Nietzsche On Migration and Immigration

by John Holbo on October 25, 2015

One of my students was wondering about the following passage from The Gay Science (section 356):

But what I fear, what even today one could grasp with one’s hands if one felt like grasping it, is that we modern men are pretty much on the same road; and every time man starts to discover the extent to which he is playing a role and the extent to which he can be an actor, he becomes an actor. . .With this, a new human flora and fauna emerges that cannot grow in firmer and more limited ages – or that would at least be formally condemned and suspected of lacking honour; it is thus that the most interesting and maddest ages always emerge, in which ‘the actors’, all types of actors, are the real masters. Precisely because of this, another human type becomes ever more disadvantaged and is finally made impossible; above all, the great ‘architects’: the strength to build is now paralysed; the courage to make far-reaching plans is discouraged; the organizational geniuses become scarce – who still dares to undertake works that would require millennia to complete? For what is dying out is that fundamental faith on the basis of which someone could calculate, promise, anticipate the future in a plan on that grand scale, and sacrifice the future to his plan – namely, the basic faith that man has worth and sense only in so far as he is a stone in a great edifice; to this end he must be firm above all, a ‘stone’. . .above all not an actor! To put it briefly – oh, people will keep silent about it for a long time! – what from now on will never again be built, can never again be built, is – a society in the old sense of the term; to build that, everything is lacking, mainly the material. We are all no longer material for a society; this is a timely truth! It is a matter of indifference to me that at present the most shortsighted, perhaps the most honest, at any rate the noisiest human type that we have today – our good socialists – believe, hope, dream, and above all shout and write pretty much the opposite. For even now one reads their slogan for the future ‘free society’ on all tables and walls. Free society? Well, well! But surely you know, gentlemen, what one needs to build that? Wooden iron! The famous wooden iron! And it need not even be wooden. . .

If you don’t know ‘wooden iron’, it actually has its own Wikipedia page. Short version: Schopenhauer makes fun of Kant for proposing we think of ourselves as transcendental and empirical subjects. How can I be perfectly free (and outside time and space, to boot) and subject to (causal) natural law? It’s a contradiction. Nietzsche is making a parallel point against socialism: society is inherently regimenting. Being a social being means knowing ‘my station and its duties’. How, then, can one have a ‘free society’?

This is one of those passages that seems oddly reactionary yet perhaps far-sighted, culturally. (Your mileage may differ.) How does ‘you can be anything!’ affect people, if they believe it? I’m posting about it because the passage reminded me of a different one, from Daybreak. That’s a book folks don’t read, mostly, and it contains some really strange stuff. Anyway, here’s the passage (section 206). I’m using the Hollingdale translation.

The impossible class. – Poor, happy and independent! – these things can go together; poor, happy and a slave! – these things can also go together – and I can think of no better news I could give to our factory slaves: provided, that is, they do not feel it to be in general a disgrace to be thus used, and used up, as a part of a machine and as it were a stopgap to fill a hole in human inventiveness! To the devil with the belief that higher payment could lift from them the essence of their miserable condition – I mean their impersonal enslavement! To the devil with the idea of being persuaded that an enhancement of this impersonality within the mechanical operation of a new society could transform the disgrace of slavery into a virtue! To the devil with setting a price on oneself in exchange for which one ceases to be a person and becomes a part of a machine! Are you accomplices in the current folly of the nations – the folly of wanting above all to produce as much as possible and to become as rich as possible? What you ought to do, rather, is to hold up to them the counter-reckoning: how great a sum of inner value is thrown away in pursuit of this external goal! But where is your inner value if you no longer know what it is to breathe freely? if you no longer possess the slightest power over yourselves? if you all too often grow weary of yourselves like a drink that has been left too long standing? if you pay heed to the newspapers and look askance at your wealthy neighbour, made covetous by the rapid rise and fall of power, money and opinions? if you no longer believe in philosophy that wears rags, in the free-heartedness of him without needs? if voluntary poverty and freedom from profession and marriage, such as would very well suit the more spiritual among you, have become to you things to laugh at? If, on the other hand, you have always in your ears the flutings of the Socialist pied-pipers whose design is to enflame you with wild hopes? which bid you to be prepared and nothing further, prepared day upon day, so that you wait and wait for something to happen from outside and in all other respects go on living as you have always lived – until this waiting turns to hunger and thirst and fever and madness, and at last the day of the bestia triumphans dawns in all its glory? – In contrast to all this, everyone ought to say to himself: ‘better to go abroad, to seek to become master in new and savage regions of the world and above all master over myself; to keep moving from place to place for just as long as any sign of slavery seems to threaten me; to shun neither adventure nor war and, if the worst should come to the worst, to be prepared for death: all this rather than further to endure this indecent servitude, rather than to go on becoming soured and malicious and conspiratorial!’ This would be the right attitude of mind: the workers of Europe ought henceforth to declare themselves as a class a human impossibility and not, as usually happens, only a somewhat harsh and inappropriate social arrangement; they ought to inaugurate within the European beehive an age of a great swarming-out such as has never been seen before, and through this act of free emigration in the grand manner to protest against the machine, against capital, and against the choice now threatening them of being compelled to become either the slave of the state or the slave of a party of disruption. Let Europe be relieved of a fourth part of its inhabitants! They and it will be all the better for it! Only in distant lands and in the undertakings of swarming trains of colonists will it really become clear how much reason and fairness, how much healthy mistrust, mother Europe has embodied in her sons – sons who could no longer endure it with the dull old woman and were in danger of becoming as querulous, irritable and pleasure-seeking as she herself was. Outside of Europe the virtues of Europe will go on their wanderings with these workers; and that which was at home beginning to degenerate into dangerous ill-humour and inclination for crime will, once abroad, acquire a wild beautiful naturalness and be called heroism. – Thus a cleaner air would at last waft over old, over-populated and self-absorbed Europe! No matter if its ‘workforce’ should be a little depleted! Perhaps it may then be recalled that we grew accustomed to needing many things only when these needs became so easy to satisfy – we shall again relinquish some of them! Perhaps we shall also bring in numerous Chinese: and they will bring with them the modes of life and thought suitable to industrious ants. Indeed, they might as a whole contribute to the blood of restless and fretful Europe something of Asiatic calm and contemplativeness and – what is probably needed most – Asiatic perseverance.

It’s a crazy vision. Per the first passage, all the Europeans have turned ‘actors’ to such an extent that they can’t bear to take a solid, steady job, subordinating their infinitely valuable unique snowflake inner selves to some collective project. (And more power to ‘em!) They will scatter to the corners of the globe, not as nationalist imperialists but as so many vagabond tourists, colonists in the aggregate, doing a spot of personal conquering on the side (maybe toting copies of Zarathustra as their Lonely Planet guide?) Meanwhile, Asian immigrants with a better work ethic will all migrate into Europe and take the jobs these slackers and art school dropouts and Lloyd Doblers won’t deign to do. We’ll get something done around the place! (And more power to ‘em!)

Anyway, if anyone asks you what a Nietzschean immigration policy would look like, now you know.

UPDATE: Obviously my post is an implicit nod to Chris’. He writes: “One of the often-claimed worries about immigration is of cultural loss, that the incomers will overwhelm the natives who will then lose the distinctive identity that they value.” One of the odd things about Nietzsche is that he is rather welcoming of this outcome in Europe. He is always playing it both ways, of course. He’s a compulsive ironist.

{ 188 comments }

1

Anon. 10.25.15 at 12:39 pm

How do you think his idea of the “Good European” fits into this?

2

William Timberman 10.25.15 at 12:50 pm

Nicely done. Nietzsche was certainly one of those who contained multitudes. When I first read him many years ago, just as my anti-authoritarian self was beginning to shake off its caul and look around a bit, my first thought was that anyone who aspired as desperately as I did then to become a modern, rootless cosmopolitan of one kind or another, and who thought it was going to be a cakewalk, should probably read Nietzsche first. The trouble is, those of us who did took scarcely more notice of his warnings than we did of our parents’. We know better now, of course, now that it’s effectively too late.

3

P O'Neill 10.25.15 at 1:59 pm

It’s always interesting to compare and contrast Nietzche and Adam Smith Theory of Moral Sentiments (part IV, Chap I)–

To one who was to live alone in a desolate island it might be a matter of doubt, perhaps, whether a palace, or a collection of such small conveniencies as are commonly contained in a tweezer-case, would contribute most to his happiness and enjoyment. If he is to live in society, indeed, there can be no comparison, because in this, as in all other cases, we constantly pay more regard to the sentiments of the spectator, than to those of the person principally concerned, and consider rather how his situation will appear to other people, than how it will appear to himself. If we examine, however, why the spectator distinguishes with such admiration the condition of the rich and the great, we shall find that it is not so much upon account of the superior ease or pleasure which they are supposed to enjoy, as of the numberless artificial and elegant contrivances for promoting this ease or pleasure. He does not even imagine that they are really happier than other people: but he imagines that they possess more means of happiness. And it is the ingenious and artful adjustment of those means to the end for which they were intended, that is the principal source of his admiration. But in the languor of disease and the weariness of old age, the pleasures of the vain and empty distinctions of greatness disappear. To one, in this situation, they are no longer capable of recommending those toilsome pursuits in which they had formerly engaged him. In his heart he curses ambition, and vainly regrets the ease and the indolence of youth, pleasures which are fled for ever, and which he has foolishly sacrificed for what, when he has got it, can afford him no real satisfaction. In this miserable aspect does greatness appear to every man when reduced either by spleen or disease to observe with attention his own situation, and to consider what it is that is really wanting to his happiness. Power and riches appear then to be, what they are, enormous and operose machines contrived to produce a few trifling conveniencies to the body, consisting of springs the most nice and delicate, which must be kept in order with the most anxious attention, and which in spite of all our care are ready every moment to burst into pieces, and to crush in their ruins their unfortunate possessor. They are immense fabrics, which it requires the labour of a life to raise, which threaten every moment to overwhelm the person that dwells in them, and which while they stand, though they may save him from some smaller inconveniencies, can protect him from none of the severer inclemencies of the season. They keep off the summer shower, not the winter storm, but leave him always as much, and sometimes more exposed than before, to anxiety, to fear, and to sorrow; to diseases, to danger, and to death.

4

Chris Bertram 10.25.15 at 2:48 pm

The passage immediately put me in mind of two others. The first, which I don’t have to hand, is something in Gustav Landauer where he writes about the workers not being spiritually ready for anarchy because they value need satisfaction over freedom. (Landauer was very Nietzsche-influenced, iirc). The second is Marx’s discussion of the Swan River colony in Capital vol 1. ch 33: given free access to land and the means to farm, the workers run off and refuse to accept the subjugation of wage-labour.

5

Anon. 10.25.15 at 3:39 pm

Human, All Too Human 475:

“Commerce and industry, tragic in books and letters, the commonality of all higher culture, quick changes of locality and landscape, the present-day nomadic life of all nonlandowners-these conditions necessarily bring about a weakening and ultimately a destruction of nations, or at least of European nations; so that a mixed race, that of the European man, has to originate out of all of them, as the result of continual crossbreeding. The isolation of nations due to engendered national hostilities now works against this goal, consciously or unconsciously, but the mixing process goes on slowly, nevertheless, despite those intermittent countercurrents; this artificial nationalism, by the way, is as dangerous as artificial Catholicism was, for it is in essence a forcible state of emergency and martial law, imposed by the few on the many, and requiring cunning, lies, and force to remain respectable. It is not the self-interest of the many (the people), as one would have it, that urges this nationalism, but primarily the self-interest of certain royal dynasties, as well as that of certain commercial and social classes; once a man has understood this, he should be undaunted in presenting himself as a good European, and should work actively on the merging of nations. The Germans, because of their age-old, proven trait of being the nations’ interpreter and mediator, will be able to help in this process.

[…]

Furthermore, in the darkest medieval times, when the Asiatic cloud had settled heavily over Europe, it was the Jewish freethinkers, scholars, and doctors, who, under the harshest personal pressure, held fast to the banner of enlightenment and intellectual independence, and defended Europe against Asia; we owe to their efforts not least, that a more natural, rational, and in any event unmythical explanation of the world could finally triumph again, and that the ring of culture which now links us to the enlightenment of Greco-Roman antiquity, remained unbroken. If Christianity did everything possible to orientalize the Occident, then Judaism helped substantially to occidentalize it again and again, which, in a certain sense, is to say that it made Europe’s history and task into a continuation of the Greek.”

6

Glen Tomkins 10.25.15 at 3:47 pm

I am gratified to find Nietzshean support for my long-held belief that all of our libertarians should be deported to Somalia.

7

The Raven 10.25.15 at 4:05 pm

“they ought to inaugurate within the European beehive an age of a great swarming-out such as has never been seen before, and through this act of free emigration in the grand manner to protest against the machine, against capital, and against the choice now threatening them of being compelled to become either the slave of the state or the slave of a party of disruption.”

But is this not European colonialism?

8

The Raven 10.25.15 at 4:27 pm

I also wonder just what Nietzsche is referring to in his talk of humans as independent of society. That has existed at no time ever. Before, even, humans were sapient, they were social.

Perhaps he was writing for sapient cats.

9

John Holbo 10.25.15 at 4:47 pm

Anon: re: HH 475, you should also check out the preceding section in Daybreak, 205. It’s more stuff about Judaism in a curiously complimentary vein.

The Raven: “But is this not European colonialism?”

So long as you aren’t thinking of anything remotely nationalistic or economically-motivated – or coordinated.

“That has existed at no time ever.”

I think it would be plausible to speculate he is employing a literary device: hyperbole.

“Perhaps he was writing for sapient cats.”

Cats don’t get hyperbole. Although, who knows, the sapient ones might.

10

geo 10.25.15 at 5:41 pm

I’m not sure there’s a contradiction between these two passages (or that JH was suggesting that there’s one). In the first, what N is deploring is what Ortega and Lawrence were soon to deplore: the arrival on the scene of the “last man” (Ortega’s “mass man), whose individualism derives from resentment, an insistence on mechanical equality and a denial of spiritual hierarchy. In the second, he points out that the socialists of his time seemed to accept mechanical equality, believing that “higher payment could lift from them the essence of their miserable condition – I mean their impersonal enslavement!” The first passage seems to be calling for workers to submit themselves freely to a vision, i.e., a spiritual master. The second seems to be calling for them to refuse to submit themselves to “slavery” based on “exchange,” i.e., a paymaster.

I’m up for it.

11

David Steinsaltz 10.25.15 at 6:04 pm

I hadn’t realised that the Tories in the UK were cribbing their social policies from Nietzsche. The health secretary just declared recently that the government is cutting tax credits for the poor so that they will learn to work as hard as Chinese and Americans.

I think there’s a mistranslation in the first quote. To say that the wooden iron “need not even be wooden. . .” is a bit too much paradox, even for Nietzsche. In the original it’s “und noch nicht einmal aus hölzernem…”, which should probably be translated as “And you probably couldn’t even manage it with wooden…”

12

Matt 10.25.15 at 6:06 pm

I was familiar with this section because Walter Kaufmann included it in the 20-30 selections from _Dawn_ in _The Portable Nietzsche_. (I must have been struck by it, as I highlighted the first bit when I read it as an undergrad, some time ago.) Oddly, though, Kaufmann cuts out a few sentences – first this part,

They and it will be all the better for it! Only in distant lands and in the undertakings of swarming trains of colonists will it really become clear how much reason and fairness, how much healthy mistrust, mother Europe has embodied in her sons – sons who could no longer endure it with the dull old woman and were in danger of becoming as querulous, irritable and pleasure-seeking as she herself was. Outside of Europe the virtues of Europe will go on their wanderings with these workers; and

and then the last bit, everything after “and be called heroism”. Deletions are marked with an ellipsis, but no reason is given for the cut. I’d be curious to know what the thinking was.

13

Jim Buck 10.25.15 at 6:49 pm

Jack London was an avid fan, I believe. Though he missed out the bit about the Chinese all moving to Dagenham:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Unparalleled_Invasion

14

Rakesh Bhandari 10.25.15 at 6:59 pm

‘to become master in new and savage regions of the world’
No mention of this in the OP and comments?
It’s been too long since I read Rimbaud.

15

anon 10.25.15 at 7:00 pm

what geo said @10.

And it might help to consider a similar, but later, passage from Twilight of the Idols, “What the Germans Lack” 39:

“Critique of modernity. — Our institutions are no good any more: on that there is universal agreement. However, it is not their fault but ours. Once we have lost all the instincts out of which institutions grow, we lose institutions altogether because we are no longer good for them….

In order that there may be institutions, there must be a kind of will, instinct, or imperative, which is anti-liberal to the point of malice: the will to tradition, to authority, to responsibility for centuries to come, to the solidarity of chains of generations, forward and backward ad infinitum….

The whole of the West no longer possesses the instincts out of which institutions grow, out of which a future grows: perhaps nothing antagonizes its “modern spirit” so much. One lives for the day, one lives very fast, one lives very irresponsibly: precisely this is called “freedom.” That which makes an institution an institution is despised, hated, repudiated: one fears the danger of a new slavery the moment the word “authority” is even spoken out loud. That is how far decadence has advanced in the value-instincts of our politicians, of our political parties: instinctively they prefer what disintegrates, what hastens the end. Witness modern marriage. All rationality has clearly vanished from modern marriage; yet that is no objection to marriage, but to modernity….

Marriage as an institution involves the affirmation of the largest and most enduring form of organization: when society cannot affirm itself as a whole, down to the most distant generations, then marriage has altogether no meaning. Modern marriage has lost its meaning — consequently one abolishes it.”

Also, it helps to consider his later, mature understanding of freedom. He is not an individualist, not a liberal, not an anarchist. From the section immediately preceding the last (38):

“My conception of freedom. — The value of a thing sometimes does not lie in that which one attains by it, but in what one pays for it — what it costs us. I shall give an example. Liberal institutions cease to be liberal as soon as they are attained: later on, there are no worse and no more thorough injurers of freedom than liberal institutions….

These same institutions produce quite different effects while they are still being fought for; then they really promote freedom in a powerful way….

For what is freedom? That one has the will to assume responsibility for oneself. That one maintains the distance which separates us. That one becomes more indifferent to difficulties, hardships, privation, even to life itself. That one is prepared to sacrifice human beings for one’s cause, not excluding oneself….

