Wednesday, March 27, 2013

A Darwinian Grand Tour--From Chicago to the Galapagos to Freiburg

Over the next year, I will be travelling around the world for some lecturing.

I begin in Chicago at the Midwest Political Science Association convention on April 14 and Prairie State College on April 17.  At the MWPSA convention, I will present a paper on "Nietzsche's Darwinian Liberalism."  At Prairie State, I will lead a discussion in George Streeter's philosophy class, which is a class on Marx, Darwin, Nietzsche, and Freud.

I then go to the Galapagos Islands where I will lecture at a Mont Pelerin Society conference on "Evolution, the Human Sciences, and Liberty," June 22-29.  My wife and I will also do some touring on a yacht around the Galapagos, following Darwin's path, and then we will go to Machu Picchu and the Ecuadorean Amazonian area for a few weeks.

In the fall, I will be lecturing at the University of Notre Dame for the political theory workshop there (September 13) and at Lone Star College in Houston (October 10).  I was invited to Notre Dame by Michael Zuckert.  I was invited to Lone Star by John Barr, the author of Loathing Lincoln: An American Tradition from the Civil War to the Present (forthcoming from LSU Press).  I was one of the reviewers of Barr's book for LSU, and I recommend it as one of the best new books on Lincoln, which offers a stunning panorama of the whole anti-Lincoln tradition.

In December, I will go to Freiburg, Germany, where I will be lecturing for a workshop on "Liberalism and the Evolutionary Agenda," organized by Ulrich Witt, the Director of the Evolutionary Economics Group at the Max Planck Institute (Jena).  There will be lots of smart people at this workshop, all interested in the implications of evolutionary science for economics, morality, and politics.  We'll be at a beautiful conference center at the foot of the Black Forest Mountains. 

Perhaps I'll meet the Geist of Martin Heidegger in a clearing in the forest.  If so, I'll explain to him where he went wrong.

In all of this work, I'll be thinking through my arguments for Darwinian liberalism.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

The Religious Longing for Myth in Nietzsche and Nazism

The contradictory and incoherent character of Friedrich Nietzsche's writings arises from his ambivalent stance in the debate between Platonic idealism and Darwinian naturalism. 

The writings of his middle period--such as Human, All Too Human--were largely free from contradiction and incoherence, because he fully embraced Darwinism and rejected Platonism.  But in his earlier and later writings, he was caught in the contradiction of denying the Platonic dualism of Being and Becoming while affirming a Platonic longing for a religious transcendence or redemption of life that goes beyond the Heraclitean flux of the natural world.  So, for example, in The Birth of Tragedy (sec. 23), Nietzsche lamented the "secularization" of modern life, and he hoped for a "rebirth of German myth" that would support a German state rooted in a unified culture of myth that would impress "the stamp of the eternal" on life and thus become "desecularized."  Later, in Thus Spoke Zarathustra and Beyond Good and Evil, he created new myths--eternal recurrence, will to power, the Superman, and the religion of Dionysus--that would constitute the new faith for the redemption of the earth.  Thus, in his earlier and later writings, Nietzsche manifested a religious "need for redemption" that he rejected in Human, All Too Human (27, 141, 222, 476). 

In his recent book--Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche: The Philosopher of the Second Reich--William Altman offers a good study of Nietzsche's self-contradictory longing for Platonic transcendence without Platonic metaphysics (xix, 56-57, 107, 114-15, 129-33, 143, 149-51, 157-58, 164-65).  But Altman does not see how the Darwinian Nietzsche of Human, All Too Human escapes from this self-contradictory position.  Nor does he see that it's the Platonic idealism of Nietzsche's earlier and later writings that was appropriated by the Nazis. 

Nietzsche's life-long struggle with Platonism and Darwinism is illuminated by considering the influence of his reading of Friedrich Lange's book The History of Materialism.  Although there are no references to Lange in Nietzsche's published writings, George Stack's Lange and Nietzsche (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1983) has shown the pervasive influence of Lange's book on Nietzsche.  Lange's book includes detailed surveys of the latest scientific research--particularly in cosmology, physics, Darwinian evolution, and neurophysiology--that bears on the debate over materialism and idealism.  One can see here one source for Nietzsche's study of natural science. 

It becomes clear that in his early and late writings, Nietzsche agrees with Lange in rejecting metaphysical Platonism as contrary to empirical science while embracing mythopoetic Platonism as satisfying their religious longings.  And yet the Darwinian naturalism of Human, All Too Human departs from Lange's Platonism, a point that Stack ignores.

