Heidegger on Appeal: An Exchange
Re: December’s First Things piece on Heidegger (“The People versus Martin Heidegger”): quite simply, both Heidegger and Nazi ideology were nihilistic. That Heidegger’s cant on Angst, Sorge , man as Sein zum Tod , and incomprehensible hyphenation of words already obscure and oracular have received respect in the West stands as a judgment on a culture that has been spinning towards nihilism ever since Hume.
The demise of mind (the “project” of deconstructionism) is the effort of post-World War II secularism, and Heidegger’s prominence in American graduate school curricula reflects that secularism. Madness, as in Hitler, and the demise of mind are strata on calcified skepticism,
allowing any ideology equal claim to “truth.” Heidegger’s confusion on existence (esse), found also in Sartre, has given academic legitimacy to any political form that happens to enjoy the majority’s backing. Strength in numbers has allowed powers of suppression, oppression, and
genocide, the horrors of this century. Madness in thought conjoined with volition becomes madness in act.
It is certainly doubtful that Heidegger would have countenanced the evil wrought by Hitlerism. It is not doubtful that while he and Hitler may have been on different ships, their compasses pointed in the same direction. Heidegger’s inability to identify various truths seems the
reason for his popularity in the postwar era, just as Hitler’s ability to distort truths was the reason for his power in post-Weimar Germany.
Robert J. Geis
New York, NY
I write to comment on the line of reasoning William E. Hughes employed in “The People versus Martin Heidegger.” Because Mr. Hughes’ argument against Heidegger is so underdeveloped, it amounts to little more than guilt by association: “My only burden today,” says Hughes, “is to show that if you do not like National Socialism, then you must also dislike that in Dr. Heidegger’s thought that connects to and promotes it.”
While Mr. Hughes has told us what he dislikes about Heidegger’s thought, he has not explicitly shown how the points he dislikes connect to and promote National Socialism. He could have argued that National Socialism in effect denied the universality of human nature-the humanity shared in common by all human beings”by denying the humanity of Jews. He could have then connected this point with Heidegger’s denial of the universality of human nature.
Even if he had made that point of connection explicitly, one could still wonder about the extent to which Heidegger’s thought contributed to National Socialism. For example, exactly how many National Socialists had read Being and Time ? Might it not be more accurate to say simply that Heidegger’s thought and National Socialism both arose from the spiritual wasteland that T. S. Eliot described so well?
Yes, in both, the universality of human nature was effectively denied. Yes, the denial of the universality of human nature can have devastating consequences. Yes, the universality of human nature needs to be affirmed and its recognition and acknowledgment promoted if humanity is to avoid further variations on National Socialism. But that is only one step that is needed for the spiritual renewal of the wasteland.
Thomas J. Farrell
University of Minnesota
In “The People versus Martin Heidegger,” William E. Hughes paints a caricature of the German philosopher. When I first read its opening paragraphs, I thought Mr. Hughes meant his article as a joke. But then the third paragraph hit me squarely and put me in the proper state of mind: I was to take what he wrote seriously. Hughes contends that there was not only elective affinity between Heidegger’s thought and National Socialism. He claims that Heidegger’s thought was “an historical cause of that experience.”
I met this kind of reasoning when I was a student of philosophy and had to read The Destruction of Reason ( Die Zerstorung der Vernunft ) by the Marxist philosopher Georg Lukacs. The book gave me the shivers. Lukacs set out to accomplish nothing less than to derive Nazi ideology and practice from the philosophy of Jacobi, Hamann, Schelling, Kierkegaard, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Dilthey, Max Scheler, Jaspers, and Heidegger. It seemed that these philosophers (and many others whom Lukacs butchered intellectually) all attacked reason, they all promoted irrationality, and hence they all prepared the way for Hitler.
Now, the historical circumstances amidst which Lukacs committed this outrage were such that one could get a bullet in one’s head for questioning “the Lukacs thesis.” Under Communism, ideas had consequences.
Mr. Hughes writes in America in the 1990s, and the implications of his Heidegger article are quite innocuous. All he wants is to discredit Heidegger’s philosophy: it is full of ideas that “seem to be bad because they are dangerous.” They are dangerous in very specific ways and they are dangerous in toto. Heidegger’s “ideas” weakened, in a “crucial way,” the moral judgment of Germany’s “intellectual class.”
