The Dobbs decision is a moment for unreserved thanksgiving
Nihilism’s Conscience: On Nietzsche’s Politics of Aristocratic Radicalism
Ronald E. Osborn is a Bannerman Fellow with the Program in Politics and International Relations at the University of Southern California, and the author of Anarchy and Apocalypse (Cascade Books).
In aphorism 523 of Daybreak: Thoughts on the Prejudices of Morality, Friedrich Nietzsche urges his readers to embrace a critical intellectual stance he refers to as Hinterfragen, which might be loosely translated as “questioning from behind.” “Whenever a person reveals something,” he declares, we should always ask the question: “What is it supposed to conceal? From what is it supposed to divert the eyes? What prejudice is it supposed to arouse? And additionally, how far does the subtlety of this dissimulation go.”1 Despite Nietzsche’s praise of the hermeneutics of radical suspicion, however, many of his readers have proven unable or unwilling to submit Nietzsche’s own philosophy to the criterion of Hinterfragen. My goal here is to pursue a more Nietzschean reading of Nietzsche, calling attention to essentialist, questionable, and arbitrary aspects of Nietzsche’s political project in existential and aesthetic perspective. My purpose in applying some of Nietzsche’s techniques and categories to Nietzsche himself is not, however, to elevate his hermeneutics of suspicion to a still higher level of critical importance, but to demonstrate that there are reasons to suspect suspicion. My reading of Nietzsche therefore requires, somewhat paradoxically, that we approach his politics of aristocratic radicalism (as Bruce Detwiler refers to them2) through more “naïve” eyes than some of Nietzsche’s interpreters would allow.
There is a long line of Nietzschean interpretation—beginning with Nietzsche himself3—warning of the dangers of any surface reading of his work. We must not naïvely assume, many scholars remind us, that Nietzsche ever means what he appears to say. Rather, we are told, the key to understanding Nietzsche lies in cultivating an appreciation for the subtlety, the plurality, and above all the irony of his writings. By resisting the temptations of credulous literalism we may thus locate the Nietzsche who sought to instill bracing lessons in nonconformity to courageous spirits battling the tide of European nihilism, all the while tragically aware that his vision would be misunderstood and misappropriated by the very mass ideologies he sought to oppose. Nietzsche’s parable of the madman in The Gay Science suggests, however, that one of the tragic implications of his philosophy is that none will dare to comprehend him precisely when he means exactly what he proclaims.4 In an already ironic and disbelieving age, the perfect disguise will often be an inverted irony: the cloak of appearing not to mean what one says by saying what one means. The greatest irony of Nietzsche as a political thinker may lie less in the hidden depths of his works, such as they may be, than in the attempts by his admirers to mine subterranean progressive truths from his writings, when Nietzsche has left many of his most profound truths on the surface for all to see.
I should make clear from the outset that I claim no novel theoretical insight into Nietzsche’s life or work. These are the reflections of a reader concerned with the task of recollection in a forum of ideas rather than with the pursuit of particularly new discoveries, although to recall something that has been lost or forgotten can of course also be a kind of discovery.
Nietzsche’s Political Admirers
Nietzsche’s political philosophy, William Connolly writes, was marked by an undeniable “disdain for democracy,” yet Nietzsche remains, in Connolly’s reading, a “protean” thinker whose ideas may yet be pressed into the service of a “theory of agonistic democracy.”5 Although “Nietzsche was an adversary of democracy,” Connolly declares, “a politicized left-Nietzscheanism unearths building stones in the democratic edifice all too easily buried.” These “stones” can be used to advance liberalism’s egalitarian agenda, “even if they make the entire structure less smooth, regular, even, and ratic [sic].”6 Connolly’s goal is “not to offer the true account of the true Nietzsche hiding behind a series of masks, but to construct a post-Nietzscheanism one is willing to endorse and enact.”7 We must avoid “single-minded” readings of Nietzsche as a philosopher of hierarchy and domination, he writes, no matter Nietzsche’s own likely values or intentions.8 Nietzsche’s conception of the will to power, for example, should be relocated as a “will to self-responsibility,” while his ideal of the overman should be reinterpreted in terms not of an actual social caste but as an existential possibility contained within each individual.9 While we must learn to absorb Nietzsche’s radical critique of the resentment and oppression at the heart of liberal societies, then, we must do so precisely for the sake of advancing liberal values of pluralistic concern for the other.
Romand Coles similarly enlists Nietzsche in the cause of liberalism and political equality, Nietzsche’s stated hostility to democratic values and political structures notwithstanding. For Coles, the political significance of Nietzsche lies in what he describes as his “gift-giving” generosity of spirit in certain passages in Thus Spake Zarathustra. It is not Nietzsche’s subsequent and far more explicitly moral and political texts (particularly On the Genealogy of Morals and Beyond Good and Evil) but his enigmatic and esoteric “yes-saying” prose poem that we must concentrate on when considering his politics. There “is much in Nietzsche’s pondering that runs directly against the grain of the insights I seek to draw from him,” Coles writes.10 But Nietzsche’s “striving into evil” in Thus Spake Zarathustra is “animated and circumscribed by … generous respect for otherness.”11 Although Nietzsche takes Kantian thinking “to extremes and conclusions that are terrifying,” he “also illuminates the untenability and horror of this project, and points beyond it in promising directions with a power perhaps unrivaled in the nineteenth century.”12 Coles concedes that his reading of Nietzsche is “idiosyncratic” and fully vulnerable to the charge of picking and choosing, but argues that what he refers to as Nietzsche’s “agonistic giving and receiving in depth” can still somehow guide us “toward a post-secular caritas.”13
Lawrence Hatab is still more forthright in conceding that his reading of Nietzsche is, in significant ways, a reading of Nietzsche “contra Nietzsche.” Egalitarianism in Nietzsche’s political philosophy “gives the appearance of something positive but is in fact a reactive negation… For Nietzsche, the unfortunate consequence [of democracy] is the hegemony and promulgation of mediocrity and a vapid conformism, which obviates creativity and excellence and portends the aimless contentment, the happy nihilism, of the ‘last man,’ who makes everything comfortable, small, and trivial.”14 It is therefore simply not possible, Hatab concludes, to separate Nietzsche’s statements on power from concepts of the desirability of actual political domination and hierarchy.
