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One doesn't have to agree with everything a given person says to recognize and appreciate their insights: Indeed, in the case of Friedrich Nietzsche, taking the entirety of his works as a whole rather than cherry-picking whatever suits us and ignoring or deriding the rest would be anathema to the point of his philosophy.  One doesn't cite Nietzsche as an authority, but rather wields his statements as a weapon, depending only on their intrinsic weight to be effective.  Such is part of their attraction and, for some on the left more concerned with appearance than substance, part of what inspires revulsion.

I.  "You Keep Using That Word: I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means".

Nietzsche has a negative reputation among liberals, and the reasons are understandable though mistaken: Most prominently, certain phrases (e.g., "will to power") are historically associated with Nazism, Fascism, anti-Semitism, and ultra-right-wing politics, despite the man's vocal attacks on their 19th-century precursors as mendacious and perverse:

After I read the name Zarathustra1 in the anti-Semitic Correspondence my forbearance came to an end.  I am now in a position of emergency defense against [Bernhard Forster's] Party.  These accursed anti-Semite deformities shall not sully my ideal!!


1 As per the title of his work, Thus Spoke Zarathustra (1883-85).

In fact, Nazism was not an illustration of "will to power" so much as an imbalanced and incredibly unlucky special case: Namely, that of bigoted psychotics being filled with energy and will while people with a more noble potential failed to realize it.  The German opponents of Nazism lacked any sort of unifying vision, and some were opposed precisely because they feared change of any kind: Some were moderates who were more opposed to the radical nature of Nazism than to its specific claims and intentions; others were Communists who appeared to offer little more than vassalage to Moscow; and any whom we would recognize as liberal democrats were rendered impotent by the lack of any kind of clear public consensus.

"Power," in this sense, has nothing to do with the domination of other people, but is rather a qualitative state of creative potential.  Kennedy's assertion that "we choose to go to the Moon" would be an example of this principle in action: He is saying that America is undertaking the most fantastic adventure in human history on the basis of an arbitrary decision and an exercise of will.  A more commonplace statement would have been to claim necessity, and insist "we must go to the Moon," but instead JFK claimed it was entirely by choice.  The effect of this emphasis on the social impact of the Apollo program cannot be overstated.

Every time you ignore cultural norms to make a statement simply because it's true, create something simply because it's beautiful, or do something because it's your sense that doing it is right, you are asserting a will to power.  You are neither seeking approval nor deliberately trying to antagonize anyone: You are making a statement, and it either stands or falls by the nature inherent in it.  Conversely, every time you do something purely in service to tradition, expectation, or the demands of others, you are engaging in an abdication of life.  

This is what Nietzsche means when he distinguishes between will and weakness, and the distinction forms the basis of his conception of Ubermensch (or superman): Not someone who can dominate weaker people, but whom weak people will instinctively react to either positively or negatively rather than finding their own visions.  From this perspective, Gandhi and King have as much claim to the term as people like Caesar and Hitler.  Just think of Ubermensch as a bombastic synonym for "leadership" in its most distilled and potent form.  


II.  Views on Pacifism

Pacifism doesn't work.  Now, that isn't to say it's never a successful tactic to let your enemies attack you, or even to pretend that you are doing so out of a higher moral framework than political expediency, but actually believing as a consistent ideology that it is always better not to defend yourself is clearly a recipe for extinction.  First, human beings are animals - a fact with no moral weight one way or another - so if it makes no sense to allow yourself to be eaten by a tiger, it makes no more sense (under most circumstances) to allow yourself to be attacked by another person.  Just imagine if your immune system decided to try pacifism: How long would that seem like a good idea?

But, you may ask, what about Jesus, Gandhi, and King?  In the case of Christianity, it doesn't appear that the self-sacrifice of Jesus (whether mythological or factual is irrelevant) made the spread of its cult any more potent than the vast array of other popular cults in the late Roman world with similar "miracles" attributed to them.  Rather, the signal event that elevated it from the pack was its adoption by Constantine, and occultish use of its symbol (the Chi Rho) as a talisman for victory in battle: A pattern that would be repeated many times in its adoption by other kings and warlords in the Dark Ages (e.g., Clovis).  In other words, the actual teachings have never, by themselves, changed anything.

Yes, Christianity inspired much of the Abolitionist movement, but nothing came of it until people started killing each other over the question.  The North triumphed because enslaving others makes people lazy and unimaginative, and the South had been set in its ways for so long that it couldn't deal with the dynamism of the North: All it could do was react.  The same was true with the question of segregation: The Civil Rights movement served a purpose by focusing attention on the subject, but only the force of federalized National Guard troops and FBI agents actually decided the issue.

Ditto for the Indian independence movement: The heroic sacrifices of the Indian people were effective only because Britain had a free press and the British people had an elected government that responded to their sentiments.  In isolation - i.e., if India had been occupied by a totalitarian country, or if the British people were lazy bigots like antebellum US Southerners rather than people who prided themselves on a sense of fair play - their sacrifices would have led nowhere, and the imperial governors would have been content to kill everyone who so much as looked at them cross-eyed.  

Against such governments, or against a tyrant internal to India, Gandhi's tactics would likely have been futile.  But instead they were effective because of centuries of brutal struggle within England whereby political power, due to whatever arbitrary set of factors, slowly dissipated from absolute monarchy to a parliamentary system overseen by an increasingly ceremonial throne.  Gandhi, therefore, can be seen as a kind of anti-Hitler: He provided a vision, and the only antagonistic visions that would have been strong enough to crush him (e.g., total extermination of him and his followers) were so contrary to British culture that it had no comparative resonance.

But how many nameless Gandhis have perished from the world for living and dying in cultures that had no compunction about filling shallow graves with large numbers of innocent people?  How many nameless Christs have walked to their crosses only to be instantly forgotten along with everything they ever stood for?  So pacifism in itself is not powerful or compelling: But people who can see the right time and the right place for it while providing a vision behind it can be something special.  

