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Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Nietzsche and fascinating fascism

A busy schedule has made LI haphazard and sloppy about posting, lately. We hoped to have up a post about Nietzsche, today, but instead we have this galimatias.

Nietzsche is surely the writer we have studied most closely, and who has had the greatest impact on our life. Consequently, we don’t really like to write about the man. Arguing about Nietzsche is much less fun, in our view, than applying Nietzsche’s m.o. Still, we’ve been following UFO Breakfast’s intermittent series of posts attacking the Big N. and, in particular, his status right now on the left. LI is, if anything, a lefty Nietzschian, so we are going to take a crack at replying to this charge:

“I do think that even if Nietzsche was an innocent reactionary aphorist, there is something peculiar about his work that, when appropriated by progressives, leads not so much to fascism as fecklessness.”

The writer of the blog, Turbulent Velvet, is very good. He employs those methods approved of by the legendary Mike Fink, who always began his fights with:

I'm a Salt River roarer! I'm a ring-tailed squealer! I'm a reg'lar screamer from
the ol' Massassip'i WHOOP! . . . I'm half wild horse and half cock-eyed alligator and the rest o' me is crooked snags an' red-hot snappin' turkle. I can hit like fourth-proof lightnin' an' every lick I make in the woods lets in an acre o' sunshine. I can out-run, out-jump, out-shoot, out-brag, out-drink, an' out-fight, rough-an'-tumble, no holts barred, ary man on both sides the river from Pittsburgh to New Orleans an' back ag'in to St. Louiee. Come on, you flatters, you bargers, you milk-white mechanics, an' see how tough I am to chaw!

The no holts barred polemic he launches on Nietzsche chaws right through him, using a reading of Geoff Waite’s Nietzsche’s Corpse to make the milk white followers of the zeitgeist, the fans, the causuists, the excusers, tremble in their boots:

“It's popular & common to forgive fascists because they invent funny one-liners at the expense of the weak and helpless. It's the main reason Clear Channel has taken over our culture. "He's just an entertainer."

Nietzsche hagiography is simply the tweed/punk sublation of that formation with a lacuna as big as the fuckin' sun.

There's not much point in reading a dusty biography of Alexander Pope organized around the argument that "he was more sinned against than sinning." Why? Because a critic who derives all of his primary categories for evaluating an author directly from that author himself is doomed not just to write a hagiography but the precise hagiography that the author programmed him to write.

For the same reason there is no point in reading an approach to Nietzsche which takes him to be a "buffoon" or that his work should be divided into three stages because that's what he told us to think about him. Nietzsche fans are such good little boys and girls: they always do what they're told. (Granted, it's hard for Nietzsche fans to think for themselves because he makes them feel like such courageous naughty little rebels if they think like him instead. Rebel against me, said Zarathustra! And the fans quote him, even as they don't!)

Nietzsche is unique in his ability to inspire universal hagiographic abjection. And along with the hagiography comes an even more bizarre suspension of any suspicion about its obvious universality. For all other major philosophers one can find shelves of books written polemically against their work, often with no quarter given. The "anti" gesture is part of the tradition: Marx writes the anti-Hegel, Nietzsche the anti-Christ, D&G the anti-Freud. But there is no tradition of anti-Nietzsche to speak of, not even a tepid desire there should be one--especially on the Left where one would expect to find little else.”

So -- I am not going to take on Waite. Rather, I’d like to take the case of Nietzsche as fascist or Nazi from the mouth of the people who first made that case: the Nazis themselves. Luckily, Lehmann’s 1939 preface to Nietzsche’s works, which was produced in Nazi Germany, is up on the web. I often find it puzzling that the case for Nietzsche’s fascism is discussed as if it were a matter of Nietzsche and Heidegger and contemporary American and European philosophers, none of whom openly espouse fascism. As Husserl said to the blind man, go to the things themselves. What is left out of the equation are those who did espouse fascism, and thought Nietzsche was its prophet.