Hatab challenges Nietzsche’s assumption, however, that democratic political structures must necessarily foster smallness of spirit in the cultural and social spheres, or rest upon a belief in human equality in any substantive sense. Allowing that resentment, conformism, and the suppression of creativity are indeed real threats in democratic societies, and agreeing with Nietzsche that—absent belief in God—there is no reason to accept claims of equal human dignity and worth as factual realities or binding moral principles, Hatab seeks to reposition democracy in “postmodern, postmetaphysical” terms as an agonistic arena (an “agonarchy”) in which political actors are able to assert themselves in what he deems “dynamic, productive and creative” relationships of domination and submission.15 Through democracy’s regular adversarial electoral contests in which both truth-claims and power relations are continuously challenged and overturned, “power is pluralized” and we are pushed in the direction of a Nietzschean epistemology of “perspectivism”—that is, “an antifoundationalist depiction of human knowledge, where no claim can pretend to apprehend ultimate truth.”16 Where Connolly, Coles, and others have sought to show how various parts of Nietzsche’s project might be appropriated for democratic values, in other words, Hatab seeks to show how procedural democracies in which rules of civil discourse are strictly adhered to by all can serve as ideal settings for the realization of Nietzschean values of hierarchy, noble self-assertion, and will to power.
Tracy Strong meanwhile suggests that Nietzsche’s ideas cannot be appropriated for progressive or aristocratic politics. Yet this very fact, he paradoxically concludes, is itself a vital resource for thinkers seeking to resist “domination.”17 In Strong’s reading, “Nietzsche’s texts are written in such a manner that if one seeks to find out what they ‘really mean,’ to appropriate them, one will only project one’s own identity onto them.”18 Modern attempts to formulate a theory of politics or ethics all fail because they seek “solutions to the problems in thought and not in life,” while for the ancient Greeks as well as for Nietzsche, the dynamic expression of life itself—not abstracted thinking about life—is of the highest value.19 Hence, those who seek to claim Nietzsche for either the political Left or Right, according to Strong, are seeking a kind of “once-and-for-all-ness” that “must always be wrong, because it claims to be always right; and assurance, Nietzsche knew, is the basis of domination.”20 Nietzsche teaches us to “let uncertainty and ambiguity enter one’s world, to let go the need to have the last word, to let go the need that there be a last word.”21
To this list of Nietzsche’s political admirers could be added others (including Daniel Conway, Mark Warren, and Richard Rorty) who collectively have exerted a significant (if not dominant) influence on the reception of Nietzsche’s politics in the Anglo-American world over the past thirty years. All of these readers in various ways have sought to show how Nietzsche can provide valuable resources for contemporary democratic theory while minimizing (with the exception of Hatab) the illiberal, elitist, and inegalitarian aspects of his vision, even though these are tacitly, if not explicitly, almost always acknowledged. Whether by isolating acceptable texts to the exclusion of others (as in Coles’s reading of Thus Spake Zarathustra), or by emphasizing the infinite malleability of Nietzsche’s words as a way of simultaneously dismissing unpalatable interpretations and repositioning Nietzsche as an opponent rather than champion of “domination” (as in Strong’s and Connolly’s readings), or by transposing Nietzsche’s more unsettling political declarations into a vocabulary of strictly individualistic and interior self overcoming (as in Connolly’s description of the will to power as a “will to self-responsibility” and Leslie Paul Thiele’s account of Nietzsche’s project as a “politics of the soul”22), we are left with the impression that Nietzsche, properly understood, poses no fundamental challenge or irreconcilable opposition to the liberal political project.
Even if we allow, however, that Nietzsche’s texts might be deconstructed and reconstructed in endless ways, perhaps even in the service of an egalitarian or liberal politics, the question arises: what is the purpose of the exercise? “If all of this bending and twisting turns the end-product—call it ‘Nietzsche’—into a mirror image of one’s own convictions,” Fredrick Appel observes, “it is hard to imagine the point of such an endeavor. A Nietzsche thus sanitized or domesticated can teach nothing that could not be learned directly from dozens of contemporary writers.”23 Appropriations of Nietzsche as a champion of pluralistic concern for the Othermightserve to insulate us from his intended political meanings for the sake of an ersatz political usefulness and so deprive us of an encounter with a critical thinker whose values are radically other than those of liberal theorists. “Nietzsche’s usefulness to contemporary democratic theory may derive, paradoxically, from his uncompromising antiegalitarianism,” Appel argues. “An engagement with his ‘untimely meditations’ about rank, domination, and nobility can enliven the sensibilities of egalitarians of all stripes by forcing them to account for and defend those convictions he holds in contempt: concern for the weak, belief in the equal moral worth of all human beings and the desire to preserve and promote liberal institutions.”24
Nietzsche’s attempted “transvaluation of values,” as set forth in his two most systematic works of moral and political philosophy, Beyond Good and Evil (1886) and On the Genealogy of Morals (1887), is inseparable from his highly essentialist claims about the “physiological” roots of human “nature.” All of life, he writes, “functions essentially [das Leben essentiell, nämlich in seinen Grundfunktione] in an injurious, violent, exploitative and destructive manner” (Nietzsche’s emphasis).25 “Life itself in its essence means [Leben selbst ist wesentlich] appropriating, injuring, overpowering those who are foreign and weaker… ‘Exploitation’ is not part of a decadent or imperfect, primitive society: it is part of the fundamental nature of living things [Wesen des Lebendigen], as its fundamental organic function [organische Grundfunktion]” (Nietzsche’s emphasis).26
The foundational necessity of violence in Nietzsche’s vision, he would have us believe, emerges from his principled and superior commitment to the goal of scientific reasoning and his ability to gaze fearlessly into “the abyss of scientific conscience” where others have merely traded on scientific wisdom “as a means of self-anaesthetic.”27 The trouble with the “mediocre” psychological and evolutionary theorists of his day, he makes clear, is not that they are excessively rational but that they have failed to press science’s deepest insights through to their final conclusions, instead cowardly continuing to draw “superfluous teleological principles” from poisonous metaphysical wells.28 The seemingly scientific claim of Darwin and Spencer that self-preservation is “an organic being’s primary instinct,” for example, surreptitiously enables a teleological myth of Progress. Yet according to Nietzsche, humanity “as a species is not progressing … [and] does not represent any progress compared with any other animal.”29 A “living thing seeks above all to discharge its strength—life itself is will to power; self-preservation is only one of the indirect and most frequent results” (Nietzsche’s emphasis).30 Nietzsche’s hostility to Darwin thus emerges from his fundamental agreement with the antiteleological thrust of Darwin’s theory. His claim is that he is a better Darwinian.31 Nietzsche, not Darwin, has fully grasped—and embraced—the corrosive implications of naturalism and evolutionary science when applied to questions of human nature and origins. “Nietzsche intervenes to complete Darwin’s revolution,” writes Christopher Cox. “Against vitalist evolutionary theorists, and despite his critique of mechanism, Nietzsche retains the materialism promoted by classical physical theory, which asserts the continuity of the organic with the inorganic world.”32