How is freedom measured in individuals and peoples? According to the resistance which must be overcome, according to the exertion required, to remain on top. The highest type of free men should be sought where the highest resistance is constantly overcome: five steps from tyranny, close to the threshold of the danger of servitude.”

16

Rakesh Bhandari 10.25.15 at 7:30 pm

“to shun neither adventure nor war”

17

Stephen 10.25.15 at 7:43 pm

Two queries. One, OP quotes Chris Bertram’s saying “One of the often-claimed worries about immigration is of cultural loss, that the incomers will overwhelm the natives who will then lose the distinctive identity that they value.” I can’t make out whether this post is indicating that such worries are unrealistic, it won’t ever happen; or that it will happen, and a very good thing too.

Two, Nietzsche was once regarded as having become insane on account of syphilis, but is now thought more likely to have become insane as a result of a brain tumour (correct me if I’m wrong). Are the quotations given here before or after the probable or possible onset of the first symptoms of such insanity?

18

Anon. 10.25.15 at 7:51 pm

>Are the quotations given here before or after the probable or possible onset of the first symptoms of such insanity?

Does it matter?

19

Stephen 10.25.15 at 7:57 pm

Well, yes, possibly it does. If you’re reading something written by someone who was in his right and highly intelligent mind, you might look at it one way. If you’re reading something written by someone who was away painting toenails on the fairies, maybe another way.

20

geo 10.25.15 at 8:27 pm

Stephen @19: maybe another way.

Why? Why not just evaluate what’s written?

21

MarshallPeace 10.25.15 at 8:27 pm

To recast a bit from the LSD era: Brain damage is what we were after. Social catastrophe is just gravy.

22

Stephen 10.25.15 at 8:48 pm

CB@4: “The first, which I don’t have to hand, is something in Gustav Landauer where he writes about the workers not being spiritually ready for anarchy because they value need satisfaction over freedom.”

Something which I don’t have to hand either (wish I could quote the great Myles na cGopaleen about “because I feel so stupid carrying a bookcase into a bar”) is a Latin comment to the effect that people talk so much about freedom, but what most would be happy with a decent master. Same thing?

23

Stephen 10.25.15 at 8:50 pm

geo@0: because one has only a limited time to read and respond to things, and if one is dealing with a nucking futcase it isn’t worth the time.

24

Stephen 10.25.15 at 9:25 pm

Charles Fourier declared that, under Socialism, six moons of new and superior quality would appear and turn the unproductive day into night, and that the undrinkable sea would be turned into lemonade.

Bernie Sanders, a Socialist whom I would support were I a US citizen, appears to me to be entirely sane.

At one time, Nietzsche would appear to have been on the Sanders end of the sanity spectrum; later, on or way past the Fourier end.

I think it is relevant to ask how far Nietzsche had slid from one end to the other when writing specific works.

25

geo 10.25.15 at 9:37 pm

Stephen, you can manage your time however your please. But if you really want to know whether a statement is true or false, inspired or crazy, then you have to look at the statement. And if you argue that a statement must be true or false, inspired or crazy, without having looked at it but simply because you consider the author to be nuts or stupid or a fascist or a communist, then you’re wasting other people’s time.

26

bob mcmanus 10.25.15 at 10:07 pm

25: Truth or falsity strike me as the least interesting things about statements.

This is a Nietzsche thread!

Of course, Stephen’s wrong. Crazy is better, but I would say that, wouldn’t I? Now back to Cioran.

27

Rakesh Bhandari 10.25.15 at 10:21 pm

Masters, war, slavery, egregious stereotyping?
I wonder whether scholars who are immersed in this (late, mad?) Nietzsche may suffer in similar ways to caregivers of dementia patients. Nietzsche’s mental illness of course was different, as are probably the effects on his “caregivers” today.
From Dasha Kiper in The Guardian:
“Dementia not only affects the minds of its victims; it also creates a world so fragmented, so skewed and redundant – so indifferent to normal rules of behaviour – that caregivers unwittingly become part of the madness. And this, unfortunately, is what the doctors and the guidebooks offering counsel to caregivers often fail to notice. Because we automatically posit a clear distinction between caregiver and patient, between the normal and the abnormal, we don’t see that the true burden for caregivers is, in fact, the absence of such a divide. When a loved one loses cognitive purchase, it’s not only his or her world that begins to unravel, but the caregiver’s as well.”

28

Rakesh Bhandari 10.25.15 at 10:25 pm

As I noted above, I think that I remember Arthur Rimbaud’s life and poetry providing us a much bolder experimental vision of a European’s self-transcendence.

29

js. 10.25.15 at 11:03 pm

Truth or falsity strike me as the least interesting things about statements.

This is a Nietzsche thread!

Yes. This is true of all philosophy. (It might not be true of hurricane predictions, etc.)

30

MPAVictoria 10.25.15 at 11:38 pm

“When a loved one loses cognitive purchase, it’s not only his or her world that begins to unravel, but the caregiver’s as well.””

That one is so true it hurts

31

John Holbo 10.26.15 at 12:38 am

“I’m not sure there’s a contradiction between these two passages (or that JH was suggesting that there’s one).”

I was indeed struck by how consistent the two passages seemed. (Although there are other passage they are inconsistent with, and I obviously think the picture is rather extreme.)

Much is being made in this thread – by Rakesh, Stephen – about how this is probably due to mental illness. Stephen is also making much of the inconvenience of bringing bookshelves into bars. But it’s the 21st Century. There is such a thing as Wikipedia, which fits on your phone, which will inform you Nietzsche suffered his breakdown in 1889, whereas Daybreak was published in 1881, Gay Science in 1882. From that you can calculate whether he is likely to have written these words after his breakdown. These aren’t late period Nietzsche. This is middle stuff.

“I wonder whether scholars who are immersed in this (late, mad?) Nietzsche may suffer in similar ways to caregivers of dementia patients.”

I wonder whether non-scholars (Stephen, Rakesh) who are oddly immersed in the non-late, non-mad Nietzsche (courtesy of this thread) are suffering in similar ways to the caregivers of dementia patients who are not suffering from dementia.

I would suggest the Rosenhan experiment as an object lesson in how that sort of thing can go awry.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rosenhan_experiment

Basically, if you assume the person you are dealing with is mad, you are likely to conclude the person you are dealing with is mad. That is, you are likely to fall prey to confirmation bias, diagnostically.

Of course, it’s possible that Nietzsche was just mad, mad, mad the whole time. Early middle and late. Just because he wrote really weird, often nutty-seeming stuff, early middle and late. (You get no argument from me that lots of this stuff seems kind of crazy.) But I hardly think the oddity of, say, “The Birth of Tragedy” would support a clinical diagnosis of early-onset dementia, almost 2 decades before his break. I think chronic German Romanticism is a likelier source of disturbance in that case. So it goes.

32

John Holbo 10.26.15 at 12:42 am

Perhaps non-caregivers of non-dementia patients is the right term in this case.

33

Rakesh Bhandari 10.26.15 at 12:53 am

Are you saying that this passage is not mad; you don’t think it’s a completely mad response to the threat of socialism?

” ‘better to go abroad, to seek to BECOME MASTER in new and savage regions of the world and above all master over myself; to keep moving from place to place for just as long as any sign of slavery seems to threaten me [slavery apparently being defined to mean any attachment, including to place–rb]; to shun neither adventure nor WAR and, if the worst should come to the worst, to be prepared for DEATH: all this rather than further to endure this indecent servitude, rather than to go on becoming soured and malicious and conspiratorial!’ This would be the right attitude of mind”

34

Rakesh Bhandari 10.26.15 at 1:00 am

I don’t remember Nietzsche’s biographies or dates. All I am saying is that what you provided us seems nutty. You say that he may have been made nutty by German Romanticism, but he tells you what’s got him bloviating about becoming master, embracing war and facing death–European socialism. Now what was the date of the Paris Commune?

35

John Holbo 10.26.15 at 1:32 am

“Are you saying that this passage is not mad.”

I’m saying it is not reasonable to make its (admittedly nutty!) quality the basis for a clinical diagnosis of dementia.

“I don’t remember Nietzsche’s biographies or dates.”

My point is that remembering is unnecessary. You can check Wikipedia. If you care enough to make a clinical diagnosis, which would require knowledge of Nietzsche’s biography, you should check Wikipedia to see if your diagnosis is consistent with the facts.

“All I am saying is that what you provided us seems nutty.”

No, you were suggesting that Nietzsche’s comments were to be explained with reference to the fact that he had broken down due to dementia. (Hence that my post was analogous to the confusion suffered by caregivers for dementia patients.) My point is: ‘seems nutty’ is not a clinical diagnosis. If a health care professional were to diagnose someone as suffering from dementia on the grounds that something they said ‘seems nutty’, that would be an inappropriate diagnosis. Dementia is one thing. Weird philosophy is another. Weird philosophers who (eventually) suffer from dementia are yet a third. There is no call to reduce the third to the first – especially not without checking Wikipedia.

36

Anonymous 10.26.15 at 1:33 am

Greater love hath no man…..

For what is freedom? That one has the will to assume responsibility for oneself. That one maintains the distance which separates us. That one becomes more indifferent to difficulties, hardships, privation, even to life itself. That one is prepared to sacrifice human beings for one’s cause, not excluding oneself….

37

Rakesh Bhandari 10.26.15 at 1:39 am

I think that I put in parentheses with a question mark whether this was the “late, mad” Nietzsche. I was trying to mark my ignorance of those aspects. I also did not say that Nietzsche suffered from dementia. Did I say that his illness was different? I sense a mental disturbance in the passage you cite–in the the promulgation of slavery and welcoming of death and war. Perhaps the madness was brought on by his response to the Paris Commune or German Romanticism, but the passage reads to me as mad.

38

Anon. 10.26.15 at 1:49 am

JH, I think you’re being trolled.

39

John Holbo 10.26.15 at 2:06 am

“I think that I put in parentheses with a question mark whether this was the “late, mad” Nietzsche.”

And there is a site – Wikipedia – that will clear half of this up in no time flat. You can check which works are late.

“I also did not say that Nietzsche suffered from dementia.”

Nietzsche DID suffer from dementia. (That’s the best guess.) He suffered a complete break in 1889. It was apparently sudden, but he had long-standing medical troubles and it is not obviously unreasonable to read at least his late philosophy as tinged with dementia. Say, the works he published in 1888. If you compare someone seriously over-interpreting very late Nietzsche to a caregiver to a dementia patient, that’s harsh but not dismissable as ad hominem. But it is not reasonable to infer that what he suffered in the end – dementia, probably – is the explanation for weird thought patterns decades earlier. Nietzsche had been thinking weird thoughts for decades.

“I sense a mental disturbance in the passage you cite–in the the promulgation of slavery and welcoming of death and war. Perhaps the madness was brought on by his response to the Paris Commune or German Romanticism, but the passage reads to me as mad.”

You are equivocating between a mental health sense of ‘mad’ and an I-think-this-is-abhorrent-nonsense sense of ‘mad’. Admittedly they are not always easy to distinguish but they are quite different. For example, when I diagnose him as suffering from chronic German Romanticism, I am making a joke, not a proposed contribution to clinical psychology. (Just to be clear.)

If you seriously think that the Paris Commune triggered some early (psychotic?) break in Nietzsche, in any clinical sense (dementia or any other recognized condition) make your case. Why couldn’t he just be an eccentric right-winger? to pick an admittedly crude alternative hypothesis. You admit you are ignorant of his biography. Fine. But then: what is the basis for your diagnosis?

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geo 10.26.15 at 2:16 am

Rakesh @33: Are you saying that this passage is not … a completely mad response to the threat of socialism?

No, it’s not completely mad, or even nutty. Nietzsche is reacting against “last-man” socialism (see comment 10), which he takes to be a nightmare of mediocrity and timidity. He’s not suggesting that Europeans go out to the wilderness, enslave the aborigines, and become rich. That would require one’s best energies, and Nietzsche hates people who devotes their best energies to becoming rich. They are fools who, as he says in the second passage above, “want above all to produce as much as possible and to become as rich as possible.” Nietzsche’s counsel, here and always, is “above all [become] master over [your]self.”

Which is perfectly compatible with submitting oneself freely to a greater spirit. Nietzsche (like Lawrence) believed in a spiritual hierarchy, but also (again like Lawrence) abhorred both coercion and slavish submission.

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John Holbo 10.26.15 at 2:41 am

I’m with geo. But I do think it’s at least a BIT nutty to put down these wild scenarios on paper. A mass diaspora from Europe, an influx of Asian model workers. The wild scenario is a vivid metaphor for an alleged spiritual/inner condition/problem. It’s not a prediction, much less a policy proposal. (That’s why I say the passages are hyperbole.)

Nietzsche on coercion and slavish submission is a tricky one. In a sense he abhors it, as geo says. In a sense he regards it as an essential precursor to development – spiritual development. It isn’t clear how hierarchy (the ‘pathos of distance’ he thinks is the precondition for value-making) can exist without a measure of things he abhors.

geo says he is not suggesting Europeans go out, enslave aborigines and become rich. That’s quite right. But it might be he is saying: Europeans should go out and enslave aborigines, but NOT to get rich. Or more likely just: if Europeans do go out and end up spiritually dominating elsewhere, that might lead to ‘higher’ developments – so long as they aren’t just doing it to get rich. All these thoughts are such long-term, distant-view thoughts that’s it’s absurd to read them as proposals or plans. No one would say: we ought to encourage lots of cheap Asian migration into Europe because, in 1000 years, this may result in both them and us having transvaluing our existing spiritual values, to our mutual benefit, in ways that are scarcely conceivable to us now. That’s not imperialism or capitalism or neoliberalism or political economy or public policy. But it’s typical Nietzsche.

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John Holbo 10.26.15 at 2:48 am

I also think geo’s #10 comment is good.

43

LFC 10.26.15 at 3:55 am

Stephen @24

Charles Fourier declared that, under Socialism, six moons of new and superior quality would appear and turn the unproductive day into night, and that the undrinkable sea would be turned into lemonade.

Fourier’s The Theory of the Four Movements is included in the Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought series (the edition came out in ’96), which is not exactly treatment that is accorded to an ‘insane’ writer. Yes, Fourier had some v. odd notions, but if that’s all he had had he wouldn’t be remembered today. I know you were looking for an example of ‘insanity’, but I don’t think Fourier deserves the implicit insult you were bestowing. (p.s. I’m not that interested in Nietzsche and cdn’t really be bothered to read the long quotes in the OP, but I do have some interest in Fourier and the other 19th-cent. ‘utopian socialists’.)

Ok, back to Nietzsche, for those of you who are into that.

44

Doctor Science 10.26.15 at 4:00 am

The lack of paragraph breaks and extreme Wall O Text effect makes it very difficult for me to follow what Nietz. is saying, here

For what is dying out is that fundamental faith on the basis of which someone could calculate, promise, anticipate the future in a plan on that grand scale, and sacrifice the future to his plan –

— my mind immediately supposed that the next part will be, “the fundamental faith that the future will be like the present, that there will be no revolutionary changes in the parameters of human life”. And by “revolutionary changes” I mean things like “an order of magnitude increase in the number of people who can be fed by one farmer”, or “women having full legal equality with men”, or “truly reliable contraception”, or “wikipedia”. Unpredictable progress, however Nietz. might phrase it. So when Nietz. goes on to say instead

namely, the basic faith that man has worth and sense only in so far as he is a stone in a great edifice; to this end he must be firm above all, a ‘stone’. . .above all not an actor!

… I actually have no idea where he’s coming from.

One of the things I don’t know is what he (in translation) means by “man”. Male humans? All humans? Male humans of the upper classes, his presumptive readers? Is he actually thinking of peasants and factory workers as part of “man”, or are they the backdrop against which “man” acts?

And when he talks about European out-migration, is he not talking about a process that was already taking place, and had been for decades?

The combination of Great Wall O Text, complex sentences, and unclear referrents produce a MEGO reaction. At least for me.

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anon 10.26.15 at 4:11 am

There’s no evidence whatsoever that Nietzsche’s late work is so much as “tinged” with madness, and I know of no reputable Nietzsche scholar who accepts that view.

Anyone who’s familiar with his work overall knows there are no dramatic differences in content or style in the works written in the years before his breakdown that would support such a view, and no sign in his correspondence that his acquaintances saw any signs of the coming breakdown.

The one arguable exception is Ecce Homo, which the causal reader can be forgiven for thinking evidence of madness. Again, anyone who knows Nietzsche’s work well can’t fail to recognize his unmistakable sense of humor and use of hyperbole in that work.

But why, as Bob and geo point out, make our opinion of his writings contingent upon the influence of madness, anyway? They may be interesting or dull, true or false, insightful or misguided, regardless.

As much as I always enjoy Bob’s points, I must however, take exception to the implication that Nietzsche is indifferent to truth. He *only* rejects truth as an intrinsic value. Specifically, he says that what matters isn’t the truth of a judgment, but whether it’s life enhancing. But note that this is a position that commits him to certain kinds of truth: namely, he cares whether judgment truly does enhance life or not.

In the end, a sure fire way of telling who’s a bad reader of Nietzsche (and, perhaps, a bad reader generally) is they buy the old cliche that Nietzsche is “nutty.” No, he’s often misguided, reckless, and sometimes not only wrong but dangerously wrong, but he’s painfully sane. Read carefully, he’s one of the soberest, most disciplined, and conscientious thinkers in history. We wish his writings, not just his neurons, were made, only because he so painfully exposes our fraudulent pretense to sanity.

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John Holbo 10.26.15 at 4:14 am

“The combination of Great Wall O Text, complex sentences, and unclear referrents produce a MEGO reaction. At least for me.”

I am not surprised at the failure of this post to rack up Facebook likes! They are weird passages. I should double-check that I didn’t delete any paragraph breaks, by accident, which might have helped.

47

LFC 10.26.15 at 4:15 am

Re the Wikipedia entry on Nietzsche: Without commenting one way or other on the quality of the entry, which I’m completely unqualified to do anyway, I note that a few months ago I read the opening paragraph or two of the entry and made a couple of pretty innocuous, unsubstantive (i.e., stylistic) changes. Those changes were immediately “reverted” (Wikipedia jargon for changed back or undone), which strongly suggests that the entry is, in effect, the personal fiefdom of one particular person. Again, this has nothing necessarily to do with the entry’s quality, which may be fine, but I think it is worth noting. I realize Holbo was appealing to the entry only for dates, etc.

