(From ‘Nietzsche Writing in Blood: Themes, Rhetoric, and Strategies of Violence, a paper presented on 13th October 2014 at the 20 International Conference of the Friedrich Nietzsche Society ‘Nietzsche, Love and War’ at the University of Birmingham’)
‘The Greek State’ emphasises that Greek Antiquity emphasised hierarchy originating in military organisation born from a need to overcome the primal pre-social war of all against all. These points are not original, from Plato to Hegel, political theory had emphasised war and the existence of a military to defend frontiers as essential to the existence of the state. It was Hobbes, who famously emphasised that the state exists to overcome the fear of death presented by the human state of nature, which is a war of all against all. Nietzsche notes the origin of any state and any nation in agonism. Agonism is a state of conflict between humans seen as the primary driving force in human culture. That agonism needs to contain itself in forms which limit the growth of life and culture. Hierarchy is a product of agonism since hierarchy includes a struggle between different social levels, between master and slave.
Only those individuals can emerge from this horrifying struggle for existence who are then immediately preoccupied with the fine illusions of artistic culture so that they do not arrive at that practical pessimism which nature abhors as truly unnatural. (The Greek State in the Cambridge University Press edition of On the Genealogy of Morality, page 176)
In the essay on Homer, power also produces religion. The individual exists as the tool of the state, which exists as the tool of the artistic individual, of individuals of great culture. ‘Homer on Competition’ shows that the individual hero or genius is an instrument of great culture or artistic genius through agonism. The structure which creates great individuals is not necessarily one which denies rights to the majority, therefore the view that society and the state are justified by great artistic individuals does not require the suffering of the many. It does require opposing ‘justice’ in the sense of pity and compassion for the unfortunate (which is not the same as wishing misfortune on the unfortunate or indifference to their misfortunes).
There must be a hierarchy in the society which produces great individuals, because of the agonism inherent in hierarchy. A justice of pity and compassion for the less fortunate can only weaken the achievements of society. The desire for ‘equal suffering in pain’ is the problem. That does not mean wishing suffering on the ‘unfortunate’ though it may appear so at first and is probably intended to provoke such an immediate reaction.
‘Justice’ itself is the problem as a basic concept since life (as natural and historical) in a becoming of pain and contradiction destroying what already exists, as every moment in time destroys every previous moment. An ethic of pity for every pain suffered in this constant agon will be highly destructive, we would be paralysed by pity. The status of individuals is as servants of a state which stands aside from pity in its principles. That does not mean that the many suffer so that the few are happy, as the artists and heroes are themselves formed agonistically. This bloody strategy of power operating in the state has an energy which undermines Platonist hierarchy, or any fixed hierarchy. If it has a hierarchical structure to it, it is a hierarchy which is challenged by the life flourishing of Nietzsche’s form of naturalism, which is the overflowing and self-destruction of aristocracy rather than the triumph of its permanency.
The Birth of Tragedy presents a theory of tragedy as derived from agonism and of literature Nietzsche explores the dilemmas of the state and political community through tragedy. Nietzsche’s position can be constituted with reference to Rousseau, with his essay on language in mind as well as The Social Contract and The Discourse on Inequality. Rousseau defines social contract as the outcome of the loss of nature. In society the natural rights of man are (re)established in the creation of laws by a social body, the whole of the community transformed from a collection of natural individuals, and implemented by a representative body, at a further stage of alienation from natural man.
Nietzsche describes a primal community, in the Dionysian rites and early Satyr choruses, which is the existence of community itself. The Apolline concern with images, law and boundaries alienates the Dionysian ritual in the staging of a tragedy for spectators, a vital element in the communal life of Ancient Greek cities. There is a parallel with Rousseau, there is pathos in the loss of nature, a constant struggle with that reality, and an attempt at the return of nature in the constitution of an ideal social community, though there is also distance from the leanings of Rousseau towards a natural self contained community to individual.