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Author Topic: The inevitable and obligatory Nietzsche post.  (Read 171 times)
LostInAShaftOfSunlight
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« on: 06/03/09 @ 06:57 »

I've listened to and read a bit of Robert Solomon's commentary on Nietzsche.  He likes to reiterate that the idea of will to power in Nietzsche is really about self expression, something like this:

"someone with the will to power, is not a character that has to will the power over people. It actually means the empowerment of the individual from the inside, so it's a creative power."
(From http://www.abc.net.au/rn/philosopherszone/stories/2005/1393490.htm)

Now, it might be due to the quick treatment of the idea in BGAE - perhaps it is more thoroughly developed in other works, or in the works as a whole, or i might be missing something in my reading (which is obviously incomplete and bound to be superficial in a number of ways), but i'm not really getting this vibe from BGAE.  I'm getting more of the famously (or stereotypically) ominous Nietzsche.  We know where this ends up: with questions about the nazi's and their use of Nietzsche, which is not only acceptable to many people, but probably desirable as well:

"I cannot help but be convinced Nietzsche would have applauded their earth-shattering global insurrection, as well as the S.S. who were nothing short of prototype Supermen. He was a fierce admirer of the Spartan state and so would surely have been an admirer of Hitler and his Germanic Empire."
From (http://www.stormfront.org/forum/showthread.php?t=559478&page=2)
*** stormfront is a white nationalist site.  you may be thoroughly offended by it

Finally, the questions.  Do you regard Nietzsche's ideas as more positive and individual or insidious?  Can they serve as a kind of license for violent self interest?  It seems that they have, but is this what Nietzsche would have wanted to grow out of his writings?  Is this the kind of misinterpretation (i think) he was worried about?

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Gareth Southwell
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« Reply #1 on: 06/03/09 @ 12:32 »

Ooh! Now here's a topic! Nazis, crazy power-mad philosophers intent on world domination, a secret treasure - could it be the plotline of Indiana Jones V? Well, apart from the secret treasure part (I made that up so it would fit better). This might be a long post, I'm afraid...

The interview with Kerry Sanders you link to is very interesting, and it does a pretty good job of debunking many of the 'Nietzsche was a Nazi' myths. Perhaps it's worth summarising these and adding a few:

1. He was not literally a Nazi. Perhaps this is obvious, but it is still worth pointing out. National Socialism began in about 1919, and Nietzsche was dead by 1900 (when Hitler was only 11). In fact, N's last sane year was 1889 - the year Hitler was born (conspiracy theorists - make of that what you will!).

2. He was not an anti-semite. N was critical of Jewish culture, but no more so than German culture, Christianity, modern philosophy, and so on. At one point in BGAE he actually states that interbreeding with the Jewish race is essential to the future of the German people and Europe itself (see section 251), where he also apologises for his own previous anti-semitism. Also, he fell out with his sister over her marriage to an anti-semite, and also with Wagner, partly because of the same.

3. He was not a nationalist. Nietzsche thinks of himself as the "Good European", who combines together all that is best about European culture. He also thinks nationalism is a stupid and restrictive attitude, which can be linked to indigestion (outside influences come in, and the country feels threatened, and rather than 'digest' them, it trys to 'vomit' them up).

4. He did not believe in the Master Race. This idea is Hitler's distortion of Nietzsche. The idea of master morality is used by N to show that every culture will develop an artistocracy which represents what is best about itself. Initially, this may be brutish (the strongest prevail), but eventually it also develops into what is culturally healthy and spritually sophisticated (refined) about the culture. Thus, N sees this as a natural process, and here he has similarities with Darwin (to an extent), in that each species will try to perpetuate its own type. However, whereas with Darwin this is down to random mutation and natural selection, N believes in a vital power in the thing itself (its own will to power - of which, more in a second). In opposition to this, slave morality is that which justifies and helps to make tolerable the lives of those who are less powerful. Nowhere does N say that they should be 'weeded out', or that they are a distinct genetic type. However, he was a eugenicist (to an extent), and so he does draw a link between culture and genes - but also with background, environment, education, etc. - so, he was not a genetic determinist (which, arguably, Hitler was).