But stop and consider: Heidegger’s Sein und Zeit ( Being and Time ) was published in 1927 in a philosophical journal edited by Edmund Husserl. Heidegger dedicated Sein und Zeit to Husserl.
How come Heidegger’s teacher (who was Jewish) repudiated neither the book nor the dedication? Then consider the “intellectual class.” How many intellectuals read Sein und Zeit and got it right? If Sein und Zeit was all but incomprehensible to the average highbrow, imagine how many among the Nazi storm troopers read it avidly.
The place Heidegger’s early philosophy made the biggest splash and sparked an “intellectual” movement was France. It found instant favor with philosophical quacks like Jean-Paul Sartre. I have the impression that it is Sartre’s interpretation of Heidegger’s thought that is the subject (object?) of Mr. Hughes’ criticism. Take this one: According to Mr. Hughes, Heidegger says repeatedly that “the essence of a man is in his existence alone.” It was Sartre who said that, not Heidegger. Heidegger took great pains to point out that Sartre’s slogan, and other “existentialist” vignettes, had nothing to do with the basic ideas of his ontology (see, e.g., Heidegger’s “Letter on Humanism”).
So, what’s going on here? Mr. Hughes judges the “patriarch” in the light of the pronouncements of his “children.” But if Mr. Hughes’ purpose is indeed to discredit Heidegger’s philosophy, his labors are superfluous. It was long ago discredited by the “children,” the many tenured cranks
(of diverse nationality) who made of Heidegger “a patriarch of postmodernity” (Hughes’ phrase), looted his terminology, and decomposed his philosophy into mindless theories with an outlandish vocabulary.
Heidegger’s philosophical vocabulary is certainly unusual, but it is not outlandish. Most of his terms that come through as forced in English translation make perfect sense in German. The terms stand for concepts, and it is the uncommonness of his concepts that makes Heidegger so hard to understand.
Not for William Hughes, though. One cannot but marvel at the ease with which he renders Heidegger’s profound concepts shallow.
Take the concept of anxiety ( Angst ). Mr. Hughes reads it as the most conspicuous sign of “Heidegger’s grimness and despair.” He does not seem to know that the concept of anxiety was central to Kierkegaard’s analysis of the human condition. So was despair. And so was death. There is nothing grim about Kierkegaard’s analysis. The awareness of one’s mortality, Kierkegaard says in his upbuilding discourse “At a Graveside,” enhances earnestness in life. The awareness of the ever-present possibility of death does focus one’s life”on the judgment of God.
Heidegger’s is certainly not a Christian philosophy. But it should be accorded some significance that the locus origo of many of his concepts, including Angst (anxiety/dread), Leben-zum-Tode
(life-towards-death), and existence as Sorge (care), is the Christian philosophy of Kierkegaard. Heidegger did not fail to acknowledge that.
Mr. Hughes is not interested in origins; he is interested in consequences. However, he must understand the concepts to which he attributes consequences. That is, he must understand and interpret philosophical concepts philosophically. Otherwise he risks exposing himself to the charge of being a dilettante. Are “fear of death and use of hammers” everyday phenomena, as he says they are? Yes, but not in the sense of being mere trifles. Alltaglichkeit , “everydayness,” is for Heidegger the principal sphere of human existence.
Let us take the issue of “human nature” in Heidegger’s philosophy. Mr. Hughes makes a mess of it. If Heidegger questions the term, he does so on philosophical grounds. Among these is the notion of the difference between “essence” and “existence,” treated in an eminent way by no less
a thinker than St. Thomas Aquinas. Among “modern” philosophers, it has been most admirably illuminated by Etienne Gilson in his Being and Some Philosophers .
Heidegger’s whole philosophy (as all true philosophy ought to be) is devoted to the discernment of the structure of human existence. That structure, the human condition as Heidegger understood it, is common to all men. To be aware of being is unique to man. Hence, it signifies the nature of man. Do we dare make light of it, as Mr. Hughes does, do we dare say that it is a trifle that man is the only creature whose existence is open to Being, to transcendence, ultimately to God? Isn’t that the purpose in man”to be open to transcendence?
