Nietzsche and the Political

Politics are slippery. Today, public opinion about politics is negative; whether it is because of leaderships in Trump/Merkel/Putin/Hollande/Modi/May, etc., the progression of the opinion that power tends toward corruption and the political being the epitome of power relations (not power’s ubiquity exhibited in Foucault; only in the political sphere), or the increasing tendency toward transparency in leadership and our realization that things are not as they seem – it is no matter. Politics are viewed negatively by most. In the past, in times of antiquity, political leaders were those who were the manifestation of the will of the people. They were there to represent the people, lead them to their ‘destiny,’ be everything that they, the people, were not – morally and even physically (it is not a coincidence that many political leaders of the past have also been great military leaders as well. The President of the United States is also Commander-and-Chief of the army).

Philosophers have held many different opinions over the nature of the political over the history of mankind; Plato’s polis, Aristotle’s political animal, Cicero’s oratorical/rhetorical political power, Augustine’s City of God, Al-Farabi and Aquinas’s reinterpretation of Aristotle – Machiavelli, Calvin, Hooker, Bodin, Bacon, Locke, Montesquieu, Hume, Rousseau, Kant, Adam Smith, Burke, the American revolutionaries, Hegel, Fourier, Marx, Carlyle, Proudhon, Mill, Nietszche, and many, many more. All have held differing opinions, some held offices, influenced public figures and politicians, wrote books to sway the opinions of the public. Many theorized about the ideal versus material implications of certain political policies. One way or another, it was impossible to escape politics, as one profound thinker and revolutionary of his time, Nietzsche, understood.

The state to Nietzsche, self-proclaimed, was “the coldest of all cold monsters.[1]” It lies – it tells the people their own will, while it is only the true ‘will’ of the majority (if even that). The most popular opinion is that Nietzsche was apolitical, probably because that was the opinion of one of his most prevalent scholars and translators, Walter Kaufmann. Kaufmann believed Nietzsche to be entirely unconcerned with politics; he only cared for self-mastery, authenticity, and the “artist, saint and philosopher.” There were more important challenges to be faced first, that of society. Though politics acts as though it rules the masses, the masses are the ones that rule themselves in their public opinions and herd-like mentality.

Rather than apolitical, he is seemingly more anti-political (actively against politics), but only because of the times with which he was living (and ever since the Ancient Greeks for that matter). Politics had become incomprehensible. Politics were now unification versus division, living in the times of the German Confederation, the Austro/Franco-Prussian wars, and finally the German Empire in 1871; all occurring within a century. In his times, “it is no longer possible to live in a political-philosophical form of life.[2]” Like Arendt in The Human Condition, politics of modern times has lost something so fundamental that it can no longer be called politics.

Greek politics was an action with which one engaged in once a person is liberated from private necessity. Politics were a ‘higher’ art. They had nothing to do with the necessities of biology, when individuals were released by those (by a household servant), the individuals were able to enter into the ‘public sphere.’ Ancient Grecian politics were never swayed toward private gains as they were in Nietzsche’s time – the nineteenth century is the approximate time that capitalism and the German-Prussian conflict began to flourish. Capitalists and private gain had necessarily destroyed politics in this respect, “power they seek for, and above all, the leveler of power, much money.[3]” Modern politics has become so dangerous because politics and morality are necessarily tied, the domination of one over another to make the lesser class become more ‘predictable.’ “The role of strong politics for Nietzsche is thus to hide from consciousness the genealogical foundations of the state,[4]” to perpetuate the master-slave mentality, disallowing humans from becoming humans. Men are seen as parts, not individuals in a state. The necessary organization of this state make people different “by the division of responsibility, of command and execution through the intervention of the virtues of obedience, duty, patriotism…[5]

Genealogically speaking, “the democratic movement is not only a form of the decay of political organization, but a form of the decay, namely the diminutive, of man, making him mediocre and lowering his value.[6]” This is Nietzsche’s biggest concern, it would seem, as his entire worry in most of his philosophy is treating man as something other than a slave to reason, religion, morals and anything other than himself. Though he was openly hostile to democratic institutions, it does not mean that he sided with the other types of theories or regimes. Chapter 29 of Zarathustra, entitled ‘Tarantulas,’ has been encoded as directed toward the socialists of his time; “ye preachers of equality!…It is not the heart that inspireth them – but vengeance.[7]” For Nietzsche, it seems that to will is to be the individual self just as the other existentialists, and with socialism, one is not willing for oneself. It is a ‘reactionary’ stage, which is not a will of one’s own as a ‘revolution’ might be, it is based on another’s will; which is contra-Nietzsche; to the fullest degree.

This is Nietzsche’s degree of being anti-political. He saw politics as irrevocable to the times of great words and great deeds of antiquity in Rome and Greece. Instead of being wholly unconcerned with politics, his view fits in with his entire system of philosophy. Nietzsche was attempting to destroy the foundations of tradition in order to make room for a “transvaluation of all values.” The foundations needed to be destroyed and rebuilt if anything in particular were to come of politics – hence his criticism but never affirmation. Globalization, this connectedness with which the world was striving, has been inducing the ‘herd-like’ mentality he so often spoke of. As he foresaw many things throughout his philosophical endeavors, he imagined a future of an incomprehensible politics as it was in it’s developmental stages during his lifetime. Now the question manifests: how did politics and the nature of the political so drastically change from Theseus to Trump?

[1] Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Nietzsche (44)

[2] Nietzsche and The Politics of Transfiguration, Strong (189)

[3] Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Nietzsche (45)

[4] Ibid. (195)

[5] Ibid. (197)

[6] Ibid. (201)

[7] Ibid. (99-100)

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