On Dark Mountaineers, Geopoeticians, and Heidegger’s Long Shadow: Defending foreign, lovely things

Henry Holland explores problems with contemporary Heideggerian movements. 


Picture a post-March 2019 scenario in which interruptions to the food supply in large UK urban areas have become commonplace. Then think back to the post-Russian Civil War collapse of the Soviet economy in 1921, and how starving millions fled from Moscow and other cities to return to the villages where they or their parents had been born. The factories they’d worked in gathered dust, deprived of both the labour power and raw materials they needed to sustain production. Fast forward again to UK inhabitants quitting the cities in a post-Brexit slump, not in millions but in their hundreds of thousands, determined to sell up before the decreased rate of property price increase can lead to equity problems and the repossession of their flats and houses. Their thoughts are fixed on an affordable place in the country. Where they can at least dig their own vegetable patches while they weather the storm, feel the Blitz spirit, and whistle “Pack Up Your Troubles” with gusto, without worrying what their metropolitan neighbours might think.

Paul Kingsnorth and his comrades from the Dark Mountain movement would be obliged to find this scene bracing and instructive, rather than nightmarish. Since they launched their Uncivilization Manifesto in 2009,[i] they’ve been involved in a talented and industrious literary-political attack against urbanity and modernity. Adding spice to the feast is the emergence of Kingsnorth as the most literary figure resident in Ireland and Britain to be openly defending Brexit. In a Guardian essay from March 2017, Kingsnorth praises Stephen Bannon and Marine Le Pen for understanding “what the left refuses to see: that the heart of the West’s current wound is cultural rather than economic.”[ii] He concludes with the following plea: “If we have a future, cultural or ecological – and they are the same thing, in the end – it will begin with a quality of attention and a defence of loved things.”[iii]


Kingsnorth is a superb and original novelist. I don’t believe that he’s a racist, fascist or Europe-hater, accusations made against him since he came out for the UK’s split from the EU. I’m not interested in which mud I can make stick; in the Dark Mountain project, mud does not in any case symbolize shame, but rather something to be proud of. “We write with dirt under our fingernails” is the group’s most memorable slogan. But I feel slighted by Kingsnorth’s call for “a defence of loved things” as the only route to a liveable future. And I wonder how an author so demonstrably able to bring a quality of attention to his fiction can stagger so gung-ho, and so disinterested in the lessons of recent intellectual history, into new literary-philosophical calamities.


Considering The Guardian essay in the context of Kingsnorth’s other work, I have to read “a defence of loved things” as a defence of loved, native things. “Waves of migration” are cited twice in the essay, once accompanied by the hoary epithet “huge”, on the second occasion as part of a disturbing sentence that quotes Marx in order to lament historical change: “Waves of migration … ongoing globalist attacks on ‘dead white men’ and Western culture: all that is solid is melting into air.”[iv]

I’m a British passport holder who’s lived outwith the country for the past seventeen years, and am one of the three million Britons abroad who weren’t permitted to vote on Brexit. I reject Kingsnorth’s polarization of the EU referendum and of Trump’s election as battles fought between “globalists” and “nationalists.” It is as an internationalist that I’m motivated to expose this dichotomy as a fiction. While Kingsnorth concludes his essay by distancing himself from nationalists – “the angry nationalisms which currently challenge it [globalism] offer us no better answers about how to live well with a natural world“[v] – he prefaces this disclaimer with a far-reaching apologia for nationalism. Kingsnorth accords decency and reasonableness to nationalists. These are people, he argues, who understand military policed borders and immigration law as “evidence of a community asserting its values and choosing to whom to grant citizenship”. “Globalists”, as their antonym, are destructive hell-raisers, too inattentive to place to belong anywhere, buoyed on by neo-liberal money, and cheering about everything they “break down” in their path, from gender identities to the reputations of deceased Caucasian males.

There are upsetting similarities between Kingsnorth’s portrayal of the placeless perpetrators of neo-liberalism, and an anti-capitalist strain of anti-Semitism with a long history. This portrays Jews as rootless and self-aggrandizing, disrespectful of national borders, and disruptive of people’s “need to belong.” As Kingsnorth is categorically not anti-Semitic, I question his disregard for the further semantic strings his rhetoric causes to vibrate. Ruth Fischer, central committee member of the Communist Party of Germany, provided one of the most sickening examples of anti-Semitic anti-capitalism in a speech given to both Communist and völkisch students on July 25, 1923. Fischer harnessed the ideological poison at hand, finding a scapegoat in a de-personalised, global other:

“Gentlemen, you call out against Jew-Capital? Whoever calls out against Jew-Capital, gentlemen, has already become a warrior for the class struggle, even if he doesn’t know it. You’re against Jew-Capital and you want to strike down those jobbers on the stock exchange. Quite right. Stamp down the Jew-capitalists, hang them from the lampposts, trample them to the ground.”[vi]


The Dark Mountaineers were neither the first – nor are they the worst – of the contemporary Heideggerian movements. And they won’t describe themselves as such either. Yet they namecheck Heidegger, and share his staged anti-intellectualism and disgust about modernity and the facts of history. Kingsnorth drops Heidegger into the conversation in a further essay from 2017. The quote comes from an interview the German philosopher gave Der Spiegel in 1966. Heidegger insisted that they only publish the discussion after his death; the magazine honoured this and published five days after Heidegger passed away in 1976.[vii] This is Kingsnorth’s take:

“ ‘Only a god,’ Heidegger famously said, ‘can still save us.’ … While we might not need a new religion, we do need a new sense of the sacred … and respect for something greater than us. What could that something greater be? There is no need to theorize about it. What is greater than us is the earth itself…”[viii]

Kingsnorth’s strategy with “there is no need to theorize about it” resembles Heidegger’s own tactics. I, the celebrated novelist / philosopher / high priest have the key to the mysteries; there’s certainly no use in you theorizing about them; it is precisely such reason-based thinking that got us into this mess of western civilization in the first place, out of which only a god can still save us. There are several profound answers to the question of what could be greater than individual humans; Kingsnorth’s flicking aside of these alternatives is thuggishly authoritarian. As a humanist Marxist, I posit that our opportunity, as agents in history, to restructure the human and non-human development of the planet, and to transform injustice through collective action and inevitable class struggle, is something greater than we are as self-estranged subjects. A conservative Muslim would give an opposing answer, and one that we’d be stupid to discount: Allah, as understood through the Quran, and Muhammed’s teaching and normative example, as grasped through the Sunnah, are what are greater than us, and that which we need to respect. A liberal atheist would surely put universal human rights at the centre of their response. Pantheists like Kingsnorth only need opposing when they seek to funnel their reverence for the most pluralistic thing imaginable – nature, including human nature, on this earth – into a chauvinistic project , in which the only thing to be revered is a non-theorizable, religiously experienced planet.


“Only us humans can still save the planet and ourselves” is the obvious and necessary answer to Heidegger and Kingsnorth. This doesn’t mean I won’t be moved by what Kingsnorth calls “the sacred” – and I, thinking in post-Hegelian terms, choose to call intellectual spirit – which I recurrently encounter in art, and less often outdoors away from people: nature as a place containing ideas and inspirations. The second necessary riposte to Kingsnorth is to ask why Heidegger chose to make his prophecy pertain to “the West” in the latter twentieth century, rather than to Germany in 1933. The year in which, far more than in 1966, Europe needed an oppositional social movement, or some other force, to save it. This was also the year in which Heidegger concretized his long-standing commitment to racist and nationalist ideology into public and strident support for the emerging Nazi regime, through his new role as Rector of Freiburg University. In bleak contradiction to the image Heidegger attempted to bestow on posterity through the interview with Der Spiegel – the image of a non-political Rector, who successfully stopped book burning taking place under his rectorate – we know now that Heidegger giving an introductory speech at a Midsummer’s Night festivity in Freiburg University sports stadium on June 24, 1933, at which books were burnt,[ix] was but one in a series of public acts of Nazism. Heidegger also wrote an Address to the Fire [Feuerspruch]. Whether Heidegger read out this Address during his speech that evening has not been determined; yet these coincidental biographical events – holding the speech, writing the Address, his lifelong work on the ideological philosophy that got him into Nazism, the use of the Spiegel interview to manipulate his legacy – make him unredeemable. In the man’s own words:

“Fire! Say to us: you may not become blind during the struggle, instead you must stay bright for action. / Flame! Your blazing announces to us: the German Revolution does not sleep, it catches fire anew about itself and lights up the path on which there is no more turning back. / The days fall – our courage rises. / Flames catch fire! Hearts burn!”[x]

Kingsnorth and the other Dark Mountaineers give the impression that the voluminous and meticulous scholarship conducted into what Heidegger wrote and did before, during and after 1933 is beneath them, making engaging with them tricky. They could easily brush off that academic concentration on one individual’s failings as stemming from “the myth of human centrality”, one of the three “dangerous” myths they identify in their Manifesto as underpinning our civilization. Does what Heidegger did right or wrong matter much? Aren’t the grand statements he left us, like the one about only a god being able to save us now, far more essential, because they contribute to a philosophical story Heidegger told us, and it “is through stories that we weave reality”? Hine and Kingsnorth reject a priori participation in theoretical discourse, asserting in schoolmasterly mode that they’ve got dirtier business to attend to:

“We will not lose ourselves in the elaboration of theories or ideologies. Our words will be elemental. We write with dirt under our fingernails.”[xi]


I would love to be transported back in time, on a philosophy field trip alongside Kingsnorth and other Heideggerians, to a predominantly Irish-speaking district in the west of Ireland at the time of the Great Hunger – more specifically, to the year known by an Irish phrase that translates as “the Black ’47”. I would gladly witness Kingsnorth, aided by our official interpreter, attempting to engage a starving Irish peasant on the sublimeness of the dirt under her fingernails, while she scrapes with her hands in the soil, exhausted and vacant, to find any last diseased potato she can. After that peasant has expired in front of the learned, the twenty-first century Heideggerians could engage in a spot of cathartic digging, using the best artisan forks they’d brought with them to bury the peasant corpse. Leaving them then free to debate the folly of a human-centric perspective on Being, and the essentiality of native soil and the blood of the dead in building a people that actually belongs somewhere. One dissenter in the party observes that it’s not even worth discussing Irish national-consciousness from a Heideggerian perspective. How can good Heideggerians not assent to a core tenet of Heidegger’s ideology, as carefully traced by Richard Wolin and others? Heidegger believed that the German Volk was ontologically superior to all other peoples. The ancient Greeks were pretty big stuff too.[xii] The Irish barely get a look in.