Not a word in Mr. Hughes’ article about God, faith, judgment, eternal life, or perdition. A strange thing, this omission. That omission in Heidegger is the ground on which he can be judged to have gone astray. Heidegger has gone astray in his thought because he has “bracketed,” in the sense of Husserl’s phenomenology, he has bracketed God. Hence the possibility of Heidegger’s coming through as”grim.
Mr. Hughes will say that his is not a philosophical or theological refutation of Heidegger’s thought. He relates to Heidegger as a lawyer, whose only task is to prove “that the thought of Martin Heidegger bears a logical and necessary connection to his support of National Socialism in Germany in the 1930s and 40s and that his philosophy constitutes an historical cause of that experience.”
Very well. Let us meet the lawyer on his own grounds. When a prosecutor argues that a stab by the knife of an assailant to the heart of a victim caused the death of that victim, he is on sure grounds. The causal relationship between a knife-stab in one’s heart and one’s death is
well-established. It is a causal relationship that had been recognized millennia before modern medical science could explain the circulation of blood. So, all this prosecutor has to prove is that the fatal stab has been executed by the accused.
Mr. Hughes’ task is much more difficult. He first must prove that there is some causal connection between the writings of a philosopher who used a terminology and formulated his concepts in a way barely accessible to the “average mind” and a political party that, before and after it seized power, perpetrated heinous crimes. Nay, Mr. Hughes’ task is to prove that there is a causal relationship as evident as the relationship between a stab in the heart and death. It is easy for him to prove that the books published under the name of Martin Heidegger were in fact written by Martin Heidegger. But he does not have the evidence of a “universal proposition” (Karl Popper’s formulation, meaning a law of science) that philosophical works, of extreme or light obscurity, prompt people to kill their fellow men.
William E. Hughes replies :
The letters from Robert Geis and Thomas Farrell make the valid point that mere correspondence between the ideas of Heidegger and those of Nazi Germany does not imply cause. My article concedes that Heidegger perpetuated existing traditions in German and other philosophies, and
that the Heideggerian ideas I criticize coalesced in his teachings and writings only a decade or so before the Nazi policies fully took hold, facts which complicate showing that his ideas affected the policies. My case that Heidegger’s ideas were a cause of National Socialism therefore is no more than a case that he amplified pernicious intellectual fashions and, as rector and department chair at an important university, implemented party policies. Still, given the prominence of an intellectual class in any society and given Heidegger’s influence on that class in Germany, such contributions added importantly to the Nazi experience.
Those who would defend Heidegger’s philosophy as unrelated to dangerous political ideas ask a large thing when they suggest that the two merely coexisted coincidentally””guilt by association,” in Prof. Farrell’s phrase. That Heidegger’s philosophy and politics may be fairly
synthesized is indicated by the indisputable fact that Heidegger was both philosopher and active party member implementing at least some of the party’s policies. The fact of party membership alone removes his case from the realm of idle speculation on (say) whether Plato was the first communist or as in the Lukacs book that gave letter-writer Karl Dusza the shivers.
Mr. Dusza is my most sustained critic, and his letter goes beyond the criticisms of Geis and Farrell in two important ways. First, it says that the ideas of Heidegger can be made to correspond with the ideas of Nazi Germany only by mischaracterizing the ideas of Heidegger. Second, it appears to stake out the extreme position that mere philosophical ideas can never be shown to cause historical events. The letter also exhibits the usual features of a Heideggerian defense: It makes
Heidegger’s jargon and obscurity both a virtue (“profound”) and a hiding place (“barely accessible”) and treats Heidegger’s critics as witlings.
No doubt, Heidegger’s prolific works contain many nuances, and an article by and for generalists must attempt to reduce these to workable generalizations that will strike the specialist as unspeakably crude. Similar compromises dictate laboring under burdens of English translation. Still, if I am correct about a connection between Heidegger’s thought and tyranny, we must worry whether the reading of Heidegger may be safely left to the Gnostic few, especially where the
Gnostic few seem to be apologists for his thought. I agree that none of these considerations justifies unfair caricature of Heidegger’s thought, and that it is time to clear Heidegger’s name if he has been unjustly accused.
