Nietzsche Writing in Blood II

(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 issues of violence in history and in the strategies of writing are at the heart of Genealogy II, with regard to the discussion of promises, the main theme of that essay. The capacity of a human to bear promises is the suggested outcome of history in Genealogy Essay II, but that may be an equivocal suggestion since it is portrayed as the outcome of cruelty and violence, which disciplines us to keep promises rather than as the consequence of keeping to a promise for reasons of virtue. The promise keeping capacity looks like it might be a product of the process which also gives us the slave morality of good and evil, and a distraction from Nietzsche’s real positive values. However, we should bring Daybreak 350 into play with the Genealogy here.

How Best to Promise. — When a promise is made, it is not the words [das Wort] that are said which constitute the promise but what remains unspoken behind the words that are said. Indeed, the words even weaken the promise, in as much as they discharge and use up a strength which is a part of the strength

which makes the promise. Therefore extend your hand and lay your finger on your lips — thus you will take the surest v
Genealogy II 1: To breed an animal with the right to make promises [ein Thier heranzüchtendasversprechen darf] —is not this the paradoxical task that nature has set itself in the case of man? is it not the real problem regarding man?
To ordain the future in advance in this way, man must first have learned to distinguish necessary events from chance ones, to think causally, to see and anticipate distant eventualities as if they belonged to the present, to decide with certainty what is the goal and what the means to it, and in general be able to calculate and compute. Man himself must first of all have become calculable, regular, necessary, even in his own image of himself [seine eigne Vorstellung, um endlich dergestalt], if he is able to stand security for his own future, which is what one who promises does!

The paragraph from Daybreak combines with Genealogy II 1-5 to convey a full Nietzschean view of promising. What the passage in Daybreak suggest is that the promise should be more than the external promises of contract, and of the violent reminders to obey promises from the history of penal violence. The promise contains both the possibility of the contract and the inner unity of body and consciousness. It contains the wish to command the future, not necessarily a complete sovereignty over the world, but a wish to approach the world with a purposeful will.

Taken together we can see that promising requires a deep history, in which the suffering of the body has adjusted human consciousness to the nature of the promise (the Genealogy perspective); and that the body’s part of the promise is weakened by the verbalisation. Nietzsche incorporates the body, history, relation to the future, command, obligation, and self-discipline, into his account of the ‘promise’, suggestive both of reinforcement and conflict, along with uncertainty about how far promises bearing represents a part of the flourishing of life. Nietzsche’s writing strategies themselves show the multiplicity and competition of forces within, and bearing on, promise making. The style and rhetoric appear in an interplay, which itself has an affect on the body that is both stimulating and tiring, and that goes beyond the obvious categories of rhetoric and style. In that respect Nietzsche builds on the decline of Aristotelian (and  similar subsequent) requirements in these matters.

Agonism in the Ancient Greek world is an issue in Nietzsche’s early work and conditions all of his philosophical development, and has been widely explored recent years.  Agonism is at issue in his first book The Birth of Tragedy and in two contemporaneous essays which where only published posthumously: ‘The Greek State’  and ‘Homer on Competition’.  It is the essay on ‘Homer and Competition’ which is most explicitly concerned with Ancient Greek Agonism and it is therefore the most appropriate starting point, for determining the kind of writing that Nietzsche produced, and the role of violence.

In ‘Homer and Competition’, Nietzsche suggests that we think of competition as the essential element of Ancient Greek culture and that we think of this as an essential part of Homer’s conditioning of the Ancient Greek world, presuming a rupture between the Homeric and pre-Homeric worlds.  His view of Greek Antiquity is one which both follows the idealising tendencies of Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century classicism: Greek Antiquity as a model of harmony and undermines those idealising tendencies by finding the evil, cruelty, conflict, barbarism and Orientalism in a harmony which is only a product of extreme tension.

Nietzsche Writing in Blood I

(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’)

Nietzsche suggests in Thus Spoke Zarathustra that he only loves that which is written in blood. This is a statement inviting investigation of blood as an object of discussion and as a matter of style. A study of the thematic role of violence, rhetorical violence, and the violence of argumentative strategies is a therefore an appropriate response.