Nietzsche didn't personally like the idea, but it can easily be reconciled with his philosophy if seen as what, in fact, it is: A feint.  An artful and justified hypocrisy, if you will.  While serenely marching into the batons of the imperial police, Gandhi implicitly held out the specter of the violent revolutionaries whom his successes held in check.  While facing the dogs, the firehoses, and the bricks of the Southern police, and being perceived as David facing Goliath, the Civil Rights marchers brought down the US Army on their side.


III.  Master vs. Slave Morality

The terms in which Nietzsche makes this distinction are fraught with danger for an American political discussion: He calls morality that originates with the inherent creativity of the person acting on it "master morality," and that which merely rationalizes existing conditions "slave morality."  This does not in any way attempt to justify slavery or imply that people who hold certain beliefs are entitled to rule others, but is rather intended as an analogy: That "master morality" is the product of people who own themselves, and "slave morality" the product of people who can only parrot or attack others rather than discovering their own way.

Contrary to the iconography of Nazism, Nietzsche's antithesis of the Ubermensch is not "Untermensch" - he conceives of no such thing, because ultimately everyone who isn't active in creating their world is just a product of their environment, and can no more be blamed for the particulars of their lives than they would deserve credit for randomly following someone else's good ideas.  Rather, he conceives of the "Last Man" - the final byproduct of an exhausted civilization that is no longer animated by creativity, whose sole concerns are comfort, security, and entertainment devoid of passion or yearning.

The Last Man is the final outcome of Slave Morality, because it only applies itself to neutralizing fear, pain, and discomfort without stoking the imagination.  For a while, a civilization on this path is focused on the past, because the past is safer and less challenging than the future: It becomes preoccupied with preserving "heritage" while neglecting new ideas, and with singing paeans to its own past glories while becoming increasingly timid or dismissive when confronted by new opportunities.  

People who don't fit that mold - even when their projects are unimpeachably humanitarian - are initially ignored, but increasingly come to be seen as offensive, obnoxious, and dangerous, when in earlier eras they would have been celebrated.  For instance, a wealthy philanthropist who decides to set up a job training center and a factory with well-paying, high-benefit jobs in a poor area would be resented by his peers as some kind of demagogue for making them look bad in comparison, while even the community he is helping to rebuild would see him as "arrogant" or "culturally insensitive."  These attitudes would be the same (if not worse) if the initiative came from a government program.

Of course, there's nothing inherently wrong with a nice, pleasant, safe society that has neither great problems or great dreams.  The catastrophe comes from the fact that nature abhors a vacuum, and where civilization fails to advance, it will tend to retreat: If the highly educated, humane, and competent people have all become pallid creatures of habit who can't wake up enough to respond creatively to their world, their society is doomed.  No matter how effectively they've mitigated the banal problems, sooner or later they will be smacked in the face by something (or someone) out of the ordinary, and weak, brittle people will just shatter in the face of such anima.

This, I think, is what happened to both Germany and France in WW2: Both the conquered and the conqueror were degenerate.  Sure, there had been good ideas floating around both societies before the Nazis took over the former and the latter surrendered to them, but no one was doing anything with those ideas - they were the stuff of cafe conversation rather than the work of practical people.  And both countries knew it.  

Both of their responses were classic examples of a zombie civilization: Germany, rather than doing anything to solve its problems, decided it would be more fun to blame someone else and devote all their national resources to murdering them.  France, confronted with its neighbor-turned-demonic-idiot, decided it would be more comfortable to give in than lose their artistic treasures and have to suffer the deprivations of resistance.  The few who initially did resist fought a lonely struggle for much of the war before their countrymen decided the Germans had overstayed their welcome.

These are both illustrations of Last Man societies: Blind, wanton destructiveness in lieu of any substantive program, and blind, dismissive surrender to one's environment in lieu of the passion to shape it.  Germany could have immediately devoted itself to revolutionizing transportation through the Volkswagen and autobahn; it could have immediately set to work on cutting-edge aviation and rocketry for economic, scientific, and other aspirational purposes; it could have plumbed the depths of the sea and the heights of the sky, and dreamed big dreams that made the world gasp in admiration.  But it didn't.  France could have built on the dreams of Jules Verne and done likewise; it could have built things that made the Eiffel tower look petty; but it didn't.

Now, perhaps you are seeing signs of this kind of exhaustion in American civilization, and that's perfectly justified: Without a frontier and virgin continent to feed boundless optimism, we find our society struggling for a meaningful principle of inspiration (see my earlier diary, Space Is America's Purpose).  But throughout history, there have been periods of malaise followed by explosively creative change, so it doesn't necessarily follow that ours is terminal.  

Nietzsche, to his credit, does not articulate the Last Man as the endpoint of civilization, but the endpoint of decline - the Last Man is he who precedes Ubermensch.  In other words, the social and psychological forces that animate a culture slowly return to a state of placid equilibrium - to a calm, featureless surface - and then something that is from outside that surface, or that is independent of it, acts upon it and disturbs the surface again.

So, if we can extend his individualistic philosophy to entire societies - something he himself would have strenuously objected to (but then who cares what a dead man thinks) - we can perhaps say that the United States of America was (and perhaps may some day be again) Europe's Ubermensch.  Hitler, on the larger scale, can therefore be seen as a Last Man because he destroyed European civilization as part of an impotent, flailing reaction to the weakness of Germany, and America as the Ubermensch whose vision resurrected it.


IV.  Views on Democracy

Nietzsche didn't think very highly of democracy: In fact, he utterly despised it, and that element of his writings may instantly discredit his worldview in the opinion of some liberals.  But I think his feelings on this account may have largely been due to the limited German / Continental conception of democracy prevalent in the 19th century.  German society was already highly ordered and ideological, so democracy just tended to unleash base impulses that had been brought under control through different means in earlier eras (e.g., anti-Semitism).  Had he been personally aware of societies that had naturally evolved democracy, and been enlivened by it, his view may have been different.