Geopoetics, as developed by French-Scottish writer Kenneth White, draws much more substantially on Heidegger than the Dark Mountaineers do, in order to develop its own literary-existential perspective. White founded the International Institute of Geopoetics in 1989, while Chair of Twentieth Century Poetics at the Sorbonne. The number of people who’ve been seriously influenced by White’s work in the three decades since approximates to the numbers who managed a critical reading of Heidegger’s Sein und Zeit [Being and Time] in the three decades after that book’s 1927 publication. There are no signs however, that White, now in his eighties, will acquire the cult philosopher status that Heidegger was accorded by the 1960s. The Brittany-based writer can talk normally with people rather than merely at them, as recordings of his interviews attest to, leaving him exposed to quotidian criticism. White is a fluent internationalist with major writings in both French and English, and it’s out of this internationalism that a net of Geopoetics Centres has grown up worldwide, from a grandly named “Geopoetics College of Oceanian Shores” on Tahiti, to Geopoetika, a Serbian publishing house, to the Scottish Centre for Geopoetics. As White himself has explained accessibly what geopoetics actually is, I’ll confine my analysis to what White and writers following in the geopoetics tradition do with Heidegger.

White kicks off his long essay An Outline of Geopoetics with the type of one-word Heidegger quote that has seduced four different generations of undergraduates: “Worldling” – (Weltling).[xiii] It’s weird enough to sound as if it comes from either Tolkien or sci-fi: imagine a malevolent Time Lord from Dr Who delivering this as a curt put-down to whichever puny humanoid is trying to foil his dastardly plan. Heidegger was a master of this game of coining neological slogans, often starting with everyday German words and heaping obscurantist meanings on to them. The terms are poetic enough to bewitch the reader, and slippery enough to avoid being pinned down: Thrownness, Being-toward-death, and Care. “Wordling” fits into this category. Contrary to how a Time Lord might wield the word, Heidegger connotes it positively: for the German existentialist, a “Worldling” is someone who is of this world and possesses it. What White could not have known when writing An Outline in the early 1990s was anything about Heidegger’s Black Notebooks, four volumes of which were published for the first time in German in 2014 and 2015.[xiv] They demonstrate how Heidegger refused to allow Jews a chance to belong to, or to possess, World:

“One of the stealthiest forms of Gigantism and perhaps the most ancient [is] the fastpaced historicity of calculation, pushiness, and intermixing whereby Jewry’s worldlessness is established.”[xv]

White must have known when writing An Outline that Heidegger’s relationship with national socialism was everything but a “passing acquaintance”, the phrase with which he frames the debate on Heidegger as a “philosophical affluent” to Geopoetics. Victor Farías had published Heidegger et le nazisme in 1987 already, providing extensive evidence of Heidegger’s long-term commitment to national socialist thought. Another turning point that could not have escaped White’s attention was provided by Jacque Derrida in 1991, when that public intellectual stumbled upon a book in a New York store containing an an unauthorized English translation of an interview he had done on Heidegger: Derrida was furious and threatened legal action. But White, who impresses as a generalist with an applaudable scope of non-sectarian intellectual passions, clings to the “passing acquaintance with Nazism” justification for Heidegger: he leaves An Outline as a key text of geopoetics on the “International Institute” website without revising it; he does not return for a critical reappraisal of German existentialism and phenomenology. Younger geopoeticians such as Mairi McFadyen, who delivered the annual Tony McManus Geopoetics Lecture in Edinburgh in November 2018 display a similarly uncritical relationship to Heideggerian concepts. Why?


In Part 1 of her lecture, McFadyen paraphrases Heidegger regarding the “loss of a sense of world” that “we” are suffering under, while appearing to quote White on the subject:

“This leads White to what he calls the central debilitating problem in our culture: a failure to ‘see life whole.’ Our worldview, dominated by a mechanistic, rational science that privileges whatever can be numbered, measured and weighed, has given rise to the loss of ‘a sense of world.’”[xvi]

To get a handle on what White means by “the loss of a sense of world” we would have to return to Heidegger, as White’s concept of “world”, as counterposed to “earth”, corresponds to the earlier thinker’s same opposition. But why would we do that, after deepening our knowledge of that man as a golden-tongued, charismatic, anti-democratic ideologue, who certainly was not allowing Jews and many other non-Germans to participate in the full metaphysical richness of “world”? And what exactly are those adjectives preceding “science” in the aforementioned quote from McFadyen doing? I want us to argue for and move towards a more holistic science: White’s writing on Einstein as a holistic rather than a mechanistic scientist is outstanding. But would we really prefer intuitive and non-rational science – the only alternative to rational science – in times of personal and global crisis? Faced with a diagnosis of bowel cancer, would I want to put everything into the hands of our favourite alternative practitioner, and not even listen to the advice of the best mainstream consultant our NHS or standard health cover gets us access to? Berating science for being rational is like raging at historians for being historical or despising modernity for being modern.

Elsewhere McFadyen slips Heideggerian concepts into her lecture without acknowledging their source. She throws a “being-in-the-world” (In-der-Welt-sein) at us, and repeatedly uses “embodied” as an adjective to describe her own work. Heidegger’s 1924 lectures on Aristotelian philosophy contain a series of observations on embodiment or corporeality.[xvii] Yes, she has prefaced these comments by telling us that she’s a phenomenologist, and many other phenomenologists apart from Heidegger have worked on embodiment, but he’s easily the most influential philosopher to have done so. Did many among McFadyen’s audience in Leith Parish Church, Edinburgh, know that this heavy existential artillery was being trained upon them?


When McFadyen does name Heidegger directly, it’s to enlist him for the geopoeticians’ project of returning to untainted origins:

“Like Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenological ‘radical reflection’ or Heidegger’s hermeneutic drive ‘to get back to the beginning of thought’, geopoetics requires an openness and readiness to both recognise and consciously abandon inherited concepts, philosophical assumptions and the cultural baggage of language, ideology and discourse. It is, in many ways, a process of radical unlearning. It is about decolonising the mind.” [McFadyen’s own emphasis.][xviii]

This tallies wholeheartedly with the aforementioned exposure of the “myth of progress”, so crucial for the Dark Mountaineers, who McFadyen also endorses in this lecture. I would encourage McFadyen, other geopoeticians, and Dark Mountaineers still open to debate to consider whether the “myth of origin” plays just as large a role in the Global North – their main subject – as the “myth of progress” does. It’s futile to label such outsized things as myths as good or bad, but the myth of origin has inflicted far greater suffering on twenty-first and twentieth century populations than the myth of progress ever did. A thing with the purchase that a myth has will not be suddenly unlearned or dispelled just because one group of enthusiasts think it dangerous. But myths can be reappropriated and rewritten – sent from the watershed to flow down into a different river basin. The late poet Tom Leonard, lifelong resident in McFadyen’s Scotland, does this with his brilliant debunking of the notion that “the beginning of thought” as a place or time could ever exist or have existed.

One of his most quoted poems starts at the epi-centre of the Judaeo-Christian myth of origin with the line “in the beginning was the word”, only to subvert that conversation-stopping statement line for line, word by word, by introducing phonetically spelt Scottish urban speech into the paradigm. Line two has already become “in thi beginning was thi wurd”, and by line nine, “nthibeginninwuzthiwurd” the statement has lost all sense of authority and universality: how can it have these things, when we can imagine it being spoken by a working-class person from Glasgow? We reflect that the impact and leverage of any supposedly universal statement about origins depends on the status of the language the statement is being made in, and on the class status of the people making the statement. The next rationally scientific step is to deduce that there was never “the word” at “the beginning”, but several words and grunts in several proto-languages at several beginnings. Leonard delivers us out of this debilitating quest for a single semantic source in line ten, the final line of the poem: “in the beginning was the sound”.[xix]



I’m swayed markedly by the geopoeticians’ and the Dark Mountaineers’ critiques of modernity, and that’s why they bother me so. Who does not feel, at least intermittently, that their mind is colonised?

Late at night, when we long for the escape of sleep, and our brains move again over another Facebook mention that we shouldn’t have read, or a trivial email that we shouldn’t have replied to so officiously. There’s more meaningless noise and less meaningful sound than ever, and who wouldn’t yearn to be shot of that, to dump all that baggage off a rowing boat into an deep and icy-cold Scottish loch, for it to sink to the bottom and slowly be rendered illegible. But one lesson from the 1933 book-burning in Freiburg and a thousand other German cities is that we cannot rid ourselves of our cultural inheritance, trying to do so takes us down no good roads, and that all our warning lights should flash on when we feel we can and should. The potentially offensive analogy between social media posts and books burnt does not mean we should cherish all social media accounts and data. But we’ll never be unencumbered of online communication as a historical event, a shaping force. Whatsapp and the other platforms have happened to us, and now it’s up to us to retrieve meaning from the detritus they’ve cast up. Utilitarianism and other excrescences of rationality work on us daily, and it’s peculiar to suggest that we can click our fingers, enchant ourselves, and be free of their working.

There is no time machine waiting to whisk us back to when these technological revolutions and ideological hegemonies had not happened, so that we could intervene in the past in order to reprogram the future. The only place we can intervene in is in the present, carrying all our histories and stories of past interventions with us – the Haitian Revolution, from 1791; the Scottish Insurrection and national strike of 1820; the Prague Spring, and 1968 in Rome and Berlin. While knowing that if the current intervention is to achieve anything, it must feel and function quite differently to all these past ones. Even if we could get the time machine to work, there is no point in time to go back to, before which we could live without a sense of something amiss, an experience of estrangement. This point never happened, there never was a Fall, and we’ve always been in trouble, making regretful and nostalgic eyes at the present day. The Myth of the Fall is the twin-sister to the Myth of Origins, and it’s significant that Dark Mountaineers are silent about them both, in their refutation of myths that structure the ideology of the Global North. Whether or not they’re yet conscious of it, these alpinists need a Fall, a place for them to head back to, in their long and irreversible trek away from “western civilisation.”


“Great are the myths . . . . I too delight in them, / Great are Adam and Eve . . . . I too look back and accept them; / Great the risen and fallen nations, and their poets, / women, sages, inventors, rulers, warriors and priests.”