Going back to The Birth of Tragedy, the Apolline might appear to be more peaceful than the Dionysian, but is itself Homeric, and is itself based on a struggle with the Dionysian which finds one expression in the ‘Doric state’, that is hyper militarised Sparta. Comparing The Birth of Tragedy with On the Genealogy of Morals, the Homeric nobility at least superficially gets the exemplary role in that later text, so it is the ‘Apolline’ world of Achilles and the other Greek heroes, which appears to be exemplary.

Nietzsche disconnects tragedy from Athenian democracy, but in his reading of tragedy is against a hierarchical orderly world with the aristocracy on top. The value of aristocratic agon is itself disturbing to an aristocratic social order when pursued with sufficient rigour. The idea of contractual justice is questioned by Nietzsche when he famously suggests that the state was created by a nomadic ‘blonde beast’ attacking sedentary people. That could be taken as celebratory of aristocratic élan, but it also undermines normal understanding of the legitimation of the state, and of what might offer legitimacy to aristocratic domination in any context.

Nietzsche himself sometimes refers to the state as a parasitic entity at war with culture, which certainly puts any celebratory reading of the state as conquest passage under question. The uncertainties which arise in trying to harmonise remarks which suggest admiration for cultural aristocracy, or Homeric heroes, or war, into a clear system of values, should lead us to be sceptical of any straight forwardly noble warrior readings. Zarathustra loves the warrior, he does not want to be the warrior.

The Nietzsche virtue of writing in blood is itself the violence of the hierarchy of value, and violence on the violence imposed by that hierarchy. The violent rhetoric with which Nietzsche sometimes apparently endorses aristocratic violence and extreme privilege is intertwined with these thematic issues, which can only be understood through a rhetorical or stylistic examination of these passages and their context, which is the examination of writing in blood.

References: Birth of Tragedy (I, 4); Thus Spoke Zarathustra (I, 8), (I, 10); On the Genealogy of Morality (II, 17).

Thus Spoke Zarathustra
On Reading and Writing
Of all that is written I love only what a man has written with his blood. Write with blood and you will understand that blood is spirit.

The Birth of Tragedy
And as far as the origin of the tragic chorus is concerned — did perhaps endemic fits exist during those centuries exist during those centuries when the Greek body was in its prime and the Greek soul brimmed over with life?

On the Genealogy of Morality
II. 17
the oldest ‘state’ emerged as a terrible tyranny, as a repressive and ruthless machinery, and continued working until until the raw material of people and semi-animals had finally not just been kneaded and made compliant, but shaped.

The quotations above orientate a discussion of violence on the body, social violence, and the violence of strategies of writing in Nietzsche. The particularly famous quotation from Thus Spoke Zarathustra suggests that Nietzsche’s writing constantly tries to disrupt rhetorical norms and distance. This is rhetoric for a period in which antique ideas of correct argumentation and linguistic registers have been undermined by the growth of the novel as the dominant form of literature as opposed to poetic forms of a regimented kind, with themes of high seriousness. Literature looks more concerned with the communication of subjectivity than the structure of a metaphysically organised nature. Some related comments apply to philosophy, and to the state.

The quotation from The Birth of Tragedy IV, refers to the physical excess of the tragic chorus, which is both overflowing abundance of bodily strength and a sign of sickness, organic or psychic. The ambiguity of an extreme vigour, which is the sign of human growth in the growth of physical exertion, or the sign of human decadence as the effort required exceeds the strength and unifying power within individuals and is suggestive of a lack of self-control.
The quotation above from Genealogy II.7 builds up to some particularly famous lines on the blonde beast and the foundations of the state in conquest. The reference to the blonde beast is associated with speculation about a racial conquest of an earlier European race in the formation of the earliest European states, which is open to criticism for a number of reasons, but does provide a powerful alternative to contract theory, as Nietzsche suggests and attempts at utilitarian-consequentialist or natural rights deductions or explanations of of the state, as is not quite so explicit at this point. It is also a point about writing strategy, since the confrontation of ‘blonde beast’ and previous inhabitants of a territory tells us something about the role of confrontation and subsumption.

Historical speculation is give communicative force in a manner that picks up on racial-national thinking of the time. and suggests that it is at the origins of European history, followed up a mixing of racial-national groups, which might undermines the assumptions behind that ‘racial-national’, though Nietzsche never completely abandoned the relevant assumptions. The writing seems to sweep down on the reader with physical force in a strategy of argument through accumulative shocks.

