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Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

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Sunday, June 12, 2005

More on Nietzsche, oh my

LI is tempted, at this point, to go ballistically Germanistic and talk about the circle around Stefan George. Lehmann, after dismissing the early wave of Nietzsche interpreters as bunglers who missed the great man’s message, believes that here, finally, with the Aryan brotherhood around George, the proper ecclesia of Nietzsche interpretation finds its footing. Of course, the five hundred thousand printing of Thus Spake Zarathustra, distributed to the troops at the front, planted the seed. One imagines that Elisabeth Nietzsche, finally wealthy, got her revenge in attending the Bayreuth festival in style in the postwar years.

Lehmann divides the rightwing school into three divisions, with a cursory glance at what he calls the “inauthentic” school of Nietzsche interpretation, which includes Max Scheler, Ortega y Gasset, Graf Keyslering and Oswald Spengler. About the George circle, the best philosopher in his view was Ludwig Klages. Actually, we have read a little of Klages ourselves. Lehmann’s overview complains that Klages doesn’t quite make the connections that light up the master theme of Nietzsche’s work, the Will to Power. But at least Klages grasps that the Will to Power, and not the dilettantish perspectivism, is the key to Nietzsche. But since, for Klages, a Schopenhauerian, the Will to Power is negative – not the heightening of life but the black spot, the invisible plague – Nietzsche’s work ultimately collapses in self contradiction, of which only some gigantic ruins – the notion of resentment, for instance – remain to be used by the philosopher. With the smug confidence of a man who thinks he has chosen the winning side of history, Lehmann tells us that with [such] an alien metric is the lifework of a thinker measured, whose authentic contemporary meaning has emerged with ever greater clarity.”

Then there is the case of the existentialist interpretation of Nietzsche, and his comparison with Kierkegaard. Who could doubt that Nietzsche’s interpretation of the world comes from his own personal existence, rather than a striving for some cold objectivity? Interestingly – it tells us how low Heidegger’s bid to be the Nazi’s premier philosopher – Lehmann covers the existential/catholic interpretation of Nietzsche with never a word about the master from the Black Forest, instead concentrating on Jaspers.

But finally we come to the authentic interpretation of Nietzsche, the one which places him in the grand vista that leads from the concept of the Ubermensch to the Fuhrer himself. This is how Lehmann makes the rhetorical transition:

“The necessary experience to which the Nietzsche Renaissance of the present owes its origin, the world war, that as a historic experience has not ended in the year 1918, but continues in the midst of our most immediate turns of events – it not only spans the powers of negation, but also the ties of the new order that were forged in struggle. And the philosophy that overlooks that –isn’t it blind before the sheer present? Doesn’t it miss out on our existential situation (existenzielle Situation)?”

("Ein Mann wohnt im Haus der spielt mit den Schlangen der schreibt/
der schreibt wenn es dunkelt nach Deutschland dein goldenes Haar Margarete")

Springtime (for Nietzsche and Germany), in Lehmann’s view, comes about because of Alfred Bäumler, who makes the connection between the Will to Power – again, the backbone of Nietzsche’s thought in the rightwing view – and the “great politics” – what I am translating rather capriciously as macropolitics.

What Bäumler does is give us a very political Nietzsche, the midpoint of whose work was the struggle to counter Bismarck’s politics. Bismarck’s mistake was to found the state on equality, when the state is naturally founded on inequality – those inequalities that are found in the natural order. But “Bismarck’s ears were deaf to philosophy.” Nietzsche’s great counter-political moves were received with indifference. Only by taking account of the fact that Nietzsche, in the period of waiting for the hero to lead his country, do we understand how that impatience at the Bismarckian order led to the part of Nietzsche that might be difficult for a Nazi to accept:

But it made Nietzsche’s judgments over Germany ambiguous: these are not ‘objective’ expressions, but judgments that will attack, sort out, wound, bring attention to. And they encompass not only the decayed characteristics of the German essence: German innerlichkeit, flatness, banality, spiritlessness, but also the counter-images and counter-concepts: the roman culture and French culture (in opposition to German barbarism), the good European (in oppostion to the nationalist), the Renaissance (in opposition to the German reformation), and much else, to which we can add Nietzsche’s prejudice against anti-semitism and his occasional praises of the Jewish race and intelligence. Whoever takes that seriously will completely overlook the point at which Nietzsche is completely serious, the political intention of these very intentional constructions. He will not comprehend, why Nietzsche, in this political situation, had to attack this way and in no other; and even more, why these scenarios, understood correctly, as Nietzsche wished them to be understood, do not stand in contradiction with his fundamental political knowledge.”

