• C. Heike Schotten


It is by now a commonplace that Nietzsche’s philosophy is characterized by contradiction, a deceptively simple observation aptly summed up by the title of Wolfgang Müller-Lauter’s study, Nietzsche: His Philosophy of Contradictions and the Contradictions of his Philosophy.1 Müller-Lauter concisely indicates here both that Nietzsche is a philosopher of contradiction— a thinker who praises contradiction and welcomes adversity, opposition, and struggle—and yet also that Nietzsche’s thought is plagued by contradiction, inconsistency, and paradox. It is my contention that this dual set of conditions reveals not only Nietzsche’s most basic philosophical consistency (whatever this word can mean in the face of his attack upon it) but also his most important teaching.


Political Theory Political Theorist Philosophical View Important Teaching Ecce Homo 
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  1. 2.
    John Richardson, “Introduction” in Nietzsche: Oxford Readings in Philosophy, ed. John Richardson and Brian Leiter (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), 18.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
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  6. 5.
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  7. 7.
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  9. 8.
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    Devoted translator Walter Kaufmann’s interpretation of Nietzsche as an existentialist lover of Socrates managed to introduce Nietzsche into the highly specialized world of academic, English-language philosophy, but at the expense of declaring him to be fundamentally “anti-political.” See Walter Kaufmann, Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist (New York: Vintage, 1974). Many still argue that Nietzsche is either apolitical or antipolitical; see, for example, Leslie Thiele, Friedrich Nietzsche and the Politics of the Soul: A Study of Heroic Individualism (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990); Alexander Nehamas, Nietzsche: Life as Literature; Google Scholar
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    Henry Staten is admirably attentive to this constitutive contradiction, documenting its multiple moments in Nietzsche’s texts through a practice of reading he calls “psychodialectic,” a method that is “as attentive to the logical economy of the text as… the libidinal economy with which it interacts.” Henry Staten, Nietzsche’s Voice (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1990), 8. Yet Staten’s careful and insightful study overlooks the political aspirations that constitute the objects of Nietzsche’s libidinal economy, and the necessarily political uses and meanings of Nietzsche’s use of rhetoric. This book seeks to build on Staten’s work by rectifying this omission.Google Scholar
  37. 22.
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  39. 23.
    Michel Foucault, Security, Territory, Population: Lectures at the Collège de France 1977–1978, ed. Michel Senellart, trans. Graham Burchell (New York: Palgrave, 1997); cf. The Foucault Effect: Studies in Governmentality, ed. Graham Burchell, Colin Gordon, and Peter Miller (Chicago: University of Chicago Press). Indeed, it may well be the case that our presumption of the state as being the primary or only site and origin of power is itself a function of a larger and more diffuse functioning of power relations that Foucault has named governmentality.Google Scholar
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    It is in this spirit that Foucault declares it is necessary “to cut off the head of the king” in political theory and begin to think about power as operative in ways other than that of the solely prohibitive, sovereign law; Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, Vol. I: An Introduction, trans. Robert Hurley (New York: Vintage, 1978), 88–89, and “Society Must Be Defended”: Lectures at the Collège de France 1975–1976, trans. David Macey (New York: Picador, 1997).Google Scholar
  41. 25.
    As Mark Warren rightly notes, Nietzsche “shows how subjects are possible as historical achievements. He shows us how capacities of the self evolved together with domination, and how they might be reconceived to go beyond their origins.” Mark Warren, Nietzsche and Political Thought (Cambridge: MIT University Press, 1988), 2.Google Scholar
  42. 27.
    As Foucault argues, “Philosophers or even, more generally, intellectuals justify and mark out their identity by trying to establish an almost uncrossable line between the domain of knowledge, seen as that of truth and freedom, and the domain of the exercise of power. What struck me, in observing the human sciences, was the development of all these branches of knowledge can in no way be dissociated from the exercise of power … generally speaking, the fact that societies can become the object of scientific observation, that human behavior became, from a certain point on, a problem to be analyzed and resolved, all that is bound up, I believe, with mechanisms of power.” He continues: “Truth is no doubt a form of power. And in saying that, I am only taking up one of the fundamental problems of Western philosophy when it poses these questions: Why, in fact, are we attached to the truth? Why the truth rather than lies? Why the truth rather than myth? Why the truth rather than illusion? And I think that, instead of trying to find out what truth, as opposed to error, is, it might be more interesting to take up the problem posed by Nietzsche: how is it that, in our societies, ‘the truth’ has been given this value, thus placing us absolutely under its thrall?” Michel Foucault, “On Power,” trans. Alan Sheridan, in Politics, Philosophy, Culture—Interviews and Other 1977–1984, ed. Lawrence D. Kritzman (New York: Routledge, 1988), 106–7.Google Scholar
  43. 28.
    This means that I do not see Nietzsche as a political thinker because he devotes himself to the political goal of the enhancement of the type man, which Bruce Detwiler, for example, argues is Nietzsche’s primary political project in Nietzsche and the Politics of Aristocratic Radicalism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990) or because he asks the fundamental question of politics, “What ought man to become?” as Daniel W. Conway argues in Nietzsche and the Political (New York: Routledge, 1997). The first reading strikes me as inconsistent with Nietzsche’s revolutionary tendencies (to be discussed in a moment) insofar as it is accompanied by the claim that only a few of those men will be enhanced— i.e., this reading of Nietzsche’s political project is one of aristocratic radicalism, whereas I see Nietzsche’s politics as fundamentally revolutionary and thus mass-based. The second reading of Nietzsche as a political thinker strikes me as potentially reliant upon a historical construal of either the nature of human beings or the nature of power.Google Scholar
  44. 29.
    I owe this point—and the interpretive approach underlying it—to Daniel W. Conway’s marvelous and methodologically groundbreaking study of Nietzsche , Nietzsche’s Dangerous Game: Philosophy in the Twilight of the Idols (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. 30.
    In this, I in part follow Bernd Magnus, Stanley Stewart, and Jean-Pierre Mileur (Nietzsche’s Case: Philosophy as/and Literature [New York: Routledge, 1993]), who have made a forceful and persuasive case for overlooking all of Nietzsche’s unpublished writings.Google Scholar
  46. See also R. J. Hollingdale, Nietzsche: The Man and His Philosophy (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1965)Google Scholar
  47. and Walter Kaufmann, Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist (New York: Vintage, 1974).Google Scholar
  48. 31.
    Maudemarie Clark (Nietzsche on Truth and Philosophy), Bruce Detwiler (Nietzsche and the Politics of Aristocratic Radicalism), Tracy Strong (Friedrich Nietzsche and the Politics of Transfiguration [Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2000]), and Mark Warren (Nietzsche and Political Thought) all take this approach.Google Scholar
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    Brian Leiter, “Perspectivism in Genealogy of Morals”; Müller-Lauter, Nietzsche: His Philosophy of Contradictions; John Richardson, Nietzsche’s System (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Martin Heidegger, Nietzsche. 4 vols. Trans. David Farrell Krell (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1991).Google Scholar
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    Pierre Klossowski, Nietzsche and the Vicious Circle, trans. Daniel W. Smith (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998).Google Scholar

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© C. Heike Schotten 2009

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