I have been rereading the Dialectic of the Enlightenment in Edmund Jephcott's fairly new translation. In the course of working through it I have been struck as never before by certain similarities between this work and Heidegger's concerns in the 1950s. This, in turn, will connect in the future to certain reflections on Vattimo and Zabala's Hermeneutic Communism. I would like to take the time to note some of these similarities and the even more striking differences, in connection with Hegel and Marx, these aspects make apparent.
Within the Dialectic of the Enlightenment the authors critique enlightenment as ultimately manifesting in a leveling of all reality to the standards of the market as expressed through power, specifically the power of managing, organizing and technology. This leveling, a concern that both Heidegger and the authors are no doubt drawing heavily from the work of Nietzsche, manifests as an aspect of enlightenment's concerns for equality and freedom. Ultimately the official concern for increased freedom leads dialectically to its opposite:
"The blessing that the market does not ask about birth is paid for in the exchange society by the fact that the possibilities conferred by birth are molded to fit the production of goods that can be bought on the market. Each human being has been endowed with a self of his or her own, different from all others, so that it could all the more surely be made the same. But because that self never quite fitted the mold, enlightenment throughout the liberalistic period has always sympathized with social coercion. The unity of the manipulated collective consists in the negation of each individual and in the scorn poured on the type of society which could make people into individuals." (p. 9)
This leveling manifests as well in destructive limitations placed upon thought and language:
"As a means of reinforcing the social power of language, ideas became more superfulous the more that power increased, and the language of science put an end to them altogether... The impartiality of scientific language deprived what was powerless of the strength to make itself heard and merely provided the existing order with a neutral sign for itself... Thought is reified as an autonomous, automatic process, aping machines it has itself produced, so that it can finally be replaced by the machine." (p. 17-19)
This process, in turn, serves first to utterly objectify the self and the mind and then to negate both subject and object into the flow of power management:
"Individuals shrink to the nodal points of conventional reactions and the modes of operation objectively expect of them. Animism had endowed things with souls; industrialism makes souls into things." (p. 21)
"Both subject and object are nullified. The abstract self, which alone confers the legal right to record and systematize, is confronted by nothing but abstract material, which has no other property than to be the substrate of that right. The equation of mind and world is finally resolved, but only in the sense that both sides cancel out." (p. 20)
Anyone hearing in these passages similarities to Heidegger's critic of calculative thinking in the "Memorial Address" and enframing in "The Question Concerning Technology" would be in tune with precisely what struck me. Most striking, perhaps, is Heidegger's own sense that technological enframing, having grown out of the modern subject/object distinction, eventually leads to the dissolution of this distinction. Objects become simply standing-reserve, raw materials or ultimately pure power in the form of energy, available for manipulation and organization while subjects eventually themselves dissolve into the complex of forces to be managed. Enframing as "...the unconcealment in accordance with which nature presents itself as a calculable complex of the effects of forces..." (The Question Concerning Technology and other Essays, p. 26) leads to a situation in which "...what is unconcealed no longer concerns man even as object, but does so, rather, exclusively as standing-reserve, and man in the midst of objectlessness is nothing but the orderer of the standing-reserve, then he comes to the very brink of a precipitous fall; that is, he comes to the point where he himself will have to be taken as standing-reserve." (Ibid. p. 26-27)
For Adorno and Horkheimer, as for Heidegger, the mathematical and abstract logical form of modern science and philosophy take their origin from power, the drive to make all things manageable and calculable. Now, however, we come to the point of an interesting divergence between the two philosophies. Within the Dialectic of the Enlightenment the outcome of enlightenment's gaze is the reduction of all things to immediacy, "...mathematical formalism, whose medium, number, is the most abstract form of the immediate, arrests all thought at mere immediacy." (p. 20) This limitation to the sphere of the immediate is the leveling through which all things become manageable in contrast with a Hegelian and Marxist appreciation of the inevitability of mediation and the self-overcoming nature of any specific stage in the process of dialectical mediation. This is the sense in which the immediate is abstract. From a dialectical view point we always find ourselves already caught in mediation, with the immediacy of things available only through abstraction. The movement to truth is not that of a return to the given, but rather that of a working out of the internal inadequacies of any specific stage of mediation through which a passage to a new stage can be achieved. This is the dialectical form of immanent critique. It is, then, dialectic and its motor, determinate (or productive) negation, which enlightenment forecloses. Likewise it is determinate negation and the recognition of mediation, which offers to enlightenment's apotheosis in late capitalism its greatest threat:
"To grasp existing things as such, not merely to note their abstract spatial-temporal relationships, by which they can then be seized, but, on the contrary, to think of them as surfaces, as mediated conceptual moments which are only fulfilled by revealing their social, historical, and human meaning - this whole aspiration of knowledge is abandoned. Knowledge does not consist in mere perception, classification, and calculation but precisely in the determining negation of whatever is directly at hand." (p. 20)
For Heidegger (in a sense) and the authors, late capitalism consists in passing a mediation off as the immediate. The appearance of standing-reserve is mediated by enframing which, in the style of Althusser's understanding of ideology, presents what it reveals as a-historical and natural. Things just are, in their immediacy, interrelations of forces. In both philosophies the counter-thrust to this ideology rests in a return to history and the recognition of the social practices which allow, or rather demand, that things show up in this way. But here the status of Hegel's project, and through him Marx's, will drive a wedge between our texts.
