Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Ways of Weakness and Strength

Although the general tone is the same, Julian Young's analysis of Beyond Good and Evil is a bit broader and takes in more source material than Curtis Cate (see previous post).  While Young for the most part agrees with Cate, he offers a sharpened context for understanding Nietzsche's powerful and controversial critique of modernity. Christianity, democracy, feminism, socialism, and other cultural forces threaten the "degeneration" (as opposed to the elevation) of humanity.  They are cancerous forces without essential positive effect.  They all contribute to the rise of 'the herd' and the absurd, to Nietzsche, power of 'slave morality' as a force in culture.

I find that Nietzsche is not as 'free' of cultural influences as he would like would like to believe.  He has an orthodox Prussian mentality, as I have noted several times previously in this blog (see here, here, and here).  His criticism of women and the feminist movement, for example, is incompatible with his theory of power and of being a free spirit.  There is no reason why, outside of herd-like culture, women cannot be equal participants with men in higher culture.  Nietzsche's misogynistic view is tainted by his pitiful experiences with women in terms of love and sex, particularly in light of the Lou Salome affair. Nevertheless, there is more to admire than to dismiss in Beyond Good and Evil.  In a nutshell, the work proclaims that it is time for humanity to transcend cultural norms and create a society of bold (higher, stronger, better) individuals seeking to create values and not be victimized by established value traditions.

"Nietzsche's concept of the 'will to power', which comes, in Beyond Good and Evil, to a prominence it possesses in no other published work, is conceived as a modification of Darwinism.  What was devastatingly problematic for the late nineteenth century in general, and for Nietzsche in particular, was not merely the 'death of God' but rather the fact that what takes the place of divine providence is 'survival of the fittest'.

"...'the lust for power and sensuality', is, in fact, the reality of life and the world.  Christian morality, that is to say, tells us that we ought to be 'selfless', ought to love our neighbors as ourselves.  But 'Darwinian' science tells us, not that we occasionally fall shot of that ideal, but that, as a matter of scientific necessity, we always do, that the true motives on which we always act are in fact always the opposite of the motives on which we ought to act, that we act always out of the selfish lust for power.

"...the primary aim of Beyond Good and Evil is to overcome moral dualism, the gap between 'ought' and the 'is' would appear to be unalterable, it follows that the 'ought' has to be changed.  A fundamental 'revaluation of values' needs to take place." (page 408)

"First, there is no room in Nietzsche's thought for postmodernist skepticism about truth: what generates its central problem is the fact that Darwinian science is true - more exactly, it is our best understanding of truth about the world and as such demands rational acceptance. Second, there is no room for trying to airbrush the will to power.  Sometimes, in order to make Nietzsche less shocking, scholars suggest that 'will to power' just means 'will over oneself'.  But this misses the fundamental point that Nietzsche wants to be shocking.  When he says that the 'overpowering' and 'exploiting' of the weaker by the stronger belongs to the essence of life, he means exactly what he says." (page 410)

"...Nietzsche's low esteem for common sense which he views as based on a naive faith in sense perception and grammar as faithful reflections of the nature and structure of reality.  The common sense image of the world in 'plebeian', greatly inferior to the scientific image.  That natural science is preferable to common sense does not mean, however, that it is the final arbiter of truth: 'physics is only an interpretation and arrangement of the the world (according to ourselves, if I may say so) and not an explanation of the world'." (page 413)

"Nietzsche's claim, in other words, is that the fundamental drive of every organism, including every human being, is 'power'.  Evidently, however, since existence is a precondition of power, there is a subsidiary drive to existence.  Schopenhauer and Darwin are subsumed under a more fundamental view of the world." (page 414)

"Intellectual 'honesty' is, he says, the cardinal virtue of 'we free spirits' - of philosophers such as himself.  We have already seen him arguing the need to be ruthlessly honest about the world that is the object of investigation.  But equally, he insists, we need to be ruthlessly honest about ourselves as investigators, bout the limitations of our capacity to gain knowledge of that world.

"Since perspectivism is a 'condition of life' so is 'uncertainty': to reject uncertainty is to reject life.  To love life is to love 'error', by which, Nietzsche does not mean 'falsehood' but simply 'belief that is less than certainly true'." (page 416)

"Modern humanity, says Nietzsche, has a 'hybrid, mixed soul'.  It treats history as a storage closet of 'costumes' which it is constantly trying on but finding none that quite fits.  What Nietzsche is talking about is essentially globalization, multiculturalism, and the 'postmodern' mixing of styles, all of them the effects of the new technology of railways and electronics communications.

"Nietzsche calls our 'plebeian curiosity' about everything under the sun an ignoble lack of 'good taste'.  Whereas we have a taste for everything, a 'Nobel and self-sufficient' culture is marked by the 'very precise yes or no of their palate, their ready disgust, their hesitant reserve about everything strange and exotic'.  Nietzsche calls modernity a 'half-barbarism': 'half' because we have civilization - plumbing and police - 'barbarism' because we lack culture.  'Culture', recall, is defined as 'unity of artistic style in all the expressions of the life of a people'; a unified conception of the beautiful, including the beautiful (i.e., good) life." (page 417)