To put it another way, his experience would largely have been with the Platonic/statist versions of any given type of government, including French and English democracy, and not with Lockian (or proto-Lockian) versions that would depend on the strength and creativity of their citizenry to function.  

American liberalism, unlike much of European social democracy, is much more concerned with ensuring that hard work and creativity are fairly rewarded rather than pursuing an egalitarian ideal: We consider it more important to guarantee access and opportunity against unchecked accumulation of resources than to keep everyone living in similar circumstances for the sake of cultural solidarity.  This, I think, is quite in line with the Nietzschean ideal, and the American liberal conception of democracy is very nurturing to individual genius.

It is not, as it may appear, in order to maintain weak people that we believe in the kinds of support that we do: Rather, we recognize the complex ways in which market economics can stifle and undermine the potential contributions of some people, and strive to correct for the externalized costs that ultimately sabotage everyone if left unaddressed.


V.  Nietzsche & Liberalism

Even if we set aside the above arguments, Nietzscheanism is regarded with far more suspicion among liberals than philosophies that are much more damaging to humanist ideals and democratic society.  Plato and Confucius were both proponents of a mythological, and apparently unobtainable "virtuous tyranny" whereby the meritorious magically rise to absolute power, and everyone does as they are told by these exemplary authorities.  Yet think of their relative reputations: Plato and Confucius are considered innocuous or even progressive, while Nietzsche is ironically identified with fascism despite having one of the most fertile philosophies for liberalism.

Now, there are undoubtedly some strains of the egalitarian in American liberalism, and also some strains of authoritarianism on the left, but unlike in Europe they are not primary influences: The freedom (in both the positive and negative senses) of a person to fully realize their potential is primary.  It is a lonelier sensibility, but also a more productive one so long as the people are energetic and imaginative.

Take the Teutonic bombast out of Nietzsche, and you've basically got Buddha with a mischievous sense of humor.  If we were more aware of such a philosophy, there might be less impotent hand-wringing, less infantile blame-mongering, and more active implementation of ideas in our community.


FYI - the closest pronunciation of Nietzsche that uses sounds familiar to the native English speaker would be "Nee-chuh," not "Nee-chee."  This is not important, but the latter pronunciation is annoying.

Originally posted to Troubadour on Tue Jan 26, 2010 at 03:50 PM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (26+ / 0-)

    "What is great in Man is that he is a bridge and not an end." - Friedrich Nietzsche

    by Troubadour on Tue Jan 26, 2010 at 03:50:37 PM PST

    •  BTW (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Troubadour, JoanMar

      there was a news article a few days ago about evidence that Niezsche's crazy Nazi sister had invented his anti-Semitism after his death (which was decades before the 1930s elections).

      I'm not biased in favor of Nietzsche, and lord knows other brilliant philosophers seemingly capable of objectivity were nonetheless suckers for paranoid anti-semitism.

      (-7.00, -6.21) Jobs, Liberty, Peace.

      by Nulwee on Tue Jan 26, 2010 at 05:33:34 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  I don't see him the way you do. (7+ / 0-)

    Take the Teutonic bombast out of Nietzsche, and you've basically got Buddha with a mischievous sense of humor.  

    "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." Margaret Mead

    by TomP on Tue Jan 26, 2010 at 03:54:10 PM PST

  •  You provoked my thoughts. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Troubadour, psilocynic

    Nietzsche for Liberals

    Sorry, I know you worked hard on the diary, but I didn't read it.  I was so struck by the appropriateness of the headline after the events of the past week.  

    My initial take was:  "(Our Liberal) God is dead."

  •  I thought Foucault (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jeff in nyc, Troubadour, psilocynic

    Was Nietzsche for liberals? (jk)

    In all seriousness, I think you seriously misread Master/Slave morality to the point of this diary being fundamentally flawed.

    •  How so? (0+ / 0-)

      "What is great in Man is that he is a bridge and not an end." - Friedrich Nietzsche

      by Troubadour on Tue Jan 26, 2010 at 04:05:22 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I think (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        you are saying that one with "master morality" is a creative actor, and one with "slave morality" does not contribute creatively to a culture, only perpetuates what is already accepted.

        Some would interpret "master morality" as being creatively and mindfully acting to achieve certain results while "slave morality" would be more concerned with "good" acts.

        "If religion is the opiate of the masses, then fundamentalism is the amphetamine." Miz Vittitow

        by MillieNeon on Tue Jan 26, 2010 at 04:13:14 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Yes, that is more in line with the exact wording (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          but I'm interpreting.  Nietzsche saw the slave moralities arose from people who had no power over their situation in order to rationalize viewpoints that would help them psychologically while perpetuating their problems.

          "What is great in Man is that he is a bridge and not an end." - Friedrich Nietzsche

          by Troubadour on Tue Jan 26, 2010 at 04:54:03 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

    •  I think Foucault is nihilistic, pretty opposite (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      jlynne, brenda, Troubadour

      to N.

      •  Why? (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        jeff in nyc, Troubadour

        Because he's an antihumanist structuralist? I don't think that makes him a nihilist, and if it does, what's so wrong with that? His later care of the self stuff is certainly not nihilist.

        As for Master/Slave.. You're missing the whole element of Christianity. I'm just going to quote, and I hope Troubadour will see how simple his understanding is.

        "The slave revolt in morality begins when ressentiment itself becomes creative and gives birth to values: the ressentiment of natures that are denied the true reaction, that of deeds, and compensate themselves with an imaginary revenge. While every noble morality develops from a triumphant affirmation of itself, slave morality from the outset says No to what is "outside," what is "different," what is "not itself"; and this No is its creative deed. This inversion of the value-positing eye—this need to direct one's view outward instead of back to oneself—is of the essence of ressentiment; in order to exist, slave morality always first needs a hostile external world; it needs, physiologically speaking, external stimuli in order to act at all—its action is fundamentally reaction."

