FNS 09: War and Liberty; Aristocracy and Liberalism

Primary version of this post, with visual content, at Barry Stocker’s Weblog.

In my first post (three posts ago) on the Friedrich Nietzsche Society 2009 conference, I mentioned a point I made in the discussion after Brian Leiter’s presentation. I suppose this might be making a big deal out of a question, but I was dealing with some things I find important and have been working on for some time.

My point was in response to two claims from Leiter

Nietzsche links fighting in war with liberty, and no other philosopher has done so. Therefore Nietzsche cannot be linked with political liberalism.

Nietzsche attributes different moral worth to different kinds of individuals. Therefore Nietzsche cannot be linked with political liberalism.

My counter claims

Kant refers to war fought according to the laws of humanity as sublime in the Critique of the Power of Judgment. The experience of the sublime is way, for Kant, in which we encounter out transcendental self which stands outside natural determinism. This is our free self. This itself connect with remarks in the Metaphysics of Morals about the positive freedom, with reference to a will to perfection in following moral law which goes above mere minimal obedience, and again refers to our freedom in the most perfectionist way of rising above mere impulse and determinism. This clearly connects with Kant’s view of politics as a kind of perfectionist liberal republicanism, that is citizens rise to the highest levels of human personality in respect for law, as the basis for freedom in a state based on political participation. It also feeds into discussions about the liberty of the moderns and ancients in Benjamin Constant, and Wilhelm von Humbldt’s discussion of positive and negative welfare, two great figures of liberalism. Humbold also linked war with liberty saying that power of the state was less dangerous to liberty in the Ancient Greek states because constant war enhanced independence and strength of character. This is in Humboldt’s great contribution to political philosophy, The Limits of State Action.

Various major liberal thinkers have not been purists with regard to moral equality between humans. Before Alexis de Tocqueville they mostly assumed that only the propertied classes should have political rights. Tocqueville accepted the inevitability, and desirability, of democracy but with reservations and thought it would require a new kind of aristocracy in the legal profession and political leaders. John Stuart Mill thought the educated should have more political rights and that backward peoples should have no political rights until educated to the necessary level. Mill even suggests that some people are just lacking in moral character, suggesting that universal education would not make everyone equal. In politics, William Ewart Gladstone, the great British Liberal Prime Minister, and symbol of democracy and liberty throughout Europe, explicitly believed in aristocracy in the political system rather than pure democracy. As Tocqueville pointed out, representative government under law tends to produce its own aristocracy in any case. These liberal thinkers were picking up, though also revising, ancient republicanism in Aristotle, Cicero, Tactitus etc, which was rooted in the belief that liberty required an aristocracy proud of its rights and national independence. This continued into early modern republicanism, and then fed into Classical Liberalism.

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