Nietzsche on War (revised thoughts on themes, rhetoric and strategies of violence) II

In The Birth of Tragedy, Attic tragedy is a temporary resolution of the struggle between the Dionysian and the Apolline. In a more radical analysis Zarathustra is seen to overthrow his own  teachings. In his attacks on the mediocrity of the state and the neighbour, there is always the hope of the return of the superior art, the superior individual, and the superior rulers. Superiority rests on conflict, on the undermining of hierarchy, and on new acts of violence on institutionalised orders.

The strategies of writing are formed by the physical and ideational aspects of the conflicting forces at work in the growth of life and the transformation of hierarchies. So conflicts which have some aspect of war about them and require references to war to explain them. The above suggests that in some ways, then, Nietzsche must be committed to a philosophy of war, a phrase that itself can refer to a philosophical commendation of war and a philosophical analysis of war. Both can be found in Nietzsche, but not in a sense that should allow us to think of Nietzsche as simply justifying the ‘blonde beast’ conqueror of the Genealogy or the Homeric warriors discussed with regard to master morality in Genealogy I. Zarathustra admires the warrior, but is not a warrior, his goal is to become like the child, not the lion, of the three metamorphoses. In some moments,

Nietzsche can be very critical of the military spirit, as can be seem in his lofty dismissal of the militarism of Bismarckian Prussia-Germany. That reaction to the high value of the military in the Hohenzollern state, first Brandenburg, then Prussia and then finally the German Empire (half of which was the Kingdom of Prussia) is particularly significant since war, and the qualities of the warrior (in practice of the aristocratic officer) had a particularly elevated role in the Hohenzollern state.

The Prussian-German state was not unique in emerging from a series of successful wars and sovereignty maintained through the monopoly of organised violence, but it was distinctive in how far its existence and growth rested on dramatic military triumphs, particularly in the wars of Frederick the Great (War of Austrian Succession and Seven Years War) and of Helmuth Moltke the Elder (wars with Denmark, Austria and France), which led to the formation of the Empire.

The Napoleonic Wars, which greatly extended Prussian territories in the end, were maybe not so characterised by great Prussian victories against apparently stronger powers, but did give a special role to the military in the centrality of commanders like Scharnhorst and Gneisenau in the reforms of Prussia after early losses to Napoleon; and the writing of Carl von Clausewitz, often taken as the greatest contribution to the theory of war in the whole history of the subject, and which itself emphasises an idea of the commander as ‘genius’, that is possessing an exceptional capacity to unify the perspective of overall strategy and the quickly changing localised tactical perspectives of the battle itself.

The Prussian system, in its classical form under Frederick the Great, offered the aristocracy and those who rose in social status through an army career, an opportunity for individuality and autonomy on the battlefield within an autocratic system. Von Moltke’s had three famous victories from 1864 to 1870, particularly against the apparently greater power of Austria (1866) and France (1870), following on victory against a minor power Denmark, nevertheless remarkable because  achieved with great strategic skill in taking the war to the island parts of Denmark. These  confirmed the image of a state with a strength that rested on military success against the odds because of superior discipline, innovative aristocratic officers, and a touch of creative genius amongst its highest commanders.

(to be continued)


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