The most insidious metaphysical vestige clinging to Western science in Nietzsche’s view is the Cartesian and Christian belief that humans, by virtue of their reasoning or conscience, possess a “mind” or “soul” or “will” that is not fully implicated in the instinctive, erotic, and profligate “drives” of evolving, organic species life. The science of “the new psychologist” (i.e., of Nietzsche himself), however, has banished once and for all “the superstitions that proliferated … around the idea of the soul,” casting the human animal into “a new desolation and a new distrust.”33 The epistemological implication of the death of the soul is that all knowing must now be seen as “perspectival knowing,” inseparably linked to elemental emotions, evolutionary competitive rivalries, and subconscious instincts.34
When Nietzsche heaps scorn on half-hearted empiricists and materialists, then, he does so for their failure to see that there is no detached Archimedean point from which to judge reality, for reifying notions of causality, and for forgetting that their own conceptual schemes for understanding the world also emerge from biological impulses for power and domination.35 At the same time, his suspicion that the alleged “lawfulness of nature” in scientific discourse merely masks “the ruthlessly tyrannical and unrelenting assertion of power claims” arises from his assumption that there is a “fundamental” law of nature—namely, the law of the will to power.36 Nietzsche’s apparent subjectivism (or “perspectivism”) and antipositivism are in this sense paradoxical corollaries and conclusions to his claims of what science has shown the world objectively to be. We must, accordingly, face the “hard” and “terrible” facts of an utterly disenchanted universe in the light of Nietzsche’s own “evolutionary theory of the will to power.”
The subtlety and irony of Nietzsche’s writings, therefore, conceal a surprisingly crude and tendentious sociobiology close to the surface of his philosophy. There is in fact an unavoidably positivistic strain in Nietzsche’s thinking emerging from his assumption (following Comte) that both theology and metaphysics are spent intellectual forces and that philosophy should now ally itself with the new vocabulary of natural science.37 The “animal vigor” of the genius, he declares, is a product of climate and “metabolism,” while mediocrity results from “sluggishness of the intestines.”38 When Nietzsche casts his scientific gaze upon the phenomenon of religion—and the “sickness” of Christianity in particular—he discovers the “inherently probable” results of “a physiological feeling of obstruction.”39 The “large masses of people … through lack of physiological knowledge” fail to grasp the actual chains of causation governing reality, he declares in a critical passage in On the Genealogy of Morals.40 They ascribe their sensations of “depression,” “fatigue,” “lethargy,” and “melancholy” to “guilt” or “sinfulness.” But the “psychic suffering” of the masses, on closer examination, “has no scientific standing,” because all psychological phenomena, according to Nietzsche, must be traced back to “physiological” roots. The “obstruction” that generates “inverted” religious consciousness, he concludes, emerges from diverse but purely material factors, including: “crossing of races that are too heterogeneous”; “unsound emigration—a race ending up in a climate for which its powers of adaptation are inadequate”; “the after-effects of a race’s age and fatigue”; “a faulty diet (alcoholism of the Middle Ages; the nonsense of the vegetarians … )”; and “corruption of the blood, malaria, syphilis, and such like.”41
In contrast to the physiologically degenerate masses of humanity, the energetic elites—Nietzsche’s famous übermenschen or “blond beasts of prey”—exhibit their “health” and “cleanliness” through their “dominating instinct” or “instinct for freedom” (which Nietzsche says is synonymous with “the will to power”).42 In the pre-moral period, Nietzsche asserts, the human animal acted entirely spontaneously according to its “drives” to “release strength.” Domination, cunning, and brutality were not deemed “evil” but were simply accepted as expressions of vitality, with noble “strong wills” exploiting bovine “weak wills” as a means to their own self-creation and self-mastery. One might assume from Nietzsche’s use of words like “will” and “freedom” that the idea of human agency is central to his project. But with his “scientific” rejection of any being transcending the flux of nature’s becoming, the idea of agency itself becomes deeply problematic and elusive in Nietzsche’s thought. Those with the strongest “wills,” he suggests in numerous passages, are actually those who, in a critical sense, possess the least will of all. They “appear as lightning appears… Their work is an instinctive creation and imposition of forms; they are the most involuntary, unconscious artists there are.”43 In The Gay Science, Nietzsche writes of “the problem of consciousness” and the need to “dispense with it.” Consciousness arose, according to Nietzsche, as a result of linguistic fictions designed to promote group safety and cohesion. But the final result of the invention of language/self-awareness was that humans began to gaze inwardly at their own thoughts, as though into a “mirror,” rather than creatively and instinctively discharging their wills to power as they allegedly did at a more “natural” stage of their evolution. Through the study of “physiology and the history of animals,” however, we are able to glimpse how humans acted at this earlier, more dynamic phase in their evolution—and how they might act once again. “We could think, feel, will, and remember, and we could also ‘act’ in every sense of that word, and yet none of all this would have to ‘enter our consciousness’ (as one says metaphorically).”44
A skeptical reader might begin to ponder, David Hart observes, whether the Nietzschean paragon of life and health stands for “anything more diverting than the upward thrusting of an empty will, blind and idiotic, to which he has arbitrarily ascribed … such qualities as richness, vitality, and creativity.”45 We might also detect an internal contradiction in Nietzsche’s claim that there is no telos and therefore no progress in nature, and his assertion of the evolution of “superior” and “inferior” human types. Further, Alasdair MacIntyre shows, Nietzsche fails to see (or perhaps simply suppresses) the fact that the heroic world of Homer and the pre-Socratics to which he appeals was built not upon glorification of the individual will but upon duties (of hospitality to strangers, of loyalty to family and tribe, of fair use of strength) within a rigidly defined epistemological and moral realism. Nietzsche’s account of the values of ancient Greece is actually “an inventive literary construction” based upon his own nineteenth-century individualism.46
Nevertheless, for Nietzsche the alleged “longest and most ancient part of human history”—that is, the pre-moral period—was a period of “joy and innocence” of much “greater biological value … to be scientifically evaluated and esteemed” (Nietzsche’s emphasis) than the period that followed.47 The empirical facts of “nature” lead him to clear normative statements. “No cruelty, no feast,” he declares. “I expressly want to place on record that at the time when mankind felt no shame towards its cruelty, life on earth was more cheerful than it is today.”48 When Nietzsche describes his vision as “tragic” we must therefore grasp precisely where the tragedy of history in his thinking lies.
