Modernity is simply the time of realized nihilism

Quote of the Day for Friday, January 28th, 2011:

David Bentley Hart, from the just released February 2011 volume of First Things, discussing Martin Heidegger’s reading of the centrality of nihilism in Western civilization’s cultural history and its philosophical tradition, in an article that appears to be available to non-subscribers on the website:

Modernity, for Heidegger, is simply the time of realized nihilism, the age in which the will to power has become the ground of all our values; as a consequence it is all but impossible for humanity to dwell in the world as anything other than its master. As a cultural reality it is the perilous situation of a people that has thoroughly—one might even say systematically—forgotten the mystery of being, or forgotten (as Heidegger would have it) the mystery of the difference between beings and being as such. Nihilism is a way of seeing the world that acknowledges no truth other than what the human intellect can impose on things, according to an excruciatingly limited calculus of utility, or of the barest mechanical laws of cause and effect. It is a “rationality” of the narrowest kind, so obsessed with what things are and how they might be used that it is no longer seized by wonder when it stands in the light of the dazzling truth that things are. It is a rationality that no longer knows how to hesitate before this greater mystery, or even to see that it is there, and thus is a rationality that cannot truly think.

I found this article to be a very useful exposition on the thought of Heidegger, a writer I’ve never had much success trying to read – in part because of the denseness of his writing, and perhaps more so than I’m completely comfortable admitting because of a personal revulsion against his well-known involvement with Nazism. But I’ve also lacked a broader understanding of what he was trying to get at, and this article sheds some light on that. I’m not sure I won’t still walk away from an encounter with Heidegger shaking my head in incomprehension, but perhaps I’ll give him another try.