Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Nietzsche for Frat-boys (updated with help from Lt. Callley)

Many a college dweeb goes through a Nietzsche phase (for the dweebette, it's probably Ayn Rand's FN-lite). Who can forget the Nietzsche chestnuts--the Will to power, dissing judeo-christian tradition, slave morality, the Uebermensch, attacks on the german proles and Wagner, anti-liberals and contra-feminism, mixed in with his praise of a few classix (including Caesarian classics--Nietzsche much prefers Caesar to Plato--or to "God"). Sooner or later, about any semi-bright consumer tunes into his inner Nietzsche.

Here's the master hisself:

"[The aristocratic men] enjoy their freedom from all social control, they feelthat in the wilderness they can give vent with impunity to that tension which is producedby enclosure and imprisonment in the peace of society, they revert to the innocence of the beast-of-prey conscience, like jubilant monsters, who perhaps come from a ghastly bout of murder, arson, rape, and torture, with bravado and moral equanimity, as though merely some wild student’s prank had been played, perfectly convinced that the poets have now anample theme to sing and celebrate. It is impossible not to recognise at the core of all these aristocratic races the beast of prey; the magnificent blonde brute, avidly rampant for spoil and victory; this hidden core needed an outlet from time to time, the beast must get loose again, must return into the wilderness — the Roman, Arabic, German, and Japanese nobility, the Homeric heroes, the Scandinavian Vikings, are allalike in this need."""(from the Genealogy of Morals,

How cool, and beastly. So no problems with those torturers at Gitmo (or My Lai), or denying the right of Habeas Corpus, etc. (does that passage remind anyone of Donny Sutherlands' rather vile character in Bertolucci's 1900?? it should) The Kossack generally approves of Nietzschean-style RealPolitik, except when it's in his interest not to. Values, if not secular politics as a whole, are for the frat-boy Nietzschean provisional, constructed, and subjective, as Biff, Beau, and Bunny still insist over the kegger. Which is to say, nada (who art in Nada).

Really, the Genealogy of Morals could have been written by Aurelius: Nietzsche is sort of a wannabe-Roman stoic (if not wannabe Caesar), though lacking the virtu, and the dedication to "honor" common to the Romans, raised in the Aristotelian school ( most of the "Nietzschean claptrap" (Ez Pound's assessment of FN) updates Ari's Nico. ethics. It's not "footnotes to Plato," but to Aristotle).
At his worst Nietzsche moves from Ravenna to, er, the Reichstag, and resembles nothing so much as a wannabe-prussian officer, Ludendorff-like, taking issue with the drunken soldiers. He may not care for the German working class, yet he does admire Goethe, Beethoven, etc. Heroes of art and kultur, and the battlefield. Da Classix!! IN spirit he seems more akin to one of Kaiser Wilhelm’s cadre than a brownshirt. Many a german (including soldiers) wanted the Kaiser strung up on a lamppost after WWI.

Applied Nietzsche (Ludendorff)

Nietzsche insists he's not a nihilist, but he is: or rather, his nihilism is not done from despair: we wants to smile as he joins the Blackshirts in his imagination (if not Sturmabteilung). While one can understand the appeal of that gonzo-nihilism--alas, so do frat-boy conservatives the world over. Bertrand Russell considered Nietzsche an eloquent fool, mostly--a prussian one at that: and Frege or David Hilbert he wasn't.

Those humans who, for instance, take issue with Lt. Calley and the bloodsport of My Lai should also take issue with Nietzsche's code (tho' the code is hardly consistent anyways: the frat boy Nietzschean doesn't quite realize what it means to say "truth does not exist"). Gaze at the pics of dead, naked villagers--women, children, old men---and recall the will to power (or, better intone "Der Wille zur Macht"!!!). Nietzsche could not say that is an occasion for sadness or tragedy (and his idea of tragedy itself odd--tragedy affirms, yawped Nietzsche. A german or french WWI vet's hospital after a few years of trench warfare was not so affirming, though FN).

Nietzsche's own writing in TGOM (as quote above indicates) would seem to bless Lt. Calleys and bloodsport; he might find it distasteful, but he could not say it was wrong--a fortiori he could not term even the Nazi's "evil" . No value realm holds for Nietzsche, no normativity, no consensus either, even in a secular sense. Lt. Calley and his platoon (really Capn. Medina the CO), or Ludendorffs and Goerings--the Reichmarshall does not seem so distant from FN's ideas of the blond beast--lay waste to chandala: wolves attacking caribou. (Hobbes addresses a Nietzsche-like rebel knight in a few paragraphs in Leviathan. What to do with the Baron von Nietzsche's? You force him to accept the covenants, or order him to be out of town by sunset).

It should bother us when legal-professionals pick up Nietzsche, and call it "naturalism": does that imply then whenever a judge or DA can get away with lying, mis-repping evidence, f-ing over the defendant,etc. that's acceptable? So much for Jefferson and Madison, not to say traditional philosophy ala Hobbes and Kant (and however jargon-ridden Kant is, he believed in Justice with a capital J, and was a bit of peacenik. The Categorical Imperative should not be just tossed aside as if it were some baptist tract).

Moreover given Nietzsche’s own amoral, hedonistic principles–the Will to Power, and nothing else–-in a sense he has no business making evaluative statements about anything. Nietzschean ideals in a political context would mean, for instance, that if Bush/Cheney lied about the WMDs, mis-rep’ed the dangers of terrorism, etc. that’s acceptable, since the end result was a furthering of US power. Lie, when it’s in your best interest: that’s Nietzsche applied to RealPolitik (for that matter, Nietzsche denies the possibility of Truth itself–one reason he criticizes traditional philosophy, modern science, etc). We might appreciate Nietzsche's praise of strength in terms of psychology, even a type of self-help: to thine own self be true, etc. (yet it's not true that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger--it might maim you). On a political level, however, Nietzsche has for years provided live ammo to countless Calleys- and Himmlers-in-potentia (and Zhukovs-in-potentia).

1 comment:

J said...

Hey Bubba from AZ:

move back to your Tuscon trailer park, fraud--and pick up some pecan rolls at Stuckey's on the way! Cali's had more than enough of yr spam-fill

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