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

That Nietzsche in the end rejected the Prussian-German state and restricted his admiration of the warrior to historical models rather than the German officer corps of his time, says something both about the  limits of the German military as a sphere of individuality and and the destablising nature of Nietzsche’s though which always undermines institutions and customs, while in some moments appearing to demand the intensification of their authority.  This historical and political context gives ‘On War and Warriors’ in Zarathustra a location beyond that of Nietzsche simply reflecting on the nature of the warrior as such.

You may have only those enemies whom you can hate, but not enemies to despise. You must be proud of your enemy: then the successes of your enemy are your successes too. Rebellion—that is the nobility of slaves. Let your nobility be obedience! Your commanding itself shall be obeying! To a good warrior “thous shalt” sounds nice than “I will.” And everything you hold dear you should have commanded to you. Let your love for life be love for your highest hope, and let your highest hope be the highest thought of life! But you shall have your highest thought commanded by me—and it says: human being is something that shall be overcome. So live your life of obedience and war! What matters living long! Which warrior wants to be spared! I spare you not, I love you thoroughly, my brothers in war!—

Part of the background to this is the account Nietzsche gives of what is deficient in the culture of Germany at the time of the defeat of France and the formation of the Hohenzollern Empire in ‘David Strauss, the confessor and the writer’ (the first of the Untimely Meditations) in relation to his slightly preceding thought on the matter since The Birth of Tragedy and ‘The Greek State’, though it is still some years before he makes an explicit break with the earlier Wagner mania. In the meditation on Strauss, Prussia is in the role of Macedonia in relation to the smaller German states, that is it is a military imperial power lacking in the cultural achievements of Athens as a product of the independent Greek city states. Military political power is situated as the opposite of cultural greatness, with acknowledgement of Prussian-German greatness in war serving as more of an accusation than a tribute.

‘David Strauss, the confessor and the writer’ [1873] 1 Of all the evil consequences, however, which have followed the recent war with France perhaps the worst is a widespread, indeed universal, error: the error committed by public opinion and by all who express their opinions publicly, that German culture too was victorious in that struggle and must now therefore be loaded with garlands appropriate to such an extraordinary achievement. This delusion is in the highest degree destructive: not because it is a delusion—for there exist very salutary and productive errors—but because it is capable of turning our victory into a defeat: into the defeat, if not the extirpation, of the German spirit for the benefit of the ‘German Reich’. Even supposing that a war of this kind were in fact a war between two cultures, the value of the victor would still be a very relative one and could certainly not justify choruses of victory or acts of self-glorification. For one would have to know what the defeated culture had been worth: perhaps it was worth very little: in which case the victory of the victorious culture, even if attended by the most magnificent success in arms, would constitute no invitation to ecstatic triumphs. On the other hand, in the present case there can be no question of a victory of German culture, for the simple reason that French culture continues to exist as heretofore, and we are dependent upon it as heretofore. Our culture played no part even in our success in arms. Stern discipline, natural bravery and endurance, superior generalship, unity and obedience in the ranks, in short, elements that have nothing to do with culture, procured for us the victory over opponents in whom the most important of these elements were lacking: the wonder is that that which at present calls itself ‘culture’ in Germany proved so small an obstacle to the military demands which had to met for the achievement of a great success—perhaps it was only because that which calls itself culture saw a greater advantage in subordinating itself this time.

So Prussia-Germany presumably occupies the cultural space of Hellenism, the supposed decline of Greek thought and culture, criticised by Nietzsche in The Birth of Tragedy in the area that formed the empire of Alexander the Great, and in which the great centre of Greek culture was now Alexandria rather than Greece. Questions might arise about whether Berlin was the modern equivalent of Pella or Alexandria, or both, but we do not need to pursue the parallels further except to note that Nietzsche moved towards a view of Wagner which in the end might make Bayreuth a failed attempt at a modern Athens.

(to be continued)


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