But have I misapprehended Heidegger’s thought? Mr. Dusza takes me to task for confusion on several specific matters. I will limit my response to the most concrete and important of the Dusza complaints. My article says Heidegger equated human essence with existence alone, albeit an
existence characterized by self-awareness. I argue that this equation makes impossible any principled ethics and promotes a nihilism and view of man that characterized that of Nazi Germany. At ultimate issue is whether there is some content in human existence that can be called human nature, inherent in man and common from one man to another, or whether all content is provided by the experience of individual existence. But, says Mr. Dusza, a view that Heidegger equated human essence with existence alone is a “misinterpretation” of Heidegger, one I share with “quacks” and “cranks” like Sartre and postmodern academics who claim Heideggerian descent; Mr. Dusza says Heidegger rejected such views specifically in his “Letter on Humanism.”
My “misinterpretation” of this point, for what it is worth, seems to be the interpretation given Heidegger by Messrs. Geis and Farrell. Consensus should not decide questions of interpreting philosophers, of course, but as the same “misinterpretations” recur and accumulate, one has to suspect that the misinterpreters might be on to something.
But let readers decide for themselves. Heidegger wrote his “Letter on Humanism” two years after the defeat of the Nazis. The letter, a response to inquiries from a Sartrean, criticizes Sartre’s formulation of existentialism””existence precedes essence””as being too questionably “metaphysical” (a pejorative term for Heidegger) in failing to ask “about the relation of Being to the essence of man”; as implying that man is constituted in action, rather than in his Being; and as not reflecting fully the temporal nature of Being.
Heidegger’s response must have left the French secretly thinking the war had ended two years too soon. They pushed the wrong button in using the word “precede,” but what exactly did Heidegger say is the essence of man? Ascertaining his meaning requires clearing away what Mr. Geis aptly describes as an “incomprehensible hyphenation of words already obscure and oracular.” In the “Letter on Humanism,” Heidegger concedes he had said in Being and Time that “the ‘essence’ of Dasein lies in its existence.” (“Dasein” is the word he uses for human existence.) To elaborate on his meaning, he now employs another word of his own mint, “ek-sistence,” by which he means a “standing in the clearing of Being.” Accordingly, he now says:
What man is”or as it is called in the
traditional language of metaphysics, the “essence” of man”lies in his ek-sistence. But ek-sistence thought in this way
is not identical with the traditional concept of
existentia , which means actuality in contrast to the
meaning of essentia as possibility.
For Heidegger, man is neither Sartre’s homo faber , nor the rational animal of the Romans (and Greeks), nor the imago dei of the theologians, but rather this:
[W]e should . . . make clear how Being concerns
man and how it claims him. Such an essential experience
happens to us when it dawns on us that man is in that he ek-sists. Were we now to say this in the language of the
tradition, it would run: the ek-sistence of man is his
substance. That is why in Being and Time the
sentence often recurs, “The ‘substance’ of man is existence . . . ” [T]he statement “The ‘substance’ of man is ek-sistence” says nothing else but that the way that man in his
proper essence becomes present to Being is ecstatic
inherence in the truth of Being.
It is important in understanding this to know that Heidegger in Being and Time makes man’s existential encounter with Being a purely “individualized” experience, with the self being both subject and object of the consciousness. As purely individualized, there is nothing universal in it, even anything that can be communicated by one self to another. Heidegger’s outlook, then, is that the essence of man is one that begins and ends with the existence of the self-conscious self.
So where are we left? Heidegger speaks with manifest reluctance of an “essence” of man, showing distaste for the notion of common content from one man to another. But if compelled to resort to “metaphysical” language, he will say the essence of man’s existence ( Dasein ) lies in its existence, as long as man’s awareness of his existence (ek-sistence) is emphasized and as long as the Being to which the existence relates is not merely one of present time. This reiterates what he meant when, as his “Letter on Humanism” agrees he said “often” in Being and Time , that the “substance” of man is existence, with substance and essence being synonymous in traditional language.
In other words, man’s essence is his existence alone. All things considered, I would say the Sartreans got Heidegger’s drift about right, as Mr. Geis’ letter indicates. As did I.
Now, I very much doubt whether Heidegger’s position answers coherently any important philosophical question. But more to the immediate purpose, the specific consequence of his outlook is that unless man can be defined coherently in some way larger than his own Being”even his own self-aware Being”there is nothing about that Being that gives rise to moral rights and obligations, and there seems little principled objection to treating man the way he was treated by Nazi Germany.