5. The Will to Power does not mean 'might is right'. Will to power is just a fact of any organism: a daisy or a humming bird has will to power just as much as a lion or a bull. So, dominance through strength is just one expression of a type of will to power. However, weeds can survive by a different type of strength, and other qualities can be expressions of will to power to.

6. He did not deny compassion or love. N rejects pity when it springs from a view that we are all weak fellow sufferers. However, if compassion springs from strength and an abundance of creativity and health, then it has more meaning. N also sees love as one of the highest expressions of human nature, and romantic and ideal (chivalric) love as a step forward in human evolution.

7. He valued suffering, but in relation to self development. Partly because of his own experiences in life (he suffered from severe migraines which lasted days), he developed the attitude that suffering 'enobled', and made us appreciate life more profoundly. So, much of his philosophy is built on the idea that we must suffer and overcome ourselves in order to develop. This idea is perverted in Nazism in the attitude cultivated by the SS and the guards in the concentration camps: that it is necessary to turn one's back on feeling and compassion. However, the 'greater good' for the Nazis and Nietzsche were very far apart: N saw suffering as a means to a positive philosophy of life (the eternal return), whereby even the most wretched experiences can strengthen us (what does not kill me makes me stronger); the Nazis inflicted suffering on others, and saw the future not in terms so much of self transformation, but of changing the external world (ridding it of Jews, liberals, communists, etc.).

Once again, sorry for the length of the post - perhaps we can take some of the points and discuss them in more detail?

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LostInAShaftOfSunlight
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« Reply #2 on: 07/03/09 @ 10:06 »

Quote
sorry for the length of the post

I've dispatched Jack Bauer to England to make sure you only make long posts.  When he arrives, please, just do as he says.   Smiley

I'd go straight to point 5.  I was taken aback by 259

Quote
"Mutually refraining from injury, violence, and exploitation...these practices can become good manners between individuals when the right conditions are present (...the individuals have genuinely similar...measures of value, and belong together within a single body). But as soon as this principle is taken any further, and maybe even held to be the fundamental principle of society, it immediately shows itself for what it is: the will to negate life"

because

Quote
Life itself is essentially a process of appropriating, injuring, overpowering the alien and the weaker, oppressing, being harsh, imposing your own form, incorporating, and at least, the very least, exploiting...

of a society

Quote
If this body is living and not dying, it will have to treat other bodies in just those ways that the individuals it contains refrain from treating each other.  It will want to grow, spread, grab, win dominance - not out of any morality or immorality, but because it is alive, and because life is precisely will to power."

What is he doing when writing something like this?  Is he simply offering up an unflinching description of how the world is?  Or is it prescriptive? Is he telling us this is how we should act? Is he telling us this is just how we humans have to act as parts of the world?  Is he just trying to shock us into thinking about the reasons we do things?  Is this a challenge to us to live differently?  Although this is just a tiny portion of what he wrote, it seems hard to square this with some of the other points you made, like his emphasis on self overcoming (if there are things like this which are essential to life, then how much can we really overcome?) and love as the highest expression of human nature - there is a chilling lack of it here.

Much earlier (section 188) he distinguishes between crude and refined slavery.  I think this means something like enslavement of people on the one hand and maybe respecting the rules of an establishment or submitting to the formal restraints of an art (e.g. haiku) on the other.  Is there a requirement for careful reading in the bits i've quoted above when he writes of "injury, violence, and exploitation", not as always literally consisting of fists and whips and bullets, but more like Curb Your Enthusiasm: being rude to people, getting someone else to do some piece of undesirable work, telling white lies, etc.

I've heard the accounts of his own conduct during his life: a fine, nice, polite, gentleman.  Someone who wasn't violent himself, who writes often of refinement, sophistication, culture.  How can we place passages like the one quoted from above?