Lehmann’s solution to the Nietzsche problem is, we must admit, formally similar to many philosophical interpretations of Nietzsche – one chooses where Nietzsche is serious and where he is polemical, and builds up from the serious. The Nietzsche that asked if there was room for laughter in science is subordinated to the spirit behind the most violent rhetoric in the Nietzsche canon. And the critical element in Nietzsche, the link to, for instance, the German enlightenment – a link that Nietzsche signaled by dedicating his first book, away from the Wagner circle, to Voltaire – becomes a necessary instrument in his attack on Bismarck. The necessity, here, is a little strained – how, exactly, does it promote a nationalistic, anti-semitic regime to attack nationalism and anti-Semitism? But German philosophers have long learned that the invocation of necessity clears us of many logical sins of omission – especially those having to do with the connecting middle terms.

Lehmann’s next two paragraphs make a sustained case for Nietzsche as a fascist. I’ll translate them, and then, tomorrow or tomorrow or tomorrow, I will return with the third episode in our philosophical cliffhanger, who’s screwing Nietzsche? (and by the way, translating the next two paragraphs – translating all of the Lehmann so far – is like watching someone suffocate my brother. It gives me an excruciating pain.)

Then what are these political insights [Erkenntnisse]? – That life is neither a vale of tears or an hedonistic playground for Nietzsche, but struggle and domination – a domination of those who are naturally, as the Greeks might say, mightier (who first control themselves and can rid themselves of God – “spirit, strictness of the head, independence and hardness, decisiveness, no whining”). As the state rests not on equality, but inequality, so does the culture, being a power-will and a bound (Bändigung), self-control: not an affair for the many, and not an affair of consumers, of happiness, of satisfaction. Nietzsche’s macro-politics is directed against the democratic “ideals”: against the ideology of liberalism, against the socialism of the masses, against bourgeois society and the ‘industrial culture’ – against the increasing assimilation, averaging and shrinking of the European man” (Bauemler). Nietzsche’s political will is the will to the type, to breeding and discipline, to the soldierly leadership, to strong races and healthy bodies. These are Germanic-northern and greek values, that determine even his “anti-stateism, his dislike of the machine state, the state as the goal in itself and as “ethical organism”.

In all of this is Nietzsche a predecessor of National Socialism.”

So – this is the strongest case for Nietzsche’s macropolitics leading directly to National Socialism. In my next post about Nietzsche, I’ll ask about the interpretative moves that are applied here, to Nietzsche’s work; ask whether the left Nietzschians don’t similarly carve out their own Nietzsche; and make the case for a reading of Nietzsche that respects the internal clues in Nietzsche’s work – instead of looking for a master theme – that complies with what he writes in The Case of Wagner:

“What is the characteristic sign of every literary decadence? This: that life no longer lives in the whole. The word becomes sovereign and leaps out of the sentence, the sentence usurps and darkens the sense of the page, the page gains live at the expense of the whole – the whole is no longer a whole. But that is the likeness for every style of decadence: every time an anarchy of atoms, disaggregation of the will, “freedom of the individual”, morally speaking – expanded to a political theory, the “same right for all.” Life, the equal liveliness, the vibration and exuberance of live compressed in the smallest images; the remnant poor on life. Overall: paralysis, weariness, stiffening or hostility and chaos: both leaping to the eye ever more insistently the higher one climbs in the forms of the organization. The whole no longer lives in general: it is all pieced together, calculated, artificial, an artifact.”

Or maybe I won't. That sounds like an awful lot of work.

Some links. Klages, who ended up writing the world's longest defense of the philosophy of graphology, is the prophet without honor at this site.

Elisabeth Nietzsche was a case. I can't help but find her life and triumph, as the "heir" of her helpless brother, screamingly funny. This essay by Jenny Diska is nice. Also, I'd recommend John Gimlette's book about Paraguay, At the Tomb of the Inflatable Pig. Among other things, he pokes around in the memories left of Elisabeth and her hubby's attempt to found an Aryan utopia in Paraguay. Elisabeth and her husband eventually fleeced the anti-semitic gulls and left them to the tropical heat -- never were criminal and victim so evenly matched.

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