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Treatment: Revolution

  • C. Heike Schotten
Chapter
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Abstract

It is among the best-kept secrets about Nietzsche that his philosophy offers a sustained reflection on the nature, importance, and potential of revolutionary political strategy. Infused with revolutionary rhetoric, Nietzsche’s philosophy seeks to bring about nothing less than a total transformation of the ways, modes, and forms of life present within what he calls “modernity,” a radical overhaul of life as the West has heretofore known it. In this chapter, I show the radical way in which Nietzsche attempts to treat modernity’s ailing condition—via a complex, strategic, performative rhetoric of will to power. Although it is controversial to suggest that Nietzsche offers any treatment for modernity at all, I maintain not only that there are resources for recovery within Nietzsche’s texts but that Nietzsche himself specifically recommends them.1 These resources are rhetorical, and Nietzsche’s platform is that of the revolutionary who seeks to transform an entire historical, sociocultural order, reconfiguring the very nature of the human in the process. His “longing for total revolution” in this sense locates him squarely within the radical tradition of Western political thought, marking him as a clear successor to Rousseau and Marx. In attempting to bring about a fundamental change in the ways in which truth and morality were considered, Nietzsche attempts nothing less than a revolution in the forms of life that modernity has hitherto roduced.2

Keywords

Body Politic Rhetorical Strategy Modern Reader Christian Morality True Philosophy 
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Notes

