Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Nietzsche's Darwinian Aristocratic Liberalism

In a long series of posts earlier this year (from January to April), I argued that the Darwinian aristocratic liberalism of Friedrich Nietzsche's Human, All Too Human (1878) is superior to the Dionysian aristocratic radicalism of his later writings.  If Nietzsche had written only Human, All Too Human, Hitler and the Nazis would never have adopted him as their philosopher, because he would have been seen as a proponent of classical liberalism in the tradition of Eugen Richter (the leading German liberal in the Second Reich).

Now I am again reading Human, All Too Human for my graduate seminar on Nietzsche, and I am again amazed that the scholars of Nietzsche's political thought give almost no attention to section 8 of that book--"A Glance at the State."  This is the longest section in all of Nietzsche's writings in which he speaks about political institutions, and it's his strongest endorsement of liberal democracy. 

By contrast, in his later writings, he scorns liberalism as "herd-animalization" that "undermines the will to power" (Twilight of the Idols,  "Skirmishes of an Untimely Man," 38).  This is the Nietzsche embraced by Leo Strauss as leading the "third wave of modernity" in provoking the "crisis of liberalism," because he sees that liberalism promotes a base hedonism and egalitarianism that has no place for human excellence.

In Human, All Too Human, Nietzsche defends an aristocratic liberalism based on the idea that a liberal culture cultivates human moral and intellectual excellence, including the Socratic life of the "free spirits" who live only for scientific inquiry.  In "A Glance at the State," his reasoning for this can be summarized as six affirmations and six rejections.

Affirming liberal democracy (438).  Nietzsche accepts the modern triumph of democracy as combining democratic government, freedom of speech, and cultural pluralism.  This liberal freedom protects the life of the Socratic free spirits, who are free to speak in public, although they normally prefer to live a private life of theoretical inquiry.  All political parties are demagogic in their crude appeal to the masses, but this demagogic politics is no threat to the Socratic free spirits who enjoy the freedom of a liberal society.

Affirming cultural aristocracy, but not political aristocracy (439, 465, 480).  A liberal society allows for the emergence of free spirits as "higher men," who  constitute a cultural aristocracy, but not a political aristocracy, because they do not wish to rule politically.

Affirming the separation of church and state and the privatization of religion (472).  Previously, governments were legitimated by divine right, by some claim that political authority was sanctioned by some religious or metaphysical cosmology.  In a liberal regime, political authority arises by popular consent without any need for metaphysical claims.  Metaphysical or religious beliefs become purely private matters, and there's a multiplicity of religious sects that are free to compete with one another.

Affirming limited government and the "decline of the state" (472-73).  Since a liberal government makes no transcendent claims, it is limited in its ends, so limited that much of its work can be taken over by private contractors, and thus state power declines.

Affirming cosmopolitan globalization and liberal peace (475).  Global capitalism promotes international trade in ways that foster a cosmopolitan culture and peace among nations, because warfare seems unnecessarily disruptive to global commerce.

Affirming cultural evolution as a largely spontaneous order separated from the state (465, 474, 480).  "Culture owes its highest achievements to politically weakened times."  Liberalism separates culture from the state, and this fosters the moral and intellectual excellence of human beings by freeing them from political regimentation.

Rejecting socialism (452, 473).  Nietzsche forecasts that socialist states will have to employ terrorism in subjugating all citizens to absolute rule, which will provoke a reaction for reducing state power.  Socialism degrades cultural life by suppressing outstanding individuals.

Rejecting nationalism (475, 480).  In Nietzsche's day, the nationalist parties were the opponents of the socialist parties.  He rejects both because both use state power for the regimentation of culture, which denies the individual freedom necessary for the evolution of higher culture.

Rejecting militaristic "great politics" (442, 481).  In contrast to his celebration of "great politics" in his later writings (BGE, 208; EH, 4.1), Nietzsche rejects Bismarckian "great politics" because its militarism impedes the cultivation of cultural excellence by outstanding individuals.  (Oddly, this thought is contradicted by aphorism 477, with its claim that "the greatest and most terrible wars" are essential for culture.)

Rejecting anti-Semitism (475).  Liberal globalization will promote the "European man" as a "mixed race," and one benefit of this is that it will solve "the problem of the Jews," because the Jews will be part of this European mixed race.  This is good because the Jews show a higher intelligence, having produced "the noblest human being (Christ), the purest philosopher (Spinoza), the most powerful book, and the most effective moral code in the world."

Rejecting the illiberalism of the Athenian democratic polis and Plato's "ideal state" (474).  Although the Athenian polis was democratic, it was illiberal in its statist supervision of culture, just like Plato's "city in speech" in The Republic and The Laws.  Nietzsche rejects this because higher cultural life flourishes only when it is free from political control.

Rejecting the aristocracy of the "Superman" (441, 461).  While Nietzsche thinks a liberal society fosters the "higher culture" of "higher men," he rejects the idea that some human beings can become "superhuman" (ubermenschliche).  He thus rejects the most famous teaching of his later writings--that the only alternative to modern democratic degradation is the noble rule of the "Superman" (Ubermensch).  In Human, All Too Human, he repeatedly warns against the belief in the "superhuman" ability of the great "leader" (Fuhrer) as a dangerous delusion that will promote tyranny (143, 164, 441, 461; D, 49, 548).  The history of the 20th century confirmed his prophetic warning.

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