Heidegger's philosophy can, not too violently, be understood as a life long struggle against Hegelianism. One might argue, for example, that Hegel offered Heidegger the primary model of onto-theology and as early as 1919 Heidegger states of his work, and that of phenomenology in general, that “…in one of the most difficult confrontations, we stand on the front against Hegel.” (Towards the Definition of Philosophy, p. 91). Along this front the primary enemy was neo-Kantianism, particularly in the form of the work of Paul Natorp, which had accepted the "absolutetization" of mediation such that immediacy became an abstraction. From this view, and Hegelianism in general, truth is arrived at through an ongoing process of mediation and, for Natorp, rational reconstruction. Against this the early Heidegger posits the availability of the immediacy of life through its own process of coming to terms with itself. Language and thought, far from being primarily mediation, seemingly paradoxically become themselves examples of life's immediate nature. This insight ground's Heidegger's turn to social practice and history as the immediate characteristics of human existence. Social practice, traditions, and the history they embody will be immediacy at least when seen in their authentic form. This "authentic form" will be one which reenacts the living immediate (if finite) disclosure of reality these ways of acting, speaking or tradition made available before they passed over into an empty echoing, a mere playing with words or actions without disclosure, which Heidegger describes as their being delivered over into self-evidence.
It is in this sense, then, that I said earlier that standing-reserve is only in a sense a mediation passing itself off as the immediate. Enframing in its authentic form, traced back to its origins, will have offered an authentic disclosure but its own claim to absoluteness, its reductive claim to reveal things entirely as they are a-historically and naturally, are common forms of the deliverance into self-evidence that occurs when traditions become simply a practice of aping certain actions or words. There is a lot more to say here, particularly in order to increase the nuance of this view with an eye to changes in Heidegger's thought from the time of Being and Time to that of "The Question Concerning Technology" over which I have skated here far too smoothly, but it will have to suffice for now.
The key aspects of the previous discussion that matter now are Heidegger's obvious unease when it comes to inescapable mediation and the future oriented nature of the process of dialectic. To put it flat-footedly, for Heidegger history is a history of drifting away from truth which can only be countered by a return and/or a re-beginning while for Hegel, Marx and the critical theorists of the Dialectic of the Enlightenment history is (potentially for Adorno and Horkheimer and inevitably for Hegel and Marx) a process of progress through determinate negation and ongoing mediation rather in the style of Natorp's views on science as the rational reconstruction through which supposedly immediate experience (which is always already mediated) arrives more and more at its truth. In relation to this Heidegger's discussion of Marx and Hegel within the "Letter on Humanism" is particularly useful for there he understands both thinkers as representing important moments in the history of metaphysics but moments which, nonetheless, fundamentally help to lead to enframing. A thinking which escapes enframing won't, therefore, be dialectical.
We can see, perhaps, what I am getting at when we consider Heidegger's own response to technological enframing. In agreement with Adorno and Horkheimer, we certainly do need to recognize the brute nature revealed be late capitalism as nonetheless arising from history and social practice. The meaning of the standing reserve is certainly a "...social, historical, and human meaning.'' But these, and all meanings, are to be understood as, at least potentially, immediate revelations on the part of reality itself in the form of practices, traditions and ways of speaking. To escape calculative thought and enframing is not, then, just to return to history or to dialectically think them through determinate negation to what follows after, but rather to achieve both through an openness to the world and a destructuring of the history from which they arose (the history of metaphysics for Heidegger) a new immediate relation to reality. It is a new disclosure or redisclosure of what is that is needed. Enframing covers-over, and the extent to which it does so is also the extent to which it can be thought as mediation pretending to be the immediate, but it also maintains an element of authentic disclosure through which it can be escaped. But locating this element of authentic disclosure (the nature of which Heidegger suggests is actually, through attention to enframing, a disclosure of the nature of disclosure itself) is more a return than an overcoming. We see, then, an immanent critique still at work here but one grounded in an ontology very different from Marx's or Hegel's with a goal that is also interpreted different.