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John Holbo 10.26.15 at 4:18 am

“The one arguable exception is Ecce Homo, which the causal reader can be forgiven for thinking evidence of madness. Again, anyone who knows Nietzsche’s work well can’t fail to recognize his unmistakable sense of humor and use of hyperbole in that work.”

I agree with what Anon says. I don’t think even the late stuff is explicable as symptomatic of madness, in a clinical sense. But I quite understand why people who think it seems mad – i.e. not plausible, weird, manic – and know he went mad the next year, might want to explore that line. It’s not a crazy thought that he had crazy thoughts at the end!

49

Rakesh Bhandari 10.26.15 at 4:20 am

Become master of yourself; sure after you have been an actual master and waged war and risked death in a European colony. Then you can enjoy self-mastery at the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel late in life. Of course geo is free to read the passage an counseling a spiritual war to bring about the death of one’s own self debased by European mechanical culture.

But Nietzsche does not seem to me be speaking metaphorically here. He thinks European man deserves better than Europe is giving him and thus counsels emigration.

And as John suggests–and I appreciate his consideration of this interpretation, though he likely does not agree– the point here may be not to reveal the baseness of the colonist’s motives; the emigration of members of the master races should be thought to be serving a higher spiritual mission– the rebirth of European man and the European idea.

These are fairly typical ideas but in Nietzsche’s inimitable prose (there was of course Cecil Rhodes’ recommendation to export the rabble to the colonies). So what makes it mad? It’s mad in the sense of the madness of the genocidal violence unleashed against the Paris Commune (if John Merriman is to be believed). It’s this madness Nietzsche voices in this passage–all in the name of a higher metaphysical purpose of course. Perhaps Corey Robin would agree or has already agreed in a previous blog entry.

I don’t know if this madness has made its way into DSM-5. But this is not the place to discuss the relationship of psychology to the colonial mission and the torture associated therewith.

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anon 10.26.15 at 4:27 am

Anonymous @36,

Did you intend that Christ comparison seriously? Because it’s not so far fetched as it might seem. I’ve always found his depiction of Christ in the Anti-Christ (correctly translated: “Anti-Christian,” by which he means “Anti-Paul”) to be quite gentle, even admiring. And I don’t think it’s an accident that in his late work he co-opts the language of the gospels (“glad tidings,” “salvation”) to describe his own project as achieving Christianity’s goals, but through opposite means:

“there is nothing besides the whole. That nobody is held responsible any longer, that the mode of being may not be traced back to a primary cause, that the world does not form a unity either as a sensorium or as “spirit” — that alone is the great liberation. With that idea alone we absolve our becoming of any guilt. The concept of “God” was until now the greatest objection to existence. We deny God, we deny the responsibility that originates from God: and thereby we redeem (erlösen, salvation) the world.”

Strange as it seems, Nietzsche’s principal ideal is a form of almost impossibly great love. Greater love have no man, indeed:

“Such a spirit who has become free stands amid the cosmos with a joyous and trusting fatalism, in the faith that only the particular is loathesome, and that all is redeemed and affirmed in the whole — he does not negate anymore. Such a faith, however, is the highest of all possible faiths: I have baptized it with the name of Dionysus.”

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John Holbo 10.26.15 at 4:42 am

“the emigration of members of the master races should be thought to be serving a higher spiritual mission”

But Nietzsche doesn’t believe anything of the sort. He denounces that sort of thing consistently. It is no exaggeration to say that Nietzsche thinks racist nationalism is the worst plan of all. It’s spiritual death. He doesn’t think it will bring about the rebirth of European man and the European idea. He thinks racist nationalism will kill all that is good in the European spirit. Seriously. Those guys are the worst of the worst. He broke with his beloved sister because she married one!

You are attributing fairly typical ideas to Nietzsche – based on the assumption that he couldn’t have been atypical? – then concluding … that he has these fairly typical ideas you attribute to him. Rather than the weird, atypical attitudes he seems to have, on the page.

I don’t see that you have an argument. Aren’t you just assuming your own conclusion?

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Rakesh Bhandari 10.26.15 at 4:45 am

You are not calling racial nationalism his call for Europeans to become masters of others in the colonies. I guess you are right that this is not racial nationalism as he calls for “becoming master” in the name of Europe, not any particular nation.

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John Holbo 10.26.15 at 4:46 am

You are right that a lot of nationalist imperialism got swathed in metaphysical glory – a lot of Spirit talk. But from the fact that this is the case, it does not follow that every scrap of Spirit talk about what ailed Europe was nationalist imperialism in disguise.

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Rakesh Bhandari 10.26.15 at 4:47 am

I didn’t say it was nationalist imperialism in disguise. I said it was civilizational imperialism in the name of Europe.

55

geo 10.26.15 at 4:48 am

Rakesh @49: He thinks European man deserves better than Europe is giving him and thus counsels emigration.

Yes, he says: “better … to keep moving from place to place for just as long as any sign of slavery seems to threaten me … [better] to be prepared for death … rather than further to endure this indecent servitude.” And in the same passage he says: “where is your inner value … if you no longer believe in philosophy that wears rags, in the free-heartedness of him without needs? if voluntary poverty and freedom from profession and marriage, such as would very well suit the more spiritual among you, have become to you things to laugh at?”

Doesn’t sound much like someone preaching the “colonial mission” to me.

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John Holbo 10.26.15 at 4:49 am

“You are not calling racial nationalism his call for Europeans to become masters of others in the colonies.”

No, I can see why you would think it is had to be that. But I honestly don’t think it’s that. Weird, I know. But weirder things have happened.

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John Holbo 10.26.15 at 4:51 am

His colonists are going to be like so many more adventurous versions of his itinerant self – always migrating around through Italy, France, Switzerland, Germany, trying to find beautiful things to see.

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Rakesh Bhandari 10.26.15 at 4:52 am

Your use of ellipses is amusing. What happened to not shunning war before preparing for death? Did that not fit into your interpretation! Again as John suggests, this could be a matter of mastering others towards spiritual rebirth, not as a means for profit. .

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Rakesh Bhandari 10.26.15 at 4:54 am

Those European wanderings are good for Nietzsche but he is trying to redeem those who are hearing the siren songs of the Communards. For them, the best option is mastery and war in the colonies.

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John Holbo 10.26.15 at 4:54 am

“I said it was civilizational imperialism in the name of Europe.”

It isn’t civilizational imperialism in the name of Europe. No one in favor of that would advocate that Europe accept a massive influx of Asian workers and be, eventually, spiritually renewed by their spirit of perseverance.

You are missing the ironic spirit of these passages. Everything twists and turns.

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john c. halasz 10.26.15 at 4:57 am

@45:

“He *only* rejects truth as an intrinsic value. Specifically, he says that what matters isn’t the truth of a judgment, but whether it’s life enhancing. But note that this is a position that commits him to certain kinds of truth: namely, he cares whether judgment truly does enhance life or not. “

But the problem there is obvious and is the same for all forms of pragmatism, i.e. the claim that knowledge is solely validated or justified by the success or efficacy of action, “the enhancement of life”. But that claim presupposes some criterion for the success of action, which is to say, some knowledge of the conditions and consequences of action, the very thing that is supposed to provide the basis of knowledge. A self-denying circularity.

Does knowledge guide and determine action, or does action generate knowledge? That’s an aporia and one doesn’t want to get impaled on either horn of the dilemma, but rather to find a way through it.

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Rakesh Bhandari 10.26.15 at 4:57 am

Really a civilization imperialist would not accept coolie labor and say that it was not for the labor gratis but for some spiritual need?

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Rakesh Bhandari 10.26.15 at 4:59 am

The twists and turns may be amusing and harmless to you. I hope you can understand why I read them differently and more accurately.

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William Timberman 10.26.15 at 5:23 am

This talk of nuttiness, clinical or otherwise, in Nietzsche’s writing…. I don’t know, maybe I’m mad myself, but I just don’t see it. When you begin to pull apart the definitions and the conventions that most of the time we profess to accept and to more or less live by, you can wind up surrounded by some awfully strange landscapes, yet somehow find them no stranger than the ones you were comfortable in before you began your investigations. I’m reminded of something I heard Edward Kienholz say in an interview years ago: People tell me my work is weird, then they go home and mow the lawn.

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John Holbo 10.26.15 at 5:27 am

“I hope you can understand why I read them differently and more accurately.”

I understand why you read them differently. I don’t accept that your reading is more accurate. You are just begging the question.

I don’t recommend the twists and turns on amusement or harmlessness grounds. I merely note that they seem to exist.

“Really a civilization imperialist would not accept coolie labor and say that it was not for the labor gratis but for some spiritual need?”

I think generally they would not. No slaveholder in the US South ever defended the ‘peculiar institution’ on the grounds that it would eventually lead to race-mixing and, inevitably, the ascendance of vital aspects of a new African-American culture over decadent white culture. Nietzsche isn’t a race or cultural purist or a xenophobe. We sort of figure he probably will be. But he isn’t. It’s his whole opposites-out-of-opposites thing. It’s confusing. More idiosyncratic than you are crediting.

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Rakesh Bhandari 10.26.15 at 5:36 am

“Perhaps we shall also bring in numerous Chinese: and they will bring with them the modes of life and thought suitable to ***industrious ants.***”

He is clearly not welcoming Chinese coolie labor to spiritually regenerate Europe, first and foremost, but to fill the void left by the rabble he has dispatched to the colonies. And in the context of this passage he wants Chinese workers to model submissive work which he calls perseverance for the European proles who do not leave.

Somebody said I was trolling you; I think you and geo are trolling me.

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John Holbo 10.26.15 at 5:38 am

As to the nuttiness: I think Nietzsche is great! And I agree with you, William. But he isn’t always great, all the same.

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geo 10.26.15 at 5:48 am

Rakesh @: I read them differently and more accurately

I think not, Rakesh. You object to the omission of a phrase, but when the phrase is restored, we have: “to shun neither adventure nor war and, if the worst should come to the worst, to be prepared for death: all this rather than further to endure this indecent servitude.” This changes the meaning I ascribed Nietzsche not at all. He is saying that one should be prepared to move frequently, endure hardships, fight, even die, rather than endure the “servitude” entailed by mass society.

As John pointed out, you’re simply imposing a reading on the passages he quoted. Your opposition to imperialist oppression does you credit, and all of us here share it. But oversimplification is never useful, even in a good cause.

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John Holbo 10.26.15 at 5:52 am

“He is clearly not welcoming Chinese coolie labor to spiritually regenerate Europe, first and foremost, but to fill the void left by the rabble he has dispatched to the colonies.”

You mean he’s clearly worried the all-important factories will stop producing more and more goods, the better to strengthen the nation state, Rakesh?

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Rakesh Bhandari 10.26.15 at 5:53 am

Actually oversimplification can be useful if not truthful, but we are not talking about what is actually interesting in Nietzsche. For what purposes is Nietzsche encouraging his emigrants to wage war and risk death in the colonies? He already told you–to become master in a savage land.

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Rakesh Bhandari 10.26.15 at 5:55 am

Nietzsche seems willing to tolerate reduced production and a decline in European living standards for higher pursuits, but he does not want a collapse; hence, the acceptance of some Chinese coolie labor to make up somewhat for the emigrants of the despicably fervid sympathizers of the Commune.

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john c. halasz 10.26.15 at 6:13 am

Rakesh Bhandari:

There’s always a question of how to read Nietzsche and his peculiar (mixture of) of tone and whether to take what he says “seriously”, which isn’t the same as literally, and if so, which parts. I think the key there is to realize that N. forged a novel mode of parodic critique and parody is mimetic, it must reproduce the very “object” of its criticism before it can take effect. Which is why it’s, er, unwise to take him literally, with certain reference, rather than recognizing that he too must be bound up with and a prisoner to his times.

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John Holbo 10.26.15 at 6:39 am

“Which is why it’s, er, unwise to take him literally, with certain reference, rather than recognizing that he too must be bound up with and a prisoner to his times.”

At the risk of yet further complicating matters, I take Rakesh to be deliberately NOT reading Nietzsche literally. He is rejecting a surface, straight reading of the text on the grounds that a truly accurate reading ought to find that N. was ‘bound up with and a prisoner to his times’, i.e. he was a pretty generic imperialist nationalist reactionary racist, and anything he says that seems to complicate that picture, making him seem like some metaphysical snowflake of spirit, is rhetorical cover for that same old bad old. (Of course he superficially disdains material wealth and capitalism. But surely, underneath, he’s just making apologies for all that, on an allegedly spiritual plane..)

In the abstract, this reading sounds rather plausible. But I think it’s false.

That’s all I have time for for the next several hours. I’ll let Rakesh say whether my assessment of his approach is fair.

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Rakesh Bhandari 10.26.15 at 6:47 am

Let’s read Nietzsche here as an unintended parody of a kind of European aristocratic pretension. It’s too bad that so many here are denying themselves the pleasure. And I don’t read him literally. See above.

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Rakesh Bhandari 10.26.15 at 6:51 am

I don’t think he was a national imperialist. I think his imperialism was an idiosyncratic pan-European aristocratic one. It does not fit Lenin’s model; it’s not a defense of capitalism either, but it can be viciously counter-revolutionary all the same.

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John Holbo 10.26.15 at 8:51 am

“Let’s read Nietzsche here as an unintended parody of a kind of European aristocratic pretension. It’s too bad that so many here are denying themselves the pleasure.”

Well, now you’re the one recommending twisty readings on amusement grounds, Rakesh. (Oh what tangled webs & etc.) For my part, I would not dream of denying the pleasure – or denying you the pleasure – but (perhaps this is my ascetic conscience!) I deny the truth of it.

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Z 10.26.15 at 1:56 pm

He is saying that one should be prepared to move frequently, endure hardships, fight, even die, rather than endure the “servitude” entailed by mass society.

But he is not saying only that, though. He is saying (in the first extract) that there was a time when human beings were genuinely part of a society, that now this larger edifice has crumbled (largely, it seems, because of the illusory prospect of workers emancipation) and that faced with the alternative of enslavement (either to their usual masters or to the Socialists rat-catchers), “the undertakings of swarming trains of colonists” will turn into “heroism.” In 1881!

More generally, I am uncharacteristically in disagreement with geo: when I hear talks of hierarchies, even spiritual ones, I always wonder who will end up at their bottoms.

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John Holbo 10.26.15 at 3:07 pm

“the undertakings of swarming trains of colonists” will turn into “heroism.” In 1881!

I think it’s pretty clear Nietzsche is not predicting this will happen or advocating it as some sort of real political action plan. There is no full scenario that corresponds to what he is saying, and I don’t see any reason to suppose he thinks otherwise: this outflow in which huge numbers of workers decide – each for himself! – to emigrate; this inflow of Asian model workers. It’s like saying ‘the world would be a better place if, tomorrow, everyone smashed their iPhones’. Maybe there’s a point to that, but it’s not a prediction or a plan. And ‘but how could you get everyone to do that, all at once?’ is not really to the point, if there is one. I don’t know how much this matters, but I think it’s not right that some commenters – Rakesh and now you – are trying to wrap heads around the logistics of some grand colonial project. Then finding the logistics disturbing. There are no logistics to it. It’s not a project. It’s a gesture of contempt firing in several directions at once: against capitalism, against socialism, against nationalism, even against racism.

It know it sounds odd to say it’s anti-racist. How can calling the Chinese a race of ants not be racist? But he’s trolling the racists.

Nietzsche: We need hordes of drone-like Asian immigrants.
German businessman: Well, perhaps their bodies could keep labor costs down in the factories. That’s something.
Nietzsche: Oh, I don’t care about that. I just want the spiritual uplift that will inevitably come from all the blood mixing, ending the European races as we know them.

I’m not saying it’s a good joke. But it is a joke, not a plan. Can we settle for: that’s racist AND anti-racist?

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oldster 10.26.15 at 3:34 pm

I think one answer to Rakesh’s 33 is to remember that madness and ideology are different things, although ideology can create just as much destruction as madness.

The second part of the answer is that the ideology that Nietzsche is mouthing in the parts where he talks about Europe sending out colonies to do war on the rest of the world and become masters or meet their death instead–this ideology was entirely common and ordinary during this period. You can read it in Kipling, in Teddy Roosevelt, in all of the great advocates of colonialism and imperialism. All of them advocated war and death and imperial adventure as a sovereign tonic for European neurasthenia.

Few of them did it while also poking fun at it and subverting it for laughs, as Nietzsche did. He is polyphonic. But one of his voices was, at the time, the voice of conventional, all too conventional, militaristic imperialism.

Not only would it not have struck contemporary readers as mad, it would not seemed any different from what they read in their Hearst newspapers at breakfast time.

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geo 10.26.15 at 4:01 pm

Rakesh @70: we are not talking about what is actually interesting in Nietzsche

Why would it be more interesting if N were just another deluded late-19th century romantic imperialist, as you insist, than if he were, as JH suggests in that brilliant little imagined conversation @78, the Supreme Troll of Western civilization?

Z@77: You’re quite right to be always suspicious of hierarchies. Most hierarchies are coercive. But a few are voluntary: a harmonious team of ego-less researchers, a chapter of truly devout monks, a crew of builders under an acknowledged master builder, the workshop of an acknowledged master painter. I suspect the latter is the kind of thing Nietzsche has in mind.

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Z 10.26.15 at 5:10 pm

I think it’s pretty clear Nietzsche is not predicting this will happen or advocating it as some sort of real political action plan

I agree, but at the precise time he’s writing, European colonial expansion is picking up alarming speed and exploding in violence (that was my point by the 1881! not some problem of logistics). I understand that this is neither what Nietzsche is envisioning nor advocating, but notice the asymmetry between two massive social phenomena taking place at the moment is writing: worker organization and emancipation as advocated by contemporary Socialists and Anarchists? The work of rat-catchers, slave masters, would-be tyrants and sado-masochists (from the OP and aphorism 184)! Violent colonization of “savage regions” by Europeans, with the accompanying vanishing of entire native populations? Possibly heroic, if done in the true spirit of freedom, a degenerate manifestation of nationalism in reality.