Lange initiated the tradition of neo-Kantian philosophy at the University of Marburg.  Adopting what Stack calls "materio-idealism," Lange combined skeptical phenomenalism and mythopoetic idealism, and this same tense combination can be found in Nietzsche's early and late writings.

Beginning with the atomism of Democritus, materialism assumes that matter alone is real, and therefore the only true knowledge is understanding matter in motion as determined by the causal laws of physical nature.  In telling the history of materialism, Lange shows that a crucial turn was the move from materialism to sensationalism, which began with Protagoras, and this Protagorean sensationalism was a move towards idealism.

The materialist seeks to know the material things that constitute the outer world of nature.  But the sensationalist denies that we can have any direct knowledge of matter as it is in itself, because all that we have immediately given to us is our sensations of the eternal world, and thus we can know the material world as it appears to us in our sensations, but we cannot know how the material world might be in itself independently of our sensations.  Consequently, Protagoras taught, man is the measure of all things: of those that are that they are; of those that are not that they are not.

So while Democritus started from the material objects of external nature, Protagoras started from the subjective consciousness of internal human experience.  Lange sees this Protagorean move as the first step in a tradition of antimaterialism that culminated in Kantian idealism.  Contrary to the claim of the Democritean materialist, we cannot know material objects as things in themselves, because through our sensations, we know only the phenomenal world, the world as it appears to us, and so we cannot know the noumenal world, the world as it really is in itself.

Lange argues that the empirical science of the physiology of the sense-organs confirms the Protagorean teaching that man is the measure of all things.  Hermann Helmholtz and other psychophysiologists have shown that our sense experience is entirely conditioned by the constitution of our sensory faculties.  How the external world appears to us depends upon the organization of our sensory systems, and the same external world would appear differently to different organisms with different sensory faculties.  Consequently, the world as it is in itself is unknowable.

For example, Lange points to the opposition between hearing a tone and the vibrations of the string that occasions it.  That we turn the vibration into a tone arises from the organization of our auditory faculties as setting the a priori conditions for such sensory experience.  If we had no sense but hearing, we would conclude that all phenomena are sound.  Even within this realm of experience, our sensations are limited in that some animals can hear a range of sounds that we cannot.

Similarly, our visual experience is conditioned by the organization of our visual systems--the eye, the optic nerve, and the visual centers of the brain.  We see colors only because our human visual system is organized to divide waves of light into a spectrum of colors.  Other animals with different visual systems see the world differently from the way we do.

Nietzsche adopts this argument in much of his writing to claim that our senses deceive us in giving us an illusory account of the world.  We cannot know the reality of the external world as it might be in itself, because in our sense experience, we must translate nerve stimuli into images that are actually metaphors, and then we translate those sensory metaphors into the linguistic metaphors of language.  Thus we are caught within the web of appearances that we ourselves have created, because we have no direct access to the reality of the external world.  We cannot even know ourselves as we really are, because our experience of ourselves as thinking and feeling beings--as conscious selves--is itself a poetic construction of our brains.  This suggestion that what we think we know about our external and internal worlds is only a fictional creation leads to nihilism.

But if one accepts the evolutionary account of life, as Lange and Nietzsche do, then it is possible to overcome epistemological nihilism through evolutionary realism.  If human cognitive faculties are products of an evolutionary history of adaptations for survival and reproduction, then we can predict that those cognitive faculties have been shaped by an evolutionary process of interaction between human ancestors as physical, active, and perceiving animals and the reality of the physical and social worlds in which they have lived.  Those human ancestors whose cognitive faculties gave them utterly delusional images of the world would have been less likely to survive and reproduce.  And yet we could also predict that cognitive faculties adapted for evolutionary success will be selective in gathering and interpreting information relevant to success in the ecological niche of human adaptation, and thus ignoring information about the world that has no adaptive relevance.  From this, we can predict that our evolved mental capacities will be reliable but fallible. 

Such an evolutionary epistemology supports a hypothetical realism.  Assuming that our evolved mental grasp of reality is reliable but fallible, we can test the limits of our comprehension by testing hypotheses about our evolved psychology.  For example, we cannot see ultraviolent light, but bees can, because bees have evolved a visual system that detects ultraviolent light so that they can navigate by the sun even on cloudy days, which is an evolutionary adaptation for bees but not for human beings.  And yet human beings can use scientific reasoning with experiments and special instruments to detect the full spectrum of light and to uncover the special visual capacities of bees and other animals.