        "Supposing that what is at any rate believed to be the "truth" really is true, and the meaning of all culture is the reduction of the beast of prey "man" to a tame and civilized animal, a domestic animal, then one would undoubtedly have to regard all those instincts of reaction and ressentiment through whose aid the noble races and their ideals were finally confounded and overthrown as the actual instruments of culture; which is not to say that the bearers of these instincts themselves represent culture. Rather is the reverse not merely probable—no! today it is palpable! These bearers of the oppressive instincts that thirst for reprisal, the descendants of every kind of European and non-European slavery, and especially of the entire pre-Aryan populace—they represent the regression of mankind! These "instruments of culture" are a disgrace to man and rather an accusation and counterargument against "culture" in general! One may be quite justified in continuing to fear the blond beast at the core of all noble races and in being on one's guard against it: but who would not a hundred times sooner fear where one can also admire than not fear but be permanently condemned to the repellent sight of the ill-constituted, dwarfed, atrophied, and poisoned? And is that not our fate? What today constitutes our antipathy to "man"?—for we suffer from man, beyond doubt."

        Nietzsche sees in the Jews and Christians weakness that has conquered strength, and that strength isn't simply this cute, banal creativity of Liberalism. Nietzsche is powerfully transgressive and trying to slot him into insipid Liberalism is a task he would very much reject.

        •  I'm using Nietzsche's definition of Nihilism, (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Alkibiades, Troubadour, bryker

          which is appropriate, given our context here. I see Foucault as part of the negative moment of nihilism (basically continuing, in some ways, the active nihilism of Nietzsche.) Yeah, there's nothing LOL "wrong" with that. However, Nietzsche imagined that moment of nihilism as something to get out of the way and get past (psychologically, individually)in a way he, perhaps, did not.

          •  Where (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            jeff in nyc, Troubadour

            Does Nietzsche define nihilism? It's bad that I can't remember-I taught him last semester.

            •  Nihilism in the negative moment, e.g., as (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Troubadour, bryker

              Well, he does a hundred times, often in contradictory ways, which are essential to the problem. I should not have been so reckless in throwing out the term, especially as I'm not prepared to give my own exegesis right now. In may ways Foucault is a hero of anti-nihilism, just as was Nietzsche. Also, like Nietzsche, he failed to achieve transformation--though I suppose that would be counted a failure only by Nietzsche.

              Historical Nihilism, "The Problem", is df. as the "untenability of existence when it comes to the highest values one recognizes" (WZM, Kaufman translation, I.3). This is the diagnostic sense of nihilism as the disease, an overcoming of which is the main Nietzschean project.

              There's a bunch of these attempts at a formulation, one attempts to digest the Schopenhauerian sense and emerge with an affirmative sense later. The rejection by Foucault of such an affirmation--as exemplified by The Enlightenment--is, in my sense, nihilistic.

              Hey, this is getting too hard for me. I enjoyed it, especially after so much bad news and pity-partying.

  •  My favorite story about Fred (8+ / 0-)

    is that one day his secretary peeped through the keyhole of his office and saw him dancing around naked. You have to like a guy like that.

  •  May I contribute my insight? (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Troubadour, ohmyheck

    The Song of Cowboy Hank Vogelfrei From the Heights
    of the Cosmic System to the Effect That

    Nietzsche is peachy!
    Kant aint so keen!
    As on heaven's gate
    We insouciantly lean.
    All you attempters
    You know what we mean!

    He's on tonight!
    He's come tonight!
    And, by God, he is burning
    With hyperboreal light!
    And says just two words.
    The words are: "Not quite."
    Amd lends a little sang froid
    To the numinous void.
    And a little sang-froid
    To the glutinous schwa.

    I see by my outfit that I am a cowboy.
    I see by your outfit that you are one too.
    We see by our outfits that we are both cowboys.
    If you get an outfit, you can be one too.

    Fade to black to strains of "Sweet Home Alabama

    •  Nice, but I don't get it. (0+ / 0-)

      "What is great in Man is that he is a bridge and not an end." - Friedrich Nietzsche

      by Troubadour on Tue Jan 26, 2010 at 04:16:18 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Let me begin with my definition (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        of deconstruction and my interpretation of my definition in the lights of Nietzsche as interpreted by Giles Deleuze.

        Deconstruction:  The L'espacement of the
        Aufhebung that ravishes -- under a "false" appearance -- absence that --
        tourjours deja perdu -- re-presents itself as the copula between
        Being and Becoming.

        This definition is, of course, post-festum.

        My post-festum explication of just the first five words of my defintion.

        This here definition begins with the really nice mockery of a certain copula --
        and is really what is required.  Off we go to Nietzsche for the
        earnest joke that is Aufbehung -- a sly hint at often hung --
        a quick glance at the crucifixion then quickly back to the supplement
        -- the fine excess -- of the two "thes" -- the sturdy Anglo-Saxon "the"
        and its shield wall and the French "L" -- the woman -- the Norman invader
        that supplements the "the" (we are talking about the Norman invasion
        here -- Hastings -- the beginning of English) that -- I say --
        supplements the "the" but... actually forces it out -- the point of
        "espacement" -- so now the suspicion that what is really meant
        is Lebensraum and so a gulf is opened between the French and the
        German -- a little WW1 -- an abyss but also a trench and who WHO
        charges across the no-man's land but the doughty English possessive
        "of" and the most definite definite Austin-like definite article "the."

        So here in five words that begin the definition we have a summary
        of 1000 years of history and literature as well as a reflection
        on the fate (or fatum) of the transcendental ego.
        For the rest let look who will.