In his still influential study of Nietzsche’s thought, Walter Kaufmann compares Nietzsche to the prophets of the Hebrew Bible. Like Jeremiah, Amos, and Hosea, he writes, Nietzsche “felt the agony, the suffering, and the misery of a godless world” and warned in apocalyptic language of the dangers of mental complacency and the “universal madness” closing in upon European societies.49 Yet the pathos of the Hebrew prophets, Kaufmann’s apologia studiously refrains from mentioning, lies in their exposure of the idolatry of might and repudiation of violence and oppression from the point of view of divine justice. “The prophets proclaimed that the heart of God is on the side of the weaker,” Abraham Heschel wrote. “God’s special concern is not for the mighty and the successful, but for the lowly and the downtrodden, for the stranger and the poor, for the widow and the orphan.”50
For Nietzsche, the law of the evolutionary will to power exposes these beliefs of the Hebrew tradition to be the insipid masks of an ascetic “slave morality.” “Among humans as among every other species of animal, there is a surplus of deformed, sick, degenerating, frail, necessarily suffering individuals,” spoke the prophet from Prussia.51 “Pity thwarts the whole law of evolution, which is the law of natural selection. It preserves whatever is ripe for destruction.”52 What Nietzsche most admires in the social and political realm is Napoleonic “hardness of the hammer,” the rejection of unmanly and morbid pity in favor of “great deeds” and a rank ordering of human beings according to notions of instinctive and aristocratic vitality.53 Passage after passage in Nietzsche’s oeuvre leaves little doubt in the mind of this reader that he conceived his mission as an unflinching and scientific overturning of the prophetic values of compassion and equality, which he claims are untenable and enervating chimeras in the modern age, and which he believes achieved their final disastrous form in the life and teachings of Jesus Christ.
Nietzsche’s repudiation of Christ should not be mistaken for an attack, in the spirit of Kierkegaard or Tolstoy, upon the desiccating and Pharisaical pieties of institutionalized religion (although Nietzsche makes such an attack as well). Nietzsche sees in the person of Jesus, and in “genuine, primitive Christianity,” a “revolt against the established order” with socialistic and anarchic political implications.54 He therefore heaps scorn on self-professing believers in the bourgeois European mold for their failure to live out the radical meaning of the Gospels. Yet Nietzsche’s claim to originality as a moral genealogist (“Grit your teeth bravely! Open your eyes! … Never yet has a deeper world of insight been opened to bold travelers and adventurers”55) lies in his assault not upon false but upon true discipleship. His contempt is directed not merely at the hypocrisies of sclerotic, rote religion—a critique already contained within the Gospel narratives themselves—but also at those who “loathe the church” yet still “love the poison.”56 According to Kaufmann, Nietzsche never dreamed of repudiating the historical Jesus or the true “spirit of the Sermon on the Mount.”57 But while Nietzsche expresses admiration in places for the audacity of Christ’s achievement, and although he allows that Christianity may have served an ambiguously useful evolutionary role at a certain stage of history—adding a new depth and complexity to animal consciousness—in “the whole New Testament” there is, he maintains, “but a solitary figure worthy of honor”: Pilate, the Roman procurator who ordered Jesus crucified.58
Nietzsche’s attack on Christianity can be faulted for its superficial grasp of both Jewish and Christian history, its insensibility to the multivalency of biblical poetics and varieties of religious experience, and its uncritical recital of many of the prejudices of nineteenth-century German liberal hermeneutics.59 Still, Nietzsche knows his enemy. (“It is good that Christianity still has enemies,” wrote Kierkegaard, “because for the longest time they have been the only ones from whom it has been possible to get any trustworthy information about what Christianity is.”60) Unlike many of his less comprehending followers, Nietzsche refuses, in his most honest and penetrating moments, to draw facile comparisons between the Christian narrative and the religions of pagan antiquity. Christianity is absolutely unique. “ ‘God on the cross.’ At no time or place has there ever been such a daring reversal, a formula so frightful, questioning, and questionable as this one,” he writes. “It ushered in a re-evaluation of all ancient values.”61
Greek, Asian, and Indo-European religious cults all told stories of dying and returning gods, but what mattered, Nietzsche saw, was the subversive meaning the New Testament attached to Christ’s life, suffering, death, and resurrection. Dionysus versus the Crucified—here was the archetypal and irreconcilable divide.62 Where the entire edifice of ancient mythological culture rested upon morally indifferent acceptance of Dionysian ritual slaughter, whether of humans or of gods, as a tragic revelation of the dialectical necessity of “the harshest suffering” for life’s “eternal fruitfulness and recurrence,”63 the Gospel writers proclaimed that the victim is innocent, that the killers are in fact guilty, and that there is no creative necessity or vitality in the violence of imperium or powerful elites. The Passion of the Christ in this sense, René Girard agrees with Nietzsche, was indeed “an explicit allusion to the genesis of all pagan religions and a silent but definitive condemnation of pagan, of all human order really.”64
Nietzsche sees that this word of condemnation on pagan life, far from revealing the seeds of anti-Semitism, represents the culmination of the entire trajectory of Hebrew thought.65 The Gospels are not anti-Jewish but antipagan. “This Jesus of Nazareth, the incarnate gospel of love, this ‘Redeemer’ who brought blessedness and victory to the poor, the sick, and the sinners—was he not this seduction in its most uncanny and irresistible form, a seduction and bypath to precisely those Jewish values and new ideals [Nietzsche’s emphasis]?”66 The Hebrew story of Cain in the opening passages of Genesis and the Roman story of Romulus are anthropologically the same in that both tell of a brother killing his brother and then founding a city. But in the biblical narrative the violent origins of human society are not passively accepted and praised as in mythological thinking. Instead, the name of Cain is denounced and shamed. The violence detected at the root of every culture and political order, in Jewish and Christian thinking alike, is stripped and deprived of its heroic aura. Nietzsche, Girard observes, is thus a “marvelous antidote to all fundamentally anti-biblical efforts to turn mythology into a kind of Bible” on the one hand or “to dissolve the Bible into mythology” on the other. What Nietzsche forces us to confront is “the irreconcilable opposition between a mythological vision grounded in the perspective of the victimizers and the biblical inspiration that from the beginning tends to side with the victims.”67