So begins Walt Whitman’s final poem in his first (1855) edition of Leaves of Grass. [xx] He affirms oceanically all previous myth, displaying, over the course of his work, just as sincere an interest in the foundational narratives of humans in the East and South of this world, as in those myths more influential in the West and North. Whitman is disinterested in differentiating between harmful and enriching myths. All myths have shaped the histories of sensibility and of ideas, and, as central to our cultural history, we need to incorporate them into the ongoing narrative. Dark Mountaineers would have much evidence to charge Whitman with falling for the myth of human centrality – “Of God I know not; / But this I know; / I can comprehend no being more wonderful than man”;[xxi] it would be far harder for them to demonstrate that Whitman helped construct “the myth of our separation from ‘nature’”. It is revealing that Whitman, an infinitely greater poet than any the Heideggerians wheel on to back them, was thoroughly engaged in his material present, and rose above the summary dismissal of his contemporary poets, which the disciples of the Influential Bewitching Man are prone to. McFadyen, in the November 2018 lecture in Edinburgh, quotes her immediate geopoetician predecessor, Tony McManus, who died in 2002. McManus was the first to translate key Kenneth White essays into English, and he led the founding of the Scottish Centre of Geopoetics in 1995. McFadyen cites McManus in order to explain what type of poetry or poetics she is not discussing in her lecture:

“McManus writes, ‘The word ‘poetry’ in these contexts does not refer to the current mass of more or less formulaic statements of personal-social angst which rarely goes beyond names and words. Poetry, here, is the expression of the human mind which has reached a perception of the world which it must express.’”[xxii]

Nailing down what McManus actually meant by “Poetry, here” takes us back to his essay Philistinism and Cultural Revolution[xxiii], which assigns the highest authority to – drumroll (!) – Heidegger in defining the term:

“Heidegger goes further – when the human expresses the perception of being which opens up to this philosophical mind, he is not scientist, he is not even philosopher, he is poet: poetry says Heidegger, brings being into the light.”[xxiv]

We seem to be stuck driving round and round the end of a cul-de-sac. You can only ultimately get at the geopoeticians understanding of poetics and poetry by countenancing that Heidegger’s essentialist stance on the subject might mean something. But if you do that, steel yourself for a descent down a rabbit warren, where you first hit against the tens, and then end up sifting through hundreds-and-thousands. As Richard Wolin has elucidated, Heidegger “characterizes the nature of Being, on which so much depends, in terms that, to all intents and purposes, fall beneath the threshold of sense: ‘Yet Being—what is Being? It is It itself. The thinking that is to come must learn to experience that and to say it.’”[xxv]

At moments like these, Heidegger is obviously not a philosopher in a normal sense of the word, but is wearing his mask of guru-prophet poet. With brainwashing tendencies. Say it, the thinking to come must learn to say it – “It is It itself; It is It itself” – a dozen times on rising at four a.m., and before walking in pine forests.

The prophetic poet pose might be forgivable if the “poetry” in his texts was any good, mind-opening, fresh, some distinctive achievement of language, form and content. I see no sign that it is. The “poetic moments” are a wielding of grand sounding concepts in a closed system, ignorant of the materiality of the worlds that Heidegger lived in and we live in, pinball self-referential. Heidegger’s poetry-aphorisms in English remind me strongly of the English translations of the poetry of his central European contemporary, Rudolf Steiner. Steiner also constructed a vast, hermetic and hierarchical “philosophy”, finely tuned to leaving the acolytes jostling for their subservient and never fully-realizable roles of decoding the runes. Outside anthroposophical milieus, no one’s taken Steiner seriously as a philosopher for years. What would happen if Heideggerians broke ranks and stopped taking Heidegger seriously as a philosopher? The poet Heidegger translated sounds like this:

“Earth, protect the beginnings / world, be awake to the soundings / world, be grateful to the earth / earth, salute the world.”[xxvi]

The poet Steiner translated sounds like this:

“At the turning point of time / The cosmic spirit-light stepped / Into earthly evolution; / Night darkness / Had ended its reign;”[xxvii]

Heidegger’s work of this aspect gives temporary cosmic succour, it’s a functioning metaphysical drug, and why shouldn’t people consume? It’s from this same philosophical stew that Paul Kingsnorth has supped so successfully to create two recent novels, The Wake (2014) and Beast (2016), by using narrative styles and registers barely paralleled in the contemporary English-language novel. The consequences of his achievement, and what the geopoeticians, in their turn, have constructed from the Heideggerian inheritance, are a subject to return to in a future essay.




[i] Dougald Hine and Paul Kingsnorth, Uncivilization. The Dark Mountain Manifesto (London: Dark Mountain Project Press: 2009). A full text is also available online. Last accessed January 28, 2019: dark-mountain.net/about/manifesto/

[ii] Paul Kingsnorth, “The lie of the land: does environmentalism have a future in the age of Trump?”, in The Guardian, March 18, 2017. Last accessed on January 28, 2019: theguardian.com/books/2017/mar/18/the-new-lie-of-the-land-what-future-for-environmentalism-in-the-age-of-trump

[iii] Paul Kingsnorth, “The lie of the land”, March 18, 2017.

[iv] Paul Kingsnorth, “The lie of the land”, March 18, 2017.

[v] Paul Kingsnorth, “The lie of the land”, March 18, 2017.

[vi] These are Ruth Fischer’s words, given in my own translation, as quoted in the newspaper Vorwärts: “Hängt die Judenkapitalisten. Ruth Fischer als Antisemitin”, in Vorwärts (Berlin), Nr. 390, August 22, 1923. Although the report is based on an anonymous eyewitness account, there is much evidence that it is accurate. In his work Kommunisten zur Judenfrage (Opladen: 1979), 290, Edmund Silberner argues for the authenticity of the quote. According to Silberner, Fischer never repudiated this newspaper report, yet a few days later, when the same publication reported on a political joke she had made, she complained immediately about its inaccuracy. So why did Fischer not deny the anti-Semitic statement? It was not until almost thirty years later that Fischer first declared it to be untrue: see Ruth Fischer, Stalin und der deutsche Kommunismus – Der Übergang zur Konterrevolution -, (Frankfurt: Verlag der Frankfurter Hefte, 1950). Silberner is unconvinced by this very late repudiation, arguing that the rabid anti-Semitism of the quote matches with the so-called “Schlageter” political course pursued by the KPD in 1923, which accepted anti-Semitic “slips” in an utterly misguided attempt to build dialogue with proto-fascist forces.

For more on Fischer’s words at this meeting and their context see: Gruppe Magma, “Die KPD und der Antisemitismus”, published by the Rote Ruhr Uni. Last accessed on January 28, 2019: rote-ruhr-uni.com/texte/gruppe_magma_kdp_und_antisemitismus.shtml

[vii] A full facsimile of the article in Der Spiegel from May 31, 1976 is available here online. Last accessed on January 28, 2019: https://docs.google.com/file/d/0ByBmdFWIrZRhVEM0V0RDTU9yNGs/edit?pli=1

[viii] Paul Kingsnorth, “The Axis and the Sycamore” in Orion Magazine of April 15, 2017.

[ix] Käthe Vordtriede (1891-1964) was a German journalist who witnessed Heidegger’s speech on this occasion, which she described thus: “a peculiar, small fire out of books was burning on a hay cart”. (My own translation from the German). See Käthe Vortriebe, „Es gibt Zeiten, in denen man welkt“. Mein Leben in Deutschland vor und nach 1933 (Langweil: 1999), 80. See also Heiko Wegmann, “Auch in Freiburg wurden von den Nazis Bücher verbrannt“ in Badische Zeitung, August 13, 2013. Newspaper article also available online, last accessedJanuar 28, 2019: badische-zeitung.de/freiburg/auch-in-freiburg-wurden-von-den-nazis-buecher-verbrannt–74296041.html

[x] My translation. Martin Heidegger: Reden und andere Zeugnisse eines Lebensweges (1910–1976), Gesamtausgabe Vol. 16, (Frankfurt am Main: Vittorio Klostermann, 2000), 131.

[xi] Dougald Hine and Paul Kingsnorth, Uncivilization.

[xii] This is my polemical summary of Richard Wolin’s entirely serious analysis. See: Richard Wolin, ‘National Socialism, World Jewry, and the History of Being: Heidegger’s Black Notebooks’, in Jewish Review of Books, Summer 2014 issue. Last accessed on January 14, 2019: jewishreviewofbooks.com/articles/993/national-socialism-world-jewry-and-the-history-of-being-heideggers-black-notebooks/

[xiii] Kenneth White, “An Outline of Geopoetics”, 1991. Taken from the website of: The International Institute of Geopoetics. Last accessed on January 28, 2019: institut-geopoetique.org/en/articles-en/37-an-outline-of-geopoetics.

[xiv] Martin Heidegger, Überlegungen II-VI (Schwarze Hefte 1931–1938). Gesamtausgabe Band 94, edited by Peter Trawny (Frankfurt am Main: Klostermann, 2014).

Martin Heidegger, Überlegungen VII-XI (Schwarze Hefte 1938/39). Gesamtausgabe Band 95, edited by Peter Trawny (Frankfurt am Main: Klostermann, 2014).

Martin Heidegger, Überlegungen XII-XV (Schwarze Hefte 1939–1941). Gesamtausgabe Band 96, edited by Peter Trawny (Frankfurt am Main: Klostermann, 2014).

Martin Heidegger, Anmerkungen I-V (Schwarze Hefte 1942–1948). Gesamtausgabe Band 97, edited by Peter Trawny Klostermann (Frankfurt am Main: Klostermann 2015).

[xv] Translation of Heidegger cited here as given by Richard Wolin, “National Socialism, World Jewry, and the History of Being”.

[xvi] Mairi McFadyen, “Finding Radical Hope in Geopoetics” in Bella Caledonia, November 9, 2018. Last accessed on January 14, 2019: bellacaledonia.org.uk/2018/11/09/finding-radical-hope-in-geopoetics/

[xvii] See Søren Overgaard, ‘Heidegger on Embodiment’ in Journal of the British Society for Phenomenology, Vol. 35, No. 2, May 2004.

[xviii] McFadyen, “Finding Radical Hope in Geopoetics”. See also Mari McFadyen, “Expressing the Earth: Towards a Geopoetic Creative Ethnology” on her website North Light. Last accessed January 29, 2018: mairimcfadyen.scot/blog/2018/4/11/geopoetic-creative-ethnology#_edn22   In “Expressing the Earth”, McFadyen also gives a citation for the Heidegger quote: “to get back to the beginning of thought” – Martin Heidegger, On the Way to Language, (London: HarperOne, 1959).

[xix] All quotations from Tom Leonard in this section of the essay taken from: Tom Leonard, Outside the Narrative, (Edinburgh: Etruscan Books, 2009).

[xx] Walt Whitman [1855], Leaves of Grass, edited Harold Bloom (New York: Penguin Classics, 2005).

[xxi] Ibid. Whitman as quoted by Harold Bloom in his introduction.

[xxii] McFadyen, ibid.

[xxiii] Tony McManus, “Philistinism and Cultural Revolution” in Textualities. Last accessed on January 25, 2019: textualities.net/author/tony-mcmanus

[xxiv] McManus, ibid.

[xxv] Translation of Heidegger cited here as given by Richard Wolin, ‘National Socialism, World Jewry, and the History of Being’

[xxvi] As quoted in English translation by Kenneth White, ‘An Outline of Geopoetics’, section 5 on The International Institute of Geopoetics website. White does not acknowledge any translator, so we assume the translation is by White himself. Last accessed January 25, 2019: institut-geopoetique.org/en/articles-en/37-an-outline-of-geopoetics

[xxvii] Rudolf Steiner, Foundation Stone Mediation, written 1924. Translated by Frank Thomas Smith. Retrieved from: Wikisource. Foundation Stone Mediation. Last accessed on January 28, 2019: en.wikisource.org/wiki/Foundation_Stone_Meditation

Comments (27)

Join the Discussion

Your email address will not be published.