Philosophy of the Novel V: Lukács and the Theory of the Novel from Nietzsche to Benjamin

(Summary of a research project unlikely to be realised in the form articulated, but which is guiding current projects. For earlier posts in this series, see posts of October 6th,  3rd and  27th August)

Nietzsche does not write in detail about novels and he does offer a theory of the genre of the novel. However, the novel is important for Nietzsche. Like Kierkegaard, he wrote as a philosophical novelist himself, though it is only Thus Spoke Zarathustra that can be placed in this category. It is a very strange novel, but a lot of novels are and the ones most discussed in defining the genre are often very strange examples (Rabelais, Cervantes, Defoe, Sterne). In addition, novelists are referred to at important moments in Nietzsche, Dostoyevsky as a psychologist, Stendhal as a the source of a theory of aesthetic pleasure. The reference to Stendhal in On the Genealogy of Morality is with regard to On Love, rather than a novel, but it is difficult to keep an absolute distinction between this essay and Stendhal’s novelistic output.

In addition, Nietzsche has a theory in The Birth of Tragedy of the birth of the novel from the death of Attic Tragedy, which should be seen in the light of Hegel’s reservations about the genre of the novel. The Socratic death of tragedy provides two sources of new philosophical-literary inspiration: the philosopher who plays music; the dialectician who writes dialogues.  Socrates returns to the Dionysian, Plato creates a new unity from the genres of Greek literature. On one side the Euripidean tragedy forms the basis of the novel, through the low characters such as the Graeculus, the cunning servant who is a debased form of Odysseus ; on the other side the Dionysian returns underground in a tradition of rites and excesses.  Plato’s dialogues form their own basis for the novel, which seems to be an ambiguous legacy.  The dialogue rises above the Aesopian fable where it begins, and which was the only literary form Socrates admired, through bringing in all other forms.

It is possible to formulate a Nietzschean goal of philosophical literature after the death of tragedy.  A literature which emphasises the plurality of styles within one style, the impossibility of natural forms, the contradictory nature of any naïve approach, the conflict between particularity and universality, the ideal of the hero caught between particularity and universality in necessary crime, the struggle with the empirical self, the struggle with the death and nothingness necessary to rise above mere sensibility and given laws, an individuality torn between itself and community, a representation exploring its unrepresentable origin.  Philosophical writing in Nietzsche is dialectic and music, dialogue and poetry, law and intoxication.  The Socratic combination of rational criticism and the daemonic is the model and counter model of Nietszcheanism. Nietzsche’s discussion of the birth and death, and return of tragedy, gives many pointers to philosophical aesthetics and the study of literary genres.

Through The Birth of Tragedy, it is possible to look back to Vico’s interpretation of law and history through Homer in The New Science (Vico, 1984); and forward to Lukács on Epic and Novel, the appropriation of Homer in Joyce and the philosophical reflection on the novel and genre in Ulysses (Joyce, 1968) and Finnegans Wake (Joyce, 1975). Nietzsche himself contributed to the writing of novels, even in a marginal form in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, which will be discussed with regard to how it fits with what Nietzsche says about literature.

Particularly in the early work of Georg Lukács and Walter Benjamin, in the tradition of German Idealism and Romanticism, literature appears as forms which contain the essential contradictions of consciousness in general, and through stages of history. Lukács and Benjamin, literature is embedded in historical consciousness, reflecting or expressing the essential capacities of language in the consciousness of an era.  The German Idealists and Romantics are all interested in, or are troubled, by how literary-aesthetic consciousness is subjective and inward, so expressing essential aspects of individual consciousness, but also supporting the differentiation of subjectivity from objective world.

The connection of aesthetic-subjectivity with world may require the world to be seen as determined not only by the rational ideas of reason, but by its subjective inner self-reflection.  This may allow a metaphysical realism in which individual consciousness is determined by an objective, it might also only allow an internal realism in which the reference of our conscious constructs to an outer world is uncertain. The tensions round these questions have developed to the point where it is no longer plausible to conceive of literary history and aesthetic theory as joined in the Idealist enterprise of reducing literary texts to the categories of historical concepts which reflect the inner structure of consciousness.