Yet Nietzsche chooses to side with the mythos of the victimizers, to call them Romulus and Dionysus and Achilles instead of calling them Cain. Why? We have seen how Nietzsche assumes a mantle of scientific necessity in his leap “beyond good and evil,” positing natural and instinctive drives for power as the only grounds for comprehending and judging human history. Modern man, he asserts, “is the most botched of all the animals and the sickliest,” because, by developing a moral conscience, “he has wandered the most dangerously from his instincts.”68 Near the conclusion of The Anti-Christ, he frames the entire meaning of his lifelong battle against the Christian faith in terms of a struggle between the harsh “reality” revealed by “science” and the mendacity of the Gospels for having rejected scientific truth and for having “devised to destroy man’s sense of causality” (Nietzsche’s emphasis).69 On closer examination, though, Nietzsche’s putatively scientific repudiation of Christ appears to have been nothing more than a rhetorical ploy. All that he describes as “instinctive,” “natural,” and “vital,” John Milbank points out, is already a cultural invention; warriors do not resemble “noble” lions or birds of prey but take these creatures as totems for emulation and then ascribe to them properties of heroic vitality and nobility in order to justify and mask the arbitrariness of their own aggression.70
Nor is the claim that life at its most basic level is an agonistic and eternally recurring struggle of “will to power” a self-evident or unquestionable truth. Nietzsche’s preference for Caesar, Napoleon, Dionysus, and predatory animals is precisely that—an aesthetic preference for cruel and violent metaphors. But what if Nietzsche is simply a man of bad taste, a philistine at heart who chooses Rome’s “tasteless heap of gold and marble” (as Nikolai Nikolaievich says in Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago) over the One, “celebrated in all the cradle songs of mothers and in all the picture galleries the world over”?71 And why shouldn’t the slave, who has seen through pagan civilization’s totemic masks and metaphors, embrace an alternative topology built upon a countervision of reality, a grammar of creation that also fully accounts for the violence of history in a fallen world but that rests upon pastoral symbols, values of human equality, dignity, mutuality and solidarity, and faith in the primordial fact of love?
The answer, it seems to this reader, is that Nietzsche must reject this Jewish-Christian countervision of reality, not for any superior access he has to nature or history as he claims, but because, as a self-consciously scientific genealogist committed to yet one more version of the grand narrative of philosophical naturalism, he is also unavoidably a metaphysician. Far from being the counter-Enlightenment thinker he sometimes presents himself as being,72 Nietzsche represents the Enlightenment thinker par excellence, relentlessly pursuing the logic of secularism and the arid lessons of science wherever they may lead—even to the deconstruction of scientific reasoning itself as one more evidence of the omnipresent will to power. The “Nietzschean stance,” MacIntyre observes, “is only one more facet of the very moral culture of which Nietzsche took himself to be an implacable critic.”73 Evolutionary novelty and change ceaselessly disclose the ontological priority of violence and the unchanging “law” of the will to power coursing through organic life in all of its variegated forms. For Nietzsche, in the most profound sense, the death of God means that there is truly nothing new under the sun.
But the Enlightenment/Nietzschean attempt to unmask and destroy all myth is, at every step, hopelessly enthralled and entangled in its own myth. “The principle of immanence, the explanation of every event as repetition, which enlightenment upholds against mythical imagination is that of myth itself,” Max Horkheimer and Theo-dor Adorno observed. Its “barren wisdom merely reproduces the fantastic doctrine it rejects; the sanction of fate which, through retribution, incessantly reinstates what always was.”74 Nietzsche rejects Christianity because it values “weakness” in ways that offend his aesthetic sensibility, but perhaps even more because it unmasks and subverts the metaphysical essentialism and fatalism at the base of pagan mythology and modern science alike, which his rejection of faith compels him to accept even as he dissembles this fact through a vocabulary of radical autonomy and will to power. He cannot tolerate the “irrational” New Testament claim that the universe is freely created and embraced by an utterly transcendent love because, even to countenance this as a possibility, as Hart writes, “would require the belief that nothing in the world so essentially determines the nature of humanity or the scope of the human soul that there is no possibility of being reborn.”75 Nietzsche, as metaphysical fabulist of the Enlightenment, rejects Christianity for its antiessentialism.
Is this why Nietzsche in the end proves unable to resist the seductive pull of the mythos of violent necessity and the wheel of fate—the amor fati76—first as tragic poetics, finally as true belief? “Nietzschean asceticism, which begins with the recognition of fatality, ends in deification of fate,” writes Camus. “Nietzsche’s whole effort is directed toward demonstrating the existence of the law that governs the eternal flux and of the element of chance in the inevitable… The great rebel thus creates with his own hands, and for his own imprisonment, the implacable reign of necessity.”77 In his final lucid work, Ecce Homo, Nietzsche boasts of his Buddha-like “fatalism” and of “tenaciously clinging for years to all but intolerable situations, places, apartments, and society, merely because they happened to be given by accident: it was better than changing them, than feeling that they could be changed—than rebelling against them.”78 In the notes published posthumously as The Will to Power, he presents his doctrine of “eternal recurrence” not simply as a poetic thought experiment for evaluating one’s actions in the present but also as a literal fact of history, scientifically proven by the “law of the conservation of energy”: a trillion years hence, Nietzsche too will bodily rise again, not to new life—which would shatter the austere purity and geometry of his tragic aesthetics—but to exactly the same life already lived. 79
One may read a great deal of Nietzschean scholarship without encountering Nietzsche’s resentment. What isn’t irony, provocation, or play, his Apollonian admirers insist, is forgivable excess of rhetorical vigor. The moment we turn from the interpolations of the disciples to the sayings of the master, though, the fact of Nietzsche’s great resentment becomes impossible to avoid. Nietzsche writes that “negating and destroying are conditions of saying Yes” to life (Nietzsche’s emphasis).80 Unlike certain forms of Eastern metaphysics, however, Nietzschean negation (notwithstanding his claims to the contrary) does not dialectically affirm the harmony and goodness of the whole. Rather, he is filled with great “contempt of man” and the “foul breath” of the human beings with whom he is “unhappily contemporaneous” on “this wretched little planet called the Earth.”81 He is repelled by what he calls “the fungus of neighbor-love.”82 He reviles “feminine incapacity to remain a spectator” to suffering.83 The lives of the saints teach “pity for the filth of things human, all too human” (Nietzsche’s emphasis).84 But the vast majority of people are mere chattels who, “in a good and healthy aristocracy,” should be treated as the “scaffolding” on which “a choice type of being is able to raise itself to its higher task”; the mediocre masses must necessarily be “reduced and lowered to incomplete human beings, to slaves, to instruments” in order to facilitate the rise of the new race of supermen and to advance “high civilization.”85 Nietzsche declares that the once and future enslavement of inferior humans by their “natural” superiors should be performed with “kindness of heart,” since there is nothing “objectionable in mediocrity in itself.”86 In the same work, however, he declares that the first principle of his love for humanity is that “the weak and botched shall perish… And one should help them to it.”87 He urges us to reject “all sentimental weakness” and welcomes the dawn of a new breed of men who will be filled with “cruelty that knows how to handle a knife,” who will be “harder than humane people might wish.”88 In self-conscious parody of the Gospels, he postures as “a bringer of glad tidings like no one before me,” the harbinger of “great politics” that will produce “wars the like of which have never yet been seen on earth.”89
