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)

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

Already in 1872, the same year as the publication of The Birth of Tragedy, the posthumously published ‘Homer’s on Competition’ suggests some horror at the cruelty of Alexander, compared even with the characteristic violence of Achilles in The Illiad, that could be taken as a distancing from Macedonian-Prussian military spirit. The Prussian army of Moltke the Elder, was not free of ugly incidents, but did not have the brutal reputation of the First World War German army in occupied Belgium, never mind the horrors that unfolded from 1939 to 1945.

Nevertheless Moltke was the agent of the transformation  of 1870, so marked an identification of Prussia, and to some dare Germany as a whole, with war as main form of politics. The Franco-Prussian war did feature a siege of Paris, followed by bombardment, part of the background to the Paris Commune, so there was a beginning to the systematic suffering of civilians who encountered Prussian and German forces, and an end to the idea that Prussian militarism was essentially part of a defensive security guarantee against larger European powers.

The role of the Franco-Prussian war in provoking a plebeian and radical intellectual revolt in Paris was not at all desirable for Nietzsche, and with this convergence of events, it is not surprising that he was to end up thinking of plebeian socialism and militarist nationalism dominating his era, with both threatening culture as Nietzsche understood it. Even The Birth of Tragedy is not suggestive of great enthusiasm for nationalism and militarism. It has an anti-political element to it in resisting the idea that the tragic chorus can be taken as the voice of the people (The Birth of Tragedy 7/Nietzsche 1999, 7), and though this is directed at democracy rather than nationalism, it seems to indicate Nietzsche’s general attitude towards politics in literature, since he resists symbolism of prince or people in tragedy at this point.

The Apolline is linked with the Doric state and the Dionysian has suggestions of plebeian chaos, with no validation of either in Nietzsche’s account. The Birth of Tragedy suggests more a combination of aesthetic tension and aesthetic harmony than a political program. ‘The Greek State’ written in parallel, but only published in Nietzsche’s lifetime as part of a presentation to Cosima Wagner, does add a political perspective which is one of enthusiasm both for slavery and war as necessary to the state and to culture. Strictly speaking slavery is necessary to society, which includes the possibility of a cultured elite, and war is necessary to the state. The most pure Doric state, Sparta, is placed as a model over Plato’s ideal state despite Plato’s enthusiasm for Sparta and his placing of soldiers as part of the guardian class in the best imaginable polity.

The fact that he [Plato] did not place genius, in its most general sense, at the head of his perfect state, but only the genius of wisdom and knowledge, excluding the inspired artist entirely from state, was a rigid consequence of the Socratic judgment on art, which Plato, struggling against himself, adopted as his own.

For Nietzsche, what Plato’s state lacks is art because he only accepts the genius of wisdom and knowledge, not of the artist. Though in one perspective Nietzsche is less militarily oriented than Plato at this point, in the same essay can also be positive about the militarist state. While the solider class has a guardian role in Plato’s Republic, it is of course subordinate to the overall guardianship of philosophers.

Nietzsche does mention just before the passage above, the archetypal military nature of the state and the importance of creating military geniuses, as in the constitution of Lycurgus, the legendary legislator of Sparta. So at this point it looks as if Nietzsche advocates some necessity for military genius in the state, but not on the same level as artistic genius.   Nietzsche builds on an idea common to Greek and Roman political thinkers, such as Plato, Polybius, and Cicero, which is that  of the military structure as central to the form of the state, as well as the basic role of the state in providing security from foreign invasion. He is extending on that thought in associating the military spirit directly with legislative genius and in a less direct way with artistic genius.

Both artistic and military genius are necessary to Nietzsche’s own ideal state at this point, with the first lacking in Plato and the second subordinated. At this point it seems reasonable to suppose that Nietzsche considered Prussian military genius in Moltke, political genius in Bismarck, and Saxon artistic genius removed to Bavaria, in Wagner, as part of the same elite culture for which the less cultured masses were mere instruments. Though given the overriding importance of artistic genius it is not surprising that Nietzsche later regards culture, so art as part of culture, as constrained and under threat from the state in plebeian socialist and militarist nationalist forms.

