Arnhart is taking a closer look at Friedrich Nietzsche over a series of posts. Worth a read.
‘But despite the obvious brilliance of Nietzsche’s early and late writing, Lou shows that his middle writing has a scientific basis that makes it far more intellectually defensible than is the case for the other writing, which shows a delusional religious fantasy that has no grounding in reality and thus leads to the madness into which Nietzsche fell.’
‘The third insight is that the deepest motivation for Nietzsche was his religious longing, so that once he lost his childhood faith in the Christian God, he had to find a replacement for God that would give the world some eternal meaning; and he did this by divinizing himself as Dionysus and eternalizing human experience through eternal return’
Nietzsche’s project against Christianity was deeply personal.
Here’s Nietzsche scholar J.P. Stern on Nietzsche’s anti-Christian, anti-secular morality (Kant, utilitarians), anti-democratic, and anti-Greek (except the “heroic” Greek) tendencies:
‘They are, in fact, idealists: and idealism is a cast of mind that Conrad questions even more than he questions radicalism. The logical end of radicalism, in his view, is terrorism; but idealism is the mental aberration that allows terrorism to be brought about. Conrad’s originality was to see that a new tyranny could be generated by people who thought that their rebellion against the old tyranny was rational. Thus his writings seem prescient about what was to happen in the Soviet Union. He didn’t predict the Nazi tyranny because he had underestimated the power of the irrational to organise itself into a state. But then, nobody predicted that except its perpetrators; and anyway, mere prediction was not his business. His business was the psychological analysis made possible by an acute historical awareness. Under Western Eyes is valuable not because it came true but because it rang true even at the time, only now we can better hear the deep, sad note.’
‘Nietzsche snidely remarked that Christianity was “Platonism for the masses.” In the academy today we have what we might call Nietzscheanism for the masses, as squads of cozy nihilists parrot his ideas and attitudes. Nietzsche’s contention that truth is merely “a moveable host of metaphors, metonymies, and anthropomorphisms,” for example, has become a veritable mantra in comparative literature departments across the country.’
On this site, well, there’s been quite a bit of related content over the years:
‘In November of 1887, the Danish scholar George Brandes wrote a letter to Nietzsche praising his writings and endorsing his “aristocratic radicalism.” Nietzsche responded by accepting this label: “The expression Aristocratic Radicalism, which you employ, is very good. It is, permit me to say, the cleverest thing I have yet read about myself.”‘
Excellent, as always.
‘Finally, as I have indicated in some previous posts, Nietzsche’s aristocratic liberalism is based on a Darwinian anthropology that is open to empirical verification or falsification, while his aristocratic radicalism is based on mythopoetic fictions–the will to power, eternal recurrence, the Ubermensch, and Dionysian religiosity–that are beyond empirical testing.
From all of this, I conclude that Nietzsche’s Darwinian aristocratic liberalism is superior to his Dionysian aristocratic radicalism.’
Arnhart maintains that Nietzsche’s middle period, focused on Darwin’s thought, is the most defensible.
Here’s a quote from Leo Strauss, on Nietzsche beginning the 3rd crisis of modernity, having followed the logic of relativism to nihilism:
‘The theoretical analysis of life is noncommittal and fatal to commitment, but life means commitment. To avert the danger to life, Nietzsche could choose one of two ways: he could insist on the strictly esoteric character of the theoretical analysis of life–that is restore the Platonic notion of the noble delusion–or else he could deny the possibility of theory proper. and so conceive of theory as essentially subservient to, or dependent on, life or fate. If not Nietzsche himself, at any rate his successors adopted the second alternative.’
A paper arguing that Strauss conflated his own critique of modernity with the intentions of philosophers:
‘A fervent critic of modernity, Leo Strauss attributed modernity’s intellectual degradation to the influence of some great philosophers in the history of political thought who radically broke with classical political thinking. In doing so, Strauss believed, these thinkers either directly or indirectly contributed to the emergence of historicism and positivism, and he held these movements accountable for spineless relativism, nihilism, and modernity’s moral and intellectual demise.’
‘The obscure professor certainly threw a cat among the pigeons. Conservatives pundits such as George Will and William Kristol praised the book in reviews, framing it as an indictment of liberal administrators and professors. Liberals in turn, as Ferguson notes, ‘took the book as a personal affront and reacted accordingly’
But Bloom wanted to get at something deeper, namely, how to restore a vision of classical learning in place of a pop culture, academic culture and a broader American culture infused with Nietzschean nihilism. For Bloom, Nietzsche’s existential crisis and its effects through post-modernism and moral relativism especially, are something to get around, or over, or simply away from:
‘Bloom admires Nietzsche for his ‘profound philosophical reflection which broke with and buried the philosophical tradition’. Nietzsche finds that man is left without an overarching reason to be; that objective knowledge, truth and morality are all fictions. To both Nietzsche and Bloom, this is a profound problem. But to the countercultural American left of the 1960s onwards, it is seen as something to celebrate. ‘
Bloom explored Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s work on the subject in order to get back some openness of mind against such influence. As Collins notes and quotes:
‘‘Openness used to be the virtue that permitted us to seek the good by using reason. It now means accepting everything and denying reason’s power.’
But what is the scope of that power outside of such nihilism? What are the bounds of reason as Bloom might define them? Which strains of Enlightenment thought and which thinkers work particularly well within our American traditions against this nihilism?
Our author seems to think Bloom fails to get back across the Enlightment/Anti-Enlightenment divide as it’s been discussed here:
‘Bloom essentially shares the critique of the Enlightenment and modernity put forward by Nietzsche (as well as Heidegger and Max Weber). According to this view, the Enlightenment rationalism of John Locke et al is instrumental and technocratic; it does not satisfy the soul. Bloom’s agonising over the soulless MTV generation derives from this anti-modern outlook.’
Any thoughts and comments are welcome.
How do you ground the liberal arts and define a liberal education, especially if an exceptional phase in American economic growth and educational opportunity may be at an end? Is it at an end?
Incidentally, I take Bloom and Leo Strauss as wrestling with Nietzsche’s project and trying to chart a course out of it. While seeing Nietzsche as a problem, they have been deeply affected by his thinking and offer a cautionary tale.
‘Leo Strauss, and many of his followers, take rights to be paramount, going so far as to portray Locke’s position as essentially similar to that of Hobbes. They point out that Locke defended a hedonist theory of human motivation (Essay 2.20) and claim that he must agree with Hobbes about the essentially self-interested nature of human beings. Locke, they claim, only recognizes natural law obligations in those situations where our own preservation is not in conflict, further emphasizing that our right to preserve ourselves trumps any duties we may have.
On the other end of the spectrum, more scholars have adopted the view of Dunn, Tully, and Ashcraft that it is natural law, not natural rights, that is primary. They hold that when Locke emphasized the right to life, liberty, and property he was primarily making a point about the duties we have toward other people: duties not to kill, enslave, or steal. Most scholars also argue that Locke recognized a general duty to assist with the preservation of mankind, including a duty of charity to those who have no other way to procure their subsistence (Two Treatises 1.42). These scholars regard duties as primary in Locke because rights exist to insure that we are able to fulfill our duties.’
Is there something he’s missing about Locke?
Related On This Site: Bryan Magee’s series available on youbtube is useful: Here’s Nietzsche scholar J.P. Stern on Nietzsche’s anti-Christian, anti-secular morality (Kant, utilitarians), anti-democratic, and anti-Greek (except the “heroic” Greek) biases…
Nietzsche’s critique of morality (referred to here as MPS) is as follows:
“…Nietzsche also does not confine his criticisms of morality to some one religiously, philosophically, socially or historically circumscribed example. Thus, it will not suffice to say that he simply attacks Christian or Kantian or European or utilitarian morality — though he certainly at times attacks all of these.”
This is one of the best attempts I’ve seen at systematizing the thinking of a man who willfully refused systems.
Christian morality is defunct because God is dead, and any attempt to ground morality in the thinking and doctrines of the church (herd morality, full of re-sentiment) won’t suffice. Kantian and utilitarian morality have sprung out of the attempt to make the moral law sufficiently abstract (largely from Kant’s elaborate metaphysical framework designed to put metaphysics on the same footing as the mathematical sciences, or at least the sciences of his day, expanding and providing limits for knowledge and what we can know).
So, for many, many young people and those in Nietzsche’s wake (many thinkers since Nietzsche have taken his project quite seriously and been influenced by him from Heidegger to Strauss, to the existentialists to much of 20th century art)…it’s assumed that morality is very much in doubt.
Yet, has Nietzsche addressed the problems at the heart of moral philosophy? Is he an extreme thinker/artist marking the culmination and end of romanticism? which itself is a product and reaction to the Enlightenment?
You certainly take a lot on board when you take Nietzsche on board.
And what about politics?
“Nietzsche, then, has no political philosophy. He occasionally expresses views about political matters, but, read in context, they do not add up to a theoretical account of any of the questions of political philosophy. He is more accurately read, in the end, as a kind of esoteric moralist, i.e., someone who has views about human flourishing, views he wants to communicate at least to a select few.“
He’s certainly had an effect on a lot of people who think and act in politics.
It’s also worth nothing that Joshua Knobe and Jesse Prinz of the new experimental philosophy movement have a strong Nietzschean influence…(for Prinz moral progress is possible but not a moral law, he defends moral relativism…while for experimental philosophy the penchant Nietzsche had for psychologizing has created a lasting influence).
Again, these are obviously just a few thoughts. Your thoughts and comments are welcome.