Nietzsche, Power and Politics

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What is more problematic is her understanding of what is involved in a 'secular religion. This is a somewhat surprising intellectualization of the project of BT, all the more surprising given BT's central polemic against Socratic rationalism.

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Nowhere does she mention what is the central question a 'secular religion' is supposed to address, namely, how to make life meaningful and bearable in the face of senseless suffering. That is the problem Nietzsche inherited from Schopenhauer -- not the problem of the legitimacy of political authority -- and which recurs in one form or another throughout his corpus. Shaw's silence on this point is especially surprising when she points to Thus Spoke Zarathustra as "testament to Nietzsche's ongoing concern, after The Birth of Tragedy , not just to repudiate religion but to find some substitute for it.

In particular, the central idea of eternal recurrence seems to be intended to offer a form of secular redemption" But the issue addressed by the doctrine of eternal recurrence is precisely "secular redemption" from meaningless suffering not the "rational justification" of "intellectual authority" , as Nietzsche makes clear when he returns to Zarathustra at the conclusion of the Third Essay of On the Genealogy of Morality.

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Chapters consider what kinds of truths Nietzsche thinks philosophers can attain knowledge of even if, per Chapter 2, Nietzsche no longer thinks philosophers can be successful at disseminating them to the masses. Chapter 3 is the most successful of these, making a reasonable case that Nietzsche, in fact, has inconsistent views about the possibility of truth and knowledge, but that he, nonetheless, remains interested in discovering "factual truth" 69 ff. Chapter 4 tackles directly what must surely seem to be the most important obstacle to Shaw's project of saddling Nietzsche with the Question and its suppositions: namely, that he doesn't, in fact, think there are any moral truths, or that moral knowledge is possible, or that moral judgments are objective.

If Nietzsche is this kind of "moral anti-realist" to borrow Shaw's label , then he could not intelligibly be worried about the "genuine" normative authority of the state, or think that philosophers could have rational insight into such "genuine" authority, or be worried that philosophers would be unable to secure a general consensus in the population at large around their special moral "knowledge.

Shaw's strategy of argument against the anti-realist reading is a curious one. She does not, in fact, spend a great deal of time examining the apparently overwhelming textual evidence in its support more on that in a moment and then try to explain that evidence away. Instead, she argues against reading Nietzsche as a moral anti-realist by appeal to other positions he allegedly holds, arguing that the anti-realist reading cannot make sense of them. That interpretive strategy would certainly create a problem for the anti-realist reading, even if as I believe to be the case the textual evidence for it is overwhelming, but it would hardly establish that he is not an anti-realist about moral value, absent some alternative account of the passages in question.

In any case, Shaw's strategy of argument generates an interpretive dilemma for the moral anti-realist reading only if 1 the putatively incompatible positions in question are really ones Nietzsche holds, and 2 the anti-realist can't explain them. Shaw's argument runs into trouble on both points. I take it Shaw's argument in Chapter 4 turns on two central claims.


First, Shaw argues that the anti-realist will have trouble "trying to make sense of Nietzsche's objection to political self-justification" 78 , precisely because that objection turns on Nietzsche's commitment to evaluative freedom 79, But, as we have already noted, Shaw does not have very good evidence that Nietzsche has any real interest in the phenomenon of "political self-justification," though his colleague Burckhardt did. And her earlier evidence for Nietzsche's alleged commitment to evaluative freedom is similarly problematic.

In Chapter 4, she now claims that, "The idea that rational criticism can be a means to attaining an important form of freedom originates in Nietzsche's middle period. There he comes to see that our drives, rather than being immutable determinants of our behavior, can be brought under reflective control" Her "authority" for this proposition is, yet again, one snippet from Human, All too Human sec.

We can come to understand them and modify them" Since in the work of mine Shaw cites for the "pace Leiter" I explicitly critique Nehamas's take on this issue, I was surprised to see no substantive discussion of the primary texts that bear on this point, just reliance on "authority. Shaw's second key argument against the moral anti-realist reading of Nietzsche is this: "Defenders of an overall antirealist reading of Nietzsche have to offer some explanation of the fact that his objectivist-sounding value judgments and his anti-objectivist meta-ethics seem prima facie to conflict" Shaw, in fact, cites me in the accompanying footnote 82 n.