What is one to make of these statements and countless others like them? Is it possible that when Nietzsche tells us that “there is not one grain of arrogance or secret contempt” in his writings he is being truly ironical?90 Or is he trying to extricate himself from a trap of his own design? Nietzsche’s charge against Christianity, we recall, was that it emerged from “hatred of the intellect, of pride, of courage, of freedom … of the senses, of joy of the senses, of joy in general.”91 Never mind the earthy and often sensual poetics of actual Scripture (an entire book of the Bible, the Song of Songs, is a celebration of erotic love; Christ’s first miracle is to change water into wine at a wedding). Religious ethics, he asserts, can always and only stand as an anemic denial of “cheerfulness” and “life.” The beginning of the slave revolt in morality occurs when priestly ascetics—out of bitterness, envy, and fear of the vitality of noble elites—conspire to create guilty consciences. The key to understanding the birth of values therefore lies in excavating the hidden genealogy of ressentiment at the root of all conventional and religious morality.92
We have seen, though, that Nietzsche’s critique of “slave morality” and religious values rests upon a set of embarrassingly essentialist and finally metaphysical truth claims. His aristocratism “justifies itself in terms of an untenable naturalism,” Keith Ansell-Pearson writes, and “stands or falls with the validity” of his assertion that exploitation is “the primordial fact of all history.”93 Philosophical naturalism, elevated to the status of a foundational myth and doctrine of violent necessity, is itself a metaphysical conceit, or what Milbank describes as a metanarrative of “ontological violence.” The moment we deny Nietzsche the logical and historical self-evidence and necessity of these claims, then, we may also submit his aesthetic preferences to his own genealogical methods.
Nietzsche tells us “we have to force morals to bow down before hierarchy, we have to make them feel guilty for their presumption” (Nietzsche’s emphasis).94 But whence this guilt he wishes to inflict if not a potent new strain of resentment? “Nietzsche attacked Christianity because he believed that Christianity bears the responsibility for the state of things whereby the anonymous crowd renounces joy and power and orders the vigorous, precious individual to renounce them, too,” Czesław Miłosz wrote from the ashes of Warsaw in 1942. “Did he not notice that the crowd was already made up of supermen just like him, just as abused and filled with hatred? … Was he never visited by the suspicion that he himself had become a victim of ressentiment?”95
A Hinterfragen reading of Nietzsche that begins by first exposing the essentialist and naturalistic metaphysical and epistemological assumptions that lie at the base of his political project, and that then demonstrates how arbitrary, problematic, and questionable these assumptions are, must therefore also face the question: what are the moral, political, and psychic consequences of fully absorbing the Nietzschean stance, which might be described as the outlook of the twice-inverted conscience?
The revenge of the twice-inverted conscience is that now, over every seemingly spontaneous gesture of affection, honesty, courage, and love, we must devotedly raise the ensigns of Heraclitean chaos and will to power. We must vigilantly expose the hypocrisy, violence, and cruelty that contaminate every apparently moral and selfless deed, whether in others or within ourselves. But even more, with each new layer of essential darkness we uncover in the human animal and social organism, we must learn to feel guiltyfor having once felt guilty. Political liberalism’s clamorous calls for human rights and political equality—a direct result, Nietzsche (correctly) sees, of the Christian euangelion’s grammar of equal human dignity in the eyes of God and its triumph over the agonistic values of Homeric Greece and imperial Rome96—are a form of decadence or bad faith that Western civilization need no longer indulge—if in fact God is dead. In a world that has fully absorbed the loss of every transcendent source of value or meaning and torn away the masks of charity generated by the Jewish and Christian narratives, compassion for the weak is slave morality. Erotic desire to dominate and exploit, when purified of lingering doubts and moral compunctions, is good health. Darkness is light. Nietzsche, as the feral, inverted gaze of philosophical naturalism, is nihilism’s bad conscience.97 Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’intrate.
Dionysus versus the Crucified
One of Immanuel Kant’s most cherished beliefs—as perhaps the last great spokesman and defender of the Enlightenment conception of the Rights of Man—was that one must “always regard every man as an end in himself, and never use him merely as a means to your ends.”98 Yet the Enlightenment project’s final rejection of any source of meaning or knowledge in the cosmos apart from autonomous human reason subverts the very humanistic and evaluative commitments from which rational inquiry in the Western tradition originally sprang.99 In a wholly immanent universe it is hard to conceive how free will and rationality are even theoretically possible. Yet accepting, arguendo, that freedom and a capacity for reason are somehow real properties emerging from the evolutionary facts of the human condition, we now find ourselves without any clear principles to guide how this freedom and rationality should be used. Reason itself comes to be viewed, on scientific and rationalistic grounds, as nothing more than an extension of instinctive “drives.” The crisis precipitated by the Enlightenment, in short, is that reason is no longer seen as an end but as a means; but use of reason, as a means, is compatible with any ends, no matter how irrational, violent, or oppressive. “As a merely formal skill—the extension of animal cunning—it [reason] does not set but serves aims, is not itself standard but measured by standards outside of its jurisdiction,” wrote Hans Jonas. “This is the nihilistic implication in man’s losing a ‘being’ transcending the flux of becoming.”100
Nietzsche exploits this paradox with devastating effect, forcing his readers to confront the moral terminus of the Enlightenment’s epistemological trajectory and the arbitrariness of Kantian humanism; if autonomous reason is our only source of authority, and if reason can be used instrumentally for any ends, these must include elitist and antihumanist ends as well. “For Nietzsche, love of humanity has its ultimate source in obedience to a divine command, obedience inspired by the fear and desire of a weak will in the face of the God who threatens and consoles,” write P. Travis Kroeker and Bruce K. Ward. “The ideal of love of humanity cannot, and should not, survive the death of God.”101 The moral and political implications of philosophical naturalism, Nietzsche reveals in an unprecedented way, are thus profound. The defining characteristic of humanity can no longer be located in its exercise of logos, as in Platonic and Aristotelian thinking, nor in its embrace of agape, as in the Gospel writers. Instead, it must be identified with some variety of eros, the passionate and subjective will to power and domination over others that is the actual root of all human choices and that can be judged only according to aesthetic or pragmatic criteria—if it can be judged at all.