Nietzsche spares no blows for either projects (and there is something to be said about the accuracy of his judgment in both cases), but the first one is entirely devoid of any redeeming quality.

Can we settle for: that’s racist AND anti-racist?

Frankly, no, I wouldn’t settle for that. Nietzsche was opposed to the racists around him, but making fun of one particular form of racism does not make your work anti-racist. His philosophy (and that particular statement) is plain racist, just in a different way (I mean, if aphorism 272 is not racist, then what is?). Which obviously does not mean it is uninteresting, false or evil as a whole.

Most hierarchies are coercive. But a few are voluntary […] I suspect the latter is the kind of thing Nietzsche has in mind.

I disagree (not that there are voluntary hierarchies, that Nietzsche had those in mind). It seems to me that, for him, hierarchies have to transcend (perhaps annihilate) the individual, as in the first extract, making “voluntary hierarchy”, well, “wooden iron”.

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geo 10.26.15 at 5:36 pm

Z: But it’s good to be transcended — not at all like being annihilated. In the voluntary hierarchies I mentioned, the individual is transcended — ie, she subordinates (within limits, of course) her preferences and judgments to those of someone she recognizes as wiser/more skilled/more knowledgeable. What’s wrong with that?

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JoB 10.26.15 at 5:46 pm

We’re social beings. The problem is that we want to keep the social element constant. That makes it stale. It makes us stale. As long as we accept new elements in our social sphere or go out to become a new element in another’s ‘social’ sphere, there’s life to be lived. Irony is that the more we become a collective, the more people want to become vegetables (‘actors’ is FN’s chosen word above).

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JimV 10.26.15 at 7:17 pm

I am not sure what N was saying, but I defend his right to say things like:

“If you all too often grow weary of yourselves like a drink that has been left too long standing?”

I know that feeling.

My reaction to what I take as his inspirational exhortation that we should go out and find new worlds to conquer is that in this age of peak and past-peak resource it is no longer possible on a massive scale, if it ever was. Still, would it be a better world if I and many of my generation had moved to different countries at a young age and made careers there instead of taking paths of least resistance? Maybe.

On the other hand, the stay-at-homes might tend to accumulate the most power, and be the most reactionary.

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Stephen 10.26.15 at 8:12 pm

JH@31: I am, in fact, the carer for a very beloved, disabled but non-demented family member, and I have known and tried to care for another demented. I forgive you, some wouldn’t.

The problem as I see it is that dementia is not (from what I have seen in others) an on/off switch. Some people are functional in some ways, like poor demented Fourier, but not in others. When you say “It’s not a crazy thought that he had crazy thoughts at the end!” I do agree with you, but what I want to know is when his ideas slipped over the borderline from wildly original to crazy.

Do I have to explain why I don’t think “look it up in Wikipedia'” is an entirely satisfactory response? I had hoped that CT would provide answers from commenters who know more than I do, or Wikipedia does.

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ZedBlank 10.26.15 at 9:28 pm

oldster @ 79 beat me to the punch, but:
re the talk of madness, nuttiness, etc: This seems like a bizarre charge to make (unless you already know that N ended up demented, which people here do, thus confirming the prevalence of confirmation bias.) Plenty of contemporaries of N were speaking in favor of colonialism, war, the superiority of the White Race, but with absolutely no ambiguity, no chance that their words could be interpreted otherwise. They were heads of state, public intellectuals much more powerful than N. Were they crazy?

I get the ironic, hyperbolic style of N (or at least I think I do), but something that makes me curious is how Nietzsche thought this stuff must have sounded. Obviously, we can’t know this definitively, but it’s interesting to speculate about; I agree with geo and others that he isn’t literally calling for colonialism and hierarchy and war, but he also seems devoted to what we would now call “problematic” terminology in a way that seems deliberate and even perverse. This is explained, somewhat, if one agrees that N was indeed trolling the European intelligentsia, and trolling them hard. But to what ends? Was he making what is today known as the John Stewart fallacy? (That was my lame attempt at Nietzschean humor.)

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bob mcmanus 10.26.15 at 11:27 pm

This is explained, somewhat, if one agrees that N was indeed trolling the European intelligentsia, and trolling them hard. But to what ends?

1) I always feel that Nietzsche found himself very funny, and was having fun. He was also trying to make a living, but AFAIK, didn’t submit much to magazines or newspapers, like Soren K did.

2) Someone above said something about a “Pan-European intellectual elite” although the second excerpt, addressing factory workers, really surprised. Nietzsche felt something about nationalism, imperialism, capitalism, secular liberalism, modernism and was trying to get in the way of that freight train of modernity at full throttle. He was not nostalgic or “pastoral” or reactionary or whatever, he was trying to find offering up some kind of alternative modernism. I myself do connect N in affect and attitude to his few companions and their companions: Lou Andreas-Salome, Ree, Brand, Mahler, Berg, maybe Holst and Nielsen, maybe Wittgenstein and Freud, Werfel, Vienna, the cosmopolitan deracinated pessimists.

3) I want to thank Bhandari, I disagree with much he says, and what C Robin says about Nietzsche, but he did push me to read that second excerpt above with a different perspective, and I am now wondering how much at least the early Nietzsche was in touch with his times and place and continental politics, was addressing his contemporaries on current issues. That excerpt is ten years too late and irrelevant, but I can’t read it without thinking of the Paris Commune, its survivors and heirs.

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John Holbo 10.26.15 at 11:35 pm

“Do I have to explain why I don’t think “look it up in Wikipedia’” is an entirely satisfactory response? I had hoped that CT would provide answers from commenters who know more than I do, or Wikipedia does.”

I think Wikipedia would suffice but, if not, the answer to your question: no, it is not reasonable to think Nietzsche was (as you put it) ‘off painting his toenails’ when he wrote his middle works.

“I mean, if aphorism 272 is not racist, then what is?”

Aphorism 272 of Gay Science reads: “What do you love in others? – My hopes.”

Aphorism 282 from Daybreak: “For the promotion of health. One has hardly begun to reflect on the physiology of the criminal, and yet one already stands before the irrefutable insight that there exists no essential difference between criminals and the insane: presupposing one believes that the usual mode of moral thinking is the mode of thinking of spiritual health. But no belief is still so firmly believed as this is, and so one should not hesitate to accept the consequence and treat the criminal as a mental patient: not, to be sure, with an arrogant show of being merciful, but with the prudence and goodwill of a physician. He needs a change of air, a change of company, a temporary absence, perhaps he needs to be alone and have a new occupation very well! …”

Neither of these seems shockingly racist. Not sure what 272 you are referring to, then. (I’m sure you have something in mind, but I don’t know what.)

“but making fun of one particular form of racism does not make your work anti-racist.”

Why not? Obviously it doesn’t prove that you are not racist yourself. But why doesn’t containing anti-racist statements tend to make a work classifiable as (in part) anti-racist?

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LFC 10.27.15 at 12:51 am

Stephen @85

I direct your attention to the following passage(s) from Frank Manuel and Fritzie Manuel, Utopian Thought in the Western World (Belknap Press / Harvard Univ. Press, 1979), pp.581-82:

Only rarely have major [intellectual] innovations assumed as many as three different shapes at about the same time. The emergence of utopian socialism, with its revolutionary views of work and love, was a novum of this character. With an uncanny simultaneity, the secular European spirit received three alternative embodiments in Henri Saint-Simon, Charles Fourier, and Robert Owen…. Collectively, the utopians invented a new vocabulary of social thought….

Pretty good for someone, i.e. Fourier, who, according to you, was “demented”.

I don’t give a f*ck what you say about Nietzsche, but it would be nice if you stopped using this Nietzsche thread to slander Fourier. Perhaps you should wait until there’s a thread about Fourier and then at least your remarks would be on-topic.

(Of course there will never be a thread about Fourier, because Holbo would never teach him, but that’s beside the point.)

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John Holbo 10.27.15 at 1:42 am

Sorry, my digits slipped in tracking down 272’s, above. Here is the passage from Daybreak that Z had in mind:

“The purification of the race. – There are probably no pure races but only
races that have become pure, even these being extremely rare. What
is normal is crossed races, in which, together with a disharmony of
physical features (when eye and mouth do not correspond with one
another, for example), there must always go a disharmony of habits
and value-concepts. (Livingstone heard someone say: ‘God created
white and black men but the Devil created the half-breeds.’) Crossed
races always mean at the same time crossed cultures, crossed
moralities: they are usually more evil, crueller, more restless. Purity
is the final result of countless adaptations, absorptions and secretions,
and progress towards purity is evidenced in the fact that the energy
available to a race is increasingly restricted to individual selected
functions, while previously it was applied to too many and often
contradictory things: such a restriction will always seem to be an
impoverishment and should be assessed with consideration and
caution. In the end, however, if the process of purification is
successful, all that energy formerly expended in the struggle of the
dissonant qualities with one another will stand at the command of
the total organism: which is why races that have become pure have
always also become stronger and more beautiful. – The Greeks offer us
the model of a race and culture that has become pure: and hopefully
we shall one day also achieve a pure European race and culture.”

The problem is: he’s trolling you again – or, rather, the racists. Nietzsche personally takes the ‘Devil’s side’ of the argument, at least as a means to an end. He wants ‘evil’ half-breeds because he wants disharmony of values. Without that you get no progress, no ‘pathos of distance’. He wants to achieve a ‘pure’ European race and culture. In a sense. By race-mixing. Which will take us … beyond good and evil.

I’m not saying this sort of trolling race essentialism is benign, just because the point is always to give the racists exactly what they don’t think they want. But it is always very ironic – very deliberate in its ironies. Read section 205 for example. It’s a kind of fantasy about a new, ‘pure’ Europe, resulting from a healthy mix of European and Jewish culture, with the latter taking the spiritual lead.

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John Holbo 10.27.15 at 1:58 am

Let me back up that reading with a few other passages. Then I’m off for a while, probably. From BGE:

““How could anything arise out of its opposite? For example, truth out of error? Or the will to truth out of the will to deception? Or selfless action out of self-seeking? Or the pure sunny look of the wise man out of greed? Origins like these are impossible. Anyone who dreams about them is a fool, in fact, something worse.”

How could ‘purity’ arise out of furious mixing? Only a fool would believe it. Well, Nietzsche is that fool.

“For we are entitled to doubt, first, whether such oppositions exist at all and, second, whether those popular ways of estimating worth and those oppositions of values on which the metaphysicians have impressed their seal are not perhaps only evaluations made in the foreground, only temporary perspectives, perhaps even a view from a corner, perhaps from underneath, a frog’s viewpoint, as it were, to borrow an expression familiar to painters. For all the value that the true, genuine, unselfish person may be entitled to, it might be possible that a higher and more fundamental value for everything in life must be ascribed to appearance, the will to deception, self-interest, and desire. It might even be possible that whatever creates the value of those fine and respected things exists in such a way that it is, in some duplicitous manner, related to, tied to, and intertwined with, perhaps even essentially the same as, those nasty, apparently contrasting things.”

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Rakesh Bhandari 10.27.15 at 2:47 am

OK just going on your quotes. You are saying that Nietzsche’s solution to the decadence of Europe of carefully crossing European ‘races’ (probably including Jews) and breeding a new European master race whose best new qualities will be selected and honed over time, is an example of trolling the racists?! Well yes he may well be contemptuous of your smug, self-proclaimed German Aryan, but that is from his perspective of biopolitical activism to create a new European master race. Hardly anti-racist.

And here is my speculation for the consideration of the historical scholars of Nietzsche. Perhaps Nietzsche foresees the ways in which Europeans will at some point undermine their own global mastery through their internecine warfare unless they overcome their national particularities and actively constitute themselves as a European race. As much as that internecine warfare provided the context for the mastery of gunpowder technology that had allowed Europe to conquer the world (see Phillip Hoffman), it also threatened Europe with auto-destruction and loss of global supremacy. Nietzsche as a political thinker sensed this danger perhaps after the Franco-Prussian war and responded with a call for a new pan-European race.

So it seems to me that the context of the Paris Commune following the Franco-Prussian War may well have set the context in which Nietzsche did his thinking.

From the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: “Never in outstanding health, further complications arose from Nietzsche’s August-October 1870 service as a 25-year-old hospital attendant during the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71), where he participated in the siege of Metz. He witnessed the traumatic effects of battle, took close care of wounded soldiers, and contracted diphtheria and dysentery.”

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ZM 10.27.15 at 3:01 am

I am enjoying this series of posts of Nietzsche, John Holbo; I hadn’t read him much since I was a teenager, apart from the odd thing that was relevant to assignments on other things or people, so these posts and discussions are quite interesting.

I disagree with bob mcmanus that Nietzsche “was not nostalgic or “pastoral” or reactionary or whatever, he was trying to find offering up some kind of alternative modernism.” He looked to the pastoral in parts of his work, and other elements from classical Greece and Rome of course.

This does not mean he was not looking for an “alternative modernism” to that which prevailed more strongly in his times. But he looked backwards to do that, like William Morris did too. Nietzsche really reminds me most of Bakhtin, who was later, in terms of offering a dualistic approach where they were more interested in what I will call the lower or alternate mode as bob mcmanus says that complements the prevailing mode.

“what I fear, what even today one could grasp with one’s hands if one felt like grasping it, is that we modern men are pretty much on the same road; and every time man starts to discover the extent to which he is playing a role and the extent to which he can be an actor, he becomes an actor. . . . Precisely because of this, another human type becomes ever more disadvantaged and is finally made impossible; above all, the great ‘architects’: the strength to build is now paralysed; the courage to make far-reaching plans is discouraged”

I think the Actor vs Architect distinction here is a false dichotomy.

When I researched an essay on Foucault one thing I found interesting was that while Foucault identified as doing “archeologies” as a reader, of course he presents an Architecture himself. So in doing “archaeology” he became an Architect.

Of course, Foucault’s “archaeology” was an intellectual descendant of Nietzsche’s “genealogy” — and again Nietzsche in doing “genealogy” became generative himself. I think I noted this mainly because my reading Nietzsche as a teenager was due to him being mentioned in No One Here Gets Out Alive as one of the authors that influenced Jim Morrison, as I read all the books mentioned in that after I read it when I was 13. Reading all the books mentioned in No One Here Gets Out Alive taught me about discourses and how they are carried from people and added to when I was a teenager, in an informal way, as you see the influence of Nietzsche carried into the 50s and 60s etc.
Of course I read other lots of things as well, these were not the only books I read. But they taught me about discourses as a sort of arc going from person to person.

Corey Robin in the other post about waiting on tables, quotes Sartre about waiting on tables being necessarily inauthentic, saying “I am a waiter in the mode of being what I am not” — but of course one can “be” or “act” or “perform” in the mode of being what one is, or in being what one is not, or one can act and become that.

Jim Morrison is an example of this, and he did not handle it very well, dying so young.

In a larger sense,”acting” does not mean playing a character who is not oneself, so much as it means “doing”.

My favourite historian Greg Dening draws this out in his discussion of histories as Performance or Theatricality. Greg Dening liked to say say he was “History-ing” (after a student who coined the term) to emphasise that writing or making a history is something one does, like dancing, or sculpting, or even praying. Because of that it is necessarily an act, a performance.

But before Greg Dening was a historian he was a Jesuit and “performed” sacramental rites. This is the sort of the opposite of Jim Morrison, and sort of the same. As it is a performing that is real and is inhabited as real by the person.

I do not think Nietzsche was a very good influence on Jim Morrison, but maybe if he had a professor like John Holbo explaining Nietzsche to him, it would have turned out better.

This is where I started at, as with Nietzsche as he is the philosopher he has the two elements of higher and lower, and can act as the lower when he wants, and then as the philosopher who creates order acts as the higher.

Like Nietzsche Greg Dening also looks back to the Greeks, as History was one of the Muses (or “Mindful Ones” : Mousai), called Clio.

And — like Nietzsche, Jim Morrison and Foucault, the latter whom he quotes “And if a commentator says I aim unfaithful to Nietzsche, that is of absolutely no interest” — Greg Dening sees a process of institutionalisation and constraint over time:

“Originally the Muses were associated with Springs and Pools. Running water inspired: still water reflected. But with specialisation came institutionalisation and they ended up in museums.”

But, returning to the other point John Holbo raises in the OP — of the process of European settlement, colonisation, invasion, in other places — of course Greg Dening is from Australia and at a later period than Nietzsche’s.

A different perspective.

Corey Robin’s other post, about the passed away writer, brings up the idea or device of perspective. Dening takes the idea of perspective to Petrarch. Speaking of the European Philosophes of the late Eighteenth Century who “exhilaratingly and self-consciously knew themselves to be ‘enlightened'”, he writes:

“They had been to the top of the mountain with Petrarch and opened Augustine’s Confessions with him there. ‘Men went forth to behold the high mountains and the mighty surge of the sea, and the broad stretches of the river and the inexhaustible ocean and the paths of the stars and so doing lose themselves in wonder.’ ‘A new thought seized me’ Petrarch had written, ‘transposing me from space into time.’…

Irony was the enlightened’s trope. The spectator’s worldliness. Irony requires a perspective, a line of vision that the looker-on has that the participant does not….

This season for observing… was a short and intensive period in which the Pacific was theatrum mundi. …

[The Europeans] were always conscious that this theatre was a play within a play. It was about world systems of power, about reifications of empire, about encompassing the globe, and hegemony. …

the theatre of the pacific was about making the unreal metaphor real at home and abroad.”

So, maybe Nietzsche is not that much different.

The irony and self-consciousness was there in the enlightenment poses, the exploration and observation, the colonisation and violence. In the accounts that tried to establish the narrative of that historical period in favour of the colonising Europeans.

But, then again, Nietzsche, helped pave the way for being able to analyse and deconstruct these narratives and accounts.

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john c. halasz 10.27.15 at 3:07 am

JH @73:

But you’re missing the point. N. thoroughly rejected any POV outside of or beyond the world. Hence, to remain consistent (sic!), he would have to include his own perspectives as bubbles in the flow of historical, biological, and psychological becoming. His adventitious appeals to futurity notwithstanding. Or rather his escape-valve.

