Saturday, July 23, 2016

Hugo Drochon's "Nietzsche's Great Politics"

Hugo Drochon is a historian of nineteenth- and twentieth-century political thought and a postdoctoral research fellow at CRASSH, the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences, and Humanities, at the University of Cambridge.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Nietzsche's Great Politics, and reported the following:
From page 99:
In Beyond Good and Evil, Nietzsche explains that it is in the space between master and slave that “pity and similar sentiments can find a place” (BGE 260), and in his discussion of the Laws of Manu he observes that “when an exceptional person treats a mediocre one more delicately than he treats himself and his equals, this is not just courtesy of the heart–it is his duty” (AC 57). I therefore find myself more in agreement with Ansell-Pearson’s alternative view of what Nietzsche’s society could become: a “peaceful coexistence between different human types (say, between the overhuman and the human), in which the former pursue artistic self-creation and self-discipline, and the latter preoccupy themselves with mundane and material pursuit”. I do so, however, with one caveat: the relationship between the two spheres that I have sketched above has to be retained–there remains a degree of slavery and pathos between the two spheres–instead of Ansell-Pearson’s more completely separate, and consequently apolitical, vision.
Is Nietzsche a liberal? That seems counter-intuitive for someone who made an infamous comment about needing a whip around young girls, although that comment is often taken out of context (it isn’t pronounced by Nietzsche’s mouthpiece, Zarathustra, but instead by an older women giving advice to him, if you must know). But Nietzsche is known to have frequented the leading feminist thinkers of his time, and to have voted in favour of the admission of women to the University of Basle, where he was teaching in the 1870s, even whilst his intellectual mentor at the time, Jacob Burckhardt, voted against.

But is Nietzsche a political liberal? His background was in the German liberal-nationalist tradition, which had supported Bismarck’s rise to power. If Nietzsche had been able to vote in the first elections held in Northern Germany in 1867 (the age limit was 25, he was 22), he would have voted for them. But what of his vision for his future ideal society?

This is what I start to get at on p. 99. For Nietzsche, his ideal society would have to comprise of two spheres: one dedicated to culture (‘artistic self-creation and self-discipline’), and the other happy to continue the process of democratisation he had witnessed in his time (‘mundane and material pursuits’). But that democratic process, grounded in ‘herd morality’, claimed that it – and only it – was the only possible mode of life. This is what Nietzsche fought against. Not for the total victory of his own ‘good European’ cultural elite (‘threat a mediocre person with delicacy’) – that would have been to reproduce the same mistake the democrats were falling into – but so that both could have their respective spheres of existence. The question to resolve then was how those two spheres were to coexist, and that is to turn to the question of politics (‘relation between the two spheres’). But in seeing that in modernity different communities needed to be both defended and made to live side-by-side, Nietzsche opened the door to a liberal and pluralist understanding of society. How to balance those two demands – protecting different modes of life whilst at the same time making them inhabit a common political community – remains the challenge to liberal politics today.
Learn more about Nietzsche's Great Politics at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue