Nietzsche and the Politics of his Time III

Nietzsche referred to a family legend of aristocratic Polish origins (Frenzel 1966, 10), but there is no independent confirmation, and the whole idea is really a fantasy belonging to an age in which the common-noble status distinction is questioned. Thomas Hardy’s novel of 1891, Tess of the d’Urbervilles, refers in its title to a rural lower class family which decides that it should replace its plebian name of Durbeyfield with d’Urberville like a local aristocratic family, because of a rumoured Norman aristocratic ancestry deep in the Middle Ages. The comical self-elevation to the aristocracy is followed up the by trauma of Tess’ rape by the son of a family which has purchased the d’Urberville name, as part of its own self-elevation from merchant class to aristocracy. Hardy was both a very philosophical novelist, and part, as as a great social observer amongst writers, and does capture with some wit and some pathos, the reality of the lower and middle class wish to approach aristocratic status in the nineteenth century. Hardy himself was a reader of Nietzsche. Though there seem to be positive echoes of Nietzsche’s philosophy in Hardy’s literature, his direct remarks on the subject were mostly critical, and he was one of those who thought Nietzsche to blame for Prussian-German militarism  and nationalism (Williamson 1978). There’s no reason to believe he was aware of Nietzsche’s own tendency to assume aristocratic antecedents, but he would probably have been amused to have accidentally satirised them in Tess of the d’Urbervilles.

Following Tocqueville’s classic account, Nietzsche’s own criticisms of democracy add to the growth of democracy, as his own poetic exploration of inner individuality is itself serving the democratic ideal of the individual. As Tocqueville argues in Democracy in America, democracy both brings about a respect for the rights of the individual and a self-centred individualism which threatens the moral coherence of the democratic society. In some respects, Nietzsche’s exploration of immoralism and self-determining individuality is an example of that dangerous individualism, though it has a concern with the cultivation of the self and self-mastery, distinct from the vulgarity that Tocqueville associates with democratic individualism.

The aristocratic feudal world of the Middle Ages itself creates the conditions for democracy through the growth of cities with political institutions of self-government, wars which undermine the nobility, a church which promotes spiritual equality and provides a career path for poor but clever children. The culture of that world, including the spread of imaginative literature spills over into all parts of society, so that those who are below the aristocracy become part of the world of literary culture, which itself tends to cultivate empathy and egalitarian individualism, even if it does begin with the adventures of knights.  It is in this context that we should think of Nietzsche’s enthusiasm for Goethe, the poet and thinker who stood between feudalism and liberalism. Nietzsche himself notes the growth of empathy, of concern for the welfare and sensitivities of others, for example with what he suggests is a changing attitude to the sufferings of Don Quixote in Cervantes’ novel (GM II 6).  The main topic of On the Genealogy of Morality II is of how morality and legal codes are descended from customs and codes requiring punishments of extreme physical cruelty, and it is surely hard not to see Nietzsche as repelled as well as fascinated by that cruelty itself, and in any case preferring the individual who rises above by urges for cruelty  which are the source of ressentiment.

Who does Nietzsche look to as his heroes in the era of growing democracy and equality. Is it a list of ultra-reactionary conservatives, or at least conservatives suspicious of democratic enthusiasm? In such a case we would expect an appreciation of Edmund  Burke and Joseph de Maistre on the literary side, and an appreciation of Klemens von Metternich and Otto von Bismarck on the political leadership side. Burke and de Maistre are completely absent from Nietzsche’s writings, as is Metternich. Only Bismarck gets any attention (M 167, FW 104), and that is of a negative kind, since Nietzsche does not support the German nationalist aspects of Bismarck’s politics, or Bismarck’s style of government. For Nietzsche, Bismarck was a symbol of vulgarity and opportunism. One monarch of Nietzsche’s time gets some appreciation, and that is the briefly reigning Kaiser Friedrich III (EH Zarathustra I), the one Hohenzollern Emperor who favoured the liberals at home and Anglophile policies abroad. The first edition of Human, All Too Human was dedicated to Voltaire, who Nietzsche finds to be an Olympian alternative to Rousseau (MA 463), but who nevertheless was a popular hero of his time due to his defiance of monarchical absolutism. Mirabeau the Younger, a prominent figure on the moderate liberal side of politics in the early stages of the French Revolution, is mentioned with admiration (GM I 10). Another French revolutionary, the rather more resolutely republican Lazare Carnot, gets an admiring mention (M 167). Carnot survived into the Empire period as a senior figure in the state, but kept his distance from the Emperor system.

To be continued

Gezi Park, Democracy, and the Politics of Public Space

The Gezi Park protest movement in Turkey demonstrates some important aspects of what politics is. There is some sense in which politics is about elections, national assemblies and governments, but these things exist in a context. There cannot be politics without some broader social aspect, and that is certainly the case for democratic politics. In Alexis de Tocqueville’s classic early nineteenth century account, Democracy in America, he gives democracy at least two meanings. One meaning is the existence of representative institutions elected by popular voter. The more fundamental definition for Tocqueville though is the existence of equality in legal and moral status between humans. The political institutions of representative democracy are  a way of reinventing the republicanism of ancient Rome and Greece, in the context of societies which have abandoned slavery and which are more diverse than the city state of antiquity. The idea that modern democracy has some relation with ancient models, despite its major differences, has kept coming back since and was already a matter of discussion before Tocqeuville.

The kind of equality that Gezi Park protestors have been centrally concerned with is that between citizens and government members. The Turkish government has presumed that democracy is no more than the right of the elected government to do what it chooses. Significantly the Prime Minister reacted to the protests by organising rallies to Defend the National Will. In his mind the fraction of one percent under fifty per cent his Justice and Development Party received, is the National Will. Additionally the Prime Minister, Recep Tayyıp Erdoğan, appears to make no distinction between his own authority and that of the party group in the National Assembly, and to believe that his actions are the actions of the National Will. The authority conferred by the National Will is what allows Erdoğan, in his mind, to order the police via government appointed governors and the Ministry of the Interior to clear political demonstrators from public spaces.

What is of major concern here is the control of public spaces and the challenges to such controls from Gezi protestors.  The protest began with resistance to government plans to build a replica Ottoman barracks containing a shopping mall and high end residences in one of the sparse green areas in central Istanbul. The government has backed down on this very specific issue, but has in all other respects reinforced its aggressively authoritarian implementation of Islamist-Nationlist politics, in a manner serving the interests of economic enterprises linked with the government through family, political or other ties. Significantly what the government has not backed down on is limiting, even banning, political protest outside  very limited areas. The protestors where cleared from Gezi Park with notorious brutality, as police sprayed tear gas and handed out beatings to anyone in their way. This extended to attacking those temporary  medical facilities where injured protestors were seeking treatment, beseiging a mosque, the Divan hotel and the German hospital. In Erdoğan’s view, this operation, and others round Turkey which resulted in the loss of five lives, the hospitalisation of thousands, including some protestors  in comas and protestors who have lost eyes, was a time of the birth of legends amongst the police.

The deaths, blindings, comas, lost eyes, and other injuries, serve the purpose of showing that the government controls public space. It is possible to organise demonstrations in Turkey, but not where it matters. The authorities will give permission in Istanbul for demonstrations in Kadıköy, the largest centre on the Anatolian side of Istanbul, which includes the remains of the ancient Greek colony of Chalcedon. It is possible for radical groups to organise large demonstrations there, but nobody cares or notices. The pro-government municipality of Istanbul is proposing a large space dedicated to demonstrations out of the city of centre. Again no one will care of notice. The national media, the international media, people found the most central parts of the city, will notice a demonstration if it takes place in a central area, which it is largely agreed has symbolic importance. A demonstration in such a place will be seen by those people most connected with the life of the city centre and maybe by the whole world through television. Even the spread of unofficial and marginal news through social media will flow towards news from such areas. Cyberspace, at least as regards political drama, is firmly focused on famous public places in historic metropolitan centres. Meaningful democracy must mean the right to demonstrate, protest and communicate with The City (as Istanbul/Constantinople has been known), the nation, and the world. In that sense ruthless state directed violence against Gezi Protestors is a strategic decision  to prevent the growth of meaningful democracy in Turkey. Without the full range of democratic rights, in the appropriate social and cultural context, democracy decays, as Tocqueville warned into ‘tyranny of the majority’, ‘administrative centralisation’ and ‘soft despotism’, which he saw as dangers embedded in democracy. The Gezi Protests are Ptotests are protests against those dangers growing and subordinating democracy.