This is what Nietzsche means when he speaks in Human, All Too Human about the perspectival character of knowledge and how natural science can expand our knowledge by uncovering new perspectives.  Even if empirical science cannot give us absolute knowledge of the world, it can allow us to reach ever greater approximations to the truth about things.  Science can even help us to see the world through the eyes of a bee.

Is there any good alternative to evolutionary naturalism?  Will Altman says the alternative is Platonic dualism:  the only true knowledge is reason's grasp of the eternal ideas that belong to the intelligible world of Being, as opposed to the sensory experiences of the momentary impressions that belong to the sensible world of Becoming.

But as Plato indicated in the Parmenides, this radical dualism creates insoluble problems.  Socrates cannot explain how the unchanging, purely intelligible Ideas are related to the changing, sensible experience of mortal human beings.  Either Becoming must take on the absolute fixity of Being, or Being must take on the absolute flux of Becoming.  But that would deny the dualistic separation of Being and Becoming.

Whenever Plato in his dialogues fails in his efforts to provide an intellectually coherent account of his metaphysical dualism, he turns from rational proof to mythic imagery.  Lange sees this as showing that while Platonic idealism fails as metaphysics, it succeeds as myth; and this mythopoetic idealism captures the true core of religion in a way that is compatible with empirical science.

Would Leo Strauss and the Straussians agree with this--that Plato's Idealism is more a matter of mythic poetry than metaphysical truth?

Lange writes:
"We cannot imagine a lion as such, a rose as such; but we may represent in imagination a definitely-outlined picture of a lion or a rose, wholly free from all those accidents of individual formation which may collectively be regarded as deviations from this norm, as imperfections.  This is, however, not the Platonic idea of the lion or the rose, but an ideal that is a creation of the senses, intended to express the abstract idea as perfectly as possible.  The idea itself is invisible, for everything that is visible belongs to the fleeting world of mere phenomena: it has no forms in space, for the supersensuous cannot be linked with space.  Similarly, nothing whatever positive can be expressed of the ideas without conceiving them in some sensuous fashion.  They cannot be called pure, sovereign, perfect, eternal, without our connecting with them by these very words ideas of sense.  So Plato, in his ideal theory, is obliged to have recourse to mythus, and so, at a single step we pass from the highest abstraction to the true life-element of all mysticism--the sensuous supersensuous.  The mythus is, however, to have only a figurative or metaphorical force.  By its means, what is in itself only an object of the pure reason is to be represented in the forms of the phenomenal world; but what kind of figure can that be of which the original cannot be supplied?" (I, 77-78)
While Lange dismisses the Platonic Ideas as "cobwebs of the brain" and "fabulous," he accepts Plato's mythic idealism as "a poetical exaltation of the spirit" and "not knowledge but poesy," which serves religious and moral ends, and which "often indirectly affords a new impulse to scientific research" (I, 78-80).  As long as this mythic idealism is understood to be "not knowledge but poesy," it makes no metaphysical claims that would contradict empirical science,  And yet it satisfies a spiritual longing that cannot be satisfied by empirical science.  Platonic poesy "is a necessary offspring of the soul, arising from the deepest life-roots of the race, and a complete counterbalance to the pessimism which springs from an exclusive acquaintance with reality" (II, 232).

The spiritual appeal of mythic poetry that does not claim any metaphysical truth is what Lange calls "the standpoint of the ideal."  He writes:
"Pessimism, which likewise clings to the whole, is a product of reflexion.  The thousand contrarieties of life, the cold cruelty of nature, the pains and imperfections of all creatures, are collected in their individual features, and the sum of these observations is contrasted with the ideal picture of Optimism as a terrible indictment of the universe.  A complete picture of the universe, however, is not reached in this way.  Only the Optimist picture of the world is destroyed, and this involves a great service, if Optimism is inclined to become dogmatic and to pass itself as the representative of truth and reality.  All those beautiful ideas of the individual disharmony which is resolved into the harmony of the great whole, of higher, divine contemplation of the world, in which all riddles are solved and all difficulties disappear, are successfully destroyed by Pessimism; but this destruction affects the dogma only, not the ideal.  It cannot do away with the fact that our mind is so constituted as ever anew to produce within itself a harmonious picture of the world; that here as everywhere it places its ideal beside and above the reality, and recreates from the struggles and necessities of life by rising in thought to a world of all perfections." (III, 341)
Lange thinks that Friedrich Schiller's poetry manifests mythic idealism, particularly in his generalizing the Christian doctrine of redemption into the idea of an "aesthetical redemption."  "The elevation of the soul in faith here becomes the flight into the idea-land of beauty, where all labour finds its rest, every struggle and every want their peace and their reconciliation" (III, 345).  This purely aesthetic appeal to our emotional need for redemption cannot be refuted by empirical science.
"Who will refute a Mass of Palestrina, or who will convict Raphael's Madonna of error?  The 'Gloria in Excelsis' remains a universal power, and will ring through the centuries so long as our nerves can quiver under the awe of the sublime.  And those simple fundamental ideas of the redemption of the individual man by the surrendering of his own will to the will that guides the whole; those images of death and resurrection which express the highest and most thrilling emotions that stir the human breast, when no prose is capable of uttering in cold words the fullness of the heart." (III, 360)
Nietzsche quoted from this passage in a letter in 1866 expressing his excitement in reading Lange's book.  In his early and later writings,  Nietzsche used his power for philosophical poetry to create new myths that would provide "aesthetical redemption" for humanity.

In his middle writings, Nietzsche recognizes the power of the "need for redemption" that has been satisfied in the past by religion and art.  But he wonders whether the progress in the scientific understanding of human evolution will show that this was an artificial need, and that new institutions might evolve to serve the "common, true needs of all men" (HH, 27, 153, 475-76).  He recognizes that with the modern weakening of traditional religion and metaphysics, romantic artists (like Richard Wagner) will satisfy the religious longings of people who want to feel religious emotions without having to believe religious doctrines.  But he warns that the religious intoxication of romantic art and the romantic worship of artists thought to be geniuses can become delusional (HH, 145-64).

In his later writings, however, Nietzsche himself fell into a delusional state of Dionysian frenzy induced by his mythic belief in eternal recurrence and the will to power as teachings that would redeem humanity.

An evolutionary science of aesthetics might explain our natural desire for making sense of the world through story-telling and the anthropomorphic projection of agency and intelligent design onto the universe.  But determining whether this anthropomorphic belief in cosmic purposefulness is metaphysically true or only mythically appealing is beyond natural science.

In any case, we should recognize the moral and political dangers that can arise from a delusional longing for mythic redemption.

Lange was a socialist who worried about the atomistic individualism of liberalism.  In fact, much of his attack on materialism and support for idealism seemed to be directed ultimately at what he saw as the egoistic materialism of the classical liberal political economy initiated by Adam Smith (III, 233-68).

For Lange, Smith's moral and political philosophy was based entirely on a narrow egoism to support the conclusion that government has no proper role beyond maintaining freedom for the selfish competition of interests.  Even Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments is egoistic, according to Lange, because while Smith grounds morality in sympathy, he understands sympathy as merely an extension of one's self-love to embrace one's family, friends, and others to whom one feels some attachment and concern.

By contrast, Lange argues that a sense of moral community requires mythopoetic idealism that will teach a Christian ethic of self-denial and selfless altruism.  This became the basis for Lange's ethical socialism.

Against this, Nietzsche in Human, All Too Human declares that "egoism is not evil," because we all act for the sake of what we believe will be desirable or good for us.  The idea of "selflessness" of morality is illusory, because seemingly selfless acts are actually acts in which we sacrifice one part of ourselves to serve another part of ourselves that we love more (57, 101-102).  The Christian need for redemption arises from the illusion of imagining a totally selfless way of thinking and then feeling dissatisfied and imperfect because we cannot attain such selflessness (132-33).

In arguing against the claim that morality requires complete selflessness, Nietzsche defends an egoistic individualism that is similar to the moral thought of Adam Smith and Charles Darwin, in which our evolved mammalian tendency to self-love is extended to a sympathetic concern for others to whom we feel some attachment.

In Human, All Too Human, Nietzsche defends a liberal conception of the state: "The state is a clever institution for protecting individuals from one another; if one goes too far in ennobling it, the individual is ultimately weakened by it, even dissolved--and thus the original purpose of the state is most thoroughly thwarted" (235).  By contrast, Nietzsche observes, the socialist conception of the ideal state strives for the "destruction of the individual, which it sees as an unjustified luxury of nature, and which it intends to improve into an expedient organ of the community."  Nietzsche foresees that socialism will require a brutal terrorism in striving for "the most submissive subjugation of all citizens to the absolute state, the like of which has never existed" (473).

Hitler's National Socialism employed a mythic symbolism to achieve this subordination of individuals to the community of the Volk.  Alfred Rosenberg shows this in his Myth of the Twentieth Century (1930).  As an early member of the Nazi Party, he wrote this book as a general statement of Nazi thought.  Echoing the Nietzsche of the early and later writings, Rosenberg lamented that the German people had become "mythless."  What they needed was a "new myth" that would inspire heroic political activity.  He declared: "The longing to give the Nordic race soul its form as a German church under the sign of the Volksmythos, that is for me the greatest task of our century."

The religious myth favored by the Nazis was developed by Ernst Haeckel and the Monist movement.  Daniel Gasman has shown that Haeckel was the primary ideological influence on both National Socialism and fascism.  Haeckel promoted a mystical pantheism of nature that united scientific materialism and religious spirituality.  The fundamental premise of his pantheistic religion was that "there lives one spirit in all things," which is a "divine spirit."  He defended this romantic religion of nature as superior to the dualist metaphysics of Christianity, which denigrated earthly life and the natural world.

Under Haeckel's influence, Hitler promoted this pantheistic religion.  He proclaimed: "Man has discovered in nature the wonderful notion of that all-mighty being whose law he worships.  Fundamentally, in everyone there is the feeling for this all-mighty, which we call God."  This romantic pantheism was a pervasive part of National Socialism (see Robert Pois, National Socialism and Religion of Nature, 1986), and this mythic pantheism echoes the Dionysian myth of Nietzsche.

This same mythopoetic idealism is evident in Martin Heidegger's mythic positing of Dasein and in his Rectoral Address at the University of Freiburg.  Even after the defeat of Nazism, he continued to declare: "Only a god can save us now."

Unlike the Nietzsche of Human, All Too Human, the Nietzsche of The Birth of Tragedy, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, and Beyond Good and Evil belonged to an idealist tradition of longing for myth that prepared the way for Heidegger, Hitler, and the Nazis.  George Williamson has shown how Nietzsche fits into this tradition in his book The Longing for Myth in Germany: Religion and Aesthetic Culture from Romanticism to Nietzsche (University of Chicago Press, 2004).  Williamson concludes:
"Mythological thought, it must be emphasized, did not create National Socialism or anti-Semitism, nor did it ensure their victory in 1933--here the factors of war, economic blight, and fear of Bolshevism played the dominant role--but in its Wagnerian or volkisch guise myth offered a way of thinking about art, religion, and the nation that was particularly suited to the political fantasies of Hitler and the racist policies of the Nazi state." (293)
By contrast, the Darwinian liberalism of Nietzsche in Human, All Too Human gave no encouragement to the myth-making of Hitler and the Nazis. 

Some posts on related topics can be found here, here, herehere, here, here, here, here, and here.

Friday, March 08, 2013

Nietzsche's Aristocratic Liberalism

In the writings of Friedrich Nietzsche's middle period, when his thinking was shaped by Darwinian science, he embraced what I will call "aristocratic liberalism."  I use that term to convey the thought that while a liberal regime secures equal liberty under the rule of law, it also thereby secures inequality of results in allowing for "the natural aristocracy of virtues and talents" (as Thomas Jefferson called it).  Aristocratic liberalism can thus combine the ancient concern for social virtue and the modern concern for individual liberty.  The aristocratic liberalism of Nietzsche's middle period is in contrast to the aristocratic anti-liberalism of his later writings (BGE 44, 201-202, 257).

Nietzsche's aristocratic liberalism can be sketched out as four affirmations and four negations:  affirming constitutional democracy, liberal pluralism, religious liberty, and cosmopolitan globalization, while denying socialist statism, "great politics," anti-Semitism, and atheistic religiosity.

Nietzsche sees the democratization of European politics as an irresistible power (HH, 438; WS, 275).  Increasingly, the offices of king and emperor are being hollowed out; and the only way monarchs can hold on to any dignity is through declaring states of emergency during war to slow the growing constraints on monarchic power from constitutional democracy (WS, 281).

Nietzsche declares: "Democratic institutions are quarantine arrangements to combat that ancient pestilence, lust for tyranny: as such they are very useful and very boring" (WS, 289).  That he identifies democratic restraints on the lust for tyranny as "very boring" might suggest the scorn for democracy as "herd-animalization" that runs through his later writings (BGE, 201-202, 242; TI, 9:38; WP, 890, 898).  But, in fact, the Nietzsche of the middle writings warns that the despisers of "herd humanity" are foolish in thinking that they can escape being harmed by the herd by running away from them (AOM, 233).  Instead of that, he recommends, the superior human beings should put on the mask of mediocrity and modesty, and adopt the virtue of moderation, so as not to provoke the great majority (WS, 175; HH, 464).