  1. Robert says:

    Hi Henry,

    As a regular contributor to Dark Mountain, I have to say that you are completely wrong to equate DM with the thinking of its co-founder, Paul Kingsnorth (who left the movement last year). Dark Mountain is a broad church of people with very diverse views. What unites Moutaineers is an honest, unblinking view of the ongoing ecological crisis and the collapse of civilization. Paul K. may have aligned himself with the Trump / Brexit axis — channeling Anglo-Saxon resistance fighters can do that to you, I guess — but you’ll find a lot more Ivan Illich than Heidegger among the influences of most Dark Mountaineers. Not to mention Leonard Cohen: “Take the only tree that’s left, stuff it up the hole in your culture.”

    I too was a Brexpat, disenfranchised from the referendum, forced to watch impotently as the tragedy unfolded. As I wrote at the time: “The plot was straight out of King Lear. A vain king asks three rash questions [Cameron’s three referendums, if that isn’t blatantly obvious], and the third time, he doesn’t get the answer he wants, it tears the whole kingdom apart.” (https://theecologist.org/2016/jun/30/midsummer-bonfire-brexit-and-podemos)

    But if you want to see the political impact of Dark Mountain’s “collapsitarianism” (as it has been termed), don’t look to Brexit — look to Extinction Rebellion.

    1. Henry Holland says:

      Hi Robert, thanks for your useful comment that I’m wrong to equate the views of other DM contributors with the views of Paul Kingsnorth; I hadn’t heard that he’d left the movement last year. DM should do more to publicise that. To people outside the movement, Kingsnorth easily had the highest public profile. The only press source I could find on Kingsnorth leaving is from October 1, 2018 (https://dark-mountain.net/ten-years-on-a-mountain/), and even that focuses on the other co-founder, Dougald Hine, leaving the movement. You have to dig deep into the posts there to find out that Kingsnorth has left as well! If I were you guys I’d put a disclaimer on the main pages of the DM website, including the Manifesto, that Kingsnorth is no longer actively involved. Whenever reports have got into mainstream media about DM over the last 10 years, the movement’s almost always associated with Kingsnorth. And I’m glad to hear that there’s more Ivan Illich & Leonard Cohen than Heidegger among the influences of most Dark Mountaineers. Both characters are infinitely preferable as philosophical role models.

      1. Robert says:

        Hi Henry

        I think if you were more familiar with the diversity of voices that make up Dark Mountain you wouldn’t have tried to lump them all in together as a bunch of neo-Heideggerians. I don’t know anybody else thinks this is the case, nor do I know anybody who thinks that because Paul K supports Brexit, say, it follows that this is a Dark Mountain policy; so I don’t really see the need for a disclaimer. There is no Dark Mountain “party line” nor should there be. It’s an artistic movement, not a political party. (Btw I am not one of the core team who run Dark Mountain as an organisation; just a contributor, as I’ve said: so I wouldn’t have any involvement in creating such a disclaimer in any case.)
        Paul’s farewell peice is here: https://dark-mountain.net/coming-down-the-mountain-a-farewell/ (It was actually from 2017, not last year as I said.)

        1. Henry Holland says:

          Hi Robert,

          yes, your first point may be right – although I have read different Dark Mountain voices, I may also have generalised. I had understood (before you mentioned it) that DM is not a political party, and so won’t have policy, or a party-line. Where it gets disengenous is your claim that this makes it non-political. The Manifesto is so blatantly political, that it’s hard to square your assertion that the group is artistic, not political, with your wish to stay attached to the Manifesto. When – and this is only one of many examples I could have taken – this Manifesto states: “We will celebrate writing and art which is grounded in a sense of place and of time. Our literature has been dominated for too long by those who inhabit the cosmopolitan citadels”, – (at another point we learn that these are “citadels of self-congratulation”) – it constructs an opposition between writers-artists working outside big cities – who seem to be able to work with authentic time & space — and writers creating work in big cities — who are apparently working in a timeless, spaceless, void. (Yes, a metaphor, I’ve understood: but metaphors do stand for something). As the Manifesto puts this polemic out there in the world, should it surprise members of the group this document made known in the first place, that some readers react polemically to it? Going beyond polemic, I never wrote of course that you’re all a bunch of Heideggerians, so it’s not surprising that noone you know thinks that either; I drew parallels between some elements in Heidegger’s thought, & the text that helped start your movement & the figure who was seen in the wider world as the leader of your movement. (Not my fault he was seen like that; I didn’t create the structures.) The staged anti-intellectualism – Point 7 of the 8 principles, “Our words will be elemental” – and the pretence of being apolitical — which is a canny shield to hide behind! – remain two of the most striking parallels to Heidegger’s thought. An efficient googling will show you that a number of other critics have raised the same connections to Heidegger’s ideas. Mostly in less friendly tones than I’ve used.

          1. Robert says:

            Who said DM was non-political? Not me.

          2. Dougie Strang says:

            Hi Henry, you write: [Paul Kingsnorth], “the figure who was seen in the wider world as the leader of your movement. (Not my fault he was seen like that; I didn’t create the structures.)”

            However, it is your fault that he continues to be seen like that. You’ve written an essay that focuses on Paul’s work, and present his views as representative of all those involved in the project. Despite him having left two years ago, you make no attempt to explore the work of the writers who now run Dark Mountain. As Dougald has pointed out, it would have been a simple matter to click on the ‘Team’ section of the website, to discover your error.

  2. Daniel Raphael says:

    Anyone may invoke the name of any famous person for any reason, and in fact this practice is not uncommon. Back-to-the-land may be a movement or an idea that some associate with Heidegger…or with Pol Pot. The author of this piece knows Heidegger from secondary sources, and has no patience with what is not obvious, straightforward, and readily grasped in thought. This too, is not uncommon.

    For those with more interest and more patience, I point you to a philosopher who has developed Heidegger’s thinking and applies it to our contemporary time. David Michael Levin does not rely upon Heidegger alone, but does substantively employ the careful unfolding of phenomenological dimensionality in that thinker’s works and words. Levin addresses the contemporary crisis of culture and thinking in The Opening of Vision: Nihilism and the Postmodern Situation. A passage from this work gives you an idea of his concern:

    …the essential character of our time: its devaluation of all values, its nullification of meaning, its alienation, its depersonalization and dehumanization, its numbness of feeling, its narcissistic, pathological subjectivity, its drivenness, its will to power, its confusion, its violence and brutality, its predatory look and stare–everything, in short, which singled out for Nietzsche and Heidegger, the advent of nihilism in our epoch…

    Beware of those who conduct drive-by renditions of other people’s philosophies.

    1. Henry Holland says:

      Regarding Daniel Raphael’s comment, I need only say: beware of right-wing ideologues, who dress up their apologias for one of the most dangerous & influential thinkers of modernity in the Emperor’s New Clothes of a shabby, sub-Heideggerian cultural naysaying. DR’s arbitary claim that “the author of this piece knows Heidegger from secondary sources and has no patience with what is not obvious, straightforward, and readily grasped in thought” is an unfounded, snobbish smear. If the quote provided by Levin truly were to be the best that thinker had to offer, I wouldn’t waste my time on it: cliched, essentialistic & self-indulgently pessimistic. It says nothing new about the mess we’re all in. I’ve read enough of Heidegger’s own work, both in the German original & in the English translations, to know what the apologists so passionately do not want to talk about, invested as they are, up to the hilt: at the latest from the 1927 “masterwork” Being and Time on, Heidegger’s racism & nationalism are inextractable from his philosophy. Communicating with these apologists feels like communicating with global warming deniers: Heidegger joining the NSDAP on May 1, 1933, the last day before their stop on entry; his betrayals of a good number of Jewish academic colleagues; his conviction that the Final Solution, the mass-murder of the Jews, was necessary (on Heidegger & the Final Solution, see long-term Heidegger scholar Richard Wolin in this German-language interview: https://www.hoheluft-magazin.de/2015/03/heidegger-hielt-endloesung-fuer-notwendig/).

  3. Wul says:

    “Kingsnorth praises Stephen Bannon and Marine Le Pen for understanding “what the left refuses to see: that the heart of the West’s current wound is cultural rather than economic.”

    Kingsnorth might be right to praise those two racists for their perception; they are making plenty of progress addressing the “cultural wound” of poor whites. It’s the economic damage though, that sets people to explore their wound. Blaming immigrants for the downside of Globalisation is a form of reverse Cargo Cult.

    If you are disenfranchised from the benefits of globalisation, then why welcome it? “The world has changed, but I’m wealthier and safer as a result” has a different feel to; “The world has changed and I’m poorer and less safe than I was”.

  4. florian albert says:

    Henry Holland states that we can intervene in the present carrying ‘all our histories and stories of past interventions with us.’ He then refers to Haiti from 1791, Scotland in 1820 and Prague, Berlin and Rome in 1968.
    For how many Scots do these events – even the Prague Spring – carry any significance ?
    Having lived through 1968 and remembering its important events, I do not recollect much happening in Rome.

    1. Henry Holland says:

      Florian Albert assumes this article was written solely for Scots. And also seems to assume that people who live in Scotland, who do indeed form the core
      of BC readers, are not interested in world history; or not outside of a “what you get taught at school”, forelock-tugging version of that subject. Neither of these hold good from my perspective. I certainly respect his subjective experience of living in Rome ’68, & of not much happening.
      Thousands of other people in Rome and Italy at that time had very different experiences, as the historical record testifies: mass strikes;
      huge growth on student numbers leading to government cap on entry to higher education leading to student occupations; police evictions of students;
      and the ‘Battle of Valle Giulia’, Rome, 1968: “The last occupation was of the faculty of architecture at the Sapienza University of Rome, which was eventually evicted on the 29th. A mass meeting was held by students in the Piazza di Spagna on March 1 and it was resolved that the university should be recaptured. As 4,000 students descended on police, an outright battle ensued. Hundreds of injuries were sustained on both sides, and after repeated baton charges by police the students were forced to pull back. ”
      ( http://libcom.org/history/1962-1973-worker-student-struggles-italy?fbclid=IwAR35bEc1wQm8FCvCMd_JmB3JqH2dznv6_21SgRcb1YAwFpWbQ7_ZFi5c-hs)
      The correct thing is probably to turn Florian Albert’s rhetorical question back upon himself – “Haiti from 1791, Scotland in 1820 and Prague, Berlin and Rome in 1968. For how many Scots do these events – even the Prague Spring – carry any significance ?” – and ask a more open question: “What’s missing in the Scottish education system that not more people find the Haitian Revolution significant, when that was a global blow against racism and oppression?”

  5. Dougald Hine says:

    Hi Henry,

    You’ve clearly put time and thought into reflecting on Dark Mountain, the project Paul Kingsnorth and I founded a decade ago – and I appreciate your refusal to follow lazier critics who go all in for mud-slinging, as well as your honesty about the complexity of your own response to those parts of our work which you have read. I’m also resigned at this stage to the way that the journalistic habit of pinning a story on a heroic individual has created a seemingly unshakeable tendency for critiques of Dark Mountain to conflate the project with anything Paul has ever written, while discounting the published contributions of the many others who have been part of its work over the years.