But Mr. Dusza takes an even more extreme position than merely denying a correspondence between Heidegger’s ideas and those of Nazi Germany. He seems to say ideas cannot be shown to have political consequences. Evidently traumatized by an early experience reading the Marxist Georg Lukacs, Mr. Dusza concludes his letter with a challenge to show that “philosophical works, of extreme or light obscurity, prompt people to kill their fellow man.”
A consequence of this view would seem to be the impossibility of ethics: if ideas cannot be shown to cause evil, ideas also cannot be shown to cause good, from which we must conclude that moral ideas are wholly irrelevant to human conduct. At the least it seems to be the view of Mr.
Dusza that he has never met an idea he thinks is dangerous, except for the idea that some ideas can have dangerous consequences.
A letter is no place to refute whatever theory of determinism Mr. Dusza has in mind, but let me enlarge briefly on the assumption in my argument that philosophical works are works of ideas, and that at least as much as Freud’s hormones, Marx’s economic class, or Heidegger’s destiny of a people, it is ideas that drive the actions of men. It is a staple of historical analysis to believe (with John Maynard Keynes, who sometimes got things right) that madmen in authority, hearing voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back. The indirection by which philosophical ideas trickle down into common discourse or become the motive force of human action makes it difficult to prove a connection empirically, of course, and is what makes it plausible for Mr. Dusza to deny that there can be a connection.
But Heideggerian thought has at least had demonstrable effects on theology, literary criticism, and ethics, as even Mr. Dusza elsewhere indicates, and recently in the Supreme Court’s Casey decision may be the basis for our newest constitutional right””to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.” It is a commonplace to say that academic fashions which have their origins in philosophers of extreme or light obscurity sooner or later make their effects felt in school textbooks, TV programs, and fast food ads, which is to say in popular culture. The late Allan Bloom described his astonishment at hearing Louis Armstrong singing congenially about “Mack the Knife,” the killer living out the new nihilism. Armstrong, perhaps unaware of the origin or import of his lyrics, got them from Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill, and Brecht and Weill got them from Nietzsche. Bloom referred to the supposition that “‘stay loose’ (as opposed to uptight)” is “an insight of rock music and not a translation of Heidegger’s Gelassenheit ” and then wrote:
Our stars are singing a song they do not
understand, translated from a German original and having a
huge popular success with unknown but wide-ranging
consequences, as something of the original message touches
something in American souls. But behind it all, the master
lyricists are Nietzsche and Heidegger.
So if theology, criticism, ethics, jurisprudence, and popular culture are influenced by philosophical ideas, why suppose that politics, an extension of which is war, is exempt from the influence of a pernicious philosophy?
This question is of some practical importance to my purpose, for all three letter-writers, on one level or another, may indicate dissatisfaction with the idea of connecting Heidegger’s philosophy to National Socialism without showing Heidegger to have approved of or advocated the more horrible of its specific instantiations. Heidegger was no monster, his party involvement apparently being rather of the merely venal variety. But it is a mistake, in measuring dangers in a school of thought, to require showing that the thinker is a monster. A good-hearted nihilist is as dangerous as a nasty one. The danger is in the nihilism, not in the nihilist’s personality. Events such as National Socialism don’t “just happen” and aren’t produced by monsters alone, and until we consider the extent to which ideas may be at work in producing such events, we risk seeing the events recycled.
Yet I sense that the three letter-writers and I may well share more common ground than disagreement in light of the point, stated perceptively by Mr. Dusza, that Heidegger, when he omitted any mention of God, may be judged to have gone astray. For Heidegger’s philosophy,
this omission is the dog that didn’t bark. The omission divides Heidegger from thinkers like Kierkegaard who see that mere awareness of a finite Being in human existence cannot be self-transcending”and then go on to determine what might provide a true transcendence. All thinkers deal with finiteness in human existence and with differences between essence and existence. Heidegger failed precisely when he failed to move beyond finite existence and when, in making authentic man “a lieutenant of the nothing,” he supposed he had found transcendence. In this Heidegger merely expressed the nihilism and self-absorption from which National Socialism emerged.