N.’s basic move was to reduce all Kantian judgments to judgements of aesthetic taste. (This is thoroughly problematic, but I’ll leave that aside). But that is what allowed him to forge his peculiar mode of parodic critique. Henceforth, the world, including the immense suffering it involves (Schopenhauer), is to be “justified” solely as an aesthetic phenomenon. (Atheist theodicy. Of course, when he advocates the elimination of invalids, and praises rude health, he’s referring to his own condition, probably congenital, since he also declares that any philosophy is an unconscious autobiography). And going beyond his antecedents in aesthetist amoralism (Flaubert, Baudelaire, etc.), art-for-art’s-sake, “decadence”, he applies such aesthetic criteria to the world as a whole, a huge generalization, and imparts to it a specifically ethical import, hence his adoption of “immoralism”.

But then N. declares (quite consistently!) everything is a matter of interpretation, (from differing perspectives). But then how can JH declare one interpretation “true” and another “false”? This seems to me a hangover from Analytic philosophy, where everything is a matter of logical analysis, which is precisely what is being drawn into question. (If there is anything like “absolute” truth, then it must be a truth which contains and explains its own error. And this is one of the services that N. provides: as a diagnostician of the errors of philosophical tradition). There can be only better or worse, more adequate or inadequate, interpretations on this shifting terrain. (Though JH to his credit is right to resist reductive psychologistic interpretations of N., despite N.’s own penchant for such. And the sort of dementia raised above concerns cognitive function of senile patients, not the “dementia praecox” which was a term for schizophrenia at that time. There is no evidence that he had lost his marbles, i.e. his considerable intelligence, before his final break-down, though I myself found his late work more exacerbated and vitriolic, more desperate, than the middle period work JH actually cites. IIRC GS was his finest, most balanced work).

But now to leave JH off the hook, did anyone else notice how the second paragraph he cites actually seems to grasp the basic Marxian point about alienated labor and “wage slavery”? N. almost advocates the rebellion of factory workers against their reduction to exchange relations and their subservience to machines, and mocks the notion that the small incremental rise in wages that they might receive would compensate them for their vital losses in such submission and conformity. And then he mocks the notion that their continued submission though patience would automatically result in a reversal of their condition, rather than a loss of their strength. (It’s almost as if he were predicting the subsequent history of the German SDP). Marx, of course, had his own forms of amoralism when addressing such issues, (because the ability to distinguish matters of fact and function from normative issues is the hallmark of the advance of modern “consciousness”). But when the likes of RB or Z want to re-moralize such matters, in order to condemn Nietzsche, what exactly are they hoping to gain by the willful imposition of their own restrictive interpretations, (and why are they so sure that they are not falling into traps that have been laid)? Can they not acknowledge the acuity of Nietzsche’s conflicted diagnosis, precisely because he doesn’t try to avoid contradiction or achieve “universal” harmony?

BTW there also seems to be some echo in the paragraphs JH cited of N.’s early essay on historiography, in which he distinguished between antiquarian, monumental and critical. Arguably N. most identified with the critical mode, but here he seems to adopt the monumental, but self-mockingly…

So what of those metaphoric mentions of war, etc.? Heraclitus’ fragment is often translated as “war is the father of all things”, though the word “polemos” might be better translated as “strife”. N. refuses traditional metaphysics which attempts to impose a universal logical “harmony” upon the world, eternal being, in favor of an evolutionary account of agonal conflicts. The “death of God” is not simply a matter of the declining credibility of religious faith, nor of the modern sense of uprootedness from traditions. (And here JH’s appeal to Romanticism is completely off, because it is not a matter of any mediated return to an origin, to any home-coming, but a complete break with any such prospect, which only the adventitious appeal to futurity could alleviate). Rather it amounts to a dissolution of the forms of logical unity and order that the ego imposes upon the world, the ultimate such form being “god”. (Outside a (post-)Kantian tradition that might not seem obvious, but within such, it’s a fairly evident background assumption). That is what might seem crazy or demented to “common sense”, but it is not any personal mental illness, but a deliberate intellectual strategy. Amounting to a parodic critique of Kant and the foursquare conception of universal reason that he imposed, and allowing for the polemical emergence of all those half-truths being repressed, (including the myriad forms of causality exploding in late 19th century science that the Kantian strictures couldn’t imagine or accommodate).

Finally, let me express my irritation with the suppression of the core concern of Nietzsche’s entire work by much contemporary commentary and interpretation: namely the advent of *European* nihilism, that “uncanniest of guests”, because it won’t go away. Not Asian or African or even North American, but European. Does that make N. a European cultural supremacist? Or does it speak to a contemporary diagnosis of our forgetfulness? (Who was Nietzsche writing for or to? The Stendhalian “happy few”, his own “free spirits” in the first instance. But let’s not forget that when he was still alive, before he became too famous, all too famous, he was little noticed and less read).

Perhaps someone should write a book: “The Uses and Abuses of Nietzsche”.

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John Holbo 10.27.15 at 4:25 am

Man, comments are getting longer and longer. (Oh, well, nowhere but forward!)

“But then how can JH declare one interpretation “true” and another “false”? This seems to me a hangover from Analytic philosophy, where everything is a matter of logical analysis”

I am most influenced on this point by Maudemarie Clark’s book, “Nietzsche on Truth and Philosophy”. I buy her interpretation of how N.’s views on truth evolve. And her view about how and why N.’s perspectivism is consistent with declaring one interpretation true and another false. (I deny that I am just a hung-over analytic philosopher. But then I would, wouldn’t I?)

“Perhaps someone should write a book: “The Uses and Abuses of Nietzsche”.” That’s the title of my first lecture – no kidding! – when I teach. When my book comes out, I’ll try to set you straight, john. For my best crooked timber, post-Kantian value of straight.

Rakesh, your view is basically this? Nietzsche is trying to forge some sort of Pan-European (white?) racial identity over and against the non-European Other. He is basically a Pan-European imperialist. We want all the guns pointed outwards, not inwards, so Europe can maintain its military supremacy, the better to colonize, while keeping itself ‘pure’ on the home front? Is that it? The metaphysics is cover for these sorts of (fairly generic) 19th century biopolitical anxieties and aspirations. The only thing that really sets him apart from, say, German nationalists is that he is, as it were, a supra-nationalist regarding all of Europe. Is that it? (I’m just asking. That’s what I took from your comment. Feel free to correct my gloss on your position.)

ZM: “I disagree with bob mcmanus that Nietzsche “was not nostalgic or “pastoral” or reactionary or whatever, he was trying to find offering up some kind of alternative modernism.” He looked to the pastoral in parts of his work, and other elements from classical Greece and Rome of course.”

Ha! I knew ‘pastoral’ would draw ZM out of the woodwork. I’m with mcmanus on this one.

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Rakesh Bhandari 10.27.15 at 4:31 am

Yes, that is how I am trying to make sense of what you quoted: “…and hopefully
we shall one day also achieve a pure European race and culture.”

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ZM 10.27.15 at 4:37 am

You know me too well John Holbo. Possibly bob mcmanus does too and trolled me.

But you are both wrong about the pastoral or otherwise why would Nietsche have written referring to pastoral literature?

Plus, it is well established and uncontroversial that Nietzsche was interested in and influenced by Classical Greek art and culture.

This idea in your OP you mention of an overly civilized Europe wherefrom people can set out into a more alive world is the very theme of pastoral literature.

From the overly civilized city to the more natural and alive country.

Nietzsche just adapts this contrast from the pastoral genre to his times and the global colonization that was happening, like Greg Dening says applying this theatre to the Pacific (and other new worlds).

The idea is very obviously lifted straight from the pastoral genre.

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Rakesh Bhandari 10.27.15 at 4:40 am

Can you John Holbo confirm the accuracy of this quote? “The attempt to unify Europe and to turn it into the ruler of the Earth … is not placed at the margins of Nietzsche’s philosophy, but at its centre.”
– Karl Löwith, European Nihilism

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The Raven 10.27.15 at 4:44 am

And this came over the transom. Not too much related, but funny: Friedrich Nietzsche is the worst DM

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ZM 10.27.15 at 4:44 am

Oh, and the artifice thing Nietzsche mentions is from the Pastoral too.

In pastoral literature the city and its people is full of artifice .

This is where you get the clash of culture versus nature. For instance, in Shakespeare’s pastoral The Winters Tale this is played out to good effect through various different characters. The least authentic – and yet entirely himself in his inauthenticity – is the sort of courtier tinker Autolycus who exits pursued by a bear.

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John Holbo 10.27.15 at 5:05 am

OK, quick response to Rakesh: in the abstract, it sounds like the sort of reading that could be correct. That is, it’s plausible that European thinker X could have this cluster of attitudes, and might semi-conceal them under cover of a lot of grand metaphysics and Spirit and so forth. I just don’t see any evidence that X = Nietzsche.

As to pastoral: he certainly does like the great outdoors, our Nietzsche. Mountains, in particular. But he really isn’t nostalgic in the way pastoral literature typically is. Nietzsche takes the long view, always. And that includes looking into history. But none of his ‘uses’ for history is nostalgic. The cosy idyll – some vision of a stable pocket of simple contentment with the simple life, a few sheep grazing, naive shepherd singing true things, plainly dressed – it really isn’t Nietzschean, that I can see. But he does dislike cities and like wild streams and lonely trudges in the mountains.

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John Holbo 10.27.15 at 5:40 am

The quote is accurate, Rakesh, but the title of the book is “Martin Heidegger and European Nihilism”. Löwith emphasizes Nietzsche’s admiration for Napoleon – which is certainly a point in your favor, and a thing many commentators neglect. Relevant texts would be WP 877:

“The Revolution made Napoleon possible: that is its justification. For the sake of a similar prize one would have to desire the anarchical collapse of our entire civilization. Napoleon made nationalism possible: that is its excuse.”

I think that is probably about as good as your reading is going to get. But note the irony. Nationalism isn’t good, except insofar as Napoleon was good. Nationalism has no justification hence needs an excuse. ‘At least Napoleon liked it. That’s something!’

“The most powerful man, the creator, would have to be the most evil, in as much as he carries his ideal against the ideals of other men and remakes them in his own image. Evil here means: hard, painful, enforced.

Such men as Napoleon must come again and again and confirm the belief in the autocracy of the individual: but he himself was corrupted by the means he had to employ and lost nobless of character. If he had had to prevail among a different kind of man he could have employed other means; and it would thus not seem to be a necessity for a Caesar to become bad.” (1026)

Check out “Nietzsche’s Napoleon: The Higher Man as Political Actor”, Paul F. Glenn, The Review of Politics, Vol. 63, No. 1 (Winter, 2001), pp. 129-158. The author, at the very least, collects all N.’s references to Napoleon, if you want to survey them. He thinks that N’s admiration for Napoleon isn’t indicative of nationalism, which Nietzsche consistently denounces. That sounds right to me, too.

So, in sum, I think Löwith is wrong. But he did say that thing, you’re right.

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John Holbo 10.27.15 at 5:59 am

Correction. He didn’t say it.

Here is the passage which has been misleadingly elided and slightly rewritten.

“Nietzsche’s faith in the future of Europe is based on its ‘masculinization’; and for him, Napoleon’s St. Helena memoir was one of the most significant European documents, because the future would progress along this path which Napoleon was the first to traverse when he attempted to unify Europe and thereby make it lord over the earth.

This political perspective stands not at the margins of Nietzsche’s philosophy but rather at its middle.”

‘This political perspective’ does not refer to the project of making Europe lord over the earth. It refers to the individual standard of spiritual excellence Napoleon exemplifies. If you think nationalism – really imperial European union – is essential to that, then you will think the reading the mangled quote insists on is basically reasonable. Otherwise not. I think: not.

All of this Napoleon worship is politically unusable, in my view. And the potentially destructive, violent coerciveness of N’s vision is more sinister than geo has tried to spin it (I’m sorry to say – much as I like geo, and much as I like N.) But N is not a nationalist. Insofar as he is a ‘good European’ he’s a cosmopolitan. To be a good European is to be homeless, not to have some fortified Fortress Europe, with guns made from good Krupp steel aimed outwards. He hated that stuff.

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John Holbo 10.27.15 at 6:00 am

So much for quick responses. I’m out for several hours. Got too much work to do.

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LFC 10.27.15 at 6:25 am

As a historical matter, the notion that Napoleon “made nationalism possible” seems rather questionable, to say the least. His invasions of, inter alia, Spain and Russia sparked fierce nationalist resistance, but there wd have been a Spanish, a Russian, a German/Prussian nationalism etc. if Napoleon had never embarked on his empire-building and conquests. But I guess what matters for purposes of this discussion is that N. thought it, not whether it has any historical basis.

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Peter T 10.27.15 at 7:22 am

I can read the excerpted passages on Napoleon two ways – as admiring, or as ironically reflecting the “great man” view of history rampant at the time, and in which Napoleon was seen as the apotheosis of the great man.

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ZM 10.27.15 at 7:35 am

John Holbo,

I am just wondering if you have read much pastoral literature?

The pastoral should not be nostalgic, as the idea is that the countryside in the pastoral is re-vivifying .

Nostalgia is quite different, more the opposite, being essentially enervating.

As I show briefly as this is commenting not essay writing, Nietzsche transposes the city-country relationship of the pastoral of artifice-natural to the global politics of his time Old World-New World.

Nietzsche comes in too late to write about pleasant shepherds as you say. If he lived in Chaucer’s time in the 14thC he could have done that and then Walter Raleigh would write an ironic Reply to his poem about shepherds in the 16th C.

But Nietzsche did not live in the 14th C, in his own time the process I mentioned Greg Dening identifies of the Muses being put into Museums was already well underway.

As I mentioned in justifying my pastoral influences on Nietzsche view on another thread, you see this particularly in Germany where you have folklorists like the Grimms collecting stories from the common people and clasisfying them and compiling them and ammending them etc as a form of antiquarianism but getting more scientific and using taxonomies and so on but with the idea that folk stories were dying out.

Collecting and making taxonomies of folk stories did not happen in the 14th C . This is the opposite of the pastoral as instead of the rural more natural world being a revivifying tonic to the urban world, you have the urban influence on the rural instead.

It would make an alright bit in a pastoral play though, folklorists entering and collecting folk lore. It could be quite comical. If it was not a pastoral play , you could make it iroically tragic like a Chekhov play.

As European imperialism had turned all the world into a stage, instead of just Europe, the reach extends into the New World as Nietzsche says.

I think you would have to concede this is one area where Nietzsche is in line with the contemporaneous European ideas and practices of European expansion and settlement and colonialsim, although in his own quirky way.

But I think where it gets interesting is that with his critique of contemporary Europe, and his performativity in his writing, he also was developing, in a sense, a way of thinking which countered the Enlightenment rationality which collected and classified folk stories as objects of a dying out folk culture.

This does not bear very much fruit until the second half of the 20th C, but from then you see that things change and there is generally a move to a more inclusive mode of rationality, which appreciates different cultures and beliefs and values and experiences.

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John Holbo 10.27.15 at 8:17 am

“I am just wondering if you have read much pastoral literature?”

Yes. (And if you are right that N. is pastoral, I’ve suddenly read a whole lot more!)

“The pastoral should not be nostalgic, as the idea is that the countryside in the pastoral is re-vivifying .

Nostalgia is quite different, more the opposite, being essentially enervating.”

Ah yes, you are starting to get it! This is the classic problem with pastoral.

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ZM 10.27.15 at 8:29 am

I do not quite understand what the problem you have identified in the genre is?

I think you do not like the pastoral somehow John Holbo.

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Anderson 10.27.15 at 10:11 am

These last comments are a reminder how Napoleon blew up the sense of what history was & how it works. There are good reasons why the 19th c. is in large part a struggle to understand Napoleon – who, like the Revolution, disappears under the interpretations.

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Z 10.27.15 at 10:53 am

John Holbo

The problem is: he’s trolling you again – or, rather, the racists.

But here is the thing again: the asymmetry. He is trolling the racists of his time (“You think the Jews want to dominate Europe? Oh, but your right, and a good thing too!”), he is trolling the nationalists and imperialists of his time (“You want to subjugate savage land? That would be great! Why, that liberty of mind, and even of soul,
produced in men by frequent changes of place, climate, and customs of neighbours and oppressors might even make you almost as great as Jews”) but at least the friction between his philosophy has something intelligible to say about these social phenomena of his time and the values that underlie them. About other massive transformations of his age (and the values that underlie those)-for instance the rise of democratic socialism, the premise of the women liberation movement, the fantastic expansion of exact sciences-nothing but generally uninformed invectives and disbelief (“Are you accomplices in the current folly of the nations – the folly of wanting above all to produce as much as possible and to become as rich as possible?” Why not answering the question, by the way?). I agree that it would be unfair to criticize Nietzsche for not having read De la division du travail social. I do nevertheless think that it is a perennial weakness of his philosophy that he could not bring himself to contemplate the questions it asks.

john c. halasz

But when the likes of RB or Z want to re-moralize such matters

I’d be curious to see even a hint at “re-moralizing” in what I have written in this thread (not to mention the rest of the sentence, which is still way worse). I do wish that you would at least write what I have written before appealing to the “the likes” of me.

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bob mcmanus 10.27.15 at 11:50 am

About other massive transformations of his age (and the values that underlie those)-for instance the rise of democratic socialism, the premise of the women liberation movement, the fantastic expansion of exact sciences

N:God is dead.
“But what about the women’s movement?”
N:I said God is dead.
“But what about democratic socialism?”
N:God is dead, already. Alright?
“the fantastic expansion of exact sciences”
N:Real world disappeared with Platonism. Dammit, God is dead, not replaced by a new improved version.

I’d be curious to see even a hint at “re-moralizing” in what I have written in this thread

On what ground are you judging Nietzsche for not addressing your favored subjects? Aesthetic?

Refer you to good interview with Wendy Brown linked in Robin’s Sheldon Wolin thread. She discusses neoliberalism (in the way I use it), Foucault, and democracy. Yes, it relates directly to Nietzsche.

Wendy Brown:”…his hostility to the political itself is generated by neoliberal reason. Thus, today, the meaning of democracy is pretty much reduced to personal liberty.”

150 years later we are still, or finally starting, to work out what Nietzsche saw in the death of Platonism: individualism and nihilism.

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bob mcmanus 10.27.15 at 12:02 pm

“the fantastic expansion of exact sciences”

If there is one thing Nietzsche is focused on, it is the apotheosis of objectivity, positivism, and science and the despairing moralism that is at its root. Same with Kierkegaard and many other critics of modernity.