(to be continued)

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)

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

Previous prominent Prussian thinkers, such as Immanuel Kant and Wilhelm von Humboldt saw moral value and the enhancement of individual capacities in war, even if their overall political vision was liberal, pacific and cosmopolitan.

Even war, if it is conducted with order and reverence for the rights of civilians, has something sublime about it, and at the same time makes the mentality of the people who conduct it in this way all the more sublime, the more dangers it has been exposed to and before which it has been able to assert its courage; whereas a long peace causes the spirit of mere commerce to predominate, along with base selfishness, cowardice and weakness, and usually debases the mentality of the populace. (Critique of the Power of Judgment Prussian Academy Edition 5.63.)

[W]ar seems to be one of the most salutary phenomena for the culture of human nature; and it is not without regret that I see it disappearing more and more from the scene. It is the fearful extremity through which all that active courage—all that endurance and fortitude—are steeled and tested, which afterward achieve such varied results in the ordinary conduct of life, and which alone give it that strength and diversity, without which facility is weakness, and unity is inanity. (The Limits of State Action, Chapter V. Humboldt)

We can see both in Kant, the academic philosopher, and Humboldt the state servant as well as a writer on politics and language, that war, culture, and ethical goals are interactive and mutually reinforcing. The related way of thinking of Prussia, or Prussian led Germany, as possessing both cultural and heroic virtues precedes them and goes up to the disintegration of that legacy in the total defeat of Germany in 1945 and forms a large part of the context of Nietzsche’s thought.

Nietzsche was not himself from the Prussian lands of Frederick the Great’s time, but his home town of Röcken, along with the rest of northern Saxony, was absorbed into Prussia at the conclusion of the Napoleonic Wars. Apparently, Nietzsche had an early inclination towards the Prussian military tradition, welcoming the chance to perform his military service as a cavalry man and we can presume thinking of himself as spiritually descended from the Greek warrior heroes of antiquity.

The idea that a Hohenzollern German officer had such a spiritual ancestry can be found as late as Thomas Mann’s novel, The Magic Mountain [Der Zauberberg, 1924], and indeed even later in a real life character such as Claus von Stauffenburg. That is the World War Two colonel famous for his attempted assassination of Hitler. He was a man of considerable literary and cultural sensibility, part of the ‘Secret Germany’ circle round Stefan George, influenced by Nietzsche amongst other German writers of an ‘aristocratic’ spirit.

Stauffenberg was also a man of considerable classical learning and historical conciseness of Medieval Germany warrior Emperors, following on from the connections of his ancestors at that time. Stauffenberg was Swabian rather than Prussian, but given his life and military career took place some time after Prussia absorbed the whole of Germany, we can reasonably place him in connection with Prussian tradition.

Leaving aside the discredited attempts of National Socialist ideologues and hangers on to appropriate Nietzsche, he was one point of reference for aristocratic officers of the thirties and forties, who placed themselves within a tradition of aesthetic and intellectual excellence, merging martial and intellectual virtues. Stauffenberg was clearly something of an exception in his high cultural level, but he is recognisably a product of a military-aristocratic tradition which at all times was exceptional in its adherence to the initiative of officers. It provided a sphere of educated individuality at times when the Prussian-German state was autocratic and promoted social conformity.

Another example of the last years of this tradition is the great grand nephew of Moltke the Elder, Helmuth James von Moltke. He was a member of Kreisau Circle, opposed to Hitler, some of whose members were associated with the Stauffenberg conspiracy, and Moltke himself was executed in 1945. While it it true that the Stauffenberg and Kreisau circles were aristocratic and conservative (though Stauffenberg himself had relations with the leftwing parts of the Widerstand), and were late in attempting assassination, anyone who studies these movements and the leading members will see that there is more to them than just cliques of nationalist aristocrats opportunistically breaking with Hitler when it became clear the war was lost, though there was certainly an element of that.

The Prussian (in association with other German regions) aristocrat-officer class was certainly culpable for at least co-operating with the National Socialists and even supporting Nazi ideology in many cases, and having an anti-democratic attitude in the Weimar republic, but people like Moltke and Stauffenberg showed something else within that tradition, paying the highest price for doing so. This takes us beyond Nietzsche in time and beyond philosophical discussion, but it does give useful indications of what it was exactly that Nietzsche was initially sympathising with and then criticising.

(to be continued)

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)