On Academic Freedom
I would like to applaud James Nuechterlein (“The Idol of Academic Freedom,” December 1993) for his wonderful article on academic freedom. Attributing the drift of numerous religious educational institutions to the desire to be accepted by the greater academic community was
especially enlightening. Jesus’ words in John 15:18ff remind us that the world who hated Him will hate those who follow Him because we who follow Christ are no longer a part of this world.
Is it outlandish to propose in a paraphrase that we cannot serve God and academia? Our unacceptance is not due to an unwillingness or inability to engage in serious scholarship, but is due to an unwillingness by the academic elite to consider the legitimacy of any idea not firmly rooted in naturalism.
Naturalism is the dogma of modern academia. Note the vociferous response given to any challenge to naturalism. The response given by “unenlightened institutions” to challenges to their dogma pales in comparison. In fact, challenges to the concept of a created universe are
treated with more freedom in religious institutions than are challenges to a spontaneous universe in their secular counterparts. The difference between secular academic freedom and religious academic freedom is the location of the boundaries. It is time to challenge the academic elite
to measure up to their own criteria rather than lower ours for the purpose of acceptance.
Mark T. Totten, Chancellor
Nashville Bible College
If James Nuechterlein’s “The Idol of Academic Freedom” is true with regard to Christianity in the academy, it reflects the Jewish situation in spades. Unless one is willing to reject the world construction of the Jewish covenant, one cannot enter the Jewish academic world. Orthopraxy
is tolerated; orthodoxy is not.
Rabbi Alan J. Yuter
There may be some kind of “tension” between faith and reason. Thomas Aquinas says, for example, that it belongs to the nature of faith to be susceptible to doubt, because faith does not render present the thing affirmed, while reason is unsatisfied until it does see for itself.
But however that may be, the “tension” cannot properly be described as James Nuechterlein suggests in his stimulating article, “The Idol of Academic Freedom”:
A university is involved in an endless and
unfettered pursuit of truth, a pursuit originating in
skepticism toward received truths, whereas religion, at
least Christian religion, must, if it is to be true to
itself, in some sense simply claim to be the already
revealed and unsurpassable truth.
For, on the one hand, it is only by relying on some received truths that we can begin any kind of pursuit to test the validity of others”all inquiry takes place and can only take place within a tradition of inquiry, embodied at the most fundamental level in the language used. The notion that the pursuit of truth originates in skepticism toward received truths needs rethinking: for example, the status of laws in the natural sciences (like the law of falling bodies) is not a candidate for skepticism. On the other hand, fides quaerens intellectum (faith seeking understanding) entails that the reflective formulation of that understanding can and must always be reexpressed and clarified as the tradition of inquiry, within which faith reflects, itself develops and changes. (Thus Newman’s argument about the development of Christian doctrine, or John Courtney Murray’s superb second chapter in The Problem of God .) Neither does the pursuit of truth require skepticism about what is handed on nor does revealed truth entail that there is nothing more to question.
The notion that learning, that the pursuit of truth, requires thinking differently than those who preceded us (or from our contemporaries) is a byproduct of the romantic linkage between personal uniqueness and “creativity,” and was appropriated by the individualist philosophy of John Stuart Mill et al. (cf., the argument of On Liberty ). Indeed, so essential does Mill deem this to be that he argues it to be desirable “that people should be eccentric” in their thoughts and actions.
Frederick J. Crosson
South Bend, IN
The recent issues of First Things considerably dampened the initial enthusiasm that led me to subscribe. Instead of finding insightful and religiously informed ways of engaging the difficulties that beset American society, I encounter a hardening into dichotomous thinking between “pagan America” and a supposedly ignored Christian community. Further steps in this direction, I suspect, would bring forth cleavages between the different religiously concerned readers who have been attracted to support the central concerns of First Things . . .
For example, in “The Couture of the Public Square” (Public Square, December 1993), Richard John Neuhaus finds within Roe v. Wade a so-called “neutrality” that actually harbors a highly inimical stance against Christian values. Neuhaus finds still more mischief in this stance: a “profound danger to democratic theory and practice” lies in the Court when it rules out of order the deepest convictions of the overwhelming majority of Americans.