99% of climate scientists say x y and z. Do I have evidence and arguments to refute them?

What if I say I just don’t care about evidence and argument? Does that make me stupid or evil?

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Z 10.27.15 at 2:36 pm

bob, Nietzsche writes about anything he likes, but alongside “God is dead”, he also has opinions on contemporary social and political events of his time; opinions he sometimes derives from his general philosophy and which sometimes look like stand-alone pieces. As you very well know, these pieces vary (a lot!) in substance, interest, style and proximity to his general system depending on the topic. That’s all I’m saying. And the reason I’m saying it is that I don’t accept the characterization of John Holbo that his philosophy is anti-racist. I fail to see what he brings to that topic. In fact, I don’t even see a clear point of contact between his philosophy and anti-racism (given the dictionary definition, that is to say the belief that the ideas of races with inherent characteristic and abilities, and especially the idea of superior or inferior races, are meaningless).

On what ground are you judging Nietzsche for not addressing your favored subjects?

Either you misread me or you misread Nietzsche, because he does address these subjects, frequently, and it is the asymmetry between the treatment of these topics and of others that I was discussing.

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Rakesh Bhandari 10.27.15 at 3:04 pm

Won’t have time to track down Robert Holub’s piece on Nietzsche’s colonialist fantasy right now, but Robt Holub who has a new book out on Nietzsche’s complex anti-Semitism (Princeton) seems to has an actual argument based on both a careful reading and Nietzsche’s own biography in favor of the interpretation that seemed plainly correct to me on the basis of the few quotes that John Holbo has provided–that is, Nietzsche can be understood to have issued a call for a supra-national, imperial, and “great” politics of “good Europeans”. John Holbo says he sees no evidence for this interpretation, but he has already provided some; and former UC Berkeley German Prof Robt Holub has located more, it seems.

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John Holbo 10.27.15 at 3:08 pm

“John Holbo says he sees no evidence for this interpretation, but he has already provided some.”

Sorry, what do you take to be the evidence that I have provided?

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John Holbo 10.27.15 at 3:17 pm

I would be curious to see an essay arguing that Nietzsche calls for a supra-national European empire. I must say, it sounds like a dubious thesis. The blurb for his Princeton book sounds eminently plausible, by contrast.

“Either you misread me or you misread Nietzsche, because he does address these subjects, frequently, and it is the asymmetry between the treatment of these topics and of others that I was discussing.”

I don’t really understand what you meant by ‘asymmetry’ above, Z. I took your comment to be a fairly blanket indictment. Is there anything you think N. is good for? If so what, and why?

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John Holbo 10.27.15 at 4:09 pm

“Sorry, what do you take to be the evidence that I have provided?”

Just to be clear: I’m not being snarky. Which bits seem to you like solid evidence, and why do they seem to be? You say your view is ‘plainly’ correct. But it isn’t plain to me.

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Z 10.27.15 at 4:18 pm

First of all, let me make clear that in all the thread, I have only discussed Nietzsche’s philosophy as applied to political and social questions (which I took to be the theme of the OP). It goes (or should go) without saying that Nietzsche’s philosophy is good for innumerable things outside this scope.

Is there anything you think N. is good for? If so what, and why?

Discussing hierarchies, customs, animism, rituals, the psychological impulses underlying stable patterns of values… If I had to single out one thing, I would choose the social relevance of Will zu Macht (for instance in Bataille’s La Part Maudite style).

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ZedBlank 10.27.15 at 8:07 pm

Any recommendations as a good place to start for someone who isn’t all that well-versed in Nietzsche? This thread has been a great, ping-ponging survey, but my impression, which tracks with my previous impressions of N, is that it is a mighty task to get anything like a decent handle on the range of N’s ideas. It’s been too long – would The Gay Science be a good place to wade cautiously in?

Incidentally, up until now the most recent treatment of N I came across was the chapter on him in Russell’s History of Western Philosophy. It’s a funny chapter – BR can barely contain his contempt for N, who he characterizes as an anguished, bitter invalid who developed a pathological worship of power as a kind of compensation for being a weakling, and who hated women almost as passionately as he loved Napoleon.

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bob mcmanus 10.27.15 at 8:30 pm

N & Walter Kaufman:Basic Writings of Nietzsche and The Portable Nietzsche

I think the Portable has more bio and has Zarathustra and Twilight of the Idols complete…

Basic Writings has Birth of Tragedy, Genealogy of Morals, and Beyond Good and Evil complete, and that is the one I prefer.

Both have extended selections

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js. 10.27.15 at 8:44 pm

ZB @120: If you want something that you can read in one sitting, the first essay of the _Genealogy_. Ignore anyone who tells you otherwise! (I kid, I kid.)

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LFC 10.27.15 at 9:19 pm

J. Holbo @117
I would be curious to see an essay arguing that Nietzsche calls for a supra-national European empire. I must say, it sounds like a dubious thesis.

The piece R. Bhandari had in mind is apparently: Robert C. Holub, “Nietzsche’s Colonialist Imagination: Nueva Germania, Good Europeanism, and Great Politics,” in S. Friedrichsmeyer et al., eds., The Imperialist Imagination: German Colonialism and Its Legacy.

[H/t: Google Scholar]

Needless to say, I have no intention of reading this myself.

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Rakesh Bhandari 10.27.15 at 10:23 pm

Thank you for the cite, LFC. Just skimmed it. Again I think it strengthens on the basis of biographic detail and his survey of Nietzsche’s writings the interpretation that I thought reasonable on the basis of just the few quotes submitted here.

In fact I think there was more evidence for Holub’s thesis than he was willing to extract from the passages he analyzed (the call for becoming master, the welcoming of war and death, the reduction of the Chinese to industrious ants)!

And I would have to guess that Nietzsche’s horror at the Franco-Prussian War must have been one of the reasons he embraced the active bio-political project of creating a new master European race.

But that aside, it seems interesting that Holub seems not to have included this old analysis in his new book. Just going from the Princeton blog interview, I see that he complains that Nietzsche has been misinterpreted as he is read from the perspective of the Judeocide rather than in the context of his own time.

But doesn’t focusing on Nietzsche’s relations to Jews only–as he apparently does in this new book–do just that: single out that part of Nietzsche’s thinking that is relevant in light of the Judeocide rather than read him in his own complex historical context, which included the attempt to establish a German Empire?

My concern derives here from Enzo Traverso’s brilliant and penetrating book The Origins of Nazi Violence.

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LFC 10.27.15 at 10:39 pm

Thank you for the cite
you’re welcome.

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LFC 10.27.15 at 10:50 pm

Not a comment on Nietzsche specifically, but on the question of reading people in the context of their own times, there are of course different ways to do that, and with controversial figures (which all thinkers now considered “major” are, to one degree or another), it’s often a delicate balance betw. seeing the thinker as product of the times and as transcending the times: if Marx, say, didn’t transcend his time in at least a couple of respects, would we still be arguing about him? (I’m thinking of Sperber’s bio of Marx, which I recently picked up, and which is billed as putting him in his 19th-cent context.) Not sure how this general pt applies to Nietzsche.

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geo 10.27.15 at 11:34 pm

Here’s Holub’s conclusion to “Nietzsche’s Colonial Imagination”:

“Nietzsche’s untimeliness – if we grant him this ascription – involves his unusual way of approaching the problems posed by foreign affairs and world politics. Eschewing the nationalist, mercantile, and utopian/idealist approach to colonization, he developed, along the lines of his own philosophy, a conceptual framework that entailed a geopolitical perspective. In the ‘good European” he found a term for a future elite that could overcome the nation-state, create a superior cultural life, and achieve domination of the world. With “great politics” he offered an alternative to parliamentary life and actual colonial fantasies, as well as a vague blueprint for global conquest on a grand scale. The visions Nietzsche harbored were certainly unrealistic for his own times, but their “untimeliness,” their opposition to and negation of accepted norms of nineteenth-century European thought and realities, does not imply that they offered, or still offer, an acceptable alternative. As deleterious as actual developments have been for the Third World, it is difficult to locate features of Nietzsche’s “untimely” colonial imagination that would have mitigated the oppression and inequities still rampant in our own postcolonial reality.”

This seems fair and judicious. I have only two reservations. First, “vague blueprint” is waffling. According to my dictionary, a “blueprint” is “a carefully designed plan.” You can’t therefore have a vague blueprint. “Vague notion” would have been more accurate — and more exculpatory. Second, there’s one feature of Nietzsche’s untimely colonial imagination that might have mitigated the inequities of actually existing colonialism: viz, Nietzsche hated chauvinism and greed. Since actual colonialism was entirely motivated by chauvinism and greed, whatever Nietzsche’s vague notions might have amounted to would not have involved quite the same inequities. Might his spiritual colonialism have been even worse? Possibly — corruptio optimi pessima. Refined, elevated cruelty is just as bad as coarse, crass cruelty.

So JH is right (and Rakesh too, though I think he’s vastly overstated the case): there is something sinister in Nietzsche. But let’s not overreact. Remember, even Godwin, Mill, and Bertrand Russell (and who knows, perhaps even Chomsky) were not perfect.

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john c. halasz 10.28.15 at 12:06 am

Well, if y’all want to engage (or indulge) in academic pettifoggery, you could try this:

http://www.academia.edu/6002674/The_transformation_of_Nietzsches_gro%C3%9Fe_Politik_in_the_epoch_of_Bismarck

To me, the biggest revelation (or, more properly, surprising bit of information) is that Nietzsche directly corresponded with George Brandes.

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ZedBlank 10.28.15 at 12:17 am

Thanks bob m. and js. for the recommendations. If I don’t check back in in a week or so, assume that I have gone mad. Or that I am out being adventitious.

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Anon. 10.28.15 at 12:41 am

When talking about N’s “anti-racism” I think it’d be good to separate it from contemporary notions of anti-racism (which are basically pure sklavenmoral), all tangled up with “progress”, etc.

All he’s saying is that the aesthetic justifications of humankind he’s looking for can crop up anywhere, anytime.

AC 4

“Mankind does not represent a development of the better or the stronger or the higher in the way that is believed today. ‘Progress’ is merely a modern idea, that is to say a false idea. The European of today is of far less value than the European of the Renaissance; onward development is not by any means, by any necessity the same thing as elevation, advance, strengthening.

In another sense there are cases of individual success constantly appearing in the most various parts of the earth and from the most various cultures in which a higher type does manifest itself: something which in relation to collective mankind is a sort of superman. Such chance occurrences of great success have always been possible and perhaps always will be possible.”

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John Holbo 10.28.15 at 3:05 am

Damn, the thread is getting good just when I have to do something else all day. But I can’t restrain myself. Let me strongly recommend that paper john halasz links (although he doesn’t seem to like it much). It seems to me straightforward, smart, clear, informative and very much to the point. (Even Rakesh will probably like it! It sort of supports what he want to say … but sort of not.)

http://www.academia.edu/6002674/The_transformation_of_Nietzsches_gro%C3%9Fe_Politik_in_the_epoch_of_Bismarck

The author – Vincent Garton, a grad student, I think – discusses the Holub paper:

“Holub’s suggestion that in pressing for the ‘“good European,” practicing “great politics”’ to ‘have the task of subjugating the entire earth’ Nietzsche is really arguing for the acquisition of a ‘vast colonial empire’ falls short inasmuch as the ends of great politics, on
Nietzsche’s account, are not ‘colonialist’ in any simple or conventional sense. Europe needs the colonies of England not as ends in themselves but because they are a necessary
instrument in a geopolitical struggle, the struggle for rulership of the earth, and as Beyond
Good and Evil suggests, this struggle is an objective necessity, a ‘compulsion’, quite apart
from any normative considerations. The final end of great politics is, in Henning Ottmann’s words, a ‘greatness of culture, not of empires’”

In short, it’s possible to cobble together a reading of Nietzsche as having pro-imperial, pro-colonial ideas that, superficially, sound conformable with conservative German political aspirations of his day (maybe just transposed into a pan-European register). The only question is: is this reading totally wrong, because N. is playing games, saying this thing, but meaning by it something radically different (maybe transposed into a spiritual register)? Holub is right to point out the former, but wrong not to consider the latter more carefully.

My take on the Holub paper is that it is interesting but, as geo suggests, seriously overdrawn. When I saw the title, with the reference to “Neuva Germania” I was momentarily gobsmacked. Someone found evidence that Nietzsche actually wanted to move in with his despised brother-in-law, in Paraguay! But the payout is a bit more tentative.

“It is therefore not completely inconceivable that Nietzsche himself, in times of the great physical discomfort he attributed to the European climate, considered the possibility of emigration … It is difficult to ascertain how serious Nietzsche was about leave Europe …”

Oh well. So it goes. A lot of things in this life are ‘not completely inconceivable’. But still the details are interesting. Same with the conclusion. But, as geo has already pointed out, Holub is obliged to waffle when it really comes to it.

“In such passages [which sound colonialist] Nietzsche’s “great politics” converges with the more familiar colonialist imagination.”

Well, yes, but ‘converges with’ just says: sort of sounds like. And we knew that already. (See my post!) Nietzsche is always playing this game where he pours new wine into old bottles. And pisses in other people’s alleged new wine. What we need to know is that he isn’t just doing that here. He means it. He just flat out wants European imperial colonialism, in something like the ordinary senses of these terms: Europe; empire; colonies.

Think about how weird it is that Nietzsche declares, “Great politics begins with me.” He’s trolling the Bismarckians, and doesn’t it seems likely that he is aware of how weird that sounds? How can I contain great politics? (Contain multitudes, maybe? But great politics? It’s a joke.) Nietzsche is always so self-absorbed, so concerned with spirit and inner life. (I’m not saying that makes it good politics. I’m saying for Nietzsche the political is personal. He tends to get trapped in his own head.) Reading on in Holub:

“In other rare passages Nietzsche’s thoughts include concrete references to geopolitical considerations. In a reflection from the summer of 1885 Nietzsche looks past national wars and newly created empires to his real concern: a united Europe. Citing the forerunners in the quest for unity (“Napoleon, Gothe, Heinrich Heine, Stendhal, Beethoven, Schopenhauer” and perhaps Richard Wagner [11: 583], Nietzsche sketches an economic situation …”

OK, cut. Stop right there. First these passages are rare, and there are obvious problems with cherry-picking a few scraps – including unpublished notebook bits – and patching them together and selling that as a foreground element, let alone the big picture. But also: how can this be even a ‘rough blueprint’ (geo is right to pick on that one)? If Nietzsche wrote a graphic novel about a “League of Extraordinary Overmen” in which Napoleon, Goethe, Heine, Stendhal, Beethoven, Schopenhauer and Wagner team-up to invade Paraguay, I would buy it in a heartbeat, but I wouldn’t, like, BUY it. That is, I wouldn’t think it was a proposed blueprint – even a vague blueprint – for an actual pan-European empire. (Do you see the problem with this, Rakesh? Do you see why geo suspects that maybe Nietzsche is not quite on the literalist imperialist page as you are? But, fair is fair, geo should take all the pro-war rhetoric more literally. It ain’t all art.)

At a couple points Holub’s foot just slips completely, I think. “Although these statements [i.e. a lot of stuff that just doesn’t seem to fit with with Holub’s reading] could be employed to condemn European colonialism, Nietzsche is actually affirming the cruelty and aggresiveness of imperialism.” How do we know these? Because Nietzsche likes ‘beasts of prey’, a la Essay 1 of Genealogy and places like that. No, I’m sorry. This is weak. It’s a cartoonish oversimplification of Nietzsche’s ethics. (Explanation available on request, but seriously: no one reads Genealogy, etc. as just saying ‘up with blonde beasts!’)

All in all Holub is too often forced (by scholarly scrupulousness!) to fall back on formulae that are equivocal between contrarianism and safe obviousness. “Despite his rejection of the antisemitism on which much colonialist rhetoric was based, Nietzsche’s rhetoric resonates with the writings of contemporaries he would have otherwise despised.” True, but we knew all that already. How many different types of readers has Nietzsche’s ‘rhetoric resonated with’? We don’t therefore conclude that all of them have got the secret, exclusive key to the truth of what Nietzsche really meant. Nietzsche’s works are full of ‘resonances’. He’s all over the place. I’m not trying to get him off the hook for saying toxic stuff. I’m saying: if you just go looking for what you want to see in Nietzsche – good or bad – you’ll find it. But that way lies serious confirmation bias.

Must. Go. Do. Actual work. Back later.

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js. 10.28.15 at 3:33 am

I am really rather hesitant to wade into this, but just one small point. Nietzsche, literally and obviously, glorifies violence. It’s not organized violence he celebrates—it’s too chaotic and purposeless for that—so it’s fair to say that it’s not the kind of thing that could really be used for colonialism, in any obvious sense. But making it all about “spiritual” this or that sounds to me like some really weak-tea Nietzsche. It’s fine if you want to read him against the grain to get something like that out of him, but it’s clearly not what he’s saying.

And none of this is to dispute the fact that Nietzsche’s an ironist.

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john c. halasz 10.28.15 at 4:44 am

It’s not that I didn’t like the paper I linked to. If I thought it bad, I wouldn’t have bothered. It’s just that I’m not particularly interested in the academic quest to read him “closely” by assembling quotations to prove that Nietzsche was *really* this or that, (usually conforming to the reader’s priors about what is good, proper and correct). I don’t think N. should be ironed out or have beauty creme applied to remove all the wrinkles, because basically N. is all wrinkles. (Someone used the term polyphonic above, a nod to Bakhtin?)

But I didn’t know that Georg Brandes not only knew of but corresponded with N. when he was still a nobody. I guess that just proves the Brandes too was an unregenerate reactionary.

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John Holbo 10.28.15 at 4:49 am

Georg Brandes not only corresponded with N. but gave the first public lectures on his philosophy. N’s intellectual break-out literally starts there (I think.)

I know nothing else about Georg Brandes.

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Rakesh Bhandari 10.28.15 at 5:16 am

“‘Nietzsche is actually affirming the cruelty and aggresiveness of imperialism.’ How do we know these? Because Nietzsche likes ‘beasts of prey’, a la Essay 1 of Genealogy and places like that. No, I’m sorry. This is weak.”
OK, got it, that’s all you can see as Holub adducing in support of his thesis.

