Nietzsche Today: Confronting the Future

Jeffrey Neuzil

Well-Known Member
Nov 30, 2007
On Nietzsche’s Political Futures: Preliminary Reflections

As I begin my reflections on Nietzsche's political thought, I would like to make some general observations on political themes that populate as it were the surface of Nietzsche's text (broadly speaking) or on political themes that do not require any laborious effort on our part to be discovered. I will begin by offering the following hopefully suggestive starting point, an observation on Nietzsche's subtitles to Thus Spake Zarathustra and Beyond Good and Evil. The first, TSZ, carries the following enigmatic subtitle: "A Book For All and None".
Considering Zarathustra's apparently abortive attempt to encounter the "overman" (no sexism implied by the term, of course), and the search has been a fairly agonizing and desperate one at times, I would suggest that the meaning of the subtitle is something like this. Zarathustra's experiences throughout the work are a kind of self-liberation (but perhaps not a full or complete one: and here the acuteness of the question of Zarathustra's overcoming of his own religious longings or beliefs asserts itself aggressively?) and re-educative effort, a truly transformative and horizon-altering experience. Thus, climactically or anticlimactically, Zarathustra himself—behold the man!—is the awaited overman at the end of the book, as he leaves his cave and goes down into the morning of a dawning day.
It is important to note the triumphant spirit with which Zarathustra, in firm command and fully prepossessing, a picture of magnanimity, wills the soon to arrive noon: "Well then! The lion came, my children are near, Zarathustra has ripened, my hour has come: This is my morning, my day is breaking: rise now, rise, thou great noon!” (PN, 439). If Nietzsche's intention were to present a merely biographical portrait which could not be the stimulus to further creativity, then TSZ would surely be a book for none, for just as Zarathustra himself realized the futility of looking to others to be the kernel of his teaching and only then was he most supremely assured that his time had come, so must we realize that being exposed to Nietzsche’s TSZ does not alone transform us into the overman; in this sense, the book, if viewed in just this way, is for none.
But in another sense it is for all—for all that is who, like Zarathustra, are willing to subject themselves to the arduous spiritual oddessey which is the profound substance of Nietzsche’s text. This involved certain sacrifices for Zarathustra, like that of sociality which his long solitude makes impossible, and to draw a parallel here such the solitude and loneliness motifs are played out quite dramatically in the “Aftersong” to BGE (BGE, 243).
Yet, in another sense, Nietzsche leads us to believe that such tensional elements are the preconditions for greatness, such as when in the preface to BGE he suggests that the tension in the West’s spiritual bow is then great due to the millennial struggle against Platonism and its offspring, Christianity:
But the fight against Plato or, to speak more clearly and for ‘the people,’ the fight against the Christian-ecclesistical pressure of mellenia—for Christianity is Platonism for ‘the people’—has created in Europe a magnificent tension of the sprit the like of which had never yet existed on earth: with so tense a bow we can now shoot for the most distant of goals. To be sure, European man experiences this tension as need and distress; twice already attempts have been made in the grand style to unbend the bow—once by means of Jesutism, the second time by means of the democratic enlightenment which, with the aid of freedom of the press and newspaper-reading, might indeed bring it about that the spirit would no longer experience itself so easily as ‘need.’ (The Germans have invented gunpowder—all due respect for that—but then they made up for that: they invented the press.) (PN, 3, preface).


Titles to Rule: Nietzsche’s and Mine

Before turning to some general remarks about Nietzschean textual surfaces, I would like to indicate in some measure what I mean by the various elements of my title and try to project those elements unto some imaginably Nietzschean polity: Commanding the Earth and Ruling Religion: Nietzsche’s Dionysian Apocalypse of Man. I have indicated in the title of my study that I believe Nietzsche to have effected a “Dionysian Apocalypse of Man,” and hopefully as my analysis proceeds my understanding of this term will announce itself more emphatically (but my conception is still subject, it should be noted, to radical revision: aren’t all concepts in the Nietzschean universe?—as Heidegger puts it, philosophy represents “ways” not “works” i.e., completed works: thought is always in motion for we “eternal” and good Heracliteans.).
For now, let me just say that Nietzsche’s contraction of the otherworldly/ this worldly distinction, his emphasis on a purely human horizon within which man is to act and will, and his emphasis on Dionysian transfiguration through musical art are all central to Nietzsche political vision. Additionally, Nietzsche’s work seems to move in a kind of narrative fashion, one work linking to another in complex ways, not least by temporal clues, such as Nietzsche’s predominant references to the approaching “noon,” called at the end of Zarathustra, “thou great noon.” So there are what one might call apocalyptic indications, the signs of a story unfolding, and in this way as I argue Nietzsche’s work resembles that of Plato’s dialogues. If these indications reach fulfillment in Nietzsche’s work, then following them is of central importance.
The Dionysian element, to be quite candid, is still somewhat of a mystery to me, but this element is of paramount importance in Nietzsche, if it is not the centerpiece of his thought—even possibly his very deity (leaving open whether he simply worshiped it or considered himself to be it or to have constructed it). And the Dionysian is surely connected at the most basic level with Bacchic abandon, but we should admit that this abandon and frenzied celebration were the byproduct of a transfiguarative tragic art that subtly mediated the tensions between the Apollonian forces of order (individuation) and the Dionysian forces of chaos (or: dissolution of individuation, so primordial oneness) as becomes evident in The Birth of Tragedy (N.B., EH, 1-4).
To what level, if at all, these elements of early Nietzsche are present in any ultimate political project engineered by Nietzsche, or implied in his work, or furthered by any of his students is still very much an issue of perplexity to me as is the question of the status of music and dancing in any imaginably Nietzschean regime (Similarly, music and dancing are of central importance to Plato, most especially in his Laws. Cf. BGE, 212 and TSZ PN, 308 #2 ). At this early stage I will at least say that dancing and music seem to be central motifs to Nietzsche in Zarathustra, and as far as the connection of music to the political in Nietzsche, if one grants reasonably that Beyond Good and Evil is at least one of Nietzsche’s most visibly political works, exists at least on the surface, since Nietzsche chose to append Beyond Good and Evil with something he titled “Aftersong.” (BGE pp. 238-245 and aph, 212).
For now let us pursue the path that at first we embarked on, namely an analysis of the subtitles to two of Nietzsche’s works. We have now made the transition to BGE, which bears as its subtitle the telling and tantalizing statement: “Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future”. Clearly, a philosopher’s announcement that his philosophy has a horizon that, potentially, has not yet dawned—and, I would add, with a view to the statement I quoted above relating to shooting for “the most distant goals,” Nietzsche is clearly not placing any necessary or unnecessary restraints on future philosophical praxis as opposed to simple theoria More than this, Nietzsche appears to have a philosophy that is significantly directed to praxis, for in view of his political goals, they are such as to be necessarily directed to praxis; mere scholarship counts little for Nietzsche (consider the whole of part six of Beyond Good and Evil, p. 121-141).
Nietzsche's Apocalyptic Horizon

It seems to me that Nietzsche is spoiling for a fight in the modern horizon—that he wants to create a tension between world religions and create a new aristocracy—to revive the ancien Regime! If that is true, he probably would want to "revive" Aristotelian "Natural Slavery" as well—and that means Aristotle's misogyny—for Aristotle calimed that women did not even have souls—how could this coherently conjugate with the feminist horizon of modernity—or is this the begining of a hyper-post modern/crypto post-modern attack on all the liberties—primary among them the right to liberty and privacy and the constitutional grounding that such rights are thought to have—and its progressive agenda?