Nietzsche and me

26 01 2011

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From Slate

The attraction of Nietzsche to socially maladjusted young men is obvious, but it isn’t exactly simple. It is built from several interlocking pieces. Nietzsche mocks convention and propriety (and mocks difficult writers you’d prefer not to bother with anyway). He’s funny and (deceptively) easy to read, especially compared to his antecedents in German philosophy, who are also his flabby and lumbering targets: Schopenhauer, Hegel, and, especially, Kant. If your social world fails to appreciate your singularity and tells you that you’re a loser, reading Nietzsche can steel you in your secret conviction that, no, I’m a genius, or at least very special, and everyone else is the loser. Like you, Nietzsche was misunderstood in his day, ignored or derided by other scholars. Like you, Nietzsche seems to find everything around him lame, either stodgy and moralistic or sick with democratic vulgarity. Nietzsche seems to believe in aristocracy, which is taboo these days, which might be why no one recognizes you as the higher sort of guy you suspect yourself to be. And crucially, if you’re a horny and poetic young man whose dream girl is ever present before your eyes but just out of reach, Nietzsche frames his project of resistance and overcoming as not just romantic but erotic…

So does that make Nietzsche and Jared Lee Loughner philosophical brethren after all, joined in the same fanatical fight against nihilism? In a word, no, and Loughner’s pathological fixation on the meaning of words is the giveaway. One way of looking at Nietzsche’s project is that he set out to teach himself and his readers to love the world in its imperfection and multiplicity, for itself. This is behind his assaults on religion, liberal idealism, and utilitarian systems of social organization. He saw these as different ways of effacing or annihilating the world as it is. It is behind his infamous doctrine of the Eternal Recurrence—in which he embraces the “most abysmal thought,” that the given world, and not the idealizing stories we tell of it, is all there is, and he will affirm this reality even if it recurs eternally.

I must admit that the first authors that I got into as an adolescent were Nietzsche and the existentialists. I think any bookish boy needs to have such a phase, but could I read Nietzsche with a straight face now? Or Sartre for that matter? There is something self-absorbed and frustrated about what they write. There is something angry and at the same time envious in all of their prose. Content with life as it pretty much is now, I give very little weight to Nietzsche and Co. If anything, I am becoming more pro-Hegelian and pro-Marxist by the day. The best way to subvert the social order is perhaps not to cynically stand against it, but to take it seriously. Growth in maturity is a product of being able to accept hypocrisy without much comment.


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30 responses

5 02 2011
FrGregACCA

One obviously must pay attention to what axis one is addressing. As I said, much of the twentieth century represents regress when it comes to the overall condition of human life.

At the same time, given the choice, I would rather live NOW than in the First Century Roman Empire (however, I would certainly rather live then and there instead of in Nazi Germany or the Stalinist Soviet Union).

5 02 2011
Arturo Vasquez

No sé si tiene Ud. razón, puesto que Nietzsche parece a veces preocuparse con la restauración de una cosmología pagana más que una crítica restauradora del cristianismo. Aquí tendría que referir al hecho que Nietzsche era un filólogo clásico, y trataba de reintroducir conceptos como el eterno retorno y la tragedia que son ideas llevadas del politeísmo clásico. No estoy de acuerdo que se puede usar Nietzsche como una herramienta ideológica para una autocrítica de la doctrina cristiana. Me parece que es un ejercicio de revisionismo no justificable. Sin embargo, tendría que leer su ensayo para ver si eso es la idea que Ud. está proponiendo.

Puedo ver que el contexto en que Nietzsche escribió es más o menos como Ud. explica. En la figura de Hegel, es obvio que el cristianismo ha sido convertido en una serie de dogmas vacíos que son útiles para el Estado seglar, el verdadero dios y el Ideal desarrollandose en la historia. Muchas personas, en particular Feuerbach, y más significativo, Marx eran en un tiempo fieles cristianos y aún hijos de clérigos que rebelaban contra esta religión ideológica de la burguesía. En cierto sentido, el positivismo de Comte y el movimiento espiritista eran religiones alternativas para las personas cultas contra una iglesia que rehusaba responder a las nuevas condiciones de la modernidad. Newman en la iglesia inglesa también trataba de combatir contra el sentimentalismo burgués y la religión de “personas decentes” para tratar de restaurar una verdadera religión del corazón (“cor a cor loquitur”). En este sentido, puedo ver que Nietzsche se desarrolló ideológicamente en un contexto donde la religión se estaba convirtiendo en un edificio hueco que solamente apoyó los intereses de una sociedad hipócrita. Pero no veo que Nietzsche veía que una restauración del cristianismo “verdadero” era parte de una resurrección de los valores heroicos. Tendría que leer su ensayo y contemplar más lo que Ud. está tratando de decir.