    However, given your focus on Dark Mountain as a Heideggerean project, I think you might have checked whether either of the project’s founders had written directly – rather than just in passing, as Paul does in the passage you quote – on the subject of Heidegger. Some efficient Googling would have taken you to this short essay of mine:


    I make no claims for it as a contribution to philosophy – but it does give some indication of the kind of discussions about Heidegger that have gone on within our editorial team over the years.

    From your exchange with Robert, a reader might get the impression that Paul’s departure is not signalled clearly on our website, so let me clear that one up by directing you to the Team page:


    But you suggest that we ought to add a “disclaimer” to the site. Well, again, it’s hardly a secret that Paul and I have different positions on plenty of things – as a matter of fact, I discussed my own position on Brexit in an essay for this very site – but I’m not about to start treating a friend and longstanding collaborator as though he were a source of contamination.

    You pick up on a line from the manifesto: “We will not lose ourselves in the elaboration of theories or ideologies.” I quite accept that this can be read in the way you read it – especially given the sentences that follow. For what it’s worth, though, when I wrote those words, the intended emphasis was on loss and elaboration: the position is not against theory, but against the tendency to get lost in its endless elaboration. (Assuming you’ve read beyond the manifesto and a few of Paul’s essays, you’ll have encountered essays and conversations which illustrate that there is certainly room for theory within the pages of Dark Mountain – and, as Robert rightly points out, Heidegger can hardly be called a dominant influence in the work that appears in those pages.)

    When the manifesto was republished in 2014, I had the chance to write an introductory essay, which ended with this reflection:

    “If you were to ask either of us, five years on, whether we stand by what we wrote in this manifesto, I suspect our answers would be similar. We stand by it, not as a stockade to be defended, but as a first attempt to say something, to work out how to say something, the fuller significance of which we are still discovering in the company of a growing gang of friends and collaborators, most of whom would never have met if we hadn’t been brave enough, or foolish enough, to commit these words to print.”

    In that spirit, I don’t mind saying that there are passages in the original text which I would word differently, were we writing it today – and thoughts that I have rethought along the way – just as any of us, in a conversation about things that matter to us deeply, would not repeat robotically the same formulations that came to the mouth a decade ago. And it’s fair of you to say that a polemically-voiced text invites a polemical response. But if I could choose, I would rather sit down with you and talk about all this over a whisky than debate it through keys and screens. (Among much else, you’d soon discover that I’m hardly silent on matters such as the Myth of the Fall.)

    I don’t claim to be learned in philosophy, but the experience of watching that manifesto go out into the world has brought me back to Plato’s Phaedrus and the warning he has Socrates make about the orphaned creature that is the written word. I hope you won’t take that as a romantic appeal to a prelapsarian world before literacy, though! It’s merely the sigh of someone who has been on the receiving end of enough polemics for one lifetime, though I could wish they were all written with the degree of restraint and self-awareness that you show in this article. Thank you for that.

    Dougald Hine
    Co-founder (for what such things are worth) of the Dark Mountain Project

    1. Henry Holland says:

      Thank you, Dougald, for your magnanimous reply. I could indeed have discussed your exemplary “How to deal with the Nazi philosopher Martin Heidegger” in my original essay. And Plato & Socrates’ telling words about written texts being “orphaned creatures” do not detract from your achievement with the Manifesto: along with probably thousands of others, I experience it as inspirational literature. (The fact that many readers will have disagreements with some of the philosophy it contains cannot diminish any of that: why would we just read literature we agree with?)

      Going beyond the sound approach of being explicit on the extent of Heidegger’s Nazism when teaching about / writing about him, there is a valuable debate that goes on about where Heidegger fails philosophically, in fields in which other 20th C philosophers give us more ― a debate that can function even while being silent on Heidegger’s Nazism. The summary of Joseph Benavides’ 2011 PhD thesis on “Hope and History: What Bloch Gives Us and What Heidegger Doesn’t” (28 pages; understandable to an ambitious general reader) is one such example of this. (https://www.academia.edu/5042385/History_and_Hope_What_Bloch_Gives_Us_and_What_Heidegger_Doesnt) But this aspect of the debate is not one I’m interested in “winning”; simply want readers to know how & where it’s going on; and I agree absolutely with you about the whisky. That fine drink would surely further the interests of philosophy more at this stage then any late night keys & screens can do. I hope that comes about one day ― I would happily get in the round!

  6. florian albert says:

    Your reply confirms my belief that nothing much, in terms of European history, happened in Italy in 1968. I was at university in 1968 and soon learned not to take student activism remotely seriously.
    As Tony Judt repeated wrote, the important events in 1968 were taking place in Eastern Europe.

    You are correct that the Scottish education system does not prioritize Haiti. There are reasons for this. It is necessary to be selective in what history you study. Most countries give priority to their national history. I consider that to be legitimate. Scotland’s connection to Jamaica would make it a more appropriate topic.
    Your rationale for studying Haiti strikes me as dubious; ‘ a global blow against racism and oppression.’ A study of Haiti can lead to much more pessimistic interpretations of the events there; e g the capacity for violent revolution to devour its children.

    You refer to a ‘what you get taught at school’, forelock-tugging version of history. Who exactly is this insult aimed at ?

  7. Norman Bissell says:

    I welcome discussion of these issues and I want to dissociate geopoetics entirely from Paul Kingsnorth’s welcome of Trump’s election and the illegally obtained Brexit result, and from his apologia for anti-immigrant nationalism and his disillusioned critique of green politics. That said, I recognise that his views don’t represent those of the supporters of the Dark Mountain Project with which the Scottish Centre for Geopoetics, despite our differences with its analysis, has worked in the past.

    The Scottish Centre for Geopoetics is part of an international movement which seeks to place the Earth and its life forms at the centre of human existence and actions, to overcome our separation from the natural world of which we are part, and to express the Earth creatively in the arts, sciences, ways of thinking and combinations of these. It is an ongoing trans-disciplinary movement for much needed radical cultural renewal. What could be more vital in our age of climate crisis which a new generation of young people has recognised and is taking worldwide action to stop?

    Martin Heidegger is widely considered to be one of the most significant philosophers of the twentieth century, many of whose concepts and approaches have influenced e.g. existentialism, post-structuralism, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Bernard Stiegler etc. I witnessed this last weekend at the Existentialist Philosophy Research Network Conference at the Sorbonne in Paris when academics and others from Japan, Togo, Denmark, Belgium, Switzerland, Scotland, England and France referenced his work amongst others and discussed work that goes beyond it.

    Henry Holland’s critique of geopoetics and Heidegger is misleading at best. It’s based on a simplistic form of guilt by association. It suggests that because Heidegger was an avowed Nazi then the geopoetics project is politically suspect and phenomenology is misguided. He quotes Kenneth White, Mairi McFadyen and Tony McManus selectively and condemns their analysis because they use concepts like ‘a sense of world’, ‘being-in-the-world’ and ‘embodied’.

    He’s right to say that Heidegger had more than a ‘passing acquaintance’ with Nazism. There is no question that he fully embraced Nazism and refused to dissociate himself from it after it was defeated. Mahon O’Brien deals comprehensively with this issue in Heidegger, History and the Holocaust (Bloomsbury 2015). In his Introduction he says Heidegger “was a committed National Socialist not just a token Nazi for a few months for the purposes of academic expediency… (He) insisted that his commitment to National Socialism was deeply indebted to and informed by the central concepts of his own thought… If (his) philosophy is related to his politics, that does not automatically mean that his philosophy must be rejected… His hermeneutics of facticity, his accounts of being-in-the-world, history of metaphysics, truth, the essence of technology and his readings of Western philosophy are not suddenly rendered crass by that relationship… (His) attempts at a political philosophy based on his fundamental philosophical concepts fail: Heidegger’s philosophy, in particular the relevant notions from Being and Time, resists what Heidegger attempts to do with these notions.”

    In other words the claim that phenomenology and some of the concepts that Heidegger came up with are wrong and untouchable because he was a Nazi is a feeble, false argument. One might as well say that the whole of world philosophy post-Heidegger can’t be discussed because his philosophy has influenced so many others.

    Perhaps the most misplaced aspect of Henry’s critique of geopoetics is his attempt to counterpose the poetry of Walt Whitman and Tony McManus’s view of poetry as ‘the expression of the human mind which has reached a perception of the world which it must express.’ I well remember a talk on Whitman that Kenneth White gave to the Jargon Group in Glasgow in 1964. I was so inspired that I went out and bought the Everyman Edition of his Complete Poems and Selected Prose and I have continued to be inspired by it ever since. Because Tony quoted Heidegger saying poetry ‘brings being into the light’ he is tarred with the brush of Heidegger’s own poor efforts at poetry. A non sequitur if ever there was one.

    Philistinism and Cultural Revolution, the essay by Tony he quotes, is a wide-ranging, powerful defence of the values of broad based education in Scotland against those undermining it which refers to E.M.Cioran, Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Daisetz Suzuki, Gaston Bachelard, Ilya Prigogine, Isabelle Stengers, Mircea Eliade, John Scot Erigena, Edmund Husserl, George Buchanan, Patrick Geddes, and ‘drumroll’ Martin Heidegger – but Henry creates the false impression that Tony’s focus is on Heidegger to whom he ‘assigns the highest authority’ in defining poetry. A blatant distortion. Read it for yourself here: http://textualities.net/author/tony-mcmanus.

    Tony McManus was a socialist, an internationalist who supported Scottish (and Irish) independence, and a cultured thinker to his very core. I have yet to meet a finer human being. He founded the Scottish Centre for Geopoetics in 1995 and worked tirelessly to raise awareness of what geopoetics has to offer until his death in 2002. That is why we continue to recognise his work in the annual Tony McManus Geopoetics Lecture. I will give the next one at New Lanark in October when I will go into more detail on his vital contribution to the development of geopoetics in Scotland, particularly for the benefit of the many new members we are attracting.

    Henry, if you must have another go at geopoetics and ‘the Heidegerrean inheritance’ please lay off Tony McManus, and don’t lump us in with Paul Kingsnorth’s novels or his profoundly reactionary political views.