In a constitutional democracy, the state has no metaphysical or religious justification, because the state is founded on the mutual contract of individuals for their own interests (HH, 441).  Over time, the functions of the democratic state are taken over by private contractors, and thus the state itself falls into decline, as the power of the state shrinks (HH, 472).  (Remarkably, Nietzsche's talk about how governmental functions could be turned over to private contractors and thus bring a decline in the state sounds a lot like the reasoning of liberal anarchists such as Gustave de Molinari.)

This weakening of the state is good, because "the state is a prudent institution for the protection of individuals against one another: if it is completed and perfected too far, it will in the end enfeeble the individual and, indeed, dissolve him--that is to say, thwart the original purpose of the state in the most thorough way possible" (HH, 235).

Some scholarly commentators (like Brian Leiter, for example) have said that Nietzsche is not a political philosopher at all, because he thinks culture is more important than politics.  One might see indications of this in Human, All Too Human, because while it contains one of the longest sections on politics in Nietzsche's writing--Chapter 8, secs. 438-82--the title of the chapter is "A Glance at the State," suggesting that a "glance" is all the state deserves, and this chapter is followed by the last chapter of the book on "Man Alone with Himself."  The preoccupation with culture is indicated by the title of the central chapter--"Tokens of Higher and Lower Culture."

And yet this claim that Nietzsche's elevation of culture over politics shows him to be an anti-political philosopher misses the fundamental point that liberal politics secures the freedom of culture from political supervision.  The liberal state is a limited state, because it refrains from imposing a monolithic moral order on society, which allows for cultural pluralism.  The liberal state demands only a "glance," because the cultural formation of life occurs in civil society largely free from the coercive intervention of the state.

In a liberal democracy, all political parties must become demagogic in their appeal to the masses, and this requires a stupid simplification in all political rhetoric.  Nietzsche sees no point in resisting this, because "if the purpose of all politics really is to make like endurable for as many as possible, then these as-many-as-possible are entitled to determine what they understand by an endurable life."  If the multitude of people are happy to live a narrow life based on the few simple ideas that they can understand, there is no reason for a free-spirited thinker like Nietzsche to object, as long as "this narrow-mindedness does not go so far as to demand that everything should become politics in this sense, that everyone should live and work according to such a standard."  A few people must be allowed "to refrain from politics and to step a little aside."  These few will not take the happiness of the many very seriously, and they will sometimes be "guilty of an ironic posture," because what they take seriously and the happiness they seek must be very different from that of the great multitude.  All that the free-spirited few ask for politically is "permission to speak": "a moment when they emerge from their silent solitude and again try the power of their lungs: for then they call to one another like those gone astray in a wood in order to locate and encourage one another; whereby much becomes audible, to be sure, that sounds ill to ears for which it is not intended.--Soon afterwards, though, it is again still in the wood, so still that the buzzing, humming, and fluttering of the countless insects that live in, above, and beneath it can again clearly be heard" (HH, 438).  Freedom of speech in a liberal democracy allows for both demagogic rhetoric and philosophic discourse.

This sounds a lot like the life of a Socrates living in a democracy.  This section of Human, All Too Human is immediately preceded by a reference to Socrates, who is generally identified as a free spirited philosopher (HH, 65, 361, 437; WS, 86).  This also sounds a lot like what Socrates says in Plato's Republic about how philosophers in a democracy might withdraw from politics ("the madness of the many") and mind their own business (496a-d), and how democracy is the one imperfect regime that secures freedom for all ways of life, including the philosophic life (557b-d).  Indeed, I see Human, All Too Human as Nietzsche's elaboration of this Platonic suggestion as to how a liberal democracy might provide freedom for Socratic philosophy and science.

Such a liberal regime provides the conditions for a higher culture in allowing for two castes in society--a working class and a leisured class (HH, 439).  Previously, the leisured class was largely a class based on inherited noble lineage.  But now this position has been taken by merchants and industrialists who command the work of wage-laborers.  Whereas previously, in feudal societies, subordination was based on the belief in unconditional and superhuman authority, subordination in a free society will be based on mutual contract (HH, 440-41).  The vulgar manners of manufacturers and entrepreneurs make it hard for them to win the respectful obedience of their employees, who are consequently attracted by the rhetoric of socialist revolutionaries.  So to reduce the appeal of socialism, employers will have to learn how to show the noble manners that win the respect of their employees.  And while most people in a free society will work in order to be paid, a few people--artists, thinkers, and other people of leisure--will work only when the work is intrinsically pleasurable for them (GS, 40-42).

