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.