Here is the abbreviated version: a moral anti-realist like Nietzsche committed to the polemical project of disabusing certain readers of their 'false consciousness' about morality -- their false belief that it is good for them -- has every reason to use all available rhetorical devices to achieve that end. Indeed, recognizing that ours is a world without any objective moral truths, Nietzsche has a special reason to browbeat his readers with his own subjective judgments of value, since there is no rational basis for converting them to his evaluative tastes.

And it perhaps bears emphasizing that that is how Nietzsche describes his own posture: "What is now decisive against Christianity is our taste [ Geschmack ], no longer our reasons" The Gay Science, sec. The "revaluation of Christian values" he says is an "attempt, undertaken with every means" to bring "the counter -values [ die Gegen-Werte ] … to victory" The Antichrist , sec.

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Now my interpretation of Nietzsche's rhetoric may well be inadequate, but I was surprised not to see Shaw actually respond to this possible reading, especially after citing my statement of the problem and given her failure to even consider the overwhelming textual evidence of his moral anti-realism. And the latter evidence is, I am afraid, quite substantial. For the benefit of those who are not well-versed in Nietzsche's texts, let me mention some of the evidence that Nietzsche is a moral anti-realist, who does not think that philosophers have rational insights into "normative truths.

But these passages -- Shaw herself mentions one passage in this vein from The Gay Science p.

In Daybreak , Nietzsche notes that just as we now recognize that it was "an enormous error" "when man gave all things a sex" but still believed "not that he was playing, but that he had gained a profound insight," so, too, man "has ascribed to all that exists a connection with morality [ Moral ] and laid an ethical significance [ ethische Bedeutung ] on the world's back," which will "one day" be viewed as meaningful as talk about "the masculinity or femininity of the sun" 3. So, too, in Shaw's favorite work, Human-All-Too-Human , Nietzsche compares religious, moral and aesthetic judgment with astrology:.

It is probable that the objects of the religious, moral [ moralisch ] and aesthetic experiences belong only to the surface of things, while man likes to believe that here at least he is in touch with the heart of the world; the reason he deludes himself is that these things produce in him such profound happiness and unhappiness, and thus he exhibits here the same pride as in the case of astrology. For astrology believes the heavenly stars revolve around the fate of man; the moral man [ moralische Mensch ], however, supposes that what he has essentially at heart must also constitute the essence [ Wesen ] and heart of things.

HAH 4. Just as the astrologist thinks that there are astrological facts about man's future supervening on the astronomical facts about the stars -- when, in fact, there are only the stars themselves, obeying their laws of motion -- so too the "moral man" thinks his moral experiences are responsive to moral properties that are part of the essence of things, when, like the astrological facts, they are simply to be explained by our feelings.

As Nietzsche puts it, moral judgments are "images" and "fantasies," the mere effects of psychological and physiological facts about the people making those judgments Daybreak , sec. The idea that, against this backdrop, Nietzsche thinks philosophers have special insights into moral truths seems a bit incredible.

Indeed, Nietzsche writes:. It is a very remarkable moment: the Sophists verge upon the first critique of morality [ Moral ], the first insight into morality: -- they juxtapose the multiplicity the geographical relativity of the moral value judgments [ Moralischen Werthurtheile ]; -- they let it be known that every morality [ Moral ] can be dialectically justified; i. The Will to Power , sec. This notebook passage is of a piece with many similarly derisive comments in the published works, as when Nietzsche mocks "[t]he … stiff and decorous Tartuffery of the old Kant, as he lures us on the dialectical bypaths that lead to his 'categorical imperative' -- really lead astray and seduce" Beyond Good and Evil , sec.

Shaw's silence about these passages is, I must admit, surprising.

Nietzsche, Power and Politics : Rethinking Nietzsche's Legacy for Political Thought

To be sure, Shaw claims that even if Nietzsche is an anti-realist, he would still be a political skeptic in her sense, because he would "lack a coherent conception of how his own values might ground political authority" 4. However, in Chapter 4, she mainly adduces this point about "political incoherence" as yet more evidence of the "idiosyncrasy of the antirealist reading of Nietzsche" , i. Of course, it can only serve this function if we are convinced that Nietzsche is engaged in the project of trying to show "how his own values might ground political authority.