My argument that N. leads neither to fascism nor fecklessness is that: a., the fascist interpretation begins by seriously distorting Nietzsche’s reception, which is part of the general fascist reaction against modernism; b, that the reading of Nietzsche as a fascist systematically segregates and diminishes the critical dimension in Nietzsche; c, that the fascist interpretation, while rightly seeing the Will to Power as essential to Nietzsche’s philosophy, conflates it with “Macro Politics” (grosse Politik); and d, that the conflict in Nietzsche’s own politics, in the latter part of the work, has to do with finding the scale at which his models of power work. C. was the whole point of Bäumler’s work, which was key to the Nazi interpretation of Nietzsche. As Lehmann puts it:

“He has further shown, that Nietzsche, the political thinker, was the only one among his contemporaries to set the demands of the future and the making of Macro-Politics (“grosse” Politik zu treiben) in opposition to the Christian-nationalist state, the Second Reich, the bourgeois mass and class state, whose downfall he forsaw.”

This finds the right locus in Nietzsche, for it is his opposition to Bismarck and the Germany of his time that, to the fascists, skews Nietzsche to the right – and to me, skews Nietzsche to the critical. I wouldn’t say to the left, which was worker based and for which Nietzsche had no feel and only a distant appreciation. Nietzsche was no socialist. His own sense was that he had no political faction in Germany. His politics as a practical matter were hopelessly out of date -- he was a Frondeur, a supporter of the nobility against the monarchy, an impossible political position in the late 19th century, although a lively one in 17th century France.

But the obsolescence of his politics, his dandyism, freed him from being a partisan -- gave him the "fecklessness" to be critical. What I would say is that Nietzsche’s own political thinking picked out the totalitarian seed in the democratic state. I would say this is why, contra Mr. TV, Nietzsche's shock effect is not comfortably contained within an academic s/m fan club. The reigning myth is that democracy is opposed to totalitarianism – that totalitarianism comes from outside democracy, infests it like a disease, sickens it, overthrows it. Churchill's image of Lenin being conveyed into Russia on a sealed train like a bacillus picks up on this myth. Nietzsche, on the contrary, claims that the organizational form to which democracies tend – the party form – prefigures a new kind of tyranny. He saw that the party organization flourished in the democratic culture of the nineteenth century, and he saw how that organization reproduced itself by coordinating ideology and party interest. He saw how the tie between those two tends, inevitably, to advance party interest and hollow out ideology, insofar as the representatives of ideology becomes the party's ruling clique. He was certainly right that all of the significant tyrannies of the twentieth century in the West have come through parties, and have ruled through parties. This isn't true of tyrannies in the past.

This makes things interesting. The fascist claim on Nietzsche, here, and the left Nietzschian claim, both rely on constructing Nietzsche’s response to German statebuilding (even if that theme has been undercontextualized among contemporary Nietzschians) which of course happened while he was alive. That is probably where I will go after doing a post on Lehmann. I’m not sure if I am going to go into the d. too much. And I’m not sure if I will have time for too much of any of this. And, as I say, I find arguing about Nietzsche oftentimes besides the point. But as I am myself wondering about American politics in the age of Bush – and especially the debilitating lock of the parties on political alternatives – it fits with my present preoccupations.


Anonymous said...

roger, I'm absolutely eager to read your thoughts on this, but the way that you've set up this post makes it hard to determine which are the excerpts to which you're responding and which are your own thoughts.

A tiny nitpick, from a tiny nit. ;-)


Anonymous said...


My argument has very little to do with Nietzsche's personal politics. Nor does it deny that it would be possible to appropriate insights from Nietzsche (or any other reactionary) that would be useful to the Left. It has to do with a peculiar phenomenon in left-academic culture that I've observed for years: one is required not just to appreciate what might be appropriated from Nietzsche but to appreciate Nietzsche, to identify with him in a literary-psychological sense--the way one identifies with, say, the heroine of a Harlequin romance. The recasting of Nietzsche as a kind of leftist manque is designed not to "appropriate" insights from Nietzsche (appropriation involving friction & struggle & exorcism) but to maintain a psychological identification with him.