But how does the Nietzschean problematic appear from the point of view of those who never accepted the totalizing pretensions of philosophical naturalism and reports of the death of God in the name of scientific reason to begin with? Nietzsche’s attack, we have seen, is at every step an attack from within. Instead of reading the nihilism he so acutely diagnoses in the modern age as a clue to philosophical naturalism’s even possible untruth, he luxuriates in the will to power, which, he insists, is all that remains and which he claims somehow provides the noble elect with the key to transcending despair. It is a decadent bask. Having started from naturalistic premises, Nietzsche and his heirs are fully vulnerable to the charges they lay upon others.
There are at least three possible responses in the Western tradition to Nietzsche’s politics of aristocratic radicalism and will to power: Classical rationalism that retains a conception of natural law; Heideggerian existentialism; and Jewish or Christian theism, including the thought of Augustine, Maimonides, Aquinas, and religious existentialists such as Kierkegaard and Dostoevsky who directly anticipated—only to reject—the Nietzschean stance. There are serious if not fatal problems, however, with any attempted return on purely rationalistic grounds to the categories of natural law. In a post-Darwinian world, we are deprived of precisely those teleological assumptions about the natural universe—including human nature—that in the classical tradition provided the epistemological and ontological moorings for thinking about people as social and political animals. Natural law, in light of the claims of modern science, appears to be an increasingly untenable holding position somewhere between theism and the abyss. Heidegger’s complicity in National Socialism, George Steiner writes, cannot be separated from his “esoteric antihistoricism.”102 His claim, “at once metaphorical and mesmeric, that it is not man who speaks where language is most fully effective, but ‘language itself through man,’ ” pushes living human beings away from the center of meaning and so opens the door to an ethics beyond rational judgment—a politics in which the “idiom of the purely ontological blends with that of the inhuman.”103
In the final analysis we are therefore confronted with the choice that Nietzsche himself insists we must have the courage to face: Nietzsche or religious faith—Dionysus versus the Crucified. Granting Nietzsche his claim that this struggle lies at the heart of both his own philosophy as well as the future of Western moral and political thought, there are good reasons to be deeply suspicious of the Nietzschean alternative. From the standpoint of a more thoroughgoing critique of modernity than Nietzsche and his heirs can allow, the claim that mass society somehow created only to murder the divine, and that we consequently find ourselves “beyond good and evil,” appears to be an unjustifiable myth aimed at concealing (even as it exposes) the existential laceration, contradiction, and resentment that accompany the abandonment of religious faith. The great value of Nietzsche as a political thinker lies in the fact that—by his very negations and refutations—he forces us to face once more the radical historical and political implications of the Hebrew prophets and of that Person and polis in which “strength and beauty are inseparable from the good.”104
- Friedrich Nietzsche, Daybreak: Thoughts on the Prejudices of Morality, trans. R. J. Hollingdale (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 519.
- Bruce Detwiler, Nietzsche and the Politics of Aristocratic Radicalism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990).
- Friedrich Nietzsche, Appendix: Variants from Nietzsche’s Drafts,in Basic Writings of Nietzsche, trans. Walter Kaufmann (New York: The Modern Library, 1967), 796.
- Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science: With a Prelude in German Rhymes and an Appendix of Songs, trans. Josefine Nauckhoff and Adrian Del Caro (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 119–120.
- William Connolly, Identity\Difference: Democratic Negotiations of Political Paradox (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1991), 184.
- Ibid., 190.
- Ibid., 197.
- Ibid., 191.
- Ibid., 188–190, 196.
- Romand Coles, “Liberty, Equality, Receptive Generosity: Neo-Nietzschean Reflections on the Ethics and Politics of Coalition,” in American Political Science Review, vol. 90, no. 2 (June 1996), 381.
- Romand Coles, Rethinking Generosity: Critical Theory and the Politics of Caritas (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1997), 22.
- Ibid., 15.
- Ibid., 11, 22.
- Lawrence Hatab, A Nietzschean Defense of Democracy: An Experiment in Postmodern Politics (LaSalle, IL: Open Court Publishing, 1995), 28.
- Ibid., 76–77.
- Ibid., 75–76.
- Tracy B. Strong, “Nietzsche’s Political Misappropriation,” in The Cambridge Companion to Nietzsche, eds. Bernard Magnus and Kathleen Marie Higgins (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 122.
- Ibid., 140.
- Ibid., 141.
- Ibid., 142.
- Ibid., 142.
- Leslie Paul Thiele, Friedrich Nietzsche and the Politics of the Soul: A Study of Heroic Individualism (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990).
- Fredrick Appel, Nietzsche contra Democracy (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1999), 5.
- Ibid., 7–8.
- Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals, trans. Carol Diethe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 50.
- Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, trans. Marion Faber (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), 152–153.
- Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals, 109–110.
- Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, 15, 144.
- As cited in Walter Kaufmann, Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1974), 328.
- Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, in Basic Writings of Nietzsche, 211.
- On Nietzsche’s debt to Darwin and social Darwinian theories see John Richardson, Nietzsche’s New Darwinism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 137–146.
- Christopher Cox, Nietzsche: Naturalism and Interpretation (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999),136.
- Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, 14.
- Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals, 87.
- See, for example, Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, in Basic Writings of Nietzsche, 218–220.
- Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, 22.
- On the relationship between Nietzsche’s thought and Comtean positivism, see Nadeem J. Z Hussain, “Nietzsche’s Positivism,” in European Journal of Philosophy, vol. 12, no. 3 (2004), 344ff.
