Why Republican Libertarianism? V Concluding Remarks

My latest contribution to the group blog Notes On Liberty

Notes On Liberty

(This text was written for the European Students for Liberty Regional Conference in Istanbul at Boğaziçi University. I did not deliver the paper, but used it to gather thoughts which I then presented in an improvised speech. As it was quite a long text, I am breaking it up for the purposes of blog presentation)

There is a tendency within liberty oriented though which sees the intrusions of the state in the modern world as something to do with republicanism and the democratic political spirit. The development of what has been called the administrative state, administered society, the iron cage of bureaucracy, disciplinarity (generalised power throughout society), biopower (sovereignty over life and health), and so on, has taken place in all state forms. It is deeply embedded in the emergence of modern industrial world, where traditional authority structures and customary laws are eroded by city life, national and international markets…

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

(final part)

It is possible to see a progression in Nietzsche from a Doric-Prussian enthusiasm for a state in which military genius and artistic genius converge in a cultural elite of the aristocracy towards an aristocracy of the cultural elite detached from military spirit and less cruel towards the lower class instruments of society.

Some caution should be exercised though, since as argued above The Birth of Tragedy has an aesthetics above politics, and general justification of life through art theme, and if we start looking for possibly aristocratic-military aspects in the Apolline as Doric state, we have to acknowledge some democratic reference in the Dionysian chorus. There is a constant tension in Nietzsche between the elitism and the universality of his message, along with a persistent tension between culture and state or politics.

The politics does not disappear in later texts, as is sometimes suggested in the enormous volume of discussion of Nietzsche’s politics, including the political implications of his anti-politics, just as the superiority of culture to politics is present early on. The status of war in The Birth of Tragedy is largely approached through the Homeric epics, which are identified as a dream (The Birth of Tragedy 2),so are Apolline, of the Greek world, thereby containing the warrior ethos within representation. The warrior appears in Thus Spoke Zarathustra as to be admired, though not to be taken as the goal. The ‘friend’ relation  (Thus Spoke Zarathustra, First Part, ‘On the Friend’) is given higher status, drawing on some aspects of the warrior, but not the life of organised violence.

There is another kind of violence, which is that of writing as blood going beyond the warrior life. The passage in the opening quotations from Genealogy referring to the conquest of a settled peaceful people as the source of the state distances Nietzsche from Platonic idealisation of the state and Enlightenment accounts of the state as what gradually emerges through internal process from,  barbarism and savagery.

Given the anti-Prussian-Macedonian move of the early seventies, it is probably best to resist any unqualified celebration of the military-aristocratic state established by conquest into Nietzsche’s comment. There is no celebration of aristocratic-military war, and we should take Genealogy I as a disruption of ethics since Plato rather than a straightforward celebration of the Homeric or Roman military-aristocratic order.

The Genealogy should be read in the light of the overall evidence presented here of an aesthetic Nietzsche. This is the case for  the whole of his philosophical development, even if sometimes certain aspects of art and aestheticism are criticised, and even if the aesthetic aspect is taken up through science, or life, rather than literary and artistic creativity. In all cases, Nietzsche’s writing is aesthetic, is writing a blood, a practice that to some degree needs war as a central metaphor in its explanation.

The cultural-aesthetic values in Nietzsche sometimes lean towards a supra- or pan-European aristocratic elite, the ‘good European’ of the preface to Beyond Good and Evil, which leaves the question of how much this is a cultural elite and how much the political elite of a European empire, as advocates of a Bonapartist Nietzsche (such as Don Dombowsky) presumably believe. It seems perverse for Nietzsche to reject a Prussian Germany and a Macdonian-Alexandrine Greece for a militarist French European Empire.

Nietzsche writes for a world in which writing and culture have superseded aristocratic codes and military heroism, as main alternatives to the average and the familiar. ‘Writing in blood’ allows for a complexity and interiority of writing which challenges the intellect and imagination of the reader, so that ‘aristocracy’ is in a kind of writing rather than high economic and political status, and going to war. Maybe the capacity to write has some basis in the violent formation of the state and associated elites, but it is cultural value that predominates, not war or state oriented aristocracy. The fundamental violence is on our faculties of comprehension as Nietzsche announces that he is writing to be misunderstood and writes for everyone and no one, in the subtitle of Thus Spoke Zarathustra.

That is not to say that Nietzsche’s philosophy is only concerned with what is internal to writing, literature, art and the aesthetic, but rather that writing and the aesthetic are full of material force and tensions that enable us to grasp the role of violence in war in the development of human communities, laws, states, and culture. The cultural keeps us closer this than the idealised claims of of politics and the neutrality of law. It is not possible for Nietzsche to exclude violence and war from his thoughts about culture, and its goals, and not possible for him to avoid affirmation in some degree of violence and war.

What he does avoid after The Birth of Tragedy  and ‘The Greek State’ is any identification of the militarism of the Prussian-German state tradition with political and cultural superiority. However, in some ways the ‘Prussian’ attitude to war and the warrior is present in later texts, because it is not possible to exclude the military heroic ideal from the cultural achievements of Prussia-Germany, and also  because all human culture has such an aspect, even if not always as consciously as the Prussia-Germany of Nietzsche’s time.