Nietzsche and the Politics of his Time II

Looking at other anti-egalitarian heroes in Nietzsche we find Julius Caesar (Twilight of the Idols Expeditions of an Untimely Man 38), whose power was based on a kind of democratic dictatorship, which sounds peculiar writing now when democracy is so associated with liberalism and separation of powers. However, it used to be widely thought that there was a complicity between the power of the democratic mob and the absolute ruler who ignores the restraining power of the aristocracy, laws and ancient offices, as when Caesar subordinated the senate and other republican institutions to his will. There was an element of democratic revolution in Caesar’s rise to power, and the institutionalisation of his power by Augustus, at least in the sense that the will of the Roman poor was given more weight than in the republican system compared with the senatorial class. Some of Nietzsche’s remarks about aristocracy and the virtues of Rome, might lead us to think that he admired the aristocratic power of the republican period, but even if we do accept this then we have a model for Nietzsche in the Roman Republic, which was the model for both the French and American Revolutions.

Nietzsche quotes Charles the Bold of Burgundy, referring to his enemy Louis XI of France as the universal spider, in the context of the hubris of self-examination (On the Genealogy of Morality III 9), the universal spider with which Nietzsche contended in politics was not a king, but was democracy, in the sense of equality and of political participation, which he could not resist and which he contributed to in resisting. If that sounds like a strange claim, let us look at some of the words of the great prophet of democracy, of its virtues and its vices, Alexis de Tocqueville, in the Introduction to the first volume of Democracy in America.

Once the work of the mind had become a source of power and wealth, every addition to knowledge, every fresh discovery, and every new idea became a germ of power within reach of the people. Poetry, eloquence, memory, the graces of the mind, the fires of the imagination and profundity of thought, all things scattered broadcast by heaven, were a profit to democracy, and even when it was adversaries of democracy who possessed these things, they still served its cause by throwing into relief the natural greatness of man. Thus its conquests spread along with those of civilisation and enlightenment, and literature was an arsenal from which all, including the weak and poor, daily chose their weapons. Running through the pages of our history, there is hardly an important event in the last seven hundred years which has not turned out to be advantageous for equality. The Crusades and the English wars decimated the nobles and divided up their lands. Municipal institutions introduced democratic liberty into the heart of the feudal monarchy; the invention of firearms made villein (villain) and noble proud on the field of battle; printing offered equal resources to their minds; the post brought enlightenment to hovel and palace alike; Protestantism maintained that all men are equally able to find the path to heaven. America, once discovered, opened a thousand new roads to fortune and gave any obscure adventurer the chance of wealth and power. If, beginning at the eleventh century, one takes stock of what was happening in France at fifty-year intervals, one finds that each time a double revolution has taken place in the state of society. The noble has gone down in the social scale, and the commoner gone up; as the one falls, the other rises. Each half century brings them closer, and soon they will touch. And that is not something peculiar to France. Wherever one looks one finds the same revolution taking place throughout the Christian world. Everywhere the diverse happenings in the lives of peoples have turned to democracy’s profit; all men’s efforts have aided it, both those who intended this and those who had no such intention, those who fought for democracy and those who were the declared enemies thereof; all have been driven pell-mell along the same road, and all have worked together, some against their will and some unconsciously, blind instruments in the hands of God.

Nietzsche himself fits well into much of what Tocqueville discusses. Nietzsche’s own claims to represent an aristocratic point of view, this son of a provincial pastor, is an effect of the coming together of noble and commoner status to which Tocqueville refers. The works of written imagination referred to by Tocqueville celebrate aristocracy in the first place, but then as he says are taken to cover the natural greatness of man, a greatness that can be inside anyone. Nietzsche’s father was a Lutheran pastor, and as Tocqueville says it is Protestantism that spread the idea that all humans are equal in finding a way to salvation.

To be continued

Gezi Park Protests: An Introduction

At last I get round to blogging on Gezi Park.  That is the movement of protest in Turkey sparked off by a government project to bulldoze a historic park in the centre of Istanbul, in order to build a replica of an Ottoman barracks which would serve as a shopping centre and apartment block for high end flats. That simple issue brought together a variety of issues stimulating protest, which are listed below, roughly in ascending order of complexity and historical depth.

1. Erosion of secular republicanism by neo-Ottomanist ideology referring to religious conservatism and imperial glory of the past.