- Nietzsche, Ecce Homo,in Basic Writings of Nietzsche, 696.
- Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals, 96.
- Ibid., 96.
- Ibid., 96.
- Ibid., 58–59.
- Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals, in Basic Writings of Nietzsche, 522.
- As cited in Hatab, A Nietzschean Defense of Democracy, 32.
- David Bentley Hart, The Beauty of the Infinite: The Aesthetics of Christian Truth (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2003), 102.
- Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1981), 129.
- Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals, in Basic Writings of Nietzsche, 503, 510.
- Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals, 43.
- Kaufmann, Nietzsche, 96–101, 110.
- Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Prophets: Volume I (New York: Perennial Classics, 1962), 213.
- Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, 56–57.
- Friedrich Nietzsche, The Anti-Christ, trans. H. L. Mencken (Tucson: See Sharp Press, 1999), 24.
- On Nietzsche’s aristocratic critique of pity, see Appel, Nietzsche contra Democracy, 154–157; on Nietzsche’s admiration for Napoleon, see Paul F. Glenn, “Nietzsche’s Napoleon: The Higher Man as Political Actor,” in The Review of Politics, vol. 63, no. 1 (Winter 2001), 129–158.
- Nietzsche, The Anti-Christ, 57–58.
- Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals, 23–24.
- Ibid., 19.
- Kaufmann, Nietzsche, 367–371.
- Nietzsche, The Anti-Christ, 67.
- See Hart, The Beauty of the Infinite, 94–95; Alistair Kee, Nietzsche Against the Crucified (London: SCM Press, 1999), 148–154; and Vladimir Solovyov, The Justification of the Good: An Essay on Moral Philosophy, trans. Nathalie A. Duddington (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2005), lix–lxi.
- Søren Kierkegaard, Provocations: Spiritual Writings of Kierkegaard, ed. Charles Moore (Farmington, PA: Bruderhof Foundation, 2002), 256.
- Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, 44.
- Nietzsche, Ecce Homo,in Basic Writings of Nietzsche, 791.
- Friedrich Nietzsche, The Will to Power, 543.
- René Girard, “Nietzsche versus the Crucified,” in The Girard Reader, ed. James G. Williams (New York: Crossroad Publishing, 2002), 251.
- Nietzsche, The Anti-Christ, 39.
- Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals, in Basic Writings of Nietzsche, 471.
- Girard, “Nietzsche versus the Crucified,” 251. The fact that this is a powerful tendency or moral arc rather than a univocal and unambiguous witness in the Hebrew Bible should go without saying. See, for example, Regina Schwartz, The Curse of Cain: The Violent Legacy of Monotheism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997).
- Nietzsche, The Anti-Christ, 30.
- Nietzsche, The Anti-Christ, 68–71.
- John Milbank, Theology and Social Theory: Beyond Secular Reason (Oxford: Blackwell, 1990), 282–283.
- Boris Pasternak, Doctor Zhivago,trans. Max Hayward and Manya Harari (New York: Pantheon Books, 1991), 43.
- See, for example, Nietzsche, Ecce Homo,in Basic Writings of Nietzsche, 766.
- MacIntyre, After Virtue, 259; see also John Gray, Black Mass: Apocalyptic Religion and the Death of Utopia (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007), 57.
- Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno, Dialectic of Enlightenment: Philosophical Fragments, trans. Edmund Jephcott (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1987), 8.
- Hart, The Beauty of the Infinite, 124.
- Nietzsche, Ecce Homo,in Basic Writings of Nietzsche, 714.
- Albert Camus, The Rebel: An Essay on Man in Revolt (New York: Vintage International, 1956), 72–73, 80.
- Nietzsche, Ecce Homo,in Basic Writings of Nietzsche, 687.
- Friedrich Nietzsche, The Will to Power, trans. Walter Kaufmann and R. J. Hollingdale (New York: Vintage Books, 1967), 547–549.
- Nietzsche, Ecce Homo,in Basic Writings of Nietzsche, 784.
- Nietzsche, The Anti-Christ, 54, 57.
- Nietzsche, Appendix: Variants from Nietzsche’s Drafts,in Basic Writings of Nietzsche, 799.
- Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, 90.
- Ibid., 167.
- Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, in Basic Writings of Nietzsche, 392; and Nietzsche, The Anti-Christ, 83–84; see also Detwiler, Nietzsche and the Politics of Aristocratic Radicalism, 113, 175–176.
- Nietzsche, The Anti-Christ, 84.
- Ibid., 22.
- Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, in Basic Writings of Nietzsche, 326, 393.
- Nietzsche, Ecce Homo,in Basic Writings of Nietzsche, 783.
- Ibid., 714.
- Nietzsche, The Anti-Christ, 37.
- Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals, 20.
- Keith Ansell-Pearson, An Introduction to Nietzsche as Political Thinker: The Perfect Nihilist (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 394.
- Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, 113.
- Czesław Miłosz, Legends of Modernity: Essays and Letters from Occupied Poland, 1942–1943, trans. Madeline G. Levine (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1996), 47–48.
- See, for example, Max L. Stackhouse, “The Sources of Human Rights Ideas,” in Christianity and Human Rights: Influences and Issues, eds. Frances S. Adeney and Arvind Sharma (New York: Suny Press, 2007), 41–51; and Michael Perry, The Idea of Human Rights: Four Inquiries (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), 23ff.
- The phrase “nihilism’s conscience” I owe to Camus, although his reading of Nietzsche is clearly different from my own in critical ways. See Camus, The Rebel, 77.
- As cited in Karl Popper, “Kant’s Critique and Cosmology,” in Conjectures and Refutations: The Growth of Scientific Knowledge (London: Routledge, 1963), 182.
- Although contemporary scholarship has problematized the idea of a singular “Enlightenment project,” the term still has salience. Nicholas Capaldi (citing Isaiah Berlin) describes this project as “the attempt to define and explain the human predicament through science as well as to achieve mastery over it through the use of a social technology [e.g., the systematic destruction of ‘idols’ of custom, religion, tradition, and authority that are deemed obstacles to human development].” See Nicholas Capaldi, The Enlightenment Project in the Analytic Conversation (New York: Springer, 1998), 17ff.
Get the Collegiate Experience You Hunger For
Your time at college is too important to get a shallow education in which viewpoints are shut out and rigorous discussion is shut down.
Explore intellectual conservatism
Join a vibrant community of students and scholars
Defend your principles
Join the ISI community. Membership is free.