These tensions were already at issue in Kierkegaard and Nietzsche. This is reflected in a style of writing, continued in Benjamin and Lukács, which is daunting but is a literary achievement in itself, an achievement of dialectic, in which the connections between ideas are established through the power of writing, with a sensitivity of style which also allows for precision in the use of concepts.  The limit for both is world and consciousness are chaotic.  They can only be grasped in terms of contingency, accident, forces, conflict, perspectives, changing experience.

Lukács and Benjamin in the end are maybe more Idealist and Romantic than Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, so while exploring their contribution to the understanding of the genre of the novel, it will be necessary to discuss how far they fall back to the Idealist position which failed to recognise the importance of the novel as a literary genre. The key texts here are Lukács’ Theory of the Novel and The Historical Novel. The key texts by Benjamin are his essays on Proust and Kafka, along with other essays dealing with poetry and the short story, and his study of German Tragic Drama.

Nietzsche as Political Philosopher. The Book. Now Available

Nietzsche as Political Philosopher, a book I co-edited with Manuel Knoll, and to which I contributed a chapter , has been available directly from the publisher De Gruyter, or via internet book sellers for a day or two now.

My chapter has the title ‘A Comparison of Friedrich Nietzsche with Wilhelm von Humboldt as Products of Classical Liberalism’.

I also co-wrote a substantial introduction to the book with the other editor.

The introduction is divided into the following sections:

1. The scholarly debate about Nietzsche’s about Nietzsche’s political preferences and affinities

2. A brief overview of Nietzsche’s political philosophy

3. Nietzsche’s relation to some of the political ideas of his time

4. Selected influences of Nietzsche on political thought

Other contributors range from graduate students to some of the best known señor scholars in the field of Nietzsche studies. Very varied viewpoints about Nietzsche’s political affinities are represented as well as a broad range of topics, contexts, and approaches including discussion of Weber, Foucault, Laruelle, power, political materialism, political realism, genealogy, aristocratic radicalism, Bonapartism, democracy, liberalism, egalitarianism, physiology, naturalism, antiquity, the Übermensch/Overman, physiology, political materialism, colonialism, cultural history, will to power, care of the self, immoralism, nineteenth century history and culture, and various other themes.

It is a rather expensive academic editions I’m afraid, so this may be a book to order for your library rather than purchase individually. Unfortunately, a hardback from an academic press of this kind may simply be difficult for many people to see. Apologies to any readers of this blog in that position, I hope you can somehow find a copy online (it is available as a pdf and an e-book) or in physical space, to at least look at it if not own,  before very long, if you are interested. Keep trying all the angles.

Publication details

Publisher: Walter de Gruyter, Berlin/Boston MA

Date of Publication: July 2014

ISBN: 978-3-11-035945-9

e-ISBN: 978-3-11-035945-9

ISSN: 2191-5741

478 pages

Name and subject indexes

Description  the editors provided to De Gruyter

This collection establishes Nietzsche’s importance as a political philosopher. It includes a substantial introduction and eighteen chapters by some of the most renowned Nietzsche scholars. The book examines Nietzsche’s connections with political thought since Plato, major influences on him, his methodology, and his influence on subsequent thought. The book includes extensive coverage of the debate between radical aristocratic readings of Nietzsche, and more liberal or democratic readings. Close readings of Nietzsche’s texts are combined with a contextualising approach to build up a complete picture of his place in political philosophy. Topics include the relevance of Bonapartism and classical liberalism, Nietzsche on Christianity, the cultural history of Germany, the Übermensch, ethics and politics in Nietzsche, and the controversial question of his political preferences and affinities. Nietzsche’s political thought is compared with that of Humboldt, Weber and Foucault. The book is essential reading for anyone concerned with Nietzsche’s thought, political philosophy, and the history of political ideas.