5 02 2011
Rodolfo Plata

Nietzsche auscultó el alma cristiana, y descubrió que el malestar de nuestro tiempo no estaba el individuo sino en la civilización occidental enferma y decadente. Y diagnosticó la patología actual de nuestra sociedad: la indeferencia hacia la religión, y exclamó ¡Dios ha muerto! La teología y moral judeo cristiana son cuestionadas en tanto implican juicios valorativos/morales. Y señaló que la solución no es desarrollar una terapia tendente a adaptar el individuo una sociedad decadente sino renovar las creencias y valores morales judeo cristianos causales de la decadencia de la sociedad. E inició la lucha redentora contra el judeo cristianismo por el cristianismo, a fin de actualizar la doctrina milenaria de la Iglesia que por su anacronismo y ex temporalidad, es la causa de la severa crisis de la Iglesia y de la perdida de la fe. http://www.scribd.com/doc/48104400/Nietzsche-y-La-Lucha-Contra-El-Judeo-Cristianismo-Por-El-Cristianismo

30 01 2011
Arturo Vasquez

CARE BEAR HUG!!!!!

Take that, evil von Mises and his libertarian minions!

30 01 2011
Visibilium

Apparently, you don’t get enough hugs.

30 01 2011
30 01 2011
Visibilium

Interesting hypothesis, but the treatment of Friedman is a hack job. Juxtaposing interrogation techniques and Friedman’s economics? Jeez.

Rather, look at Friedman’s role in the creation of income tax withholding during WW2, and you’ll see a statist trickster about which we both can agree.

30 01 2011
Arturo Vasquez

30 01 2011
Tarmo Jüristo

Many people would argue that thinking in terms of progress/regress, while not *wrong* in any strict way, stands to obscure more than it can possibly beneficially explain. Perhaps the main issue of contention would be the fact that it is pretty nigh impossible to agree upon a standard of progress — if to look at the 20th century from the POV of technological or industrial advancement then it would be very difficult to deny a substantial progress, while other people might well argue that never before in human history had the world seen such brutality and mindless loss of life, and therefore be at a loss how could this possibly account for a progress.

In addition, arguing for progress in singular really smacks of Hegel and tends to lead to projecting a single path of development where the Western world usually leads the way and others try to play catch-up. While perhaps conceivable at the time when Fukuyama wrote his “End of History”, this view is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain in today’s world.

29 01 2011
Visibilium

Allende–Austrian or libertarian coup? Please, that was a Cold War operation. Nevertheless, I’m personally fine with his ouster. His replacement? That was definitely just an incremental improvement, not a wholesale one. All of those guys sucked, but this is a fallen world.

This discussion reminds me of an undergrad class which I lectured on free-market justice. I don’t know where they got the idea that the anarchos were daisy-carrying idealists, but I told them that all they were concerned about was removing the state’s monopoly on judicial decisions and that they wanted to see decisions rendered by competing courts, perhaps with the agreement of two out of three. The anarchos still wanted justice, however, and recognized that sometimes physical injury occurred in securing it. The class lost its enthusiasm after hearing that omelettes still required broken eggs.

29 01 2011
Arturo Vasquez

29 01 2011
Visibilium

Let me know when you run across any of those coups d’etat.

Separating Nietzsche from bad translations, bad commentaries, and his sister’s self-serving bullshit would have prevented all sorts of angst-ridden douches from glomming onto his vapor trail.

29 01 2011
Anonymous

Nietzsche is the bridge between Spinoza and Deleuze.

28 01 2011
FrGregACCA

I usually only stop by here once every few days; however, when I do, I am rarely disappointed. As they say in certain meetings that I’ve taken to attending (again) recently: “Great topic.”

A question and then, a point:

Does Marx give us a full-blown meta-narrative, or did Engels, Lenin, Stalin, etc. create one is his name? Personally, I strongly suspect the latter.

There IS Progress (yes, yes, I know: “progress not perfection”). Would anyone (including you, Arturo) REALLY want to live in ancient Rome if they had a choice between then and now? I don’t think so. Besides the obvious differences in technology, we no longer execute people via crucifixion. Gladiators do not fight to the death (football injuries aside). Slavery, while still present, is not widespread in developed, civilized places. There is widespread recognition of a broad spectrum of human rights.

That does not mean that there is also not regress, as the 20th Century so amply demonstrates. Two steps forward. One step back.

27 01 2011
TomC

Kant and Hegel? À chacun son goût . . .