        (You, of course, recognize that this last sentence is from that moment
        in the Telemachus episode of "Ulysses" when Stephen masturbates while
        gazing on the scrotum-tightening sea and realize that this sentence
        gaily undercuts the definition and suspect that what is really meant
        is dancing with Katey Keogh with her ass and garden and that the definition
        is now placed somewhere near "he laid the dry snot picked from his
        nostril on a ledge of rock, carefully." ( Seabedabbled and is, at least, of a various color that is significant of a degree of vitality.)

        Perhaps, in this little instance, I am the only reader to penetrate
        the limits of the diaphane.

        •  Reminds me of this excerpt from "Jihad" (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Troubadour, john keats

          7 1/2. That which we cannot speak of we must point to screaming.
          "So what else is new?" yawned Someone.
          "Here am I not though I am present," spake young Borneo.
          The Creative Logos said in reply to them: Through woman/Not man against who ye object Aza and Azael, shall ye yeselves fall and lose your glory/? and state as it is written: The sea the final the free the lessons the story the world the madness the virus the cancer the world the 1930s the infection the fever the new the appetite the next the same the world the Third the same the Kremlin the United States the steady the same the administration the struggle the way the present the lessons the word the punchline, love, the author."
          "I am remade of my own making," bragged little Borneo Again, "to a certain extent of course depending on historical conditions and economic opportunity and stamina and air quality."
          Just because I want to Asshole.
          Let's see. I think I'll be a Goddess today.
          "As," warned Rabbi Simeon, "the father-god El says in an Ugaritic mythical poem . . . 'there is no restraint among goddesses!"
          "If that were true, you'd be dead," little Borneo informed El father-god.

          The Wicked Virgin:
          "We are informed in the Zohar," continued Rabbi Simeon unable to stop himself, "that she/virgin is a cup full of blessing of which nobody has as yet tasted, unimpaired (hint: Not virgin/impaired), identical with the Holy Land and she/-2 was never defiled or enjoyed by a stranger!"

          "If religion is the opiate of the masses, then fundamentalism is the amphetamine." Miz Vittitow

          by MillieNeon on Tue Jan 26, 2010 at 04:36:26 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

        •  Too rich for my blood. (0+ / 0-)

          Continue amongst yourselves.

          "What is great in Man is that he is a bridge and not an end." - Friedrich Nietzsche

          by Troubadour on Tue Jan 26, 2010 at 04:57:19 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

        •  Post festivus you say? (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          I think it's a requirement of continental philosophy that a good 20% of it be complete gibberish. Writing clearly would bring an end to one's career.

          There is a great deal of pain in life and perhaps the only pain that can be avoided is the pain that comes from trying to avoid pain. - R.D. Laing

          by brenda on Tue Jan 26, 2010 at 05:11:02 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  I think Nietzsche has long since been (8+ / 0-)

    rehabilitated amongst liberals, and rescued by good scholarship some decades back from unfair associations and his nasty sister's ideology. I don't run into a lot of objections to Nietzsche's thought in general and I move in pretty liberal circles (when I manage to move at all.)

  •  Zeitgeist is a necessary gloss... (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    kalmoth, Troubadour, Alec82

    or translation for any philosophy.  In our country the idea of "volk" of people, or race/nation is in such disrepute that it is not part of any extant mindset.  

    It's been said that Hitler did not represent the risk that Stalin did to the democracies since he didn't have a coherent world ideology to advance.  So, he was considered the lesser of the two evils by more groups than we now acknowledge.

    Race, and power, and "volk" was interconnected in Nietzsche, or that part of him that was absorbed into the Nazi ideology.  Part of the American ethos is that war and conflict is an aberration, one that can be eliminated by something...fairness, diplomacy, compromize.  Actually we are a bit vague, but we believe it.

    Those in earlier eras had no such expectation.  Geo-politics meant conflict, and those with power would prevail, while those without it would become subordinate to those with such a "will to power."

    Our country has managed to exert quite a bit of raw power, while maintaining the myth that it's really not who we are.  Well, in many ways we did live this belief.  After WWII we did actually liberate our Axis enemies, to the point that they now have a higher standard of living than we do.  Was it altruism, or the existing communist threat?

    Interesting diary and provocative subject.


    •  There's a lingering... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      ....concept of "ethnos" that's revived every once in a while, even in our immigrant society.  Still, I don't think that's really fundamental to Nietzsche.  

      It's the policy, stupid

      by Alec82 on Tue Jan 26, 2010 at 04:19:05 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  The lesson of two evils (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      It's been said that Hitler did not represent the risk that Stalin did to the democracies since he didn't have a coherent world ideology to advance.  So, he was considered the lesser of the two evils by more groups than we now acknowledge.

      Yeah, with Stalin they get anti-capitalism. With Hitler they get anti-semitism, anti-gay, and racism. No wonder they say Hitler as the lesser of two evils.

      "If religion is the opiate of the masses, then fundamentalism is the amphetamine." Miz Vittitow

      by MillieNeon on Tue Jan 26, 2010 at 04:21:10 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Nietzsche appeared to see race as a petty subject (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      kalmoth, geez53, bryker

      and those preoccupied with it as ignorant, childish yokels obsessed with trivia.  At least, that is, with the Nazi conception of race as blood.  I think his own conception of race was more influenced by the Mediterranean viewpoint - race as a social phenomenon (i.e., culture).

      "What is great in Man is that he is a bridge and not an end." - Friedrich Nietzsche

      by Troubadour on Tue Jan 26, 2010 at 04:24:46 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Where's Marcion? (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Troubadour, Alec82

    He's DKos 's favorite Nietzschian.  Well, mine anyway.....

    I'd like to watch you and Marcion debate this topic.

    AS long as I have a glass of single-malt scotch and a cigar......