Nietzsche sees that part of liberal pluralism is religious liberty.  For as long as the state is conceived as exercising a paternalistic guardianship over its subjects, because the great mass of people are treated as children, the state will need the support of religion to sanctify government and thus give it legitimacy.  "Thus absolute tutelary government and the careful preservation of religion necessarily go together" (HH, 472).  But democratic states teach a different conception of government:  government becomes a mere instrument of popular will, and thus government can no longer claim transcendent authority coming from a state religion.  Religion then becomes a private matter determined by the conscience and habits of every individual, and thus liberal democracy requires religious liberty.

Nietzsche believes that the first consequence of this religious liberty is likely to be an increase in religious enthusiasm, because the religious movements that were previously suppressed by government will now freely express themselves as a multiplicity of sects.  But then this very diversity of religious groups will expose their weaknesses, because no single religious group can claim unquestioned authority.  As a result, the more gifted people will embrace irreligion, and this hostility to religion will take over the minds of those in government.  Those people who are still religious will be suspicious of government.  This then will further weaken the state, and increasingly the functions of the state will be taken over by private contractors.  Thus, "the sovereignty of the people serves then to banish the last remnant of magic and superstition from this realm of feeling; modern democracy is the historical form of the decay of the state."  This is not necessarily a bad thing, because as the state begins to shrink to insignificance around the world, prudent self-interest might eventually lead to the invention of new institutional forms to take the place of the state (HH, 472).

Nietzsche suggests that those new institutional forms of governance might arise from the growing networks of international trade and cooperation.  Commerce will grow more cosmopolitan to the point that a merchant in London will have to learn many languages to do business, and eventually there will be international languages for commerce and for intellectual discourse (HH, 267).  Nations that have been enemies can become trading partners and thus increase their wealth and well-being (WS, 190).

Nietzsche writes: "European man and the abolition of nations.--Trade and industry, the post and the book-trade, the possession in common of all higher culture, rapid changing of home and scene, the nomadic life now lived by all who do not own land--these circumstances are necessarily bringing with them a weakening and finally an abolition of nations, at least the European: so that as a consequence of continual crossing a mixed race, that of European man, must come into being out of them" (HH, 475).

Nietzsche foresees that one likely outcome of the spread of democratization across Europe is a European league of nations, in which each nation will become a governmental canton (WS, 292).  This merging of nations in Europe will foster a sense of European culture in which individuals will increasing see themselves as "good Europeans."

This looks a lot like what Matt Ridley, Steven Pinker, and others have identified as a growing cosmopolitan culture with declining violence fostered by global cooperation based on liberal capitalism, which fulfills Darwin's forecast of an evolutionary extension of the social instincts and sympathies to embrace all of humanity as bound together by networks of exchange.

To be continued . . .

Monday, March 04, 2013

Incest Taboos as Secular Transcendence

In October of 2006, I wrote a post with the title "So What's Wrong with Incest?" 

For the past six and a half years, that post has regularly had more pageviews than any other post that I have ever written.  Apparently, people are Googling "What is wrong with incest?" and my post pops up.  A lot of people are struggling with their incestuous thoughts and looking for some way to overcome the taboo against incest.  Unfortunately, my post has even turned up on a porno website!

Of course, sex is interesting, and prohibited sex is especially interesting.  But what is notable about the incest taboo is that it's a universal prohibition of a sexual activity that most human beings in every human society never consider as a possibility.  Most human beings have no sexual interest in their parents, their siblings, or their children. 

So why do we need a social rule to prohibit what no one wants to do?  Well, actually, as the popularity of my post on incest indicates, some people are troubled by incestuous thoughts.  After all, incest is a serious social problem, particularly with fathers sexually abusing their daughters.  Even here, however, there's an interesting pattern: the most common form of incest is actually child abuse.  Daughters who have been sexually abused by their fathers usually break away from this as adults.  Incest between consenting adults within the nuclear family is extremely rare.  But once we move to more distant kinship relationships--such as cousins--the strength of the inhibition weakens, because depending upon the circumstances of rearing and kinship rules, cousin marriage might be allowed or even preferred.