2.  Destruction of the green parts of Istanbul, a city already lacking in large parks and open green spaces.

3. The numerous construction projects in Turkey, which bring enormous financial advantages to members of friends of the the AKP (governing party, from the Turkish acronym for Justice and Development Party). These beneficiaries include the son-in-law of the Prime Minister, a major investor in construction projects and media companies.

4. The lack of consultation with local communities regarding construction and urbanist projects which transform environments where old communities exist, often leading to those communities leaving their old environment for high rise residential blocks built by a government agency.

5. The aggressive and authoritarian personality of the Prime Minister, which matches a very non-consultative style of government even at high levels of the AKP, and in the expectation that even the Mayor of Istanbul will accept detailed intervention from the Prime Minister in the development of Istanbul. The rulings of administrative courts are routinely ignored, which is legal because of the level of executive privilege in the Turkish political system, but of course a more democratic consultative government would be inclined to implement those decisions.

6. Underlying concerns about government intervention in the Syrian civil war, with the accompanying phenomena of large numbers of refugees in eastern Turkey and a bomb attack which killed many in an eastern Anatolian town. All of this has largely been ignored by the media. Members of the biggest religious minority in Turkey, Alevi Muslims (a heterodox branch of Shia Islam)  are particularly anxious about government support for the opposition in Syria, because the power of the Assad family rests in its own religious community of Allawites, also a branch of Shia Islam and like Turkish Alevis leaning more to secularism than most Sunni Muslims.

7. That reference to the media brings us to another underlying issue which quickly came to be at the centre of the Gezi movement, which is the domination of the media by the government. It has always been the case in Turkey that the state television and radio expresses a government point of view, and there has been previous government leverage of influence on private media companies, effective government control of private media companies has reached unprecedented levels. The consequence has been close to zero coverage except occasionally on government terms of issues embarrassing to the government, including the Gezi Park protests themselves.

8. The protests themselves drew attention to another underlying issue which is police brutality (leading to the deaths of five demonstrators) and the political character of the police who are nearly all religious conservative in culture and openly scornful of leftist and secularist demonstrators. The upper ranks of the police, and other key state institutions including the judiciary, university administrators, and the national intelligence agency are dominated by members of The Community, that is members of the Nurcu Muslim community, founded by a leading critic of the formation of a secular republic, now led by Fetullah Gülen who is Turkish but lives in a giant compound in the United States.

9. Failure of the government’s promise to end conflict with Kurdish radicals and eliminate the underlying problems of the conflicts. A top down and an very cautious approach has disappointed those Kurds who emphasise identity and autonomy for the southeast of Turkey, while antagonising left and right nationalists who were infuriated by contacts between the government and the PKK (armed Kurdish autonomy group, inclined towards terrorist methods, PKK is the Kurdish acronym for Kurdistan Workers’ Party). Kurdish radicals were infuriated by the continued state oppression of unarmed expression of Kurdish radicalism. Left and right nationalists, along with radical Kurds have all been present at Gezi, part of its extraordinary nature.

10. Another issue which is not obvious most of the time, but is important to the Gezi protests is the status of the largest religious minority in Turkey, Alevis, an issue introduced in point 6. Alevism, like Shiism in general, seems rooted historically in communities who felt marginal compared with the Sunni centres of power. Alevis were sometimes in violent conflict with the Ottoman sultans, and one issue that came up around Gezi was that the projected third bridge across the Bosphorus was going to be named after the Sultan who massacred most Alevis, Selim Yavuz.  In the time of the secular republic, formally inaugurated in October 1923, Alevis have both been enemies of the laic state and its strongest supporters. The early Republic carried on Ottoman projects to assimilate Alevi communities in southeastern Anatolia in to the national mainstream, resulting in armed conflict in which tens of thousands of citizens died, focused round the city of Tunceli (also known by the older local name of Dersim). Despite this Tunceli Alevis, and Alevis in general became part of the core support of the Republican People’s Party, which ruled in a one party system in the early Republic (1923-1950), particularly from the 1960s onwards as a way of opposing domination by conservative Sunnis. The ultranationalist and religious conservative right in Turkey has anti-Alevism as a core emotion. Alevis have been disproportionately present in leftist and protest movements for many years, and this has been the case for the Gezi moment. All five of the protestors killed by police and pro-AKP civilians were Alevi, and protests have been particularly fierce and prolonged in the Alevi districts of Istanbul.