    The person who says it cannot be done should not interrupt the person who is doing it.

    by ohmyheck on Tue Jan 26, 2010 at 04:16:46 PM PST

  •  What doesn't make one stronger (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Troubadour, cylonbabe

    might kill ya.

    Yes, Libs have always had trouble with Fred.  Same with Austrian Economists.  

    There's pearls and insights there, well worth reading.  

    Those who hear not the music-think the dancers mad

    by Eiron on Tue Jan 26, 2010 at 04:20:35 PM PST

  •  Thanks for the diary. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    MillieNeon, Troubadour

    My own thoughts on this are pretty similar. Nietzche's "will to power" is a lot like Joseph Campbell's exhortation to "follow your bliss", IMO.

    Halfway between sanity and insanity = "moderate". Irony is useless in a culture that has no shame.

    by ubertar on Tue Jan 26, 2010 at 04:20:53 PM PST

  •  Hmmmm...... (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    pico, ubertar, Troubadour

    More a fan of Albert Camus & Absurdism.

    From The Myth of Sisiphus:

    If this myth is tragic, that is because its hero is conscious. Where would his torture be, indeed, if at every step the hope of succeeding upheld him? The workman of today works everyday in his life at the same tasks, and his fate is no less absurd. But it is tragic only at the rare moments when it becomes conscious. Sisyphus, proletarian of the gods, powerless and rebellious, knows the whole extent of his wretched condition: it is what he thinks of during his descent. The lucidity that was to constitute his torture at the same time crowns his victory. There is no fate that can not be surmounted by scorn... The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.

    Thus, we might exist in a cold & uncaring Universe, but one of the "gifts" of being human is the ability to create our own meaning and purpose out of the absurd. In acknowledging the absurd realities of our existence, but continuing to search & create a meaning regardless (which might be absurd too, but hey the Universe started it), one can be happy.

    •  I love that book (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Rimjob, Troubadour

      but find the ending unsatisfying. Absurd creation may be all we've got, but it still feels somewhat empty and pointless.

      Halfway between sanity and insanity = "moderate". Irony is useless in a culture that has no shame.

      by ubertar on Tue Jan 26, 2010 at 04:29:40 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Read Frank Herbert. (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        jlynne, ubertar

        It's not empty or pointless.  It's wordless.

        "What is great in Man is that he is a bridge and not an end." - Friedrich Nietzsche

        by Troubadour on Tue Jan 26, 2010 at 04:33:43 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Thanks. Any particular book? (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          Tolstoy's "Confession" is very similar to Camus' Myth of Sissyphus, except at the end he makes a leap into religious faith, which is even less satisfying than Camus' absurd creation.

          Halfway between sanity and insanity = "moderate". Irony is useless in a culture that has no shame.

          by ubertar on Tue Jan 26, 2010 at 04:36:09 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

        •  Oh. The Dune guy. (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          Didn't recognize the name.

          Halfway between sanity and insanity = "moderate". Irony is useless in a culture that has no shame.

          by ubertar on Tue Jan 26, 2010 at 04:36:50 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Just ordered the first one... n/t (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            Halfway between sanity and insanity = "moderate". Irony is useless in a culture that has no shame.

            by ubertar on Tue Jan 26, 2010 at 04:46:59 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  The most important are the first four. (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              Dune, Dune Messiah, Children of Dune, and God Emperor of Dune.  The last two - Heretics of Dune and Chapterhouse: Dune - are optional, but gratifying if you've fallen in love with that universe (which you probably will).  Do not, under any circumstances, read the prequels and sequels by Herbert's son Brian and Kevin J. Anderson unless you're a masochist: They are cruelly stupid, even by the standards of mediocrity let alone genius.

              Just to get a taste for the kind of wisdom the Dune novels contain, read some of these quotes:


              "What is great in Man is that he is a bridge and not an end." - Friedrich Nietzsche

              by Troubadour on Tue Jan 26, 2010 at 05:02:57 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

      •  It's always been interesting to me (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        that the Greeks, the west, didn't have the zero, in spite of their exquisite geometry, and the concept of the void was kinda terrifying for them. Presence was everything, absence was scary.

        While in the East, they knew how to use zero, and in their philosophy, emptiness, nothingness, absence wasn't scary at all, but creative.

        "If religion is the opiate of the masses, then fundamentalism is the amphetamine." Miz Vittitow

        by MillieNeon on Tue Jan 26, 2010 at 07:26:33 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  Camus seems to have been interpreting (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Rimjob, jlynne

      many of the same principles as Nietzsche, but with more serenity and less Death's Head Smirk.

      "What is great in Man is that he is a bridge and not an end." - Friedrich Nietzsche

      by Troubadour on Tue Jan 26, 2010 at 04:32:59 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  good job (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jlynne, kalmoth, Troubadour

    I'm a big fan of F.N. and my take on him is similar to yours.  I think it's important for people to read several of his works before formulating a specific opinion.  What first appealed to me about him was his joyfulness and mirth.  

    His last written words were: "I am having all antisemites taken out and shot."

  •  My intro to Nietzsche (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    brenda, Troubadour, bryker

    came without all the baggage and I never really understood how a "liberal" could not embrace his philosophy.

    "Rules must be binding. Violations must be punished. Words must mean something." President Obama in Prague on April 5

    by jlynne on Tue Jan 26, 2010 at 04:31:06 PM PST

  •  I majored in Philosophy, read Nietzsche early on (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jeff in nyc, Troubadour, Alec82, JoanMar

    He is a mixed bag for sure. One of the huge upsides of Nietzsche is that he was a terrific writer. My German is not what it once was (I studied it extensively in high school) but when I was an undergrad I could read it reasonably well. I recall at the time thinking that, even in German, his prose was quite beautiful. He was a terrific wordsmith.