"The masters' value distinction was been 'good and bad', between 'noble' types such as themselves and the 'bad' types, the contemptible slave-types whom they had conquered.  Master morality was, then, self-focused. Slavery morality, by contrast, was other-focused.  It was based on hatred and fear of the slaves' oppressors.  So it was that the hate-filled word 'evil' replaced 'bad', the expression, merely, of contempt. In the ethical 'revolt' of the slaves the good-evil dichotomy came to replace the good-bad dichotomy of the masters.  The hard qualities of the masters were given new names - 'self-confidence' becomes 'arrogance', 'resoluteness' becomes 'ruthlessness', and so on - and were designated as 'evil'.  Simultaneously, the formerly despised 'soft' qualities were also given new names - 'powerlessness' became 'humility', 'cowardice' became 'friendliness', and so on - and were elevated to the status of virtues." (pp. 418-419)

"The 'high independent spirit', a 'high and hard and self-reliant nobility', is viewed as 'offensive' and 'dangerous'; the 'lamb' or even better 'sheep', the 'herd animal', continues to be the ideal.  The equality on which modern, liberal thinkers agree is equality of desert: all human beings are equally deserving of moral respect and concern.  When dividing up social goods it is immoral to say, People with IQs of less than 90 get nothing.  Nietzsche claims that this notion of equality hinders the nurturing of genius because it denies 'all special claims, special rights, special privileges'. But that, surely, is mistaken.  Equality of concern does not entail equality of treatment." (page 420)

"Democracy, socialism, and feminism are, for Nietzsche, essentially negative, destructive values. This is due to the negative, reactive nature of the 'slave revolt' in which modern liberalism has its roots: whereas the masters created values by glorifying themselves, the slaves simply negated those values.  In a clear sense, slave morality creates nothing.  So democracy, socialism, feminism, and so on are,  really, nothing but the 'policies of envy'.  'Modern ideas', in short, seek to overthrow the 'rank-ordering' of the old morality, but can do nothing to overcome the resulting 'chaos' since they have nothing positive, no positive ideal, to put in its place.  This point is implicit in Nietzsche's habitual treatment of 'socialism' as synonymous with 'anarchism'.

"That the values of modernity are all 'should nots' rather than 'shoulds' is the reason the notes of the period characterize the condition of modernity as one of 'nihilism', a term which means, Nietzsche says, 'that the highest values devalue themselves'.  'The aim is lacking, the "Why?" finds no answer'.  Beyond Good and Evil makes this point by pointing out that, in the post-death-of God world, the 'Where to?' and 'What for?' - a positive conception of the good life - are missing." (page 421)

"Nietzsche's 'motley' critique of modernity leads to the conclusion that we need a new 'game plan': a new shared understanding of the right way to live that will give us the 'harness, uniformity, and simplicity of form' necessary to be successful competitors in a socially Darwinistic world.  For this we require the appearance of 'spiritual colonizers and shapers of new states and communities'.  Although the resurgence of the slave revolt in the form of 'modern ideas' threatens the appearance of such types, we have not yet reached the condition of being the 'last men'.  It is still possible for us to 'give birth to a star'.   What we need, then, are new leaders who will 'teach humanity its future'- 'the image of such a leader hovers before our eyes'."(page 422)

Nietzsche was tired of philosophers that simply sat around and pondered things or pontificated upon the nature of life. The academic know-nothings.  Nietzsche sought, first and foremost, to create a select group of human beings that would serve as a collective active force in the world.  The will to power projected into the world as a phenomenon to transcend traditional think and to Become something more relevant and innovative.

"Whereas old-style philosophers have merely sought to understand the world, the new style seeks to change it, seeks to 'dominate' the future: philosophy in the new style is an expression of the philosopher's will to power. This means that the philosopher must get his hands dirty, 'play the rough game'.  Though 'untimely', he must intellectually engaged with his times rather than retreating to Spinoza's 'icy heights', the disengaged heights of the mere onlooker.  Neither will he indulge in mere skepticism, mere criticism, or mere scholarship.  And though he needs to have a philosophy, it need not be one he puts, or can put, into books." (page 423)

The new philosophers would form the basis for a new higher rank of human being.  This would be a rank based upon sophistication and merit, not one based upon hereditary characteristics.  This is an important distinction. Nietzsche had as little use for traditional "aristocrats" as he had for advocates of democracy.  There would be an aristocracy in Nietzsche's ideal culture, but it would have nothing to do with family lineage. 

"Nietzsche does not endorse aristocracy in the standard sense of the word.  It is important to notice that the concluding Part 9 of the book in which section 258 occurs is not called 'What is Aristocracy?' But rather 'What is Noble?' The relevant difference appears in his final letter to Brandes: 'If we win', he writes, 'we have overcome the absurd boundaries between race, nation, and classes: there exists from now on only order of rank between human beings'.  The difference between rank and class is the difference between ability and birth.  What Nietzsche seeks is a hierarchy not of blood but of natural ability and aptitude." (page 427)

Nietzsche's Beyond Good and Evil is filled with diatribes against modernity.  Against emancipation for women, against the influences of the Christian church, against both democratic and socialistic political movements.  Much can be classified as hubris. Nevertheless, Nietzsche's critique is insightful in that it points toward fundamental forces within modernity. He could see a force there, a power, at work, in his opinion, in a weakening way.  High culture could not thrive under these conditions.  The best of humanity was not that way, according to Nietzsche.  He might have been wrong about that.  But, he was spectacularly right also in Beyond Good and Evil. Values are up for consideration. Free spirits create their own.  Tradition is not so much a guide as it is a yardstick for the power of transcending. Becoming a person who risks everything for truth, who dares to be self-empowering and free and joyful in the reality of things and not in hopes and wishes is about as relevant as anyone can possibly be in this life.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Really enjoyed your blog. Keep the posts coming.