Nietzsche and the Politics of his Time I

Blogging has been interrupted by a mixture of travel and trying to finish a project, with spare time very much taken up by following and posting on events in Turkey on social media (Facebook and twitter @barry_stocker). The project, a co-edited book on Nietzsche and politics, is not completely ready for the publisher yet, but I’ve completed the largest parts of my work as co-editor and contributor. This post, and a few more, are adapted from draft material from my part of the introduction. I will also be posting on events in Turkey now that things are a bit calmer, for a while, and I can get a bit of distance from what has been day to day, at times hour to hour or even minute to minute drama,

So this post begins a discussion of Nietzsche’s place in the politics of his time, and then his legacy in political thought.

Nietzsche did not write a treatise of political philosophy and he dismissed the political ideologies of his time, particularly liberalism, socialism, and nationalism. He condemned the modern drive to egalitarianism, but did not support any concrete program of political reaction, that is for the restoration of the aristocratic-monarchical world as it existed before modern egalitarianism. His thought was largely directed against the religious beliefs which political reaction placed at the centre. His criticisms of slaves, or any kind of lower class, were also criticisms of the religious beliefs that the priestly products of the masters encouraged amongst the slaves. One problem Nietzsche faced, in any desire he might have had for a reactionary political process, was that it would be likely to lead him into the world of modern egalitarianism, at least in the sense of equality of individual rights.


He admired Napoleon, and may have sympathised with French Bonapartists of his time (Don Dombowsky), but Napoleon started off as a Jacobin, always claimed to carry on the values of the French revolution, which he achieved by spreading the Civil Code throughout the nations he conquered. Dombowsky  acknowledges the connection between Napoleon and the Civil Code, but claim its egalitarian liberal aspects were undermined by Napoleon’s claim to the final role in interpreting. However, the supremacy of the sovereign over judges in interpreting law is a constant of the civil law tradition going back to its origins in Roman law, and carrying on through the democratic era. In the democratic era, the sovereign becomes the national assembly rather than the monarch, but structurally that is the same and makes no difference to the citizen facing the state law courts. Though Napoleon was taken as an enemy by the leading French liberals, he was also the enemy of the conservative aristocracies and monarchies of Europe; and in the Hundred Days following his escape from Elba, he worked with Benjamin Constant on a more liberal version of Bonapartism. His nephew Napoleon III, undermined republicanism and liberal democracy, but kept many of the forms and was rater inclined to social welfare reforms. His career ended in ignominy when Bismarck tricked him into stating the Franco-Prussian War.

Nietzsche’s other obvious hero, and representative of an old aristocratic Europe was Goethe , but again we find that the nearest thing Nietzsche could find to an anti-liberal hero was entangled in liberalism in his own time, and through his later influence. Goethe stood for an old Germany of a mosaic of small and large states with all different kinds of traditional governments and laws, under the loose sovereignty of the Habsburg Emperors in Vienna, who exercised more direct sovereignty in personal  lands partly within and partly without the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation, the strange and archaic sounding name for this peculiar system of multiplied traditional laws and political forms. Goethe himself was the chief minister of the Duchy of Saxe-Weimar. So we can see Goethe as the great representative of a pre-democratic, pre-liberal and pre-egalitarian Europe, but is that the sum of his influence? A glance at Ludwig von Mises’ brief book of 1927, Liberalism, intended to revive the liberals of the classical liberals, shows that Goethe appears with Schiller as the aesthetic aspects of liberalism, an appreciation of the great individual, and so of the greatness of the inner individual, and of all individuals in general. Mises note Goethe’s positive attitude to commercial life including a rather un-Nietzschean enthusiasm for double-entry book keeping (97). In Mises’ view: ‘Liberal thinking permeates German classical poetry, above all the works of Goethe and Schiller’ (Mises 196). We might take Goethe backwards into the pre-egalitarian world, but he was taken up in the egalitarian world, and he was part of its emergence.

The very idealisation of the Medieval world as one of heroic individuality and the pluralism of states, itself undermined the customary nature of that world, and the sense of belonging to a hereditary order rather than possessing a self-founding individual excellence. Nietzsche’s own thought is formed by awareness of that transition, which he projects back into Ancient Athens in The Birth of Tragedy. The bourgeois world is already emerging in Euripides and is very apparent in Meneander, the Platonic dialogue is the route to the novel,  where the insights of tragedy have disappeared under tendencies to naturalism and logical schematism.