As I have argued in various posts, I find Edward Westermarck's Darwinian explanation of incest avoidance and the incest taboo to be the best account of this.  Elaborating on some suggestions coming from Darwin himself, Westermarck laid out the reasoning for explaining our human reaction to incest as a biological adaptation.  If close inbreeding tends to create high risks for the offspring--death or mental and physical defects--then we might predict that evolution by natural selection would favor a propensity to feel no sexual interest in those with whom one has been reared from early infancy.  Consequently, as people are reared together with siblings and parents, they will tend to have no sexual interest in their parents, their siblings, or their children.  This emotional aversion to incest might then be expressed as a general social disapproval of incest that could become an incest taboo.  How far this taboo extends beyond the nuclear family will depend upon social conditions and kinship  rules.

The evidence for the Westermarck hypothesis has increased over the past sixty years as biologists and social scientists have studied some natural experiments among human beings--particularly, the history of the kibbutzim in Israel and Chinese "minor" marriages--and incest avoidance among primates and other non-human animals.  This evidence has been well surveyed by people like Arthur Wolf of Stanford University.

The leading opponent of Westermarck's theory was Sigmund Freud, who assumed that far from having a natural inclination to avoid incest, human beings were naturally inclined to it (the Oedipus Complex), and therefore the incest taboo must be understood as a purely cultural invention of human beings to repress their natural animal desires for incestuous relations.

Many cultural anthropologists have adopted the Freudian position.  For example, Claude Levi-Strauss declares:
"It will never be sufficiently emphasized that, if social organization had a beginning, this could only have consisted in the incest prohibition since . . . the prohibition is, in fact, a kind of remodelling of the biological conditions of mating and procreation (which know no rule, as can be seen from observing animal life) compelling them to become perpetuated only in an artificial framework of taboos and obligations.  It is there, and only there, that we find a passage from nature to culture, from animal life to human life, and that we are in a position to understand the very essence of their articulation."
This remarkably dramatic language--"from nature to culture, from animal life to human life"--suggests something like a Creation story of human origins, except that in this case the elevation from animal life to human life comes not through God's creative power, but from the power of human beings to create themselves through culture. 

As Wolf has indicated, cultural anthropologists often see human culture as having a kind of redemptive or transcendent quality to it, because it preserves human dignity through an elevated image of the human species that cannot be explained in Darwinian terms.  Westermarck's Darwinian explanation of incest avoidance and the incest taboo is rejected by them because it presents a morally degrading view of human beings as merely highly evolved animals.

This might explain why debates between biological anthropologists and cultural anthropologists become so emotional.  Wolf has seen this at Stanford.  In 1998, the split in the Department of Anthropology had become so combative that the Department was officially separated into two distinct departments--a Department of Cultural and Social Anthropology and a Department of Anthropological Sciences.  As these titles indicate, the split was between culture and science--between those who think that culture transcends biological science and those who think that culture can be explained by biological science.  (In 2007, the central administration of Stanford forced these two departments to be reunited as a Department of Anthropology, but many of the faculty members were angry about this.)

The radical separation of nature and culture that one sees in the work of many cultural anthropologists arose first in the thought of Thomas Hobbes and Immanuel Kant.  Despite the monism of Hobbes's materialism, his political teaching presupposes a dualistic opposition between animal nature and human will or reason:  in creating political order, human beings transcend and conquer nature.  This dualism was explicitly developed by Kant, who originally formulated the modern concept of culture (Kultur).  For Kant, culture is that uniquely human realm of artifice in which human beings escape their natural animality to express their rational humanity as the only beings who have a "supersensible faculty" for moral freedom.  Through culture, human beings free themselves from the laws of nature.

Although culture has become a vague concept in the social sciences, it retains the four central features prescribed by Kant.  (1) Culture is uniquely human.  (2) It is uniquely human because only human beings have the understanding and the will to set purposes for themselves by free choice.  (3) Culture is an autonomous human artifice that transcends nature.  (4) Culture is the necessary condition for forming moral values.

Oddly enough, although Friedrich Nietzsche generally rejects Kantian dualism, the Nietzsche of the early and later writings actually embraces something like Kantian dualism in depicting human beings as capable of redeeming themselves from their animality by creating themselves through culture, allowing them to create what is "beyond" themselves.  Only in the Darwinian writings of his middle period does Nietzsche escape from this "need for redemption" by accepting the animal nature of human beings.