    It is easy to assume that, because he was more literary, his actual personality was similar to the one projected in his writing, which apparently was not the case at all. In real life he was rather timid. To some extent, the bombastic quality in his published persona was a bit of overcompensation.

    While he was no democrat, his writings were certainly misused by the Nazis. He would not have stood for what they represented, particularly when it came to antisemitism. There is a sense in which he was locked into the views of his peers while he struggled hard to transcend them; it would not be going to far to say that while he mistrusted Jews, he really detested Jew-haters.

    I would suggest that in terms of his conceptions of morality, most of what he shocked people by espousing in the latter third of the nineteenth century would be taken for granted today. Essentially the idea of "Beyond Good and Evil" is that we must each determine for ourselves what is appropriate rather than relying on either authority or outdated moral codes. There was an element of hyperbole which I think was an attempt to disengage from what he what he viewed as contemporary mores.

    I'm not at all sure that I could read him again; the grandiosity he evinces in much of his later writing, while entertaining, has to it some of the quality of a rebellious adolescent. But when I myself was a student, he was an entry for me into a fascinating intellectual realm.

    Somewhat off-topic but of interest: It is widely assumed that the insanity that marked the last ten years of his life was the result of late-stage syphilis. This assumption provided one of the bases of Thomas Mann's "Doctor Faustus" in which the main character, a prodigiously talented musician but also extremely sexually repressed (as apparently was Nietzsche and, for that matter, Mann himself), visits a prostitute for what turns out to be his sole sexual experience (again, there is somewhere in Mann's writings a suggestion that this is true of Nietzsche as well), contracts syphilis, does nothing about it and eventually goes mad.

    Apparently the best-known photos of Nietzsche are all from the time of his being institutionalized. He is typically seen with a rather prominent moustache. Again, it is thought that he generally went cleanshaven; the moustache was the idea of his sister, who became his legal guardian after he went insane.

  •  You almost had an interesting discussion (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    going for a bit, but you just couldn't resist:

    If we were more aware of such a philosophy, there might be less impotent hand-wringing, less infantile blame-mongering, and more active implementation of ideas in our community.

    This has exactly bupkis to do with Nietzsche... A weak misappropriation worthy of his sister. - Kicking against the pricks since '98!

    by chuckvw on Tue Jan 26, 2010 at 04:43:23 PM PST

  •  i've always though that democrats have (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    a bad case of ressentiment.

  •  Lots of people have been using Nietzsche (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    pico, Troubadour

    in political theory and analysis for the past 40+ years. While I agree with you that N is super relevant to political discourse, I am not sure that it matters to people on Dkos, who are not professional theorists and probably don't have the time to make it through his work. Ages ago I critiqued a bad diary by TeacherKen (is that his name?) who knows nothing about Nietzsche and whose concept of politics seems to have been derived (theoretically) from people teaching in the 70's or earlier (sorry, I am sure he is a nice guy, but he is way behind the times when it comes to political thought). His response to me was something like he knew of no one (!) who took Nietzsche seriously when it came to political analysis. So, of course, you are right, but ... I really wonder if Dkos is capable of "going there." Efforts to bring this website up to the 21st Century are limited by its creator (who is limited in his knowledge in this area and, in my view, short-sighted in his vision for this site) and its aims (which, as has been stated to me repeatedly, is to support the Democratic Party). In the end, my hope is that Nietzsche's thought is more liberatory than this (adherence to a party and party-building) goal allows for.

    As for your comment about the pronunciation of his name: Puh-Leaze. That makes you sound completely pretentious. If one were to think this statement through Nietzsche's thought, it would be viewed as inherently authoritarian, ignoring the variations (and constructions) of language. Deviation is good. Graffiti, slang, thank god these continue to exist. Most people on Dkos don't speak German. They don't need a "correct" transliteration of his name. Your statement, I think, would make Nietzsche sad. What you left out of your statement is the following: "the latter pronunciation is annoying" to me is what you should have said. It's not annoying to people who don't know, and because of that ... you should get over it (i.e. your statement is based on a will to knowledge). People don't have to know how to pronounce his name in order to use his work.

    As for all of the comments on here about "nihilism": people using that word have no idea what it means or what it meant for Nietzsche. To give you the simplest answer to the question, N thought that the changes brought about by Modernity (modern capitalism, development, globalization, the industrial revolution, etc.), and in particular the loss of a foundation for Western thought (Plato, et. al.) that this implies (e.g. the loss of an "essence" or what he called "the death of god") would result in a reactionary citizenry that would feel it had lost all meaning with the loss of this thought and ethical world view. And he was not wrong. It is not Nietzsche who is/was nihilistic. It was the man of the future -- the future for Nietzsche of European thought--which is US. We are the nihilists, not N. N was a critic of nihilism. Probably the best critic of what he called European nihilism.

    •  Replying to myself ... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Nietzsche counter-posed his philosophy of the future (which, in many respects, mirrors the material reality we find ourselves in) to what he called "European Nihilism" ... my choice of language, to talk about what N called "the last man" as "the man of the future" may have confused some readers (me?), so I just wanted to make that clear.

      I did rec your diary, but I still think that this site is super limited for this kind of thing. George Lakoff, for example, contributes admirably to this site and HuffPo, but he keeps the theoretical verbiage in the background (which, honestly, I think is best).

  •  I love Nietzsche, (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Rimjob, Troubadour

    although less as a theorist and more as a writer (though not of poetry, for the love of god).  He's a brilliant aphorist above all, and his capacity for self-critique is rare, even when it's colored by arrogance.  I have no problem lending out my copy of Human, All Too Human to people who think they 'know' what Nietzsche is all about.

    Thing is, it's hard to say "Nietzsche believes X" because his own viewpoints evolve so much, sometimes (seemingly) within the same work.  The Nietzsche of Ecco Homo is happy to laugh at the Nietzsche of Birth of Tragedy for being such a fool, and it's hard to read anything he wrote about Wagner without considering how much the personal friendship interferes with and complicates the aesthetic judgments.  

