Saturday, October 31, 2015

Hollingdale's take on Nietzsche's "Genealogy"

R.J. Hollingdale ranks alongside Walter Kaufmann as among the foremost scholars on the work of Friedrich Nietzsche. Hollingdale's approach to Nietzsche's next great work, On the Genealogy of Morals, concentrates heavily on what the work says regarding the phenomenon of the "will to power" and "the master/slave morality" structure. This post extensively quotes from Hollingdale's philosophical biography of Nietzsche.  BGE is the abbreviation I use for Beyond Good and Evil.  GM stands for On the Genealogy of Morals.

"Beyond Good and Evil is devoted to an elaboration and explanation of theories put forward in Zarathustra, and Towards a Genealogy of Morals is described as performing the same service for Beyond Good and Evil, so the two books can best be considered together." (page 180)


"The first problem Nietzsche faces is the difficulty involved in saying that the will to power is 'true' if the search for truth is itself prompted by will to power....philosophy must be in some way a means to power and not primarily a means to truth: the philosopher must desire not merely a passive knowing but an active creation of knowledge:


"'...a philosophy...always creates the world after its own image: it cannot do otherwise; philosophy is this tyrannical impulse itself, the most spiritual will to power, to 'creation of the world', to causa prima. (BGE 10)


"'The task of philosophers is 'to create values'...their knowing is creating, their creating is law-giving, their will to truth is - will to power.' (BGE 211)


"Secondly, he appeals to the requirement of logic to recognize one kind of causality and to exploit it to the limit in an effort to make it responsible for every known effect. According to his own theory that the world is explicable in itself, that it 'works' without any contribution from 'outside', it must be possible to determine its 'intelligible character' - that is, understand it in the form in which it presents itself to our senses - by reference to a basic principle.  This principle, he suggests, is the will to power." (page 181)


"If it is proposed that will to power is the basic drive in all life, the question arises: what is the nature of the Will as such?  There still seem to be two forces at work: will, and that will which seeks power; the concept of 'will' still exists as a substratum, will in Schopenhauer's sense, a metaphysical basis for life. There is, (Nietzsche) says, no such thing as will. Just as the soul turns out on inspection to be a word for a complicated system of relationships and therefore cannot be said to exist, so the will has no discrete existence: there is no force emanating from within the body which can be identified as 'will'.  'Willing' is a product of a complex of sensations; and the sensation of willing is felt when the sensation of command succeeds in dominating the other sensations. What we recognize as 'will' is the act of commanding: there is no substratum of 'will-in-itself' which appears in the form of commands.  Nietzsche makes clear in the Genealogy what he means by denying that the will can exist as a separate entity:


"'To require of strength that it should not express itself as strength...is just as absurd as to require of weakness that it should express itself as strength...popular morality separates strength from expressions of strength, as if there were natural substratum behind the strong man...But there is no such substratum; there is no 'being' behind doing, working, becoming: the 'doer' is merely added to the deed - the deed is everything'. (GM I 13)" (page 182)


"'Willing seems to me to be above all something complicated...in every will there is, first of all, a plurality of sensations, namely the sensation of the condition we leave, the sensation of the condition towards which we go, the sensation of this 'leaving' and 'going' itself, and then the accompanying muscular sensation...will is not only a complex of feeling and thinking, but above all an emotion: and in fact the emotion of command.  What is called 'freedom of will' is essentially the emotion of supremacy in respect of him who must obey; 'I am free, "he" must obey' - this consciousness adheres to every will...A man who wills - commands something in himself which obeys or which he thinks obeys...inasmuch as in the given circumstances we at the same time command and obey,...'freedom of will'...is the expression for that complex condition of joy of the person who wills, who commands and at the same time identifies himself with the executor of the command...' (BGE 19)


"The nature of the will, then, is, in its 'intelligible character', will to power; it appears when a certain relation - the power relation - is established between the elements of a 'social structure', whether that structure be an individual, a nation, or the universe as a whole, life as such. This conclusion is consistent with Nietzsche's conclusion concerning the nature of morality - which he repeats in Beyond Good and Evil:


"'Every morality is...a piece of tyranny against 'nature', also against 'reason':...The essential and invaluable element in every morality is that it is a protracted constraint...The essential thing...seems to be...a protracted constraint...The essential thing...seems to be...a protracted obedience in one direction.' (BGE 188)


"In the Genealogy he draws a further conclusion that it is important in linking the theory of the will to power with the need to establish 'meaning' for life.  Just as life is will to power, so the 'meaning' of life is the feeling that the will to power is operative, that something is subject to the will - no matter what it may be: it is the fact of commanding which counts:


"'Apart from the ascetic ideal, man, the animal man, had no meaning.  His existence on earth contained no goal...This is precisely what the ascetic ideal means: that something was lacking, that man was surrounded by a fearful void - he did not know how to justify, to account for, to affirm himself, he suffered from the problem of his meaning...his problem was not suffering itself, but that there was no answer to the crying question 'why is there suffering?'...The meaninglessness of suffering, not suffering itself, was the curse which lay over mankind - and the ascetic ideal gave it meaning!...man was saved thereby...he could now /will/ something - immaterial to what end, why, with what he willed: the will itself was saved.' (GM III 28)"  (pp. 183-184)


"In this will he recognized the origin of nihilism: an individual, a nation, a civilization deprived of positive goals destroys itself by willing the last thing left in its power of will - its own destruction; and it will will rather than not will.  Nietzsche now gained the authority to distinguish between different victorious moralities: that a certain morality had established itself did not imply it was a movement for the enhancement of power - it might be a nihilistic morality, and its triumph the triumph of a will to nothingness.  He therefore began to speak of 'life-enhancing' or 'ascending' and life-denying' or 'declining' morality, and he was able to condemn the latter without self-contradiction." (page 184)


"Nietzsche re-emphasizes that conflict and contest are the basis of life, and that the good impulses derive from the bad:


"'All psychology has hitherto remained anchored to prejudice and timidities: it has not ventured on to the deep.  To conceive of psychology as the morphology and development-theory of the will to power, as I conceive it - has never yet entered the mind of anyone else:...The power of moral prejudices has penetrated deep into the intellectual world, which is apparently the coolest and least prejudiced:...A genuine physio-psychology has to struggle with unconscious resistance in the heart of the investigator; it has to struggle with unconscious resistance in the heart of the investigator; it has 'the heart' against it: even a theory of mutual dependence of the 'good' and the 'bad' impulses causes, as refined immorality, distress and aversion to a conscious still brave and strong - and even more theory of the deprivation of all good impulses from the bad.  When, however, one regards even the emotions of hatred, envy, covetousness, lust for power as life-conditioning emotions, as something which, in the total economy of life, must be present fundamentally and essentially, and which consequently must be furthered if life is to furthered - he suffers from this conclusion as from seasickness.' (BGE 23)" (page 185)


And with the aforementioned "power of moral prejudices" Nietzsche begins to shift his metaphysical focus into a thread that rides his "mature" (his middle and later works as opposed to early "positivist" works from Birth of Tragedy to Zarathustra) philosophical narrative.  The master and slave morality transcends race or class, arranging and critiquing society in a unique way.  This is an important point about Nietzsche.


"He never speaks of the master race, and clearly he never imagined one existing race to be superior to all others. (Even if he had, one may add in parentheses, he would hardly have designated the Germans that race.) He never uses the word in the sense of 'pure race': for Nietzsche a 'race' was a group of people who had lived together a long time and as a result had certain needs and certain characteristics in common; and it was in this sense that he looked forward to a 'European race', which he hoped might vie in achievement with the most celebrated of all 'mixed races', the Greeks.  But his opposition to racism was not merely temperamental bias, or an occasional expression of opinion.  Any philosophy which places conflict at the heart of things and sees it as a ladder to perfection must turn its back on 'pure race' as pure absurdity." (page 186)


"The concept 'master and slave morality' is an attempt to explain how antithetical moral judgments are possible. Before trying to see exactly what is implied in this passage, let us look at those passages in the Genealogy which are an elaboration and extension of it:


"'...the judgment 'good' did not originate with those to whom 'goodness' was shown! Much rather it was 'the good' themselves, that is to say, the noble, powerful, high-stationed and high-minded, who felt and established themselves and their actions as good, that is, of the first rank, in contradistinction to all the low, low-minded, common and plebeian.  It was out of this pathos of distance that they first seized the right to create values and to coin names for values: what had they to do with utility' (GM I 2)


"'...everywhere 'noble', 'aristocratic' in the social sense is the basic concept from which 'good' in the sense of 'with aristocratic soul' necessarily developed: a development which runs parallel with that other in which 'common', 'plebeian', 'low' are finally transformed into the concept of 'bad'...With regard to a genealogy of morals this seems to me a fundamental insight.' (GM I 4)


"'The slave-revolt in morals begins with resentment...becomes creative and gives birth to values...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 act...its action is...reaction...The man of resentment...has conceived 'the evil enemy', 'the Evil One', and this is his basic idea, from which he then evolves, as a corresponding and opposing figure, a 'good one' - himself! (GM I 10)." (page 188)