27 01 2011
rr

Turmarion,

I agree with your post. This part was particularly insightful:

“I actually didn’t read Nietzsche or the existentialists until I was well along in my twenties and early thirties, and only piecemeal then. I disagree with them on most things, and I’d agree to some extent with Arturo about their anger, envy, and immaturity. Nevertheless, I have always respected them far more than secular humanism of various stripes, which in my mind is a namby-pamby effort to have Judeo-Christian morality without actual belief. In my mind, the existentialists, and to a much greater extent Nietzsche, call it like it really is in a world bereft of faith and meaning.”

This brings me to what Arturo wrote:

“I still think we are better off reading Kant and Hegel. At least we can take our medicine straight, without thinking its candy.”

I agree with you that Nietzsche is highly problematic, although this is because I am a Christian. As with Turmarion, however, I maintain that his views are a more coherent form of atheism than say secular humanism, which is without a logical foundation and in many ways is simply a parasite to Christianity.

For all of the problems with Nietzsche, my question is how are we better off reading Kant and Hegel? Kant’s categorical imperative has always struck me as absurd on its face, and I’ve already alluded to the problems with Hegel’s dialectic.

Perhaps I’m too jaded about notions of progress and the like, but I don’t see much worthwhile in much that was written in the late eighteenth century and most of the nineteenth.

26 01 2011
Arturo Vasquez

Re: Christians reading Nietzsche – I have never been very convinced by Christians who read Nietzsche and like him. On the one hand, it seems to me to be akin to conservative Christians who are into Christian rock or metal (not that I know many of them first hand). “See, we’re cool too. We can be just as critical and subversive as everyone else. Modernity sucks! Even Nietzsche said so! Jesus is awesome! Christianity is hip!” I don’t think liking Nietzsche gives a believer much street-cred, and if it does, it really isn’t worth it. Like that whole “Radical Orthodoxy” movement (which I also dislike), this whole “enemy of my enemy is my friend” stuff is a dead end. We get to keep our own little backwards religious prejudices, atheists get to see the universe as more mystified, all the while feeling unthreatened, and a good time is had by all. Yeah, not buying it.

Nietzsche offers a radical critique without action. He is the ultimate “popcorn philosopher”, and Zizek, even if he dislikes Nietzsche, is following in his footsteps. You can toss your pebbles into the great juggernaut of ideology, all the while being formed by ideology, regimented by it, and so on. Nietzsche is the cynical sweetener that allows us to swallow the bitter medicine of the late capitalist superstructure. We forget since we are sixty years removed how fascism itself was a quest for an alternative modernity, freed from cold rationalism and the burden of ideological systems to be replaced by Blood, the Fatherland, etc. Nietzsche was not the father of all this, but he was its kissing cousin (need I bring up Heidegger again?) While we nerdy Christians think we’re cool walking down the street with our Bible, our Way of the Pilgrim, and Nietzsche’s Genealogy of Morals under our arms, really we’re just a bunch of stooges who read things out of context just so we can believe in a world where we are a bunch of freaks (and I don’t mean that in a good way).

I still think we are better off reading Kant and Hegel. At least we can take our medicine straight, without thinking its candy.

26 01 2011
Phil Jourdan

I’ve rarely met someone who knew a LOT about Nietzsche who wasn’t interesting and intelligent; I’ve also rarely met someone who knew a LOT about Nietzsche, full stop. Most of those I know who take really Nietzsche seriously don’t seem bothered about the whole ubermensch thing in particular, but rather see him as a philosopher who had distinct phases in his intellectual career, most of which are worth exploring — not just those dealing with some will to power, or whatever soundbite sums him up best.

As an undergraduate I was friends with a Nietzsche “fan” who seemed only to focus on Nietzsche the God, the guy who had seen the way to becoming Awesome. We rarely discussed philosophy, but he was pretty unconcerned with any kind of subtlety in Nietzsche’s thought. It was irrelevant if it didn’t directly mention the overman, etc.

I imagine he has not, since, become a Nietzsche scholar.

26 01 2011
Nick

I always found reading Nietzsche a valuable experience, as long as I could follow it up with a healthy dose of Chesterton (or perhaps just a beer and belly laugh).

26 01 2011
TomC

Nietzsche played a crucial role in my own philosophical development as a younger man, and I still have a certain respect for him even though I’m not interested in re-reading him now. I had gone a long way towards buying into Bertrand Russell’s logical positivist, humanitarian worldview. However, Nietzsche played the role of spoiler. I haven’t read it in years, but I remember Russell including a short rant about Nietzsche in his “History of Western Philosophy.” Russell could not come up with any convincing explanation as to why one should buy into his brand of atheist peace & love rather than Nietzsche’s chaos. (This was convenient for me as at the time as a young atheist because it gave me the green light to do whatever the hell I wanted.) After that point, I found that the strange world of religion and theology became the only plausible basis for any humane worldview.