    More than anything, I love Nietzsche for being a human being.  If that makes sense.

    Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. - Ambrose Bierce

    by pico on Tue Jan 26, 2010 at 05:18:31 PM PST

  •  Turtledove wrote on Gandhi vs. Hitler (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    "Against such governments, or against a tyrant internal to India, Gandhi's tactics would likely have been futile."

    It was in a short story called "The Last Article" (available in this anthology).  Indeed passive resistance didn't work-the Germans just stuck Gandhi and his followers into ovens for their trouble.

  •  Nietzche never slept (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    more than an hour or two at a time his entire adult life, plus he suffered from debilitating head aches.  It is a wonder he could write anything at all, let alone what he produced.
     His sister and her husband are responsible for usurping his legacy as an individual, let alone a giant philospher.
     A good diary.  Thanks.

  •  Nietzsche is best forgotten by the average mind.. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Troubadour, JoanMar

    That is true!
    In order to absorb Nietzsche's abstractions purposefully, you need to be a willing egghead.
    (Willing, because I, for one, am an egghead that has declined to confront himself with Nietzsche's writings, and I think, I will continue to do so).

    As far as our want-to-be-an-Uebermensch is concerned, Adolf Hitler was inspired by the moral ambiguity of Nietzsche's writing... it helped to justify his own anger and hate.  
    But, on a historical note:  Nietzsche was not the only detrimental influence on Hitler.  Houston Chamberlain's writings did far more brain damage on Hitler's head than Nietsche ever could!

    •  Indeed. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Nietzsche in the hands of Nazis was like an Uzi in the hands of a demented 10-year-old boy.

      "What is great in Man is that he is a bridge and not an end." - Friedrich Nietzsche

      by Troubadour on Tue Jan 26, 2010 at 06:01:49 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  If one is bent on evil (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      one can mis-use anything. The swastika, for example, is a spiritual eastern symbol.

      "If religion is the opiate of the masses, then fundamentalism is the amphetamine." Miz Vittitow

      by MillieNeon on Tue Jan 26, 2010 at 07:34:52 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Don't blame N for what others have done with his (0+ / 0-)

      writings. There is nothing in N's work that explains why Hitler would be drawn to it, other than a complete misunderstanding and perversions of his concepts on N's part. It is, in fact, quite the opposite with regard to N. There is nothing even remotely fascistic in his writings.

      The ubermensch is not a "superman" or idealized aryan. It is a "post-human" (post-Modernity) way of being/living.

  •  Obama as last man or Ubermensche? (0+ / 0-)

    Nietzsche, to his credit, does not articulate the Last Man as the endpoint of civilization, but the endpoint of decline - the Last Man is he who precedes Ubermensch.

    A thought (a disturbing one): there we were thinking Obama could be Ubermensch to Bush's last man. But what if Obama is, in fact, the Last Man? with the American empire just about headed into a sad period of decline, it seems to display the tell tale symptoms: resources overextended, citizens' resourcefullness turned to abuse, population hopelessly polarized, and it's dominant philosophy (free markets) discredited.  What we may be seeing now is what the death of the gods looks like.

    The more Obama does less of what needs to be done, the more I fear this sad hypothesis may just be true. It would explain much of why we - and the country - can't seem to have either the trust or the will to bootstrap the body politic into action. it's as if a strange paralysis has descended upon the land where the few signs of life - are Apple and tea baggers.

    And speaking of tea baggers - that chaotic and unproductive movement that seems to be on collision course with - well - nothing - illustrates well the reasons Nietzche had some distrust of democracy.

    •  The question is not about Obama (0+ / 0-)

      but about this country.  I am more than convinced he knows what he's doing - I am not so convinced Americans still have the citizenship skills to make use of such leadership.  And, while I mean no disrespect, your apparent belief - against all history and logic - that he's "not doing enough" makes a rather depressing case on that point.

      If you demand more progress, more quickly than a President can deliver, you are asking for a tyrant...and will probably get one.

      "What is great in Man is that he is a bridge and not an end." - Friedrich Nietzsche

      by Troubadour on Tue Jan 26, 2010 at 09:26:17 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  You misconstrued my point (0+ / 0-)

        Though I used obama's name, the person himself is merely a symbol. I understand the "last man" to mean an end point of a civilization. Obama's strange passiveness is not so strange when we realize that the forces to which he is subject - as are the rest of us - are, in fact a retrenchment in action. I don't wish to belabor specifics as this was not the place - and it was not my intent here to carp on Obama. And passiveness can be interpreted as caution, not as lack of action. Obama is hardly alone in lamenting the great schism that opened up in the country, and his natural instincts are to somehow bridge them. The cautioussness is just a sort of of reluctance to see the polarization for what it is, a collective tectonic scar that won't heal.  

        I also believe - with Nietzche I think - that man is shaped by history and sometimes, at certain critical points in time, history brings forth a person of unusual abilities, a black swan, so to speak. napoleon comes to mind, katherine the great, too, among a few others others. The individuals may be black swans alright, in terms of unusual capabilities - for both good and bad, but their rise to a position of prominence and great influence could only happen at those points of time. So, to me, Obama is given the means to shape history but no more so than history shapes him. And if the verdict of history is that this empire's greatest days are behind, then that's what Obama will preside over. Hopefully he'll do it well, and help make the transition less traumatic that it could be.

        I assure you that I am watching events unfold with great interest, if not always the necessary detachment. I wish I read the flow of events differently, but the arrows are lining up as they do, however I may wish for things to be otherwise.

    •  The "last man" in Nietzsche is not a person (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      yet you write as if he were some kind of apocalyptic figure that could be used to gauge the arrival, not of the messiah, but of the Ubermensch ... totally Xian formulation.

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