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

On the question of regard for the instrumental masses though, Nietzsche does argue that Medieval serfs were better off than their descendants learning to enjoy universal suffrage: ‘What an elevating effect on us is produced by the sight of a Medieval serf, whose legal and ethical relationship with his superior was internally sturdy and sensitive, whose narrow existence was profoundly cocooned—how elevating—and how reproachful!’ (Nietzsche 1994, 180).

Without wishing to defend this as an adequate account of the welfare and rights of those not born into elite status, it does suggest that Nietzsche was not willing to go so far as to define the uncultured lower orders as completely expendable and beyond any moral concern whatsoever. The tendency of the most cultured Greek republic, Athens, to extend rights beyond a narrow aristocracy, and the role of war in that, as in the way democracy was strengthened by the role of labourers in rowing the naval triremes that were the most powerful military asset of the Athenian state, is apparently rather overlooked by Nietzsche, but maybe played on his mind, and is part of the background to his critique of Euripides as rationalist in The Birth of Tragedy.

The movement away from Prussia, Bismarck, and Moltke, may owe something to the realisation that if military republicanism in antiquity could lead to not just the full citizenship of all males above slave status, but their direct participation in government and law making, the same could happen in Nietzsche’s own time in a monarchist-imperial state relying on mass conscription to form itself through war. The dismissive tone soon afterwards in the first untimely meditation towards Bismarck, Moltke, and Macedonian-Prussian militarism may owe something to that realisation. Ancient Macedonia did not promote democracy, but the political balance that allowed the formation and survival of the German Empire, included universal male suffrage, if qualified in the most important of the Empire, Prussia, by a system of voting in classes, which entrenched the power of the landowning officer class. Bismarck night now must seem to Nietzsche like another compromising politician at the head of a bureaucratic machine, and Moltke might seem like  the head of the military part of that machine. This is what we must presume if we compare Nietzsche’s distancing from them with his general remarks on the state, most clearly expressed in Human, All Too Human.

Letters to Richard Wagner and Elisabeth Nietzsche in 1875 indicate that Nietzsche met the Moltke family at Lake Lugano, though not the famous general himself. There is no indication of disenchantment with the Prussian Military genius there though, rather a quiet assumption of an exciting brush with greatness. Looking at Nietzsche’s evolving attitude to Moltke and Wagner, there may well be considerable evasion here and a suggestion that Nietzsche talked in a ‘Prussian’ way in certain company even while separating himself from ‘Prussianism’ in print. ‘Homer on Competition’ is another text in the collection presented to Cosima Wagner, (in Nietzsche 1994). It was written after ‘The Greek State’ and suggests a growing wariness of military glory, a sense that the Homeric epics showed a limitation on absolute violence in Greek culture, which was eroded in the cruelty of Alexander, along with the sense that Greek greatness was tied up with competition  between states.

[E]ven the finest Greek states perish in the same way as Militates when they, too, through merit and fortune have progressed from the racecourse to the Temple of Nike. Both Athens, which had destroyed the independence of her allies and severely punished the rebellions of those subjected to her, and Sparta, which after the battle of Aegospotamoi, made her superior strength felt over Hellas in an even harder and crueller fashion, brought about their own ruin, after the example of Miltiades, through acts of hubris. This proves that without envy, jealousy and competitive ambition, the Hellenic state like Hellenic man, deteriorates. It becomes evil and cruel, it becomes vengeful and godless, in short, it becomes ‘pre-Homeric’—it then takes only a panicky fright to make it fall and smash it. Sparta and Athens surrender to the Persians like Themistocles and Alcibiades did; they betray the Hellenic after they have given up the finest Hellenic principle, competition: and Alexander, the rough copy and abbreviation of Greek history, now invents the standard-issue Hellene and so-called Hellenism.—

(Nietzsche 1994, 194)

This implicit rebuke to Macedonian dominance and Alexander the Great, does not exactly contradict The Birth of Tragedy as it builds on the aesthetic evaluation there, but does show an increasing tendency to criticise Spartan and Macedonian hegemony (that is the precursors of Prussia as militaristic states) in ancient Greek history and to separate politics from culture, with culture as the superior aspect.

(to be continued)

Why Republican Libertarianism? IV

My latest post at the group blog Notes On Liberty

Notes On Liberty

(This text was written for the European Students for Liberty Regional Conference in Istanbul at Boğaziçi University. I did not deliver the paper, but used it to gather thoughts which I then presented in an improvised speech. As it was quite a long text, I am breaking it up for the purposes of blog presentation)

(I took a break from posting this over the holiday period when I presume some people are checking blogs, rss feeds, and the like, less than at other times of the year. Catch up with the three previous posts in the series, if you missed them, via this link.)

The most important advice Machiavelli gives with regard to maintaining the state, is to respect the lives and honour of subjects, refrain from harassing women, avoid bankrupting the state with lavish expenditures, uphold the rule of of law outside the most extreme situations,  and concentrate…

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