Site menu:


February 2012 Policy Study, Number 12-3


The Idea of "the West" and the Revolt Against It

by Donald Paul Byron Racheter



Values and Justice



What can be known about human experience is that its diversity is dependent upon an historical and not eternal Being. This Being is identical with the unfolding of a wholly unpredictable history. Since it is historical, Being depends on humanity and will cease as humanity ceases. This Being, as it unfolds as that which is important to a people, is essentially limited within a cultural horizon which is defined against another people’s cultural horizon. Each horizon is constantly changing in relationship to the other cultural horizons. Any attempt to understand the human situation is limited by its own cultural commitment. What Nietzsche calls “values” stem from judgments made within and based on these cultural limitations. Any attempt to make a universal judgment concerning the human condition becomes inauthentic. We are no longer able to make such judgments, hence the nihilistic outcome of Western rationalism.


If this is a true account of the human situation, the claim of reason or science to universalism seems to contrast with these limitations of man’s self-knowledge. Pangle explains in Heidegger that the attempt to claim by reason, once it assumes sovereign authority, to look upon life with transhistorical detachment, neutrality, and objectivity results inevitably in either dishonesty or easygoing shallowness.[49] Heidegger saw that rationalism as defined to him through the Enlightenment thinkers could not do justice to the human situation, because this rationalism viewed the question of justice itself and all such “value” judgments as subjective, subconscious, or else wise outside the categories of scientific or true knowledge. Significantly, rather than conclude that “values” are things that can be easily exchanged as postmodernism would later conclude, Heidegger took seriously the human condition of “value” judgment, even as he saw it limited through cultural commitment. Heidegger says in his work, Nietzsche, that:


Those who establish the highest values, the creators, the new philosophers, must according to Nietzsche be experimenters; they must make their way and break a trail in the knowledge that they do not have the Truth. From such knowledge it in no way follows that they may view their concepts as betting chips in some game, where they can just exchange their concepts for some others; what follows is precisely the opposite: the sever rigor and the binding of their thinking must experience in the things themselves a grounding such as philosophy hitherto has not known. For only thus is there created the possibility of a grounded position erecting itself against the others and the strife becoming an actual strife and thus the actual source of truth.[50]


Heidegger viewed the contemporary rationalist movement toward equalization of values, or equalization of the objects of value, the stress on tolerance, the easygoing “agreement to disagree,” and the liberal “open society” as all symptomatic of the dissolution of standards and the loss of dedication in life.[51] Although Nietzsche and Heidegger could see the limitations of the rationalism they were tracing the limits to in that it could not sincerely equate for the human condition, Nietzsche and Heidegger yet believed that something like the human condition existed and was important enough to require sincere philosophical rigor and candor.


Nietzsche and Heidegger saw that Enlightenment rationalism would produce a Western society that worshiped a religion of technique. If we view rationality to be limited only to improving the length of life or the quality of computer processing speeds and not to include questions of justice or of the human condition, we are incapable of knowing about those things most important to man. If our science produces technology that is so powerful to make its misuse a great evil, this science points towards a question—How should this science be used?—that this science cannot account for. Science so defined will itself point to the question of justice. Seeing the technology producing Enlightenment rationalism as incapable of accounting for the human situation, Nietzsche and his student Heidegger both reject rationalism itself. Because technology is wrong, so then must be rationalism. Thus Heidegger concludes what is demanded of man is that he seriously investigate non-Western accounts of the human situation, that is, accounts of the human situation not based in reason, and a deconstruction of the Western authority found in reason.[52] However, we need not throw out the baby with the bath water. Leo Strauss and Pangle both argue that Enlightenment rationalism has its limits, but that this account of reason is not the only account of reason available to man.[53]



Click here for pdf copy of this Policy Study


All of our publications are available for sponsorship.  Sponsoring a publication is an excellent way for you to show your support of our efforts to defend liberty and define the proper role of government.  For more information, please contact Public Interest Institute at 319-385-3462 or e-mail us at