Manuel Knoll and Barry Stocker

Introduction: Nietzsche as political philosopher page5image22161
I. The Variety of Approaches to Nietzsche’s Political Thought

Rolf Zimmermann

The “Will to Power”: Towards a Nietzschean Systematics of Moral-Political Divergence in History in Light of the 20th Century page5image428039

Rebecca Bamford

The Liberatory Limits of Nietzsche’s Colonial Imagination in Dawn 206 page5image552859

Nandita Biswas Mellamphy

Nietzsche’s Political Materialism: Diagram for a Nietzschean Politics page5image664077 II. Democratic, or Liberal, or Egalitarian Politics in Nietzsche

Paul Patton

Nietzsche on Power and Democracy circa 1876–1881 page5image812093

Lawrence J. Hatab

Nietzsche’s Will to Power and Politics page5image9144113

Barry Stocker

A Comparison of Friedrich Nietzsche and Wilhelm von Humboldt as Products of Classical Liberalism page5image10552135

Donovan Miyasaki

A Nietzschean Case for Illiberal Egalitarianism page5image11536155

III. Aristocratic, or Anti-Liberal, or Non-Egalitarian Politics in


Renato Cristi

Nietzsche, Theognis and Aristocratic Radicalism page6image2464173

Don Dombowsky

Aristocratic Radicalism as a Species of Bonapartism: Preliminary Elements page6image3672195

Phillip H. Roth

Political and Psychological Prerequisites for Legislation in the Early Nietz- sche page6image5000211

Manuel Knoll

The “Übermensch” as a Social and Political Task: A Study in the Continuity of Nietzsche’s Political Thought page6image6528239

IV. Ethics, Morality, and Politics in Nietzsche

Keith Ansell-Pearson

Care of Self in Dawn: On Nietzsche’s Resistance to Bio-political Modernity 269

Daniel Conway

“We who are different, we immoralists…” page6image9080287

Christian J. Emden

Political Realism Naturalized: Nietzsche on the State, Morality, and Human Nature page6image10408313

Tamsin Shaw

The “Last Man” Problem: Nietzsche and Weber on Political Attitudes to Suffering page6image11736345

V. Physiology, Genealogy, and Politics in Nietzsche

Razvan Ioan

The Politics of Physiology page6image13128383

Tom Angier

On the Genealogy of Nietzsche’s Values page7image2056405

Evangelia Sembou

Foucault’s use of Nietzsche 431

Notes on Contributors page7image3112449



Another Liberty Canon: Nietzsche

My latest post at the group blog Notes on Liberty.

Notes On Liberty

The political interpretation of Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) is a constantly fraught issue . Amongst other things he has been taken as an anti- or non-political thinker and as responsible for the worst aspects of German politics in the twentieth century. However, that latter view is  not taken supported by any Nietzsche scholars.

The reasons for that include his opposition to the anti-Semites of his time (after a youthful leaning in that direction with regard culture rather than race) and his opposition to the militarist-statist-nationalist  aspects of Prussian and German politics in his time, again after early leanings towards culturally oriented nationalism. The tendency to put culture above the state and and take it as something of a replacement for politics was constant.

The anti-politics is itself not incompatible with some kinds of libertarian and classical liberal thinking, though in Nietzsche’s case it goes along with a constant inclination to talk…

View original post 1,078 more words

The ‘Nietzsche’ ban which is a ban on ‘Traditionalism’

My latest post at New APPS, ‘The UCL Student Union ban is on ‘Traditionalism’ rather than Nietzsche

The ‘Nietzsche ban’ in the University College London Student Union, which is actually a ban on a far right ‘Traditionalist’ group, still a deplorable attack on free speech and freedom of association.

Foucault’s Lectures on the Punitive Society I

Last month EHESS/Gallimard/Seuil Paris published Michel Foucault’s lectures at the Collège de France in the 1972-73 academic session, in fact they all date from 1973. The edition has been prepared by Bernard Harcourt under the direction of François Ewald and Alessandro Fontana. I believe that a translation from Palgrave can be expected about two years from now. I will be posting my notes, slightly tidied up and shaped into essay form, lecture by lecture. This week we begin with the lecture of third January 1973.

Foucault picks up on a distinction made by the anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss between incorporation and exclusion of those who are awkward in some way. Foucault describes the distinction as playful, but also significantly implies that the second option is the option of the scapegoat (the religious sacrifice) while the first is as Lévi-Strauss appears to suggest, an example of cannibalism. Foucault may be thinking of René Giard’s analysis of scapegoating in Violence and the Sacred here. (Anyway, I have started reading Girard’s volume to check this.

Foucault suggests that the idea of exclusion (presumably the second pole of the Lévi-Strauss distinction) be applied to minorities in out societies, and then more particularly to those who are outside production and consumption, those considered abnormal or delinquents. We have to understand exclusion beyond and behind the way the social sciences intervene, and the masking affect of those social sciences, which Foucault refers to as invading the human sciences. The exclusion has to be understood not through a general representation, but through a variety of strategies of power. It is important to distinguish those strategies of exclusion and the illusion of a social consensus behind exclusion.

