Heidegger wanted to say, it is like holding on to water.

    His language is very similar to the strangely intriguing but equally substance-less musings of many Heidegger contemporaries.

    It's quite amazing how much this differs from the prose of Hayek, von Mises, or Popper - even though all of these could become a little long-winded and ponderous at times. Compared to Heidegger, von Mises at his most obscure is still crystal-clear.

  3. Mr. enowning, I've read most major English philosophers, and nary a one of 'em is half so baffling a writer as, say, Hegel or Heidegger. And usually, in the end, I can get what they mean -- and find myself thinking, 'Gee, they could have said that a lot more simply.'

  4. James,

    I haven't read Heidegger, so maybe it's just a matter of degree and your point is correct. But your description of him sounds like my feeling when I read Hayek. I think I've read Road to Serfdom cover to cover twice, and both times I ended I thought, "I agreed with him in almost every sentence, and the only thing I can retain from the book is, 'The worst get on top.' Oh, I know he wasn't an anarchist."

  5. Gene, Germans seem to believe the profundity of a thought is directly related to the number of words used to express it.

  6. "If I were to say that the so-called philosophy of this fellow Hegel is a colossal piece of mystification which will yet provide posterity with an inexhaustible theme for laughter at our times, that it is a pseudo-philosophy paralyzing all mental powers, stifling all real thinking, and, by the most outrageous misuse of language, putting in its place the hollowest, most senseless, thoughtless, and, as is confirmed by its success, most stupefying verbiage, I should be quite right."


  7. Good old Schopenhauer - hit the nail on the head with that one for sure.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Central Planning Works!