"'One cannot fail to see at the core of all these noble races the animal of prey, the splendid blonde beast prowling about avidly in search of spoil and victory; this hidden core needs to erupt from time to time, the animal has to get out again and go back to the wilderness: the Roman, Arabian, Germanic, Japanese nobility, the Homeric heroes, the Scandinavian Vikings - they all shared this need.  It is the noble races which have left behind them the concept 'barbarian' wherever they have gone.' (GM I 11)" (page 189)


"The first thing to note is that Nietzsche explains 'class' in terms of 'race'.  The ruling class, he thinks, are the descendants of the conquering race, the ruled, class of the conquered race; in time, racial differences vanished - partly through intermarriage, but mainly because 'race' is essentially a body of characteristics shared by people who have lived together in the same place for a long time - but the power relationship remained.  The aristocracy then became racially indistinguishable from the common people - they were, in fact, one race - and the concept of 'class' appeared to explain the power relationship between rulers and the ruled. It is by means of this power relationship that he seeks to explain the origin of opposite types of morality, 'soul', bad conscience, guilt feelings, and so on.  The aim is to employ the theory of will to power as that 'one kind of causality' demanded by logical method.


"Because slave morality is essentially a reaction against a life of suffering, against life conceived as suffering, it is a 'life-denying' morality; it is protective, it wards off, it reduces vitality; in an extreme form it becomes a Buddhistic flight from reality, a morbid sensitivity to pain that suffers from life as from an illness; he recognizes in Schopenhauer the philosopher who had taken this tendency to its furthest limits.  Against this tendency he sets an opposite ideal:


"'...the ideal of the most exuberant, most living and most world-affirming man, who has not only learned to compromise and treat with all that was and is but who wants to have it again as it was and is to all eternity, insatiably calling out da capo not only to himself but to the whole piece and play...' (BGE 56)" (page 190)


"'The essential thing in a good and healthy aristocracy is...that it does not feel itself to be a function (of a kingdom or of a commonwealth), but as the meaning and highest justification thereof - that it should therefore accept with a good conscience the sacrifice of innumerable men who, for its sake, have to be suppressed and reduced to imperfect men, to slaves and tools.  Its basic faith must be that society should not exist for the sake of society, but only as foundation and scaffolding upon which a select order of beings may rise itself to...a higher existence.' (BGE 258)


"The logic of this attitude, given all that has gone before, is inescapable; so unfortunately for Nietzsche, is its unreality. It is doubtful if he himself thought such an aristocracy was possible; certainly it is not presented as a picture of any actually existing aristocracy. The difficulty, however, is not insurmountable; it derives mainly from the archaic language which Nietzsche here employs, and the outmoded state of society which it calls to mind. The idea behind it is that which we have seen formed the basis of all his thought: that existence is in itself not significant, and mankind can derive no significance from being a function of it; mankind must become this significance and justification of existence. (pp. 191-192)


This last point is interesting because it reveals Nietzsche's distinctive "aristocracy" is something yet to be in the future, to be created by the values of the overmen as a "higher" society emerges completely supported by "herd" society, the mass of ordinary human beings.  It can seem idealistic to suppose such a culture-wide becoming is possible. But a look at the world view of current human events gives a great deal of credence to the idea that a power construct is working within a master-slave context for defining true (actualized) human morality.  


Three examples of how this "will to power" might be manifesting today within a "master-slave morality" construct: 1) The metaphysical clash that results in "income inequality." 2) The aggressive atheism that critiques mass religion. 3) The elitist pockets of society that reside in multiple countries, using their private jets within a global interplay of capitalism and art and dandyism. Whatever. Hollingdale's approach to Nietzsche highlights "the will to power" and "master-slave morality" as basic themes throughout On the Genealogy of Morals.

As Hollingdale admits, none of this "aristocracy" suggests an actual "group."  So it is somewhat surprising to realize that Nietzsche's tangible aristocracy apparently "exists" only as isolated symptoms, fragmented aspects of culture dispersed throughout the spectrum of human culture. If we are to apply the weight of the course of human history since Nietzsche's death to Nietzsche's philosophical aspirations, then we must admit a singular higher culture does not exist, but characteristics of it do exist and have effect, deeds as Nietzsche would have it above. The deed is greater than the doer as manifested in culture. Perhaps the will to power only expresses itself through disconnected cultural drives (as deeds) and never coalesces into a culture. This is a possible interpretation of applying (re-valuating) Nietzsche today.  


When considered along with my previous mention of Nietzsche offering a psychological basis for his ideal "aristocracy" and of the influence of Prussian culture (see here and here) on Nietzsche's perspective, Hollingdale's analysis suggests that the idea of what a "society" is might need adjustment, in ways, I suggest, that accommodate Nietzsche's thought and yet are even more radical than Nietzsche's thinking. Namely, that the characteristics of the overman and of higher existence might be dispersed across multiple societies and not unified in any specific society. I will consider the ramifications of this in a future post.