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.


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