This distinguishes Foucault from Lévi-Strauss and he offers a second area of difference, which is that he rejects Lévi-Strauss’ distinction between inclusion and exclusion. The psychiatric hospital is a place of inclusion and exclusion of the mad. The mad are treated with regard to integration to the institution itself and to the outside world. This comprise a combination of surveillance/discipline and supposedly scientific treatment. It is the medical-scientific discourse that is more oriented to the outside world. Foucault announces a critique of ‘transgression’ which has played a role similar to that of ‘exclusion’. It can have negative and positive interpretations as with ‘exclusion’, but it refers to ‘limit’ rather than ‘law’. The critique should be directed at power and knowledge rather than at law and representation.

There are four major tactics of punishment. 1. Exclusion. 2. Reparation. 3. Marking. 4. Confinement. 1. Exclusion means exiling. An individual is banned from communal or sacred places. Hospitality is forbidden. The home of the exile is burned, or in a practice prolonged from the Middle Ages into modern revolutions, the home of someone you wish to exile is burned. Foucault mentions the privilege of such a penalty in ancient Greece, resumable referring to Ostracism. 2. Tactics of reparation and compensation identify an individual or a group who should receive compensation. It is the opposite of exclusion, in that the punishment ties the perpetrator into the community through ties of obligation and compensation. 3. Marking can include a shameful change in someone’s name, but largely refers to physical marking through scars, amputations, and injuries in the stocks. It shows shame and also the power of the sovereign. It is not about compensation, but about memory of the shame. It was the dominant means of punishment in the west from the end of the High Middle Ages to the 18th century. 4. Confinement is the means of punishment dominant from the late 18th/early 19th century.

There are many hints of Montesquieu’s account of the appearance of customary Frankish-German law in post-Roman Gaul, what became the kingdom of France in the Middle Ages,  the evolution of that law and the erosion of customary German law by Roman law, at the instigation of the monarchy in the High Middle Ages, imposing its own sovereignty. I doubt that it is possible to fully appreciate Foucault’s comments in this area without some knowledge of the later books of The Spirit of the Laws, which deal with this historical process. A knowledge of Essay II of Nietzsche’s On the Genealogy of Morals is also rather important here.

The most extreme form of exile is to throw someone from the cliffs into the sea, which removes them from the territory where the crime was committed. The criminal is deprived of appeal and removed from the homeland. In a system of reparation, the most extreme punishment is death of a relative of the criminal, which shows that this is a system concerned with debt. The system of marking has a variety of torture and ways of marking the body connected with the nature of the crime.

The execution of Damiens for attempted regicide in the eighteenth century shows the sovereignty of political power at the centre of the penal system. Foucault has a full description of the prolonger and brutal execution as the opening of Discipline and Punish.  Death appears in the system of imprisonment as the life sentence, the link between death and enclosure, and is something more obviously linked to political sovereignty than other forms of punishment .

The emphasis on penal tactics in this analysis cuts across the distinction between general functions and different roles, undermining the apparent permanence of customs. The basic object is the operations of power not the ethical-legal justifications and representations with regard to punishment. The aim is not to unmask ideology either, as the analysis of delinquency in normal law is to some degree an analysis of political struggle, but they are not the same. Foucault’s implication is that though we can look at ideological political aspects of the penal system, we cannot think of the system as conceptually saturated in this way.

Civil war is an important and misunderstood term for discussing penal practices. Rousseau and Hobbes imagined it as something that belongs to the state of nature and that is ended by the social contract. Foucault seems a bit vague about the distinction between Hobbes and Rousseau here. For Rousseau the violence comes after the earliest stages of human society rather than in nature, but for Foucault there may not be much difference if they both emphasise the possibility of complete violence at the beginning of society.  After the stage of the social contract, war becomes understood as something external to the state. Civil war is then understood as the monstrous intrusion of something external into the state. However, we can understand penal practice, particularly of confinement, through the strategies of power in a generalised civil war.