    Norman Bissell
    Scottish Centre for Geopoetics

      1. Henry Holland says:

        I welcome Norman Bissell’s considered & informative response. But I’m bewildered why he thinks I’m interested in “condemning” the analysis of Kenneth White, Mairi McFadyen and Tony McManus: I explicitly signpost my admiration for a large part of geopoetics in the essay: “White, who impresses as a generalist with an applaudable scope of non-sectarian intellectual passions”, “White is a fluent internationalist with major writings in both French and English, and it’s out of this internationalism that a net of Geopoetics Centres has grown up worldwide” etc. — this is hardly the language of a one-sided polemic. Where I do critique the movement is where Norman doesn’t provide a response, and where I sincerely hope I’m wrong: I can’t find any readily available writings by White or McFadyen or McManus in which Heidegger’s concepts are deployed in an up-front & critical way. (White’s published assertion that Heidegger is a much “misunderstood” philosopher can’t count as critical; it says nothing more than White thinking he’s right about Heidegger, while us anti-Heideggerians are wrong.) I certainly do not make the claim that Norman attributes to me that “phenomenology and some of the concepts that Heidegger came up with are wrong and untouchable because he was a Nazi”. That would indeed be feeble. Instead, I advance the argument that parts of Heidegger’s phenomenology and further core concepts as used by Heidegger – particularly one of his notorious definitions of Being, as cited and discussed in the essay – are inextractably interwoven with the same authoritarian, racist & anti-democratic mysticism that shapes his politics. It is Heidegger & uncritical followers who are being feeble if they feel a need to rely on: “Yet Being—what is Being? It is It itself. The thinking that is to come must learn to experience that”.
        Further, Norman claims I distort Tony McManus’ essay “Philistinism and Cultural Revolution” by saying it assigns the highest authority to Heidegger in defining poetry. But it does exactly that! Yes, in his attempts in that essay to conceptualize poetry, McManus draws on other sources & also arrives at his own conclusions, including poetry being “the expression of the human mind which has reached a perception of the world which it must express” (which I also quote in my essay above), but he also accords high authority to Heidegger in defining the term. Put alongside his essentialistic conception of contemporary poetry – which McFadyen, through her quoting of it, apparently agrees with — “The word ‘poetry’ in these contexts does not refer to the current mass of more or less formulaic statements of personal-social angst which rarely goes beyond names and words.” (Would dearly like to know which “formulaic statements”, which poetry & poets McManus & McFadyen are thinking of here) —McManus’ grasping at the showy & empty Heideggerianism “poetry says Heidegger, brings being into the light”, muddies already very murky waters. An excursus: I have a nagging suspicion that this translation “poetry brings Being into the light” is wrong; as neither McManus nor McFadyen provide a reference for either the German original or an English translation, I haven’t been able to check it. Norman: can you provide a citation for the quote?
        To conclude: I’ve read a number of McManus’s own poems in “Chapman”; I think they’re good; I’ve no interest in tarring his poetry with any brush. I have no critique to make of McManus’s & White’s politics, but rather of their poetics. As Norman relays, McManus’s achievements in a number of fields seem to have been original and considerable. I guess Norman doesn’t really believe that a single critique can detract from any of that, and certainly not one that doesn’t attack him personally in the slightest, so why do I get told to “lay off” merely because I engage with the writings he left behind?
        The balls remain in the Heideggerian court. If Norman, or Mairi McFadyen or Kenneth White don’t want the Heideggerian current in geopoetics to be “misunderstood” again and again — yes, I agree, the Heideggerian is only one of many currents in there — then they need to be much more open & critical in how they use Heidegger’s concepts in the future: particularly ones like the opposition between “world” and “earth”, which I mention in the essay, and which White developed from the opposition Heidegger himself constructed between these terms. By way of an analogy: how would you feel as a general reader / listener attending a lecture on what seems like a general topic, only to find out afterwards that you’d been hit by a series of Marxist concepts embedded in that lecture? Wouldn’t it be better for such a lecturer to say from the outset that they were going to use Marxist concepts, and to explain some of the most important ones? Or is knowing what Heidegger meant by “Being-in-the-world” common knowledge down Leith these days?
        Henry Holland,
        translator of German-language political science and philosophical texts

        1. Ullrich Kockel says:

          Just a thought on the possible source of McManus‘ „quote“ re poetry & light:
          In Ulrike Kuhlmann‘s book „Das Dichten Denken“ you might find the following passage: „…daß das Wesen der Dichtung ein geschichtliches ist, weil in ihr das Seiende im Ganzen sich lichtet…“ – this train of thought (which recurs in Heidegger‘s writing in various forms) may be what is meant here – although „lichten“ is of course linked to „Lichtung“, which Heidegger uses in his own peculiar way.

          1. Henry Holland says:

            Many, many thanks, Ullrich Kockel, for a tip to move this on. Your recommendation of Ulrike Kuhlmann’s book as a place to look for the German original of McManus’ quote at least reveals which Heidegger text it comes from: the 1935 lecture “Über den Ursprung des Kunstwerks”. I still haven’t located the exact quote, but at least it’s clear that Heidegger isn’t specifically talking about “poetry” at all in this text: rather about the much larger category of “Dichtung”, which should translate as “literature”: and Heidegger’s understanding of “Dichtung” is even wider than the already wide normal German definition of the term. And you’re right to indicate that it is insufficient to translate the original quote as “bringing poetry into the light”, because of Heidegger’s idiosnycratic use of the verb “sich lichtet”. This, as you say, clearly refers to H.’s concept of “Lichtung” — the forest clearing — though what exactly the man meant by that has already been the subject of essays in their own right.!Thank you, Ullrich.

  8. Mairi says:

    I have been hovering here for a while and did not want to jump straight in on the controversy that this article has created. This said, I appreciate that this is a criticism of geopoetics more generally and so I feel a need and responsibility to respond.
    Firstly, I do not think Holland intended this piece as a personal attack or a point scoring exercise, although perhaps the tone and choice of language of the piece and his subsequent responses (both here and Facebook) may not have invited the warm and productive discussion he had hoped for. There is obviously much in Dark Mountain and geopoetics that has inspired – and provoked – Holland, and his intention was surely to push the debate forward.
    With regards to my own piece, re-published here at Bella’s request; this was a hastily drawn together transcript of a lecture and not an academic essay. Lectures, geared to an occasion and an audience – like blogs – do not come with the same expected rigour as academic analyses. Apologies for my shortcomings in failing to accurately reference McManus’ own sources. And yes: I could have devoted the allotted time to a critique of Heidegerrian concepts, but this wasn’t the audience nor the occasion. Rather, this was a whistle-stop and very broad-brush introduction to a huge topic, and certainly not an unreflected opportunity to dispense heavy existential artillery on an unwitting gathering in Leith. The aim was to highlight the desperate need we have to come together to deal with the profound consequences of climate breakdown, reflecting on my own attempts to find a hopeful path.
    I do not feel the need to critique Holland’s essay further – others have done so. Neither do I feel in a position to defend or speak to Holland’s criticisms of Dark Mountain; I mentioned Dark Mountain in my lecture only as an example of a group who had engaged with Bendell’s Deep Adaptation framework (of which there is now an international discussion forum at https://deepadaptation.ning.com/). This said, I do think the Holland does a disservice to and misrepresents those who are currently involved in Dark Mountain by reducing it to its legacy connection with Kingsnorth. This must be exhausting and endlessly frustrating for those involved.
    We can, however, thank Holland for raising the need for us to delve more deeply and explicitly into the influence of Heidegger, phenomenology and geopoetics and bring this out into the open for those who may not be aware of the discourse or who have not yet engaged with it. There are, of course, many writers who have dealt with Heidegger while fully acknowledging his political stance – in the fields of contemporary anthropology, geography, consciousness studies etc. It is also fair to suggest that Kenneth White’s version of geopoetics may have been a bit too cavalier in this respect. From the perspective of the Scottish Centre for Geopoetics, and drawing on the work of Ullrich Kockel, a longer article that deals with these questions will be forthcoming. This will also consider parallels and contrasts with Heidegger’s contemporaries – including Ernst Bloch and Hannah Arendt – as well as more contemporary applications. In the context of a ‘radical hope’ in our time, there is a lot to be said about these thinkers.

    One more thing: Thank You Bella for being one of the few places where such open and generous debate is possible.

    1. Henry says:

      Very many thanks, Mairi McFadyen, for taking the time to reply. What you say makes a lot of sense, particularly your point that I misrepresented Dark Mountain by focussing on Kingsnorth. I did devote a good section to discussing the Manifesto, & it’s clear from the comments that Dark Mountain people still feel committed to the Manifesto; but I understand why DM people will feel misrepresented (which was honestly not my intention). The polemical tone of my essay was a direct response to the polemical tone in both the DM manifesto & what I experience, in the best sense of the word, as a polemical tone in your lecture: provoking people to think in new ways about essential questions of our time. Your point that a reprinted public lecture need not fulfill the same criteria regarding citations and discussion of complex concepts as an academic article would do is entirely valid: as a reader of the lecture, I felt distanced and distracted from your important key arguments by the (in that limited time frame) unexamined Heideggerian concepts. I’m really glad to hear that a longer article from the perspective of the Scottish Centre for Geopoetics, drawing on the work of Ullrich Kockel, and considering parallels/contrasts with Heidegger’s contemporaries – including Ernst Bloch and Hannah Arendt — is forthcoming. If you and the other Scott. Centre for Geopoetics individuals want that, I really hope that Mike considers publishing that article.

      I would also like to thank yourself, Mike & Bella for making this debate possible: it’s only because of your excellent lecture, & Mike’s interview with Kenneth White from last summer (audio also published on Bella) that I started reading about Geopoetics in the first place.

      1. Paul Kingsnorth says:

        Since you’re all talking about me without the courtesy of notifying me, I thought I might as well jump in myself. Not least because most of your assumptions appear to be wrong.

        Just a few factual corrections then, in case it makes any difference (though I’m not hopeful):

        1. I have never welcomed the election of Donald Trump. I do not like Donald Trump. What I have done is to recognise that his election marked a significant challenge to the globailsation project. Trump ran explicitly as an anti-globalisation candidate who opposed the damage being done to working people in the US – all working people, not just white ones – and that this was much of his appeal to the disenfranchised. Whether he meant it, or has done anything about it since, is another matter, but this is irrefutable. That the left is too busy trying to frame him as a Nazi to recognise this is neither here nor there. I repeat: I am not a Trump fan. But that doesn’t mean I can’t recognise a historical inflection point when I see one.

        2. I have never’ praised’ Bannon or Le Pen, both of whom I dislike greatly. It is a constant source of frustration for those of us who attempt to write from outside established political silos that ideologues cannot distinguish an attempt to understand something from a desire to praise it. The point I have making incessantly, all over the left wing press, for ten years now, is that if the ‘left’ broadly cannot understand peoples’ need for a positive attachment to nationhood and belonging, then people will migrate to those who offer a more poisonous version. Bannon and Le Pen understand this. You, evidently, do not, which is why stuff like this keeps popping up. In this sense, the left is at least partly responsible foer the rise of the hard right.

        3. I am not ‘anti-immigrant.’ This really is the laziest and most dishonest bullshit. I do not believe in open borders, it is true – along with 90% of the rest of the population of planet Earth. This is because I do not see how a welfare state or a democracy can operate without citizens, I believe in the UN-mandated right to national self-determination, and I think that people have a right to determine the shape of their nation. This ought to be uncontroversial on a site dedicated to, cough, Scottish nationalism. If the left now believes that supporting the existence of nation-states is racist, then the left can’t be helped. As for me: I’m an Englishman living in Ireland with my Punjabi wife and our mixed-race kids, and it gets a little tiresome being accused of racism by middle class white intellectuals from British cities.