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John Holbo 10.28.15 at 5:20 am

“OK, got it, that’s all you can see as Holub adducing in support of his thesis.”

No, there’s no need to be so defensive about this, Rakesh. Holub’s paper is interesting and obviously he’s got more than that. But this bit is conspicuously weak. And it’s a key link in the chain.

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John Holbo 10.28.15 at 5:38 am

How about this, to get us all friendly again. You be me, Rakesh. I’ll be you. What do YOU see as the biggest weakness to the Holub line, as an overall reading of the Nietzsche corpus? What is the strongest biographical/textual/historical evidence against it? I’ll say what I think are the biggest strengths of the Holub line – stuff he didn’t quote but that tends to fit with what he says. Holbo as Holub. I do agree that thinking about Nietzsche on colonialism is very interesting, a fresh angle – hence my post! – and I’m not resistant to the view that Nietzsche’s politics are downright toxic. I only doubt that this thing is a common poison rather than something more exotic. It’s downright fascinating to think about Nietzsche reading the newspapers (even as he was writing remarks, denouncing newspapers) about Germany’s late land-grab for colonies.

(I like to draw cartoons and for my first lecture I drew a picture of Napoleon on a horse, on a pile of skulls, with Nietzsche fawning over the horse’s ankle. ‘Is this our guy?’ But the cartoon for lecture 2 was way better. Socrates as Fred MacMurray in “The Absent-Minded Professor”, then “The Shaggy Dog”. Genealogy jokes, of course.)

You up for it, Rakesh? Switch sides, to snap us our of our biases?

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Rakesh Bhandari 10.28.15 at 6:01 am

That is friendly, but I don’t have mastery of these texts to be you (I am however very interested in Nietzsche’s aesthetic ideas in Birth of Tragedy and the book on his epistemology by Clark that you mentioned).

At any rate, you should take both sides. I had been reading John Merriman on the Paris Commune (well, so far, I only listened to his on-line Yale lecture) and Phillip Hoffman on European gunpowder; also had been in Paris on the way back from India this summer (paid homage to Louise Michel). So I was thinking of Franco-Prussian War and the Paris Commune and reading those Nietzsche passages with that historical context in mind, and Nietzsche seemed to me have a geopolitical vision not for Germany but for Europe on the edge of implosion. We can read him as ironic but at the same time his times were deadly serious and he seems to have been deeply troubled and sickened by the violence Europeans were visiting upon themselves.

The Marxists such as Lukacs and Losurdo seem to read Nietzsche as primarily a counterrevolutionary driven to utmost cruelty by the Paris Commune (Corey Robin seems to agree with this interpretation). I obviously think there is probably truth to this. My guess however is that the Franco-Prussian War left more of an impression on him and seemingly deeper psychological scars.

All this is to say, I’ll leave both sides of this argument to and get around to reading Merriman and Hoffman.

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Z 10.28.15 at 6:43 am

I’ll say what I think are the biggest strengths of the Holub line

How about the incredible similarity between the extract of Nietzsche’s notebook as quoted in Holub (“At least a people ought to consider […] its need for conquest […] as a right, be it with weapons […] and colonizations-a right to growth, so to speak.” but really, the complete quotation), which is unmistakably both an expression of Nietzsche’s general philosophy and a defense of a violent colonization, with Beyond Good and Evil 259, written 2 years prior (“one must think […] resist all sentimental weakness: life itself is ESSENTIALLY appropriation, injury, conquest of the strange and weak, suppression, severity, obtrusion of peculiar forms, incorporation, and at the least, putting it mildest, exploitation […] [Organizations] will endeavour to grow, to gain ground, attract to [themselves] and acquire ascendancy”)?

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anon 10.28.15 at 2:15 pm

ZedBlank @129

“Any recommendations as a good place to start for someone who isn’t all that well-versed in Nietzsche?”

Start with Twilight of the Idols–short, clear, summaries of his key mature (and closest to final that we have) views on all major topics in his work.

From there work backwards through Beyond Good and Evil, On the Genealogy of Morality, and The Gay Science (but start with section V, a separate piece added much later).

Whatever you do, don’t start with Zarathustra or Birth of Tragedy, read them last–if at all.

For secondary introductions, Kaufmann, Hollingdale, and Schacht are old but reliable. For more recent work, Julian Young’s philosophical biography is long but excellent, Leiter is a good introduction on the topic of morality, also John Richardson’s “Nietzsche’s System” and Bernard Reginster’s book.

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anon 10.28.15 at 2:32 pm

js @132

“But making it all about “spiritual” this or that sounds to me like some really weak-tea Nietzsche. It’s fine if you want to read him against the grain to get something like that out of him, but it’s clearly not what he’s saying.”

This is simply, demonstrably false if you’ve read most of his work and interpret carefully in context. It is *only* by cherry picking–indeed by “reading against the grain”!–that you can get a clear endorsement of violence. He emphasizes the *spiritual* (mental, intellectual, artistic, geistiger) so much it’s actually annoying.

Don’t take my word for it, look at the scholarly literature. Your view was once the universal one, now there are literally TWO reputable scholars out of hundreds that buy it.

Z @139

Again, there’s a huge literature on the use and abuse of that quote. But the major issue in interpreting the quote is the second half that everyone cuts out:

“but why should one for ever use precisely these words on which for ages a disparaging purpose has been stamped? Even the organization within which, as was previously supposed, the individuals treat each other as equal–it takes place in every healthy aristocracy–must itself, if it be a living and not a dying organization, do all that towards other bodies, which the individuals within it refrain from doing to each other it will have to be the incarnated Will to Power, it will endeavour to grow, to gain ground, attract to itself and acquire ascendancy– not owing to any morality or immorality, but because it LIVES, and because life IS precisely Will to Power.

…”Exploitation” does not belong to a depraved, or imperfect and primitive society it belongs to the nature of the living being as a primary organic function.”

This can’t be any more clear: he is not making a normative claim about what ought to be, but a descriptive claim about what is. Specifically he is equating life as such to exploitation.

So the point is that any activity of a living thing at all, including eating, breathing, and digesting, is essentially exploitation, so we need to reject any conception of exploitation that makes it essentially pejorative. That’s NOT an endorsement of violence (the distinction from non-violence becoming meaningless if we accept the equation of life and exploitation anyway).

To understand the normative implications, in his larger work Nietzsche is interested in promoting and enhancing human life, and so he wants to understand natural processes to understand what promotes them. And he comes to the conclusion that life is promoted through forms of resistance and struggle, through “agonistic” relations to equal opponents that have an element of “violence” to them. (Note that his favorite example is intellectual and spiritual challenge, for example his own antagonistic relation to Plato, to the church, etc.).

However, this means to promote life requires valorizing conditions most would object to as violent or forms of suffering (or at least *think* they object to, but in practice they valorize agonistic relations all the time in all sorts of harmless and beneficial ways–sports, politics, intellectual discourse, play, professional ambition, business competition, etc). So, he wants to change our concept of “exploitation” and of “life” to reject the view that resistance and conflict are *inherently* bad, so we can recognize the beneficial forms.

As for “great politics”–he’s absolutely explicit that he’s referring to *geist* again, to a war of ideas or spirits.

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Z 10.28.15 at 3:50 pm

Oh, I wouldn’t accuse Nietzsche of making normative statements, and I agree with your interpretation. But the thing is (again in the context of the OP), just like (in his views) living and abstract organisms must (in the epistemic, not deontic, sense) grow, two years later he recorded that so must (ditto) colonial empires.

And he comes to the conclusion that life is promoted through forms of resistance and struggle, through “agonistic” relations to equal opponents that have an element of “violence” to them.

Yes, and that is in my view the crucial point where he dramatically fails. Even though he is elsewhere the master at distinguishing reality and psychological impulse, on that particular point he seems to fall in his own trap and badly mistakes (one of) the interpretive grid our psyches (sometimes) impose on reality with the actual properties of Nature. And in that grave mistake, that he of all people should have avoided, lies the essential limitation of his work. It is a pity he never got to read Darwin (double checking, yep, that seems accurate), or at least Laplace (no need to double check that one).

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anon 10.28.15 at 4:11 pm

“It is a pity he never got to read Darwin”

Indeed, he could have learned much! Unfortunately, his secondary sources on Darwin seem to have misled him into assuming Darwinism was completely incompatible with his own view.

E.g., from Twilight: “Anti-Darwin. — As for the famous “struggle for existence,” so far it seems to me to be asserted rather than proved. It occurs, but as an exception; the total appearance of life is not the extremity, not starvation, but rather riches, profusion, even absurd squandering — and where there is struggle, it is a struggle for power. One should not mistake Malthus for nature.
Assuming, however, that there is such a struggle for existence — and, indeed, it occurs — its result is unfortunately the opposite of what Darwin’s school desires, and of what one might perhaps desire with them — namely, in favor of the strong, the privileged, the fortunate exceptions. The species do not grow in perfection: the weak prevail over the strong again and again, for they are the great majority — and they are also more intelligent.”

“just like (in his views) living and abstract organisms must (in the epistemic, not deontic, sense) grow, two years later he recorded that so must (ditto) colonial empires.”

Right, there’s a kind of negative normativity implied: as a matter of fact every organism, including social organisms like empires, must grow or die, so it’s senseless to (in a pragmatic sense one “ought not”) prevent it. Without endorsing it or saying we ought to promote it, he treats it as inevitable to some degree.

But it’s a loose kind of normativity: even if it’s true that as living organisms empires must grow, but in what sense and to what degree? By analogy, it would be just as silly to think an empire must grow continually in size as to think a human individual must continually grow taller or die.

In his picture of human “enhancement” he’s very clear that the kind of growth (vergrosserung) he has in mind in “higher individuals” is complexity of power–his ideal types, such as Goethe, are characterized by a wide diversity of drives and instincts, a strong tension among them, yet an overriding unifying drive that keeps them together and prevents them from making each other powerless or ineffective.

Why could not the “growth” of social organisms mirror his picture of ideal growth in individuals–increased power in the form of greater diversity and complexity? I take it this is in part his interest in the category of the European against nationalism, e.g.

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Z 10.28.15 at 6:20 pm

Thans, anon. That’s very clear and interesting.

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john c. halasz 10.28.15 at 6:21 pm

” The species do not grow in perfection: the weak prevail over the strong again and again, for they are the great majority — and they are also more intelligent.”

Just curious, what is the original German there? Specifically with that last twist, “more intelligent”?

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Anon. 10.28.15 at 6:38 pm

Has anyone read Richardson’s “Nietzsche’s New Darwinism”?

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Tyrone Slothrop 10.28.15 at 9:34 pm

@145:

Die Gattungen wachsen nicht in der Vollkommenheit: die Schwacken werden immer wieder über die Starken Herr—das macht, sie sind die grosse Zahl, sie sind auch klüger…

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john c. halasz 10.29.15 at 12:05 am

@147:

Thanks. Like I suspected the “correct” translation would be “more clever”, (though that word means something different in British rather than American English).

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Rakesh Bhandari 10.29.15 at 12:38 am

Anon,

It seems that you know Nietzsche’s work well and you are confident in your judgements, buttressed as they are by almost the entire community of reputable scholars.

Still I don’t find the logic of your claims persuasive at all.

That Nietzsche championed agonistic conflict with equals who were violently disposed is perfectly consistent with his promoting positive eugenics (breeding a new master European race) and negative eugenics (extirpating the weak in the name of life affirmation). Holub cites evidence of Nietzsche’s eugenic sympathies.

That Nietzsche hated dynastic intra-European wars and Bismarckian “great” politics is also perfectly consistent with his desire for war and a new great politics of pan-European domination, led by a new Napoleonic figure. Again there is relevant evidence in the Holub piece.

That Nietzsche had spiritual or cultural goals rather than material ones does not mean that he could not justify war, violence and global conquest in those terms. John Holbo himself has already opened this possibility.

That Nietzsche may have claimed that he was giving a value-free description of what life essentially is does not mean that his description was value-free.

That Nietzsche thought that some Europeans in particular were ill-suited for industrial work or slavery and were thus susceptible to the appeals of Socialists and Communards does not mean that he was an advocate for the rights of all workers, including those he called industrious Chinese ants.

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anon 10.29.15 at 1:48 am

halasz @148,

Yes, “clever” might be better. On one hand, he often uses”klug” as a backhanded complement of the slaves in On the Genealogy of Morals. On the other hand, he uses it describe himself in the Ecce Homo chapter usually translated as “Why I am so Wise.”

anon @146,

Richardson’s book on Nietzsche and Darwin is well-worth reading. I’m not convinced by his claim that Nietzsche’s own views are deeply influenced by his second-hand exposure to Darwin, but he does make a good case that their views are complementary, and that Nietzsche is more influenced by Darwin than he admits.

Rakesh,

Of course, the scholarly consensus doesn’t decide the matter, so it’s perfectly open for debate. But I do think it’s worth stressing that the view once thought so obvious that it needn’t be defended is no longer thought to be so. Why not err on the side of generosity–since it’s a matter of contention–and preserve the possibility of finding positive possibilities and fruitful development of his work? It’s not accidental, after all, that readers of every moral, religious, and political stripe have been inspired by Nietzsche, including many on the left. Why foreclose or dismiss that potential?

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Rakesh Bhandari 10.29.15 at 2:23 am

“It’s not accidental, after all, that readers of every moral, religious, and political stripe have been inspired by Nietzsche, including many on the left. Why foreclose or dismiss that potential?”
Yes, I know. In fact I know very well an actual postcolonialist who says she is still on the left and who loves to teach Nietzsche’s Genealogy and a bevy of writers inspired by Nietzsche–Thomas Mann, D.H. Lawrence and Aimé Césaire.
But in the present context there is no harm in thinking about Nietzsche’s idea of Europe geo-politically. I don’t think Nietzsche’s “good European” is the cosmopolitan John Holbo wants him to be. Which is not to say that the cosmopolitan ideal should be above criticism.

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js. 10.29.15 at 2:42 am

anon @141: I’ll take your word for it—I’m not a Nietzsche scholar, and I don’t plan to become one. But I do know the Genealogy quite well, and BGE a little less well, and the idea that it’s _entirely_ about some sort of geistige Aufhebung strikes as faintly bizarre (which isn’t to say that it isn’t partly or to a significant degree about that). But like I said, I’ll defer.

And to be clear: I think engaging with Nietzsche is entirely worthwhile; I’d often try to shoehorn him into my syllabi. I also think that his views are massively problematic.

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floopmeister 10.29.15 at 3:29 am

Something which I don’t have to hand either (wish I could quote the great Myles na cGopaleen about “because I feel so stupid carrying a bookcase into a bar”) is a Latin comment to the effect that people talk so much about freedom, but what most would be happy with a decent master. Same thing?

Certainly the same thing in Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor :

That day must come when men will understand that freedom and daily bread enough to satisfy all are unthinkable and can never be had together, as men will never be able to fairly divide the two among themselves. And they will also learn that they can never be free, for they are weak, vicious, miserable nonentities born wicked and rebellious… True, they are vicious and rebellious, but we will force them into obedience, and it is they who will admire us the most. They will regard us as gods, and feel grateful to those who have consented to lead the masses and bear their burden of freedom by ruling over them—so terrible will that freedom at last appear to men! Then we will tell them that it is in obedience to Thy will and in Thy name that we rule over them. We will deceive them once more and lie to them once again—for never, never more will we allow Thee to come among us. In this deception we will find our suffering, for we must needs lie eternally, and never cease to lie!

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ZedBlank 10.29.15 at 5:13 pm

anon @ 140 – Thanks for the recommendations. Advice on where to start is always appreciated.

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john c. halasz 10.30.15 at 7:51 am

Since this is a dead thread and Nietzsche is way past his “sell by” date anyway, I just want to “correct” a bit by js. @ 152. There is no “geistige Aufhebung” with N., since N. is virtually the anti-Hegel, (though I doubt he ever read him), and thoroughly anti-dialectical. Take Spinoza’s “conatus essendi” and run it though evolutionary biology and historicism and you might catch his pseudo-metaphysics. IOW there is no prospect of “sublation” into any whole of reason with N. and there is no prospect of any “final” reconciliation. Instead there is a diagnosis of conflicting and intertwined “powers” and their perspectives without end. Any “spiritual” dimension is a matter for N. , a self-declared materialist and “physiologist”, of sublimation of “instincts”. Since he’s basically a parodist and thereby chained to the very “objects” of his criticism,- (which is why he can say such seemingly outlandish and contradictory things, often in the same paragraph or even sentence, since he is analyzing/staging conflicts)- he has his definite limits, in terms of continuing revelance and use-value. But still he does serve to disrupt various forms of dogmatic “correctness”.

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bob mcmanus 10.30.15 at 11:53 am

Kathryn Schulz attacks Henry David Thoreau in the New Yorker Pond Scum Oct 19. Donovan Hohn wrote a good response in the New Republic Oct 21.

What does this have to do with Nietzsche, and the criticism above and elsewhere? Well, Thoreau and Nietzsche are wildly different in some ways (devout Christian and militant atheist) but it might be worthwhile to examine what they have in common to see what subtextual values and qualities are being devalued by way of attacks on surface vulnerabilities. In that way, we see who and what hegemony is gaining ground and feeling confidant.

Schulz is a little more overt: “The real Thoreau was, in the fullest sense of the word, self-obsessed: narcissistic, fanatical about self-control, adamant that he required nothing beyond himself to understand and thrive in the world.”

A line somewhere suspected Schulz gets really upset when she finds someone doesn’t have a facebook page. Franco Berardi notes that a loss of privacy in our social network world demands that we not only be seen, but demands that we watch and listen to the network. Listen to me.

Oh, asceticism, celibacy, and maybe even not a particular, but a general independence of thinking and living is being attacked, but not this time in the name of any mass or totalitarian ideology. More granular, more difficult to negotiate and please.

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anon 10.30.15 at 2:27 pm

“Thoreau and Nietzsche are wildly different in some ways (devout Christian and militant atheist) but it might be worthwhile to examine what they have in common”

They also have in common Emerson, whom Nietzsche adored in his youth.

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William Timberman 10.30.15 at 3:13 pm

bob mcmanus @ 156

Imagine plunking Hegel’s geistige Aufhebung down next to Thatcher’s TINA. Just for kicks, call them the high- and low-brow versions of a belief in the ultimate perfectibility of human consciousness, if not of the human societies which stubbornly continue to reflect the historical imperfections of that consciousness. (Daniel Bell and Francis Fukuyama would probably fit in here somewhere too — at the low-brow end of the scale, it goes without saying.)