Nietzsche’s Influence on Political Thought IV

We can find some direct indications in Nietzsche that he is concerned with a contrast between heroic antique republican liberties modern liberties of comfort. He gives a big indication that is the way he is thinking in On the Genealogy or Morality I, when he quotes from the Funeral Speech of Pericles to the ancient Athenians (GM I 11), as recorded and possibly to some degree invented by Thucydides. Nietzsche quote favourably from Pericles on his pride in how the wickedness of the Athenians is known to the world as well as their goodness. That is in the middle of a speech which is in praise of democracy as it appears in Athens. This is an instance of the heroic republicanism of the ancients, heroism in the sense that is disturbing to the moderns of pride in how the power of a people, its toughness and unity of will, may be known to other peoples in painful ways, though maybe that pride is still there in more submerged forms.


Pericles represents the opposite pole to Platonic philosophical rule on the face of it. He was elected constantly by the Athenian people to provide military and governmental leadership in a democracy where all free men who were descended from Athenians on both sides had the votes, so an electorate where day labourers and the owners of tiny farms had more votes than aristocrats and philosophers combined. Plato, however, appears to have respected Pericles as a leader and an individual, and since he was a man of great culture, connected with the most famous families in Athens, he had some of the qualities of Plato’s ideal ruler. That raises the question of how far democracy is the opposite of Platonic philosopher rule. Of course Plato, like other aristocrats and oligarchs of the time, identified democracy with irrational passions, economic greed and corruption of the law, but even so the Laws at least makes some gestures to participatory government, as does Aristotle in the Politics. Even these critics of democracy found that it often had to be tolerated in at least limited form in order to establish an enduring state, and that idea was fully developed by the later Roman republican, Polybius and Cicero. Polybian and Ciceronian republicanism aims to combine democracy with aristocracy and monarchy, in a mixed state, extending on the ideas of Plato and Aristotle.


Moving into Nietzsche’s own time, enthusiasm for democracy could be combined with aristocratic suspicion of the uneducated majority, and of uncontrolled majorities in general. Those anxieties were expressed in the idea of the tyranny of the majority in Tocqueville (1988) and then in John Stuart Mill (On Liberty). For Mill, democracy had to be combined with education of the poorer classes and barriers against abuse of power by temporary majorities, driven by plebian ignorance and indifference to liberty (Considerations on Representative Government). Despite the scorn heaped on Mill by Nietzsche, there was much in common between them. Dana Villa discusses the relation between Mill, Nietzsche, Max Weber, Leo Strauss, and Hannah Arendt with regard to antique citizenship focused on Socrates in Socratic Citizenship, showing the best way to deal with Nietzsche’s place in political philosophy, unless we wish to consign him to some place irrelevant to nearly all political thought, that of a very reactive nineteenth century ultraconservative railing against democracy and equality, with no contribution to make to the design of modern political institutions, modern political thought, and modern political culture. Even if we are to take Nietzsche’s most elitist and pro-slavery comments as definitive of his political thinking, he was concerned with liberty, in a manner focused on the maximum flourishing of the highest kind of self, and concern with liberty for a few tends to spill over into ideas of liberty for all. That is all part of the process Tocqueville describes of the inevitable step by step triumph of democracy. John Locke wrote from the point of view of the Whig aristocracy, but his political theory was taken as an inspiration for democratic revolution. The English barons forced King John to sign Magna Carta for their own selfish reason in 1215, but demanded rights for all free men within England, rights which eventually applied to the lowest in status as velleinage, a form of serfdom, declined and disappeared. This spill over from an elite to the whole population in mass democracy has been repeated many times over, and when Nietzsche writes about the Overman, the man free from self-restraints he provides a model, willingly or not, for citizenship in a mass democracy, in the forms of political engagement suggested by Foucault, Deleuze and Derrida. We can think of Nietzsche’s famous comment about liberal institutions betraying liberty in Twilight of the Idols (GD Streifziege eines Unzeitgemässen a38) , and reflects on how that applies to the liberty of all members of a political community. On this context it is particularly important to reflect on his friendship with Jacob Burckhardt, and the kind of aristocratic liberty Burckhardt discusses in Ancient Greece  and the Renaissance, which itself includes an awareness of the cost for the lowest classes in the formation of aristocratic dominated political communities, and that has been compared with the liberalism of Mill and Tocqueville (Alan S. Kahan, Aristocratic Liberalism, 1992). Hannah Arendt is a prime source of thought about how antique and aristocratic concepts of liberty can becomes part of a participatory mass democracy, and therefore an important source of thought about how to take up Nietzsche’s political theory, as Dana Villa suggests. In the field of Nietzsche commentary, the key references here, part from Villa, are Lester Hunt in libertarian thought and William E. Connolly in egalitarian liberal thought. Further discussion and references can be found in Stocker’s contribution to the present volume, on how Nietzsche cam be contextualised with regard to liberal, and liberty oriented, political thought.