        4. I have never read Heidegger. I did use his most famous quote once in a specific context.

        5 ‘Loved things’ does not mean ‘loved native things’. Where did you get this from? Ah yes: you made it up! Well, why not? Everyone else is doing it. What is a native thing? I am sure I don’t know. I do know that loving something takes time, and time takes standing still, and globalisation makes it impossible to stand still. If you are arguing for a rootless world – well, good luck. You are getting your wish.

        More broadly, this article reeks of paranoia and the over-intellectualising of an actally much more vital issue. This is precisely why the DM manifesto distanced itself from theory and ideology. Because it’s not real. It is as if the green left cannot see its hand in front of its face. I am not a ‘nationalist’ and have never said I am. But I can see why the nationalists are succeeding where the left is failing, and it circles around these notions of home and belonging; notions which this site is happy to discuss when they are set north of Berwick. These need to be carefully negotiated and discussed. This process is not helped by piling onto everyone who tries to discuss them in Incorrect ways, using the usual slew of Nazi references. I am not sure why the left’s moral universe stalled in the 1930s, but times have moved on. It’s a new world, and the old answers don’t work. My readers are quite capable of engaging with these nuances. I’m sorry that you’re not.

        1. Paul Kingsnorth says:

          PS: I’m sorry to butt in again, but I had meant to comment on this:

          ‘I would love to be transported back in time, on a philosophy field trip alongside Kingsnorth and other Heideggerians, to a predominantly Irish-speaking district in the west of Ireland at the time of the Great Hunger – more specifically, to the year known by an Irish phrase that translates as “the Black ’47”. I would gladly witness Kingsnorth, aided by our official interpreter, attempting to engage a starving Irish peasant on the sublimeness of the dirt under her fingernails, while she scrapes with her hands in the soil, exhausted and vacant, to find any last diseased potato she can. After that peasant has expired in front of the learned, the twenty-first century Heideggerians could engage in a spot of cathartic digging, using the best artisan forks they’d brought with them to bury the peasant corpse. Leaving them then free to debate the folly of a human-centric perspective on Being, and the essentiality of native soil and the blood of the dead in building a people that actually belongs somewhere. One dissenter in the party observes that it’s not even worth discussing Irish national-consciousness from a Heideggerian perspective. How can good Heideggerians not assent to a core tenet of Heidegger’s ideology, as carefully traced by Richard Wolin and others? Heidegger believed that the German Volk was ontologically superior to all other peoples. The ancient Greeks were pretty big stuff too.[xii] The Irish barely get a look in.’

          I presume it is meant to be arch. But I live in the west of Ireland, my friends are the descendants of people who suffered in the famine, and it isn’t funny. I would love to accompany you on a field trip to my local workhouse, where I have myself presented my work, or to the remains of famine cottages around the corner from me, and you can explain to the people here how their ‘problematic’ and ‘Heideggerian’ rootedness in their land – which here in rural Ireland is very strong, precisely due to the legacy of empire – is going to be solved by Brit intellectuals writing about long-dead German philosophers. Tickets to Shannon airport are very reasonably priced. I’ll pick you up in arrivals. Any time.

          1. Henry Holland says:

            Kingsnorth objects to my mini-satire. As it’s him, and him alone, who’s the target of the satire, I’m glad he doesn’t find it funny: it must have done its job. Descendants of people who suffered in the Great Famine are blatantly not the target of the satire, as they’ll discover if they wish to read my essay. Kingsnorth’s attempt to conflate the two is ethically poor, and discredits him. It also discredits him that he puts scare quotes around ‘problematic’, when he writes “explain to the people here how their ‘problematic’ and ‘Heideggerian’ rootedness in their land”, as if I had written that people in the west of Ireland’s rootedness in their land is problematic and Heideggerian. I neither write this at any point in my essay, nor do I imply it, nor do I think it.

            What is problematic is when a middle-class Brit intellectual claims the Irish, and their rootedness, and their history in proprietary terms, just because he has some Irish friends, has done some readings there, and has had the spare capital to move to Ireland, where he grows some vegetables alongside his writing. My maternal ancestors were cottars in East Lothian, among the hundreds of thousands forcefully removed from the land during the Lowland Clearances. I do not assert that this was suffering on the scale experienced by those who lived through the Great Famine; but it was oppression and brutality of a substance that neither Kingsnorth or I have had to endure in our lifetimes. My growing up in Lowland Scotland gives me no exclusive ownership of this history: Irish or English or Uyghur people are all free to have their own understanding of it.

            And, finally, regarding Heidegger, the “long-dead German philosopher” (he actually died in 1976), who Kingsnorth snobbily – and playing to the Europhobic gallery? –dismisses as unimportant. The one thing that a diverse group of experts worldwide do agree on is the extent of Heidegger’s influence. The Internet Encyclopaedia of Philosophy is peer-reviewed – no one can publish there without two or three other academics in the field checking the facts asserted. Their conclusion:
            “Martin Heidegger is widely acknowledged to be one of the most original and important philosophers of the 20th century, while remaining one of the most controversial.” (https://www.iep.utm.edu/heidegge/)

        2. Henry Holland says:

          Kingsnorth reacts to the criticisms that I and many others have made of his work with a volley of insults, rather than engaging with the criticism. Life’s too short to spend it swapping slurs online: instead, I’ll respond to his numbered objections.

          For starters: the discourtesy lies all with the author of the comments immediately above. Because he’s an acclaimed novelist and writes at regular intervals for an international newspaper, people write and talk about his work, in print and online. Neither I nor BC’s editor had any duty to inform him about this article. And it is revealing how Kingsnorth’s communication style when facing criticism is the very opposite of how Dougald Hine – the co-author of the Dark Mountain Manifesto together with Kingsnorth – responds to the same (see comments above). Hine, while rejecting major parts of my argument, still talks to people normally, acknowledges his own fallibility, and doesn’t need to hide away on a non-existent aesthetic high ground.

          1. Kingsnorth and Trump. I believe Kingsnorth doesn’t like Trump and never has done. Nowhere in my essay do I suggest he does. But Kingsnorth has got it wrong about the Left and Trump. Many serious leftist analyses of Trump’s victory have illuminated how Trump’s vociferously stated opposition to neoliberalism was highly popular with voters who feel left behind. (That neoliberalism is the primary system through which globalisation currently operates may be one of the few points Kingsnorth and I agree on). Try, for example, Peter Hudis’s writing about this for size:

          “Trump’s victory clearly shows that right-wing opponents of neoliberalism have found a way to speak to disaffected segments of the working class … all as part of ensuring, at one and the same time, that capitalism itself remains unquestioned.” (https://www.plutobooks.com/blog/whats-does-trump-mean-for-the-future-of-capitalism/)

          2. Regarding praise/non-praise for Bannon and Le Pen, readers should go back to Kingsnorth’s Guardian essay of March 2017, and make up their own minds. “The likes of Stephen Bannon and Marine Le Pen … understand what the left refuses to see: that the heart of the west’s current wound is cultural rather than economic.” (Kingsnorth; https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/mar/18/the-new-lie-of-the-land-what-future-for-environmentalism-in-the-age-of-trump) Here, the writer grants more insight and wisdom to Bannon and Le Pen than he ever does to living leftists. More generally, Kingsnorth seems to oscillate between wanting to give a genuine critique of the Left, and enjoying wild swipes at “lefties”, employing worn-out Daily Telegraph type clichés to do so.

          2A. “the ‘left’ broadly cannot understand peoples’ need for a positive attachment to nationhood and belonging” (Kingsnorth): Oh, really. Why does this remind me of Kingsnorth’s own anger about intellectually lazy bullshit? So where – and using the term national self-consciousness instead of the more psychologically manipulative term “nationhood” – does the worldwide, sustained support for the Kurds and for the Palestinians come from, if not from the left? Which groups, outside of Catalonia, have provided sustained backing for the Catalonian independence movement? Why is the Scottish independence movement, for all its faults, predominantly left, and why have people with such differing political outlooks – from libertarian anarchists, to environmentalists, to trade unionists – come together and stayed together to campaign for it?

          A definitive part of the Scottish independence debate that Kingsnorth has not followed: for more and more thinking people in the movement, “Scottish nationalism” is not the means, and another “nation-first” nation-state, like so many previously in history, cannot be the goal. A consciousness of belonging to a stateless nation is what motivates the indy campaign in the first place; there’s enough experience of politics as it currently is to know that, should Scotland achieve independence, it will go through a transitional phase of being another nation-state amongst hundreds of nation-states; but if the movement didn’t contain a strong concrete utopian element, it could never have displayed the resilience that it has shown over the decades.

          Starting from this concrete utopian current in the independence movement, Kingsnorth’s claim that Bella Caledonia is disinterested in notions of home and belonging, as they apply to people south of Berwick, is simply untrue. Indeed, Mark Anthony France’s essay “For Jeremy, England and St. George!”, published on this site (https://bellacaledonia.org.uk/2017/04/23/for-jeremy-england-and-saint-george/), discusses these very questions. France argues passionately for the validity of a different understanding of Englishness, based on the people’s rich history – and an understanding that refuses to define Englishness in terms of indigeneity as a self-serving concept. That said, Mike Small and the other BC editors are right to refuse column space to those that trumpet English Nationalism, in all its chauvinist and nativist glory.

          3. Is Kingsnorth “anti-immigrant”? Nowhere in my essay, nor in my comments, do I use the term. In fact, it’s Norman Bissell (Director of the Scottish Centre for Geopoetics) who uses it above: “I want to dissociate geopoetics entirely from Paul Kingsnorth’s welcome of Trump’s election … and from his apologia for anti-immigrant nationalism”. (Bissell) This is different from saying “Kingsnorth: he’s anti-immigrant”. It’s more nuanced. Kingsnorth sneers that I / we are unable to engage with his nuances. I can engage with them fine. I merely find some of them repulsive.

          3A. It’s interesting that Kingsnorth lashes out here at a criticism that no one is currently making, neither in the essay, nor in the comments about it: nobody here calls him a racist. Quite the opposite: I include a loud disclaimer at the start of my essay, because I didn’t want that level of debate: “Kingsnorth is a superb and original novelist. I don’t believe that he’s a racist, fascist or Europe-hater” (me, above). Kingsnorth has possibly not read that bit: he acts like a man who’s cherry-picked the essay and comments to find things to be furious about.