In Chapter 5, Shaw defends the alternative, "moral realist" reading of Nietzsche, according to which "the reasons that he offers us for his revaluations will have to be offered as valid reasons for anyone" This reading confronts, of course, the textual obstacles just noted, though they remain unaddressed here as well. The handful of new passages she adduces on behalf of her preferred reading are interesting ones, but it seems to me they don't quite support her points. Since this review is already long enough, let me offer just one example. Shaw cites sec. According to Shaw, Nietzsche's point is this: "Without a breadth of understanding of diverse moral phenomena, it is hard to distinguish rationalizations of parochial views from genuine rational justifications" It is true that this passage does mock philosophers who offer what are really post-hoc rationalizations for the morality currently accepted in their community, but where is the evidence that Nietzsche thinks there is such a thing as a "genuine rational justification" for any moral view to be had?

Nothing in sec. Rather, as Nietzsche tells us in the very next section , what we can really learn from studying different moral judgments is what they "tell us about the people who make them. That is what a "natural history of morals" -- the chapter's title -- seeks to uncover the psychological causes of different kinds of moral judgments , not a genuine "rational justification" of morality, which Nietzsche, as we have seen, derides.

Shaw, to her credit, admits that Nietzsche's scattered "normative claims about politics" "are undefended, and they are never developed into a coherent political theory" and that Nietzsche "has … contempt for normative political theory" 33 , and that "Nietzsche never addressed systematically the core questions of political thought" But she thinks all these facts about his writing result from "his insight that the consensus required by political life cannot be readily achieved, except through unacceptable forms of political manipulation" That might be plausible if there were good evidence Nietzsche was worried about "unacceptable" forms of political manipulation, rather than, as we noted earlier, lamenting the passing of "unconditional authority" HAH There is, moreover, another possibility, represented by one of the more familiar strands in the secondary literature noted at the start, namely, that Nietzsche has no political philosophy at all, that he views politics as a debased terrain, and that he conceives his mature project as that of a kind of esoteric moralist who aims to transform the consciousness about morality of his select readers, leaving, as he often says, "herd morality for the herd.

NPS is meticulously footnoted, and Shaw displays a wide and generally deep knowledge of all the pertinent secondary literature. I believe this is the first time I have read a work that cites book reviews I have written, though in each case the citation was substantive: there was a point made in the review that really was relevant to the issues at hand. Nietzsche made sporadic attempts at musical composition, one of which caused Wagner to have a laughing fit.

The music is not very good, but it is not as bad as all that. But the disagreements went much deeper, revealing a rift between ideologies and epochs. Wagner embodied the nineteenth century, in all its grandeur and delusion; Nietzsche was the dynamic, destructive torchbearer of the twentieth. When they first met, they shared an admiration for the philosophical pessimism of Arthur Schopenhauer, who saw a world governed by the insatiable striving of the will.

Only through the renunciation of worldly desire, Schopenhauer posited, can we free ourselves from our incessant drives. Aesthetic experience is one avenue to self-overcoming—an idea that the art-besotted Nietzsche seized upon.

Nietzsche, power and politics : rethinking Nietzsche's legacy for political thought

Wagner, by contrast, claimed to value compassion above all other emotions. In its place, Nietzsche praises hardness, force, cruelty.

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These views made Wagner wince, as the diaries of Cosima Wagner, his wife, attest. Nietzsche not only rejected the sublime longings of nineteenth-century Romanticism; he also jettisoned the teleology of historical progress that had governed European thought since the Renaissance, and that had found its most formidable advocate in Hegel. Instead, Nietzsche grounded himself in a version of naturalism—the post-Darwinian conviction that humans are an animal species, led by no transcendent purpose.

Between his final meeting with Wagner, in , and his mental collapse of , Nietzsche lived the life of an intellectual ascetic. Health problems caused him to resign his professorship in ; from then on, he adopted a nomadic life style, summering in the Swiss Alps and wintering, variously, in Genoa, Rapallo, Venice, Nice, and Turin. He wrote a dozen books, of increasingly idiosyncratic character, poised between philosophy, aphoristic cultural criticism, polemic, and autobiography.


The landscape of the mind consumed his attention. He thought the way others feel. Translating Nietzsche is a difficult task, but the swagger of