26 01 2011
Arturo Vasquez

Personal foul. Unnecessary nerdiness, Monty Python reference. Half the distance to the goal. Repeat fourth down.

26 01 2011
john burnett

One of the best moments in ‘Life of Brian’ came when Brian, being chased by the police, finds himself in front of a large crowd making a speech. ‘Don’t follow anybody!’ he says, ‘You’re all individuals!’

And the crowd roars back, ‘Right, we’re all individuals!’

And one shrill voice pipes up, ‘I’m not!’

26 01 2011
Mr. Crouchback

It’s hard not to like Nietzsche. If he wasn’t the first, then Nietzsche was certainly the most compelling critic of the now tired, but then dominant, project of constructing some system of ethics that more or less coincides with the Christian virtues without recourse to its theology or metaphysics. He saw past the content-less moral language being thrown around, and called them what they were (and are): assertions of will.

26 01 2011
The Western Confucian

I read Camus as an adolescent, but didn’t get around to Nietzsche until early adulthood. Thus Spoke Zarathustra was the only book I’ve ever put down because I thought it was evil. A much better read at the same time, a book that changed my life, was Tolstoy’s The Kingdom of God Is Within You, which I stumbled upon at the 1988 Toronto “Anarchist Unconvention.”

26 01 2011
Stanislaus

I don’t think that for Nietzsche those are static categories; the ubermensch/herd member is something that it’s possible to become.

26 01 2011
Leah

My basic problem with Nietsche is the simple fact that everyone who reads him will automatically think that he is the master/blonde beast/ubermensch, and no one will think he’s the slave/ressentiment sufferer/herd member. This obviously can’t be true, because being an ubermensch is an exclusive category that only makes sense with a vast herd as a contrast. But who’s going to admit that they’re a member of the herd?

26 01 2011
Arturo Vasquez

Ah.

Systems get a bad rap. You’d think: “hey, let me just vacilate about everything and no one will get hurt.” How do you explain Heidegger, then?

I know, I’ve been one of the worst offenders here. But I am not going to equate systematic thought with totalitarian atrocities. That’s just too easy. It is sort of like those people who defend Austrian libertarian economics to the death against “statist” systems. Austrian economics hasn’t been tried anywhere, so of course it has its hands “clean”. Except in places where it has actually been tried, where it was initiated by bloody coups, etc.

26 01 2011
Turmarion

I actually didn’t read Nietzsche or the existentialists until I was well along in my twenties and early thirties, and only piecemeal then. I disagree with them on most things, and I’d agree to some extent with Arturo about their anger, envy, and immaturity. Nevertheless, I have always respected them far more than secular humanism of various stripes, which in my mind is a namby-pamby effort to have Judeo-Christian morality without actual belief. In my mind, the existentialists, and to a much greater extent Nietzsche, call it like it really is in a world bereft of faith and meaning.

I also find them far more bracing and honest than the rest of 19th and 20th Century philosophy, which either got locked into “flabby and lumbering” systems, to use the article’s felicitous phrase, or endless mental masturbation in the positivist/analytical parsing of words to the nth to the zillionth degree. As Freddie said, “The will to a system is a lack of integrity,” something I believe more as I get older, and there was hardly anything more system-bound than 19th Century philosophy (especially 19th Century German philosophy!). Anyway, you gotta love a man who subtitles a book, “How to Philosophize with a Hammer”!

I also think that even in translation, whatever you think about his ideas, Nietzsche is one of the most incredible and interesting stylists, even when he’s most over-the-top, that you can find in philosophy.

rr: After much of what happened in the twentieth century, I find metanarratives of progress completely implausible. And from Hegel onward, the nineteenth century is shot through with the whole idea of “progress.” Marx, Comte and even Newman are good examples of this.

I’d say this nails it exactly–humanism is another example of this fetishization of progress.

26 01 2011
Stanislaus

Sartre was something of a marxist though, have you read his Critique of Dialectical Reason? If so, what did you think of it?

26 01 2011
rr

I was also fascinated with Nietzsche and the existentialists as an adolescent. Camus was especially interesting when I was a high school exchange student in France.

However, I don’t share your Hegelian and Marxian leanings. After much of what happened in the twentieth century, I find metanarratives of progress completely implausible. And from Hegel onward, the nineteenth century is shot through with the whole idea of “progress.” Marx, Comte and even Newman are good examples of this. Raymond Aaron once quipped that Marxism is the opium of the intellectual. I would argue that it is rather “progress,” which is a powerful modern myth.

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