« Last Edit: 07/03/09 @ 12:59 by LostInAShaftOfSunlight » Logged

Man, when I was young I shoved my ignorance in people's faces. They beat me with sticks. By the time I was forty my blunt instrument had been honed to a fine cutting point for me. If you hide your ignorance, no one will hit you and you'll never learn.
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« Reply #3 on: 09/03/09 @ 17:01 »

Good question! (OK, Jack, you can put the gun away now - I'm typing! I'm typing!).

I think, firstly, that there is a fair amount of the provocative in N's writing. BGAE is particularly prone to this, and some statements can seem quite shocking. I think this is partly because he wants to shock us out of our complacency, and partly because he is reacting against the pervasive attitudes of the day - this was a man who styled himself "The Anti-Christian" (i.e. the opposite of what Christianity stands for). However, we should really interpret this as a reaction against the Church - there is, for instance, a great deal of sympathy and respect for the man Jesus in much of N's writing. However, he is not proposing Satanism, but rather a doing away with the whole Christian world view (and not just reacting against it).

As regards will to power, I think you make a very useful distinction here between 'description' and 'prescription'. Firstly, WtP is certainly descriptive, and when N is talking of 'life', he mostly means biological life and the natural world. So, every living thing, he argues, has its own WtP, and seeks to dominate (in whatever sense - perhaps quite subtly and non-violently, but dominate nonetheless). When we come to humans, we can still think of his comments descriptively: N says that "philosophy is the most subtle will to power of all". So, meek and mild Spinoza is as much proposing that the world is a certain way as Hobbes is - they are both painting reality in their own image.

His views on slavery should also be construed descriptively. Any culture is based on exploitation. It is not a question of whether slavery is good or bad, it is a fact of human history and development. N is aware that this is an uncomfortable truth, but he is merely interpreting history in the light of WtP.

However, having described, N does also prescribe. He says that cannot avoid WtP - we cannot pretend that we don't want things to be a certain way, because it is inescapable (he is like Freud here: every action is an expression of a conscious or unconscious desire). So, having defined WtP as the fundamental process of life, he then asks, Why should we turn our back on what is natural? This is why he views Christianity as life negating and self-deceiving: life is not all raindrops and roses, and nature was not made to look after us; it is a state of war (Darwin would not disagree).

Returning to slavery in a prescriptive sense, I don't think N has in mind the justification of any form of racial or political dominance. He simply sees how culture is based initially of the dominance of the strong. This eventually leads to the growth of higher values (remember: if man were not a good hunter, and not able to defend himself, there would be no human civilisation). It's difficult to elaborate beyond this in a political sense, because N was not overly political. He looked at culture as a means of producing types of individual, who then went on to provide something extraordinary - Napoleon's view of a unified Europe, Wagner's new music - however, neither of these examples were the end product for N. They were both high expression of the old type of man, whereas a new one was needed - N's new philosopher or free spirit (non-nationalistic, non-dogmatic, creative, critical, rebellious - but above all an individual). N's view is therefore ultimately individualistic, and almost apolitical.

N's main point is not that democracy and freedom aren't nice ideas, but that we must pay attention to where our roots are. Does democracy mean that we should NOT value one person more than another? That there should be no competition? N would look at modern society and point out that we DO value certain things over others, and that what we really have is lip service to democracy - a secret WtP where the people who are preaching equality are actually benefiting from it most - or even ignoring it (think of the communist high command, who got all the perks).

Finally (Jack, you're a hard man!), I don't think being rude to people is the Nietzschean ideal. It is not that N wants to encourage competition, it's that he wants to point out that it is already there; however, like Freud, he also wants to show that our base desires are like fuel: we sublimate them in order to create higher expressions of our desires. Numerous times in BGAE N points out the usefulness of discipline and suffering in self-development. We need to feel constrained in some way in order to train ourselves. Artistic expression is much more than simply 'letting it all hang out', and inspiration is frequently a process whereby all the discipline pays off, and you use all those skills you acquired with such difficulty without conscious interference (just as a sportsman does in the heat of the game).

This is long enough, and I feel I still haven't quite nailed it down. I'm not plugging here, but I do go into more detail in my book.

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