With Deleuze especially, there is an unsavory tendency to compact any potentially leftist use of Nietzsche back into Nietzsche's original intention. You see this in the silly allegoresis of Deleuze's Nietzsche and Philosophy, which recasts "master," "slave," "conquest," as desocialized terms of force, as if Nietzsche's corpus were a textbook in quantum physics. This reading serves the same function as the allegorical workovers of Homer or the Old Testament, overwriting the lurid sex & violence & vengeance with a "truer" and more benign meaning. And in Anti-Oedipus, Deleuze goes farther and suggests that Nietzsche's "desire" is doubleplusgood even though his politics are bad: he has "revolutionary" (sorta lefty!) psychic investments in his preconscious and unconscious--only his conscious investments are (trivially) reactionary. So when we get to "affirmation" versus the "sad passions," there's a kind of psychological disciplinary apparatus: weirdly, for a leftist to be delectating on Nietzsche's Limbaughesque male-hysteric ranting is joyous affirmation itself, while feeling repelled by it is evidence of "sad passions" (though this turns Spinoza's evalution of "sad" affects like hate and contempt on their head).

There are other tributaries to this piety besides Deleuze. Upshot's the same: bizarre seminar-room situations where stereotypical P.C. types who decry sexism and fascism in every cultural crevice demand that you find Nietzsche's misogyny and bloodlust charming and delightful, or the sort of papers I've graded where students are clearly being required in other classes to explain why Nietzsche is innocent of any and all charges of reaction (the less docile students--who are not always the best students--admirably chafing at the requirement). I think it's neurotic, and institutionalized, probably a result of the resonance that the volatile status envy in Nietzsche's work has for intellectuals, "the dominated fraction of the dominant class" (Bourdieu). Anyway it's this psychological aspect of Nietzsche reception on the left that bugs me, that and the enormity of his current authority. If you're going to fight off the right, it would be advisable to invent your own affective structures instead of introjecting theirs. I have no issue with picking through Nietzsche for scraps if the affective investment could be deneuroticized, but I don't see that happening.

I have great trouble getting people to see the Nietzsche issue in this frame--or if they see it, to take it seriously. I guess that's why I do the Mike Fink thing, partly out of exasperation and partly because at this point I'm aware that I'm just doing it for my own entertainment. (I'm sure you know that feeling!)

- T.V.

roger said...

T.V. -- I can understand thinking Deleuze must be wrong to think the way he does about Nietzsche, but I'll confess something totally inappropriate -- I think that the approach which asks, first, is this interpretation about Nietzsche right about Nietzsche doesn't work with Deleuze. Like Dante taking Virgil as his guide, Deleuze takes the philosophers as his material and makes his own thing out of it. Usually, that fails, pitifully -- but in the rare case it doesn't, and I'd contend that Deleuze is that rare case.

I don't have Deleuze's genius, but I do think I get things from Nietzsche that I don't just boost off the shelves at the Nietzsche museum. I'm going to go a bit with the Lehmann essay before I return to your posts, which -- like I say -- I think are very good. And I say that as someone who loves Nietzsche, so I am skewed to looking for their faults.

Winna, I'm sorry. The blogger has been totally cruel to me today -- it distorts everything I put into it, changes the fonts, runs paragraphs together. And the deal is, I don't, unfortunately, have time to lavish this week on mechanical error. Goddamn. So I'd come back to my blog after doing the research I have to do and this part and that part would be totally screwed up. Anyway, I will try to fix this one more time. Then I'm just going to get a revolver, take five bullet out of its six chambers, and play Russian Roulette till I put myself out of my misery!
Or maybe I'll just get a beer.

kmort said...

Is Nietzsche really a philosopher, or rather some sort of Carlyle or Emerson-like belle-lettrist? Though Señor Rogerio's deflating of the typical quasi-anarchistic, Jack London-gonzo type of frat-boy Nietzschean was entertaining, pithy and witty as per usual, I think that question needs to be answered before commencing a productive discussion.........

Over the last few months I have been stumbling my way through Kant's 1st Critique and attempting to form logical responses to various Kantian arguments: Nietzsche never engages, even at a "undergradute empiricist" level of engagement. Or his engagements are more that of the historian or literatteur than of the philosopher. Apothegms, profundity, the pseudo-scripture of Zarathustra, however wagnerian-like: these are not arguments, are they? Of course the positivists detested Nietzsche--though figures such as Yeats or Lawrence (or Jackie London--to me a real Nietzschean if a bit beatnik blue-collar for snobs) lapped it up, and the fascist or at least aryan-heroic aspects of FN were part of the appeal, methinx. Russell's comments in his "History" clearly indicate many of the flaws with the FN program, regardless if he lacks some of the expressionist splendor of FN.

roger said...

kmort, I don't understand why you think Nietzsche never did what you are doing -- sit down and read the Kritik. He had ample time to do so, and ample reason also, and he was trained as a philologist. Now, you might think he missed the point, or read it through the eyes of Schopenhauer, whose take on Kant is pretty idiosyncratic. But Nietzsche was pretty well read in the Germans -- he seemed to have an unfashionable knowledge of Leibniz, for instance.