Nietzsche’s Influence on Political Thought III

[An unintended long gap since the last post. The transition from a full and busy summer ‘vacation’ to a new semester with a full teaching schedule and revisions to course syllabi to match current research interests has been particularly tough. Hopefully I’m now getting into a new rhythm]

Derrida, unlike Foucault and Deleuze, did write directly on the political aspects of Nietzsche’s thought, most significantly in Politics of Friendship (1997)


Shall we say that this responsibility which inspires (in Nietzsche) a discourse of hostility towards ‘democratic taste’ and ‘modern ideas’ is exercised against democracy in general, modernity in general; or that, on the contrary, it responds in the name of a hyperbole of democracy or modernity to come, before it, prior to its coming — a hyperbole for which the ‘taste’ and ‘ideas’ would be, in this Europe and this America then named by Nietzsche, but the mediocre caricatures, the talkative conscience, the perversion and the prejudice — the ‘misuse of the term’ democracy? Do not these lookalike caricatures — and precisely because they resemble it — constitute the worst enemy of what they resemble, whose name they have usurped? The worst repression, the very repression which one must, as close as possible to the analogy, open and literally unlock? (Derrida 1997, p. 38)


So Derrida presents two ways of taking Nietzsche’s criticisms of democracy and modernity: we can take them straight and literally; we can take them as a strategy for attacking the bad imitations of democracy and modernity. When Derrida states two apparently opposing options, a common gesture of his (Stocker 2006, ch. 8), he prefers the second option, but always argues that the two options can never be completely separated from each other, and there can never be a complete triumph of the one over the other. So Derrida offers us a model for interpreting Nietzsche on democracy, which is that he is both the harshest critic of bad democracy and the greatest admirer of the real thing. Other passages from Politics of Friendship look at how for Nietzsche this is an alternative between the relation that neighbours and the relationship that friends have, to be found in Thus Spoke Zarathustra. The relation between neighbours is a relationship of mutual dependency between the mediocre, which is non-conflictual to the point of banality. The relation between friends is one of tension between two isolated individuals seeking their own elevation in character through struggle. This is such an ideal and difficult relationship to find that Derrida puts it in the context of the idea, going back to antiquity, that there is no such thing as a friend (1997). He traces it back through the republican thinkers Montaigne and Cicero to Aristotle, so that the ideal of the friend is embedded in the ideal of the republic, which is appropriate to antique republicanism, the precedent for modern ideas of republicanism, democracy and liberty.

The implication of what Derrida says is that we take Nietzsche as someone contrasting the heroic republicanism of antiquity with the modern imitations, which even fail to be modern in their weak forms of repetition as poor imitation. There is a lot Derrida leaves unsaid here, even throughout the book as a whole, as he concentrates on the typically deep engagement with, and interlacing of, particular texts by Nietzsche, Aristotle, Montaigne, Blanchot and so on. What is left unsaid includes the whole field of the relation between what Benjamin Constant referred to as the liberty of the ancients and the liberty of the moderns . Constant thought of ancient liberty as more concerned with citizenship of a republic with shared institutions and customs, independent of external powers; and considered modern liberty to be defined by individualism, freedom from the state and commercial life. The essay in this volume on Humboldt and Nietzsche (Stocker 2014) explores some of the issues around the way that modern liberalism emerges from this sense of a less heroic more self-centred version of the heroic forms of liberty in the past based on constant existential struggles with tyrants, enemy states, nature itself and divine forces. Alternatives to “egalitarian liberalism” within current political theory such as “communitarianism” and “republicanism”, itself are still formed within that contrast, and the same applies even for “Marxism” in modern theory, which has often become an attempt to reconcile egalitarianism and collectivism with capitalist political economy and individualism, particularly under the label of “Analytic Marxism”, but also “post-Marxism”.

To be continued