If Nietzsche was mad, clearly this is the sort of juxtaposition which drove him mad. If Thoreau was a narcissist, etc, etc. Insisting in the face of such juxtapositions that we nevertheless have some contribution to make to our individual and collective destinies must eventually make mad narcissists of us all, no?

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ZedBlank 10.30.15 at 4:29 pm

@156 – A hearty 2nd to this. I thought the Schulz piece was crap, and was dismayed (but not surprised) to find a chorus of hyenas on the Twittersphere, gleeful that finally someone had put Thoreau in his place. But the responses that followed elsewhere – two (!) in the New Republic, one in the Atlantic, one in the Boston Review – made me wonder if T’s words and ideas are not lost, maybe not even badly neglected. Certainly, he’s deeply out of sync with much of the ideology of the day, and the comparison with N seems apt. In both cases, reading them comes down to a kind of careful, sustained appreciation of tone – almost anything taken out of context seems weird, if not abominable. T perhaps had the misfortune of being partially appropriated by the inspirational poster set, a dreadful fate that N never had to worry about.

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geo 10.30.15 at 5:28 pm

mcmanus@156: asceticism, celibacy, and maybe even not a particular, but a general independence of thinking and living is being attacked, but not this time in the name of any mass or totalitarian ideology. More granular, more difficult to negotiate and please.

The Schulz piece certainly was awful, and bob may be right to see a subtle ideological underpinning. What irritated me most was the crassly opportunistic contrarianism, characteristic of Slate, the Atlantic, and the former New Republic: if the right-thinking left, political or cultural, believes in something or admires someone, let’s take it/her/him down. And incidentally grab a lot of eyeballs.

I had thought the New Yorker was above that sort of thing.

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LFC 10.30.15 at 6:45 pm

What bob mcmanus @156 seem to overlook is that “the social network world” does not force anyone to listen to or to read anything. No one has to be on Twitter, Facebook, or in the blogosphere. It’s all purely optional. (Except, I suppose, for those who are making a living by their online activity, but that’s a small fraction of total users. Another exception would be blogs that have contractual arrangements with newspapers or similar outlets.)

To be a bit more specific: If X is employed as, say, an editor at The Atlantic, the magazine may expect him or her to participate in various ‘network’-like activities as, in effect, a part of his or her job; but the ordinary blogger, esp. one who is not making money from his/her blog, is under no compulsion to be on Twitter or Facebook. Many are, but not all. It remains purely optional.

The constant drumbeat of appeals to “listen to me”, “read me”, “pay attention to me” that bob mcmanus apparently perceives and finds so oppressive and annoying is a drumbeat that mostly exists only in his head. In fact, it’s all less oppressive than an unwanted solicitation call from a telemarketer. No one is forcing bob mcm. to read anything or listen to anything he does not want to, the existence of the “social network world” notwithstanding.

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LFC 10.30.15 at 6:45 pm

correction: seems to overlook

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geo 10.30.15 at 10:37 pm

LFC@161: “the social network world” does not force anyone to listen to or to read anything. No one has to be on Twitter, Facebook, or in the blogosphere.

Yes, true, there’s no coercion involved. But mcmanus didn’t say there was, just that there is a strong, continuous, omnidirectional pressure from the social environment to become part of the social media hive, which amounts to an “attack” on “a general independence of thinking and living.”

Don’t you think there’s something to that, in somewhat the same way that advertising, although not coercive, is an attack on simpler, more inner-directed way of thinking and living?

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bianca steele 10.30.15 at 11:07 pm

geo,

Do you think the people reacting to Schulz’s piece reflect the left better than her article did? A commenter near the end of this post at the S-USIH blog suggests her argument is pretty representative of the academic opinion of Thoreau for at least a few years. She doesn’t say specifically that it was the opinion on the left, but she doesn’t seem to me to say it was an anti-left position either. I wouldn’t be not surprised to see Bob McM. dissing the left, or parts of it, but I am a little surprised to see you saying Schulz was doing that.

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bob mcmanus 10.30.15 at 11:35 pm

Here’s Eric Loomis (other recent posts emphasize Loomis’s rural background) of LGM with A Defense of Thoreau Oct 28. Interesting because bianca steele comments there.

I am not particularly interested in defending Thoreau, but in trying to follow the various fashions and trends (wasn’t Nietzsche hot twenty years ago) in “The Left.” The Left actually changes, in part or whole, and forty years ago there was a “back to nature” ruralist commune part of the “Left” that found Thoreau more compatible. Now a hegemonic urbanist movement seems to be ascendant, with nature being preserved for weekend hikes and probably agribusiness, and exurban sociality being demonized.

I am not at all surprised about S-USIH.

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bianca steele 10.31.15 at 12:07 am

Bob,

I haven’t read the Schulz piece yet, I haven’t had time. I did look at Andy Seal’s post, and I usually find his posts interesting but don’t agree with them. What I’ve seen quoted from Schulz’s piece didn’t sound all that surprising, though, so I’m wondering what the big deal is supposed to be.

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LFC 10.31.15 at 12:37 am

@geo
Don’t you think there’s something to that, in somewhat the same way that advertising, although not coercive, is an attack on simpler, more inner-directed way of thinking and living?

I suppose that case could be made, yes.

But what rubs me somewhat the wrong way is bob mcm’s repeated references to what he sees as people shrieking for attention (“listen to me!” “look at me!”) in what I guess he would characterize as infantile or narcissistic ways. I just see that as coming with the territory of the internet. When there is a profusion of voices, some people are going to shriek for attention in perhaps unseemly ways. I don’t happen to have either a Facebook or a Twitter account, so am perhaps partly insulated from that (though anyone can read tweets without having an account). Btw, this has been a persistent theme of mcmanus’s here, not just in this one comment, and I decided to respond to it, not having done so up to now. But I guess it’s verging well off-topic, whether the topic is Thoreau or Nietzsche or whatever.

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LFC 10.31.15 at 1:17 am

p.s. Since Andy Seal’s post has been brought into the discussion here, I would urge people to read it for themselves. I took his main, overarching point to be that there is no single, obvious, clearly identifiable “adolescent” taste or mentality when it comes to literature, and accordingly that the use of “adolescent” as a derogatory word in these contexts is often misplaced. And that point, I think, is entirely right. The post uses the Shulz piece as a springboard for broader reflections about how we use and think about designations like “maturity” and “adolescence” (and, again, it seemed to me to make quite a lot of sense).

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geo 10.31.15 at 2:50 am

LFC: I don’t happen to have either a Facebook or a Twitter account

I take off my hat to you!

bianca: I’m wondering what the big deal is supposed to be

A lot of us think that Thoreau was a great writer and that Schulz’s attack was foolish and mean-spirited.

Not sure I understand what you’re asking about the left. Thoreau was an abolitionist and an anti-imperialist (ie, an opponent of the 1845 war on Mexico). As far as I know, he didn’t have much to say about capitalism or socialism.

As for libertarianism: I’m sure many libertarians consider him a precursor. But he lived before America was thoroughly industrialized and the rich began, with the active and indispensable assistance of the state, to grind the faces of the poor, as they’ve been doing ever since. If he had witnessed this disgraceful dispensation, I doubt he would have defended or ignored it, as most contemporary libertarians do. Instead, like Nietzsche, he would have pointed out that a system under which one could only be either a crass and brutal exploiter or one of the undernourished, ignorant, and insecure exploited could hardly be expected to produce any, much less many, heroic individuals, which was what he was interested in.

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Ronan(rf) 10.31.15 at 3:19 am

I liked this when it came out, and it might be relevant

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2007/10/29/vast-designso

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Ronan(rf) 10.31.15 at 3:21 am

My apologees for the previous dead link

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2007/10/29/vast-designs

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js. 10.31.15 at 6:46 am

@155: Yeah, “geistige Aufhebung” was a bit of a joke — funny you missed that. Thanks for the “correction”, tho.

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js. 10.31.15 at 7:03 am

That Schulz piece, maybe it’s a total hack job—my constitutional antipathy to Romanticism (and related) makes me a bad judge on these kinds of matters—but man, it’s kind of an awesome rant (even if it turns out to be wrong-headed). No?

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John Holbo 10.31.15 at 7:06 am

“Since this is a dead thread and Nietzsche is way past his “sell by” date anyway, I just want to “correct” a bit by js. @ 152.”

Well, perhaps we can give Nietzsche a commercial update, to keep with the times.

“God is past his sell by date.” – Nietzsche
“Nietzsche is past his sell by date. – john c halasz
“Some product-lines are only launched after they have expired.” – Nietzsche

Some are born posthumously. And what is an untimely meditation, after all, if not a product either past its sell-by date, or that hasn’t yet enjoyed a proper commercial launch?

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bianca steele 10.31.15 at 1:09 pm

A lot of us think that Thoreau was a great writer and that Schulz’s attack was foolish and mean-spirited.

This is childish. What year is it, 1860? Are we doing in sixth grade? Thoreau was “great” so no one better say anything negative about him!? I hope the actual arguments against her, the ones longer than a sentence, are more convincing than that, or I’m going to wish I hadn’t read them. Thoreau can have been a great writer and at the same time not thought things through, not seen what the implications of his ideas would be, said a lot of things that only a very foolish person would try to represent as wise.

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bianca steele 10.31.15 at 2:14 pm

Also, I should have said above that I “often” or “sometimes” don’t agree with Andy Seal, who I’ve been reading for a long time.

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bob mcmanus 10.31.15 at 2:26 pm

Well, Donovan Hohn in the New Republic deals with the accuracy of Schulz’s argument, but that isn’t what I am interested in so much as her style and form. So for instance starting with the distortion of Cape Cod in an effort to show callousness and sociopathy, then connected to independence and relative isolation.

And I find the association of Thoreau with libertarianism defined as “adolescence” “immaturity” or “a refusal to grow up” a little new though not entirely nor unexpected. If Schulz is of “the Left,” and it might be important to detail what part she identifies with, the labeling of her opposition as “immature” might indicate that her faction of the Left has been totally coopted into petty bourgeois conformism and domesticity and fully recapitulated Patriarchal structures into new Identitarian forms. Or could just be the third wave getting older. Or job market.

The petty bourgeois, denying the class struggle, erases history and tries to reproduce itself with traditional morality and custom.

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oldster 10.31.15 at 2:36 pm

what bianca said.

In addition, I find it hilarious to hear people making Thoreau the antithesis of Facebook and Twitter (neither of which I am on either), when in fact his published output was a constant Twitter stream and series of Facebook postings He had already published dozens of articles and tracts before Walden, and would publish many more. He went to people’s houses and ranted at them. He got himself arrested for more publicity. He tried to gain the widest public exposure he could, by every technological means available to him at the time. His life was not an example of interiority, but a constant “me, me, listen to me!” Your friend on Facebook updates you every time the contractors make progress on their kitchen remodel–Thoreau wants you to know how many nails he salvaged from lumber.

Like the most boorish Facebook blabbers, Thoreau is confident that the minutiae of his life must be fascinating to the wider world, simply because it is *his* life.

Schulz is not critiquing Thoreau because she hates asceticism, interiority, and privacy; she is critiquing him because he is such a pathetically bad exponent of those virtues.

All of that said: there are valuable things in Thoreau, and I have occasionally enjoyed spending time in his company. But if he gets on Twitter one more time to announce to the world how authentic, independent, and alone he is, I’m going to get seriously irritated.

“No, I said, I’M ALONE! Why isn’t everyone listening to me?”

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geo 10.31.15 at 4:25 pm

bianca@175: The question you asked was not “Why is Schulz wrong?” but “Why is this a big deal?” Hohn and Seal (the only two responses I’ve read so far) make perfectly clear, in the kindest possible way, why she’s wrong about virtually everything. I don’t have much to add to them. The reason it matters is that Thoreau’s writing is one of the chief spiritual resources of American culture and one of the few available wellsprings of cultural renewal in our present morass of conformist and consumerist decadence.

oldster: Do you really think there’s no difference in quality between a typical tweet or Facebook post and Thoreau’s essays, journals, and Walden? And I’m curious: who would you say is a good exponent of the virtues of asceticism, interiority, and privacy?

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oldster 10.31.15 at 4:52 pm

geo: vast differences, of course. Thoreau never limited himself to 140 characters, to begin with. But though the quality of his prose may be better, the manic attention-grabbing boosterism is the same.

Of course the very act of *expounding* privacy is problematic, so exponents will be hard to find. The best *exemplars* will be mute inglorious Miltons, I suppose. Or authors of journals never meant to be read. Perhaps a poet who wrote copiously, but remained practically unpublished during her own life. A poet so private that most of her acquaintances never knew she wrote. She might have thought it was hilarious to sit on the edge of a pond and bellow all the time–she might even have made a loud-mouthed pond-dweller the very type of publicity.

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Rakesh Bhandari 10.31.15 at 5:08 pm

182

ZedBlank 10.31.15 at 5:26 pm

Like the most boorish Facebook blabbers, Thoreau is confident that the minutiae of his life must be fascinating to the wider world, simply because it is *his* life.

I would say that this is exactly what Thoreau doesn’t do, and what, among with many other things, distinguishes him from your average Facebook “blabber.” He wrote a great deal about WHY the details of his life, including his copious observations, ought to be relevant. That seems to me to be pretty evident.

@ 173 but man, it’s kind of an awesome rant (even if it turns out to be wrong-headed). No?

Yes – and I think this was precisely the point. It’s very readable, and to borrow a phrase of Schulz, could probably described as “takedown porn.” I also think it’s very wrong-headed, even to the point of incoherence. For instance, I think the whole charge that Thoreau basically appeals to an adolescent sensibility is undermined repeatedly by her claims that he was basically a neurotic Puritan who hated all the fun things in life: sex, coffee, eating, socializing (except she notes repeatedly that he was not a true recluse, had friends, visited people all the time, etc.) and, crucially, humor.

The piece isn’t much more than a slew of zingers strung together, and it culminates with the coup de grace of comparing Thoreau to Ayn Rand. This brings up the political element again, a good indication for who she is trying to reach: youngish, liberalish people who read the NYer and know that Ayn Rand = bad.

Not that such a message is consciously the point, just that, as Marx might’ve had it, it’s market forces at work. What, coming over ol’ Remnick’s transom, is more likely to get a go-ahead: a careful, nuanced piece about how Thoreau might still be relevant to us, in this age of speed and virtual living, or a ripping takedown about how Thoreau was a proto-Ayn Rand? Unfortunately, I think we have our answer.

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geo 10.31.15 at 5:51 pm

it’s market forces at work. What, coming over ol’ Remnick’s transom, is more likely to get a go-ahead: a careful, nuanced piece about how Thoreau might still be relevant to us, in this age of speed and virtual living, or a ripping takedown about how Thoreau was a proto-Ayn Rand? Unfortunately, I think we have our answer.

Exactly.

184

bianca steele 10.31.15 at 6:28 pm

geo,

Those are big claims, but statements like you make @179 are certainly persuasive.

185

F. Foundling 10.31.15 at 8:51 pm

In thread after thread, I’m baffled by the lengths to which supposed leftist intellectuals will go to defend Nietzsche. Leaving aside the stuff cited in the post, the rabid anti-egalitarianism of passages like Human, All Too Human 439 and 442 (not to mention the whole argument in The Genealogy of Morals) is completely incompatible with any sort of leftism worth the name. Waving such things away as ‘irony’ or ‘excentricity’ not to be taken literally reminds me of the equally unconvincing way in which people defend passages in the Bible. I suspect the tolerance of this sort of thing has something to do with to the fact that ‘leftishness’ and elitism both happen to be widespread in the intellectual milieus of many countries. And some ‘leftist intellectuals’ are really much, much more committed to their status and identity as intellectuals than to leftism.

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bob mcmanus 11.01.15 at 12:55 am

185:”The exteriorization of virtue was but the symbol of man’s alienation
from his political world. It was, ironically, the end product of centuries of Stoic
and Christian criticism now couched in the language of realism.”

Sheldon Wolin on Machiavelli

That should be enough, but…even the most slavish adherence to tradition or local custom or the proletariat is seen from inside as a choice, and all Thoreau and Nietzsche and most other ethical thinkers would have you do would be to own that choice, to recognize that no matter what happens to the rest of you, your conscience is never a victim of circumstance.

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geo 11.01.15 at 1:42 am

mcmanus-san: here’s a new book on Japan that may interest you: http://artsfuse.org/136125/fuse-book-review-neurotic-beauty-japanese-therapeutics/.

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john c. halasz 11.01.15 at 4:03 am

@185:

Umm… because Nietzsche was an astute diagnostician and un-masker of mechanisms of domination in their various guises, (which is not the same thing as being a narrowly political philosopher or theorist). Unless you think that leftism amounts to simplistic egalitatianism, and that an egalitarian society would be perfectly free of power-relations. and that egalitarianism is a purely moral imperative, a matter of imposing such norms sine qua non, and that such normative pretensions can’t mis-carry, etc. As I’ve implied above, I think that there are definite limits to N. and his”usefulness”, that many of the basic points that were once prescient have been accepted and worked through philosophically since and better and elsewhere, and that there is a certain odor of the late 19th century about him. Though his resistance to any assimilation into prevailing orthodoxy, even if in the name of excessive individualism, still holds some power-of-example. And his irony, ie. his absurdity, is equally born out of a sense of horror at the conditions of the prevailing world, as from taking any distance from it.

What I would reject is any attempt to assimilate N. to current academic norms, to make him out as a systematic philosopher, let alone a metaphysician, rather than a critic of such, to see him as a modern scientific naturalist rather than equally lambasting any such reduction, least of all, though an outrider of the contemporaneous rise of neo-Kantianism and positivism, to attempt to assimilate him to such academic philosophy, (as if one can’t distinguish between a real fake and a fake real).

Yes, Nietzsche’s work has its inadequacies and normative deficiencies. But so does the real world and much else. Better to direct one’s efforts elsewhere, more currently, rather than just reacting to him with self-righteous outrage, as if that were accomplishing anything.

js. @172:

Sorry I missed your joke. I took it as a “grammatical” solecism. Such are the hazards of this terrain…

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