  1. 1.
    Daniel Conway, for example, argues that Nietzsche “offers no cures, no therapies, and no hopes for a regimen of self-constitution that might make [decadent souls] whole.” Daniel Conway, Nietzsche’s Dangerous Game: Philosophy in the Twilight of the Idols (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 67.Google Scholar
  2. See also Daniel Conway, Nietzsche and the Political (New York: Routledge, 1997).Google Scholar
  3. 2.
    In this, I follow Bernard Yack, The Longing for Total Revolution: Philosophic Sources of Social Discontent from Rousseau to Marx and Nietzsche (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992).Google Scholar
  4. 3.
    As Arthur Danto notes, Nietzsche “sometimes urged Will-to-Power with a blind and driving urgency, which is so characteristic of him, as though he were flailing his readers with a weapon.” Arthur Danto, Nietzsche as Philosopher (New York: Columbia University Press, 1965), 217.Google Scholar
  5. 4.
    As Cathertne Guckert notes, “Nietzsche consistently present[s] ‘legtslatton,’ that is, the declaration of the highest values, as the proper work of the philosopher.” Catherine Zuckert, Postmodern Platos (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996), 22.Google Scholar
  6. 7.
    On the world-making power of revolutionary writing, manifestos in particular, see Martin Puchner, Poetry of the Revolution: Marx, Manifestos, and the Avant-Gardes (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006). In Nietzsche’s particular case, Bruce Detwiler puts it well when he says: “In the best of cases the philosopher is not simply one who ascends from the cave and perceives the sun; rather he is one who out of the depths of his own creativity becomes a new sun for mankind.”Google Scholar
  7. Bruce Detwiler, Nietzsche and the Politics of Aristocratic Radicalism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990), 29. Or, in Brian Leiter’s words, Nietzsche’s term “philosopher” functions as an “honorific for the one who creates values.”Google Scholar
  8. Brian Leiter, Nietzsche on Morality (New York: Routledge, 2002), 11.Google Scholar
  9. 8.
    This is a fact about which his Anglo-American commentators in particular complain (with regard to will to power and much else). However, rather than insisting on measuring Nietzsche by a yardstick on which he perennially comes up short, we might instead consider if this lack of (adequate) argumentation suggests that he is up to something other than the more familiar philosophical project of argument construction, which might therefore demand we at least supplement more traditional philosophical reading techniques with an additional or different set of interpretive strategies. This is not to say that Nietzsche does not make arguments at all, or that we can no longer assess his claims according to standards of argumentative validity or coherence or consistency, but it is to say that berating Nietzsche for failing to be a philosopher of the analytic variety may be a deficiency not in Nietzsche’s texts but in our demand that he be an analytic philosopher. As David Owen points out. However, rather than insisting on measuring Nietzsche by a yardstick on which he perennially comes up short, we might instead consider if this lack of (adequate) argumentation suggests that he is up to something other than the more familiar philosophical project of argument construction, which might therefore demand we at least supplement more traditional philosophical reading techniques with an additional or different set of interpretive strategies. This is not to say that Nietzsche does not make arguments at all, or that we can no longer assess his claims according to standards of argumentative validity or coherence or consistency, but it is to say that berating Nietzsche for failing to be a philosopher of the analytic variety may be a deficiency not in Nietzsche’s texts but in our demand that he be an analytic philosopher. As David Owen points out, “Nietzsche is acutely attentive to issues of expression” and with regard to the Genealogy specifically, Owen argues that “if we are to offer a compelling account of Nietz-sche’s Genealogy, it must be one that makes sense of the rhetorical strategies that he deploys in this work.” David Owen, Nietzsche’s Genealogy of Morality (Ithaca: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2007), 59.Google Scholar
  10. 9.
    Others have also argued that Nietzsche performs the things he describes or criticizes in his writings, focusing on the ways in which Nietzsche’s writings reveal his own weakness, décadence, or asceticism, thereby “proving” his diagnosis of modernity through his own manifestation of its symptoms of degeneracy. See, for example, Conway, Nietzsche’s Dangerous Game, Henry Staten, Nietzsche’s Voice (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1990);Google Scholar
  11. and Kelly Oliver, Womanizing Nietzsche: Philosophy’s Relation to the “Feminine” (New York: Routledge, 1995). This analysis strikes me as exactly right, and my own project is obviously indebted to this line of thinking. This chapter, however, explores the performance of the affirmative and revolutionary Nietzsche, taking him at his word not simply that he is a décadent but also supremely healthy.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    This is how John Richardson describes the task of the philosopher in the introduction to the Nietzsche volume of the Oxford Readings in Philosophy series. John Richardson, “Introduction,” in Nietzsche: Oxford Readings in Philosophy, ed. John Richardson and Brian Leiter (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), 14).Google Scholar
  13. 14.
    Walter Kaufmann, Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist (New York: Vintage, 1974).Google Scholar
  14. 16.
    Leslie Thiele, Friedrich Nietzsche and the Politics of the Soul: A Study of Heroic Individualism (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990);Google Scholar
  15. William Connolly, Political Theory and Modernity (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1993);Google Scholar
  16. cf. Connolly, Identity\Difference: Democratic Negotiations of Political Paradox (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1991), 186–90;Google Scholar