While I see no way abortion can be made compatible with Christian practice, the other evils Neuhaus finds in the Supreme Court”anti-Christian and anti-democratic”seem to be extreme claims. As President John Kennedy commented on the Supreme Court’s public school prayer
decision, the Court is not preventing anyone from praying. So with Roe v. Wade , no government agency is compelling women to have abortions. The “neutrality” of the Court that alarms Neuhaus also brings with it the protection against any government measure to impose norms for prayer and abortion. The Court furthermore guarantees protection for any ecclesial or secular person to use or acquire a public medium to express views that aim at persuading women not to resort to abortion. I thought First Things would provide a channel for this kind of informed persuasion by engaging the conditions and travail that prompt women to resort to this tragic choice. Or does Neuhaus want from the Court decisions that would sanction the State’s powers of coercion to prevent and punish the practice of abortion? To take this step would, I again suspect, lead to divisive conflict among the various Christians and Jews who support the cause of a more effective voice for religious agencies in American life . . .
George B. Pepper
Professor of Philosophy Emeritus
The AIDS Threat
I wonder if I am the only reader of First Things who is bewildered by the journal’s urgent insistence that AIDS is not a threat to heterosexual men and women.
In reality it seems to be well established that the preponderance of AIDS infections worldwide have been heterosexually transmitted. Indeed, World Health Organization data suggest that, by now, most victims of the disease are heterosexual women and their children. It is especially
clear in Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean and some other places that heterosexual AIDS is not “a myth.”
For reasons that are not well understood, experience with AIDS has been very different in the United States, where the disease has been suffered predominantly by homosexual males. But even here heterosexual contact has been identified by the Centers for Disease Control as the route of transmission in 7 percent of AIDS cases thus far . We can be sure that those twenty-two thousand Americans, most now deceased, would not regard heterosexual AIDS as a myth.
I emphasize the phrase “thus far” because the AIDS situation has been changing in our country in recent years. The disease is now spreading most rapidly among heterosexuals in poor black and Hispanic neighborhoods of those cities where intravenous drug use is most prevalent. To make matters worse it appears that drug use is again on the rise in the United States.
It is estimated that well over half of IV drug users in such neighborhoods are infected with the AIDS virus. And most of those HIV-infected drug users regularly put at risk their wives and other
heterosexual partners. Unsurprisingly, the number of women infected with the virus is growing rapidly in those places. And as the number of infected women grows, so also grows the number of babies born with AIDS.
Michael Gladwell ( The New Republic , June 21, 1993) correctly points out that, from the outset, the public health task has been to convince Americans to wage a war against a disease that targets people they tend to care about the least. At first it was male homosexuals. Now AIDS victims increasingly are impoverished black and Hispanic men, women, and children who live in drug-plagued neighborhoods. Surely First Things would not want young residents in such neighborhoods to be unwarned about the risk of homosexual and heterosexual transmission of
that deadly disease.
I suspect that First Things should also be reluctant to promote a sense of complacency about the heterosexual spread of AIDS in admittedly less-vulnerable neighborhoods. Not very far from the journal’s editorial office HIV-infected male and female prostitutes ply a brisk trade with promiscuous bisexual and exclusively heterosexual males who then cross back into the “straight world” where they endanger their wives and other female partners.
Given all these realities, it seems clear to me that we have ample reason to warn our young people that they put themselves in many kinds of danger when they abuse drugs or engage in
extramarital sex. Among those dangers is the risk that they might contract a deadly disease for which there is no known cure.
Edward L. Maillet
Executive Director, Catholic Charities
The editors reply :
“The Myth of Heterosexual AIDS” (the title of Michael Fumento’s book that has recently been reissued in a new edition by Regnery) does not mean that heterosexuals cannot contract AIDS. They can and do, in the several ways that Mr. Maillet indicates. The myth is that, as proclaimed
in numerous activist advertisements, “AIDS does not discriminate.” It does discriminate. AIDS is, in the sociological jargon, a behavior-specific disease. According to government data, homosexual men and intravenous drug abusers, who are less than 5 percent of the population, comprise about 80 percent of people with AIDS. Homosexuals and drug abusers, and those who have sex with them, are at exceptionally high risk. Mr. Maillet is undoubtedly right in saying that it is a matter of high urgency that we alert young people to these realities about AIDS.