Also -- I don't understand this aphorism meme. Nietzsche wrote aphorisms, small essays, book length essays, poems, book length poems and one rather weird habilitationschrift, if that is what the Origin of Tragedy is. I think he choose the small essay for a very good reason: he wanted to shuck off the bureaucratic sounding German of his time. If you compare Nietzsche to, say, Lotze or Strauss or contemporary literateurs, the difference to me is pretty remarkable: Nietzsche's is modern sounding German. It is like comparing Hemingway to Hawthorne (although, of course, Nietzsche didn't at all write like Hemingway -- I'm talking about the effect). Aphorisms -- short paragraph long things -- are used as tempo devices, but if you take,say, The Gay Science -- you have poems, you have a first book with mini-essays in it like To the teacher of selflessness, you have the third book which really does end in the traditional aphorism, you have the famous parables in the fourth book -- in other words, this is the Menipeean (sp?)style, to use the term of art. Aphorisms make it sound like you could stuff Nietzsche's work into fortune cookies -- well, the fortune cookie that contained the Geneology of Morals would definitely choke a horse.

kmort said...

I don't doubt that FN read the Critique, but I find his dismissal of Kant (and other writers) to be, well, more that of a literary critic or aesthete than of a professional philosopher: what was it? The Will to a System is itself decadence or inherently wrong or something: so doesn't that only put him against Kant but other rationalists if not science and the Greeks?? I don't recall him addressing Leibnitz (which text?)--say the analytic/synthetic issue or the "monad" or Leibnitz's contributions to calculus and science.

FN doesn't engage in formal argument much--OK I do enjoy reading his criticism of the social contract and the English (is that in the Gen. of Morals?) but even there he is not really arguing but sort of waving his hands about, even if he does it in an elegant fashion.

And given your leftist bent I think you would be rather offended at FN's utter contempt for not just the marxist-anarchist types of his era, but liberalism and any sort of progressive ideas. I enjoy, though with some trepidation, reading his more anarchistic, anti-democratic sections, or I don't really know how to term it--his feeling for outsiders, artists, powerful criminals as sort of precursors to the superman. THere seems to be a bit of conflict between his more nationalistic, militaristic tendencies and his praise of the individual who can, by thought--by becoming "hard", by crime or art-- rise out of the democratic herd. But that glorification of radical if not solipsistic individualism is also somewhat frightening: a Yeats might sort of blossom from Nietzschean ideals, so might Al Capone or Manson (if not Goering earlier)--and what is an Al Capone but in some sense a Uebermensch, though one with admittedly limited rationality and taste........

Anonymous said...

Belated response to your remarks about Deleuze's Nietzsche & Philosophy above.

I like Deleuze a lot. I actually think N&P would be a very interesting book if he'd titled it "Some Shit I Thought of After Reading Nietzsche, by Gilles Deleuze." It's falsely wiring it back to Nietzsche's intention--which Deleuze does--that's the problem, because it encourages this confused, romantic identification with Nietzsche and his affective politics. Deleuze said that Nietzsche was the one who taught him to philosophize in his own name; ironically, with Nietzsche this is precisely what Deleuze doesn't do.

Waite reconstructs Nietzsche reception in some detail and makes clear that he wasn't a German fascist strictly speaking and that there were left & right interpretations of the work even in Nietzsche's lifetime; though ultimately Waite thinks N. is (to coin a term) "fascoid," he emphasizes that "fascist" or even "protofascist" is too simple. I was being Mike-Finky when I called him the f-word. I would like to hear your reception argument when you have the time though; please don't let this derail you.


kmort said...

"Be hard" is not to romanticize--that's what the man said. The romanticists are those Foucaultian types who think somehow they can trace or tie their own hedonistic or libertine impulses to FN's program. Yeah, whatever, I, dilettante and semi-professional criminal, am not one to play the moralist, but is there much support for the postmod. libertine in FN's works? I think not. His later works are rather martial and though he may not have endorsed Wehrmacht he would hardly ever have sided with chandala....