  17. Richard Rorty, Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. 18.
    Ansell-Pearson argues that from Nietzsche’s beginning reckonings with the Greeks through his “middle period” to the mature works, “Nietzsche’s commitment to culture over politics is unwavering,” even when it comes to his project of great politics, the revaluation of values. Keith Ansell-Pearson, An Introduction to Nietzsche as Political Thinker: The Perfect Nihilist (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 95.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. 21.
    Nehamas has argued of Nietzsche that “the last thing he is is a social reformer or revolutionary” and that Nietzsche neither advocates nor foresees “a radical change in the lives of most people.” Alexander Nehamas, Life as Literature (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1985), 225.Google Scholar
  20. Cf. Brian Leiter, “Nietzsche and the Morality Critics,” in Nietzsche: Oxford Readings in Philosophy, ed. John Richardson and Brian Leiter (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), 247.Google Scholar
  21. 23.
    I therefore find it difficult to understand how Nietzsche’s revolution could not affect most, if not all, human beings in modernity if its transformative effects would permeate the very constitution of our being. As Detwiler aptly notes, “there is strong evidence for the conclusion that the great politics of the future, which is integrally related to Nietzsche’s revaluation of all values, is also a politics of the real world. There is every reason to believe that ‘all power structures of the old society’ will be ‘exploded’ in fact and not just in thought.” Bruce Detwiler, Nietzsche and the Politics of Aristocratic Radicalism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990), 56.Google Scholar
  22. 29.
    EH “Destiny” §1. Compare Marx’s language in the Manifesto, which, by contrast, reads as tame, almost conservative, in tone after Nietzsche’s impassioned invective. See Karl Marx, The Communist Manifesto, in The Marx-Engels Reader, 2nd ed., ed. Robert Tucker (New York: Norton, 1978).Google Scholar
  23. 38.
    Claudia Crawford goes a step further, arguing that Nietzsche’s rhetoric is not simply revo-lutionary but apocalyptic; that he is not merely a radical but a prophet. Claudia Crawford, “Nietzsche’s Psychology and Rhetoric of World Redemption: Dionysus versus the Crucified,” in Nietzsche and Depth Psychology, ed. Jacob Golomb, Weaver Santaniello, and Ronald Lehrer (New York: SUNY Press, 1999). While Crawford is right to note Nietzsche’s often religiously inflected rhetoric (especially in Ecce Homo and The Antichrist(ianJ), I wonder if this has more to do with the object of Nietzsche’s critique—Christianity—than with either his own self-positioning or the intended character of his revolution. To argue that Nietzsche’s writings are both prophetic and apocalyptic means claiming that Nietz-sche’s rhetoric of revolution is moralizing, that it believes in itself as a truth that is unimplicated in the body, transcending the flux and chaos of “this” world, meant as both universal and ahistorical. While it is indisputable that Nietzsche declares his views to be “true” (a rhetorical strategy that Conway argues displaces all others post-1886; Nietzsche’s Dangerous Game), his conflation of truth with the body (see Chapter 1) suggests Nietzsche knew that even his most fervent beliefs would decay and die off. Moreover, Nietzsche’s utilization of the rhetoric of performativity (to be discussed in the next section) is an obvious recognition of the “fallibility” of truth claims, standing his proselytizing in direct contradiction to Crawford’s evangelical interpretation. Finally, in an issue to be addressed more fully in Chapter 6, there seems to be no clear vision of salvation promised by Nietzsche’s revolutionary rhetoric. As Yack argues, the character of revolutionary longing post-Kant takes its cues not from its utopic vision of a redemptive future world, but rather from its overwhelming discontent and critique of present and past obstacles to the realization of our humanity. Thus, “although one may indeed call it utopian to plunge forward into a future defined only by the negation of the obstacles to satisfaction, such utopianism is inspired by hatred of present obstacles, not by an infatuation with kingdoms of the imagination.” Yack, The Longing for Total Revolution, 27.Google Scholar
  24. 59.
    Nietzsche’s activity here is thus a precursor to Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Moutte’s conceptualization of politics as hegemonic articulation, a politics that rejects any “distinction between discursive and non-discursive practices” (Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe, Hegemony and Socialist Strategy: Towards a Radical Democratic Politics [London: Verso, 1985], 107). It also resonates with what Judith Butler calls a politics of the performative, which consists in “misappropriating the force of speech from those prior contexts” we did not authorize, a resignification of the terms of political discourse itself that foregrounds “nonstate-centered forms of agency and resistance”Google Scholar
  25. (Judith Butler, Excitable Speech: A Politics of the Performative [New York: Routledge, 1997], 40, 19).Google Scholar
  26. 62.
    GS §g349, 357; BGE gg 14, 213, 253; TI “Skirmishes” g 14. On the relationship between Nietzsche and Darwin, see the very different accounts given by Gregory Moore, Nietzsche, Biology, and Metaphor (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. and John Richardson, Nietzsche’s New Darwinism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. 100.
    Eric Blondel, Nietzsche, the Body, and Culture: Philosophy as a Philological Genealogy, trans. Seân Hand (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1991);Google Scholar
  29. Sara Kofman, Nietzsche and Metaphor, trans. Duncan Large (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1993).Google Scholar

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© C. Heike Schotten 2009

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