          Even less informed – it’s actually an effing cheek – is his: “it gets a little tiresome being accused of racism by middle class white intellectuals from British cities” which, put together with the “Brit intellectuals writing about long-dead German philosophers” in his comment below, I take as aimed at me. Such reckless marksmanship that Kingsnorth blasts outside the shooting range. I’m Scottish, and a German citizen, and a British passport holder. I won’t give up the British passport, because I want a vote if there’s a second Brexit referendum, or if there’s a new Scottish independence referendum. I haven’t lived in a British city since 2001; I’ll never be able to afford to live again in the city I grew up in, Edinburgh, because of what capitalism, in its current neoliberal form, has done to rent and property prices there. If there is a “Brit intellectual” in this debate, than it’s Kingsnorth. I’m the one in Germany, teaching German as a second language to refugees and other immigrants, for the German state, but on freelance contracts with no job security. He’s the one on a three-book Faber & Faber contract, an “Englishman” as he puts it, choosing to side with very particular pro-Brexit political forces.

          Shall we ignore the “middle class” as a put-down in Kingsnorth’s comment above? Anyone’s free to believe, from the style of his comments, that Kingsnorth’s been adopted as a true man of the Irish people; perhaps he even sees himself as a proletarian, and I haven’t caught up.

          4. So it turns out Kingsnorth’s never read Heidegger; I believe him here. But it’s bloody daft for someone to quote a philosopher they’ve not read, just to suit their current metaphysical fancies. “I did use his most famous quote once”: if it’s so famous, in which milieus are people so often using it, in which cultural constellations? In the market towns of rural Ireland where Kingsnorth lives? In thirteen years of living in a suburb on the outskirts of Hamburg I haven’t heard anyone say it, not once. It’s a petit bourgeois suburb mind you; hardly anyone’s talking about cultural wounds either, or rootedness – although just as many of the grandparents of the people I live amongst farmed the soil, as the grandparents of the people Kingsnorth lives amongst did.

          5. Far from “making up” what Kingsnorth means by his phrase “a defence of loved things”, I thought about it at length, analysing and quoting his essay precisely. Again, readers should go back to the Guardian essay, and my objections to it, and think for themselves what “a defence of loved things” means. If “a defence” is needed, this can only mean the author sees these things as under attack. Surely, Kingsnorth’s essay implies, globalisation is the thing enacting this attack – but globalisation is no faceless entity. It is individual humans and large demographic groups who are forced into acting out the logic that “globalisation” is imposing upon them. (Capitalism is a more accurate word than globalisation in this context. Since capitalism’s first historical appearance as a system of social and economic relations in the 17th C. in England, there never has been capitalism without an expansionist, global tendency). The EU’s biggest enlargement to date, in 2004, when eight Eastern European countries joined the EU’s free movement scheme, should be seen as part of capitalism’s same, inherently expansionist logic. As a result, the UK experiences immigration on a scale not experienced since the post-war decades. “Combined with a steady inward migration from outside the EU, it [the 2004 EU enlargement] has taken foreign-born workers close to nearly 17% of the workforce.” (Paul Mason, 2016). I don’t have a comparable statistic for the R. of Ireland, but, in proportion to the total population, immigration since 2004 will have been experienced on a similar scale.

          A question for Kingsnorth – and this is not a rhetorical question. If I have got it wrong with understanding “loved things” as “loved, native things”, is he prepared to include these three to three-and-a-half million newer citizens in the UK and the Irish Republic as part of his category of “loved things”, who deserve to be defended in all parts of their humanity? Who merit this defence, because they are every bit as affected by the logic of globalisation as Irish-born descendants of the Great Famine are? To defend these people’s basic rights to participate fully in all elections – yes, also in any second Brexit referendum – in work, in welfare and tax systems – but also to defend them on further-reaching levels – in terms of their roots, and how they experience belonging?

          1. Paul Kingsnorth says:

            Well, Henry. It looks like it’s your turn to be angry and impatient …

            You are of course free to have a pop at any of my work. It may be I am entirely wrong about many of these things. If you had read my collection of essays, which engages at great length with notions of rootedness, belonging and place, you would probably gain a far great understanding of where I am coming from. But you show no signs of having read anything of mine beyond one essay in the Guardian, which you persist in misreading for your own purposes. I do not think this flatters you.

            As Dougald has already pointed out to you, if you are going to write an entire critique of a writer for being ‘Heideggerian’, it might first be useful to ascertain whether they have read or written about Heidegger, or express any loyalty to his ideas. When it is pointed out to you that this is not the case, it takes quite some chutzpah to turn that lack of reading into another attack. I am not a ‘Heideggerian,’ and on this point alone your attack deflates like a balloon.

            Similarly, if you are going to pen clumsy, facetious sketches which imply that a writer would find people dying of famine amusing, it takes a similar level of chutzpah to respond to the same writer you have just accused of giggling at genocide as attempting to be ‘proprietary’ about historical suffering. I am not claiming ownership of anything (and unlike you, I don’t claim to have some mystical insight into others’ personal lives and financial circumstances.) But I live in Ireland; it is my home, my children are growing up here, and it is you, not I, who is playing intellectual games with the history of this place and its people in order to score intellectual points.

            On the subject of nations and nationalism: well, I have never said I was a nationalist – unlike most people on this site. I actually dislike political nationalism, because I often find it totalising, aggressive and simplistic; the Scottish version included. I do like nations, though. My book Real England – which you also show no sign of having read – attempts to define a distinction between the two, looking for a civic version of English nationalism which is nonetheless rooted in place and history. In this, it is not dissimilar to much of what Bella has published in the past in regard to Scotland. Sadly, much of the left-nationalist rhetoric on this site continues to refuse to engage with English nationhood, and continues to dismiss any grasping towards an English identity as ‘chauvinistic’, in your words. This is, as I have pointed out to this site’s editor in the past, not only a great shame, but is simply wrong. It’s long been my view that an engagement with English identity on positive terms could have been a way of lancing the wound that has led to the rancorous Brexit debate. I wrote about this at great length for many years, mainly in the Guardian and New Statesman. Alas, it is too late now, I fear. The anger I saw brewing across the country, in all classes, ethnicities and regions, and which I recorded in Real England a decade back, has now exploded. Still, very few are engaging with what is happening, or why. It’s easier, after all, to laugh at Jacob Rees-Mogg.

            As for ‘loved native things.’: well, it is a bit tricky for you to accuse me of moving to Ireland and playing the plastic paddy, and then to hit me with an accusation of wanting to defend or love only ‘native’ things. I am not native to the place where I live. There are not many native things at all in my life. My wife’s family are from the Punjab, our half-English and half-Indian kids were born in England but live in Ireland, and I don’t have a hometown to which I can return. I am one of the EU stats you are throwing about. I’m not really in a position to be an ethno-nationalist thought leader.

            My first book, One No, Many Yeses – I’m guessing you’ve not read that either – engages with ‘loved foreign things’ at great length, exploring the relationship which people from Chiapas to West Papua, via Soweto and Maranhao – have with their land and communities, and how those people are being uprooted and displaced by global capital, as you correctly observe. It seems to me that two things follow from what I have observed and written about over the years. First, that global capitalism is a process of uprooting. It needs to destroy communities, nations, identities, families, religions and anything else that gets in the way of creating a placeless world of individuals mediated by markets, who can find meaning only by purchasing. This is a process worth fighting. One way to fight it is to belong.

            The second observation is that the human industrial machine, spearheaded again by global capitalism, is eating the life of Earth itself, and that standing up against this is an urgent necessity. Again, I have found that people will defend what they love, and love what they know. In the deracinated urban centres of the West, wher I was born and lived for many years, there is a desperate need for humans to reconnect with places, to know them, love them, defend them and – yes – stay in them. Note that those people do not necessarily have to be native to them. I am, I hope, nurturing and rewilding my few acres in Ireland, and am involved in work more widely in this country to protect and preserve land, as are my family. None of us are native here; but we can defend what we love. And yes, a defence is needed. Wildness, ecological health and rooted cultures are under attack everywhere from the machine. Defence is a moral and practical necessity.

            As for Bannon, Trump, and their ilk: they couldn’t give a tinker’s about the health of the Earth, but they know how to play on peoples’ desire for rooted cultures, steady lives, decent traditions and the like. These are real human needs; as I have said at length in the past, if they cannot be met by mainstream political traditions they will be met by nastier forms of divisive politics. This is what is now happening. The left has failed to address these concerns, instead choosing to ignore the awkward questions about what a ‘nation’ actually is in a very rootless age, and how the universalism of traditional leftist ideology has merged very conveniently with the universalism of the neoliberal order. Bella’s refusal to engage with English nationhood seriously, and attempts by writers like yourself to misrpresent those like me who have a different take, is a good example of this.

            But these are divided times. Perhaps we can’t expect serious engagement; or even to be read and understood. We have all been guilty of jumping the gun, myself included. The impossibility of being heard is one reason I have given up writing on these issues. Since 2016, it has been impossible to have a conversation about them. It is a shame this is continuing, but the wheels are now in motion.

          2. Paul Kingsnorth says:

            And just in case you are not entirely clear about my answer to your rather long question, thus:

            ‘A question for Kingsnorth – and this is not a rhetorical question. If I have got it wrong with understanding “loved things” as “loved, native things”, is he prepared to include these three to three-and-a-half million newer citizens in the UK and the Irish Republic as part of his category of “loved things”, who deserve to be defended in all parts of their humanity? Who merit this defence, because they are every bit as affected by the logic of globalisation as Irish-born descendants of the Great Famine are? To defend these people’s basic rights to participate fully in all elections – yes, also in any second Brexit referendum – in work, in welfare and tax systems – but also to defend them on further-reaching levels – in terms of their roots, and how they experience belonging?’

            The answer, obviously, is ‘yes’, and not just because I am one of those citizens. Any citizen legally dwelling anywhere is a full citizen, and has as much right to be seen as one as any other. Given my personal background, which I have touched upon above, I find the question not only faintly insulting, but ridiculous. Nowhere have I implied otherwise, and I am not sure why you would think I have.

            That said, I also believe that the current rate and scale of migration is both undesirable and unsustainable – and is, as you correctly say – a result of capitalism’s relentless expansionist logic. It is possible to defend the rights of individual humans at the same time as resisting that logic. I do not believe in open borders, and I do not support shifting vast numbers of people across the plant to provide cheap labour for the machine. Not only does this create real difficulties in the places in which people arrive – including the rise of far-right parties which prey on resulting anxieties – but it creates difficulties in the places they have left; witness the near collapse of many health services in eastern Europe due to the ongoing poaching of the best doctors by rich, Western nations. I don’t regard this process as ethical. I also don’t know many migrants who really wanted to leave home and family. The process of forced uprooting is, it seems to me, pretty awful. To say that is not to be ‘anti-immigrant.’ Migration on this scale is a by-produce of a cannibalistic economic system. It is possible to defend the rights of those who move while also defending national self-determination (which requires borders) and critiquing the system which uproots and destroys. A delicate balancing act, perhaps, but probably a necessary one.

Help keep our journalism independent

We don’t take any advertising, we don’t hide behind a pay wall and we don’t keep harassing you for crowd-funding. We’re entirely dependent on our readers to support us.

Subscribe to regular bella in your inbox

Don’t miss a single article. Enter your email address on our subscribe page by clicking the button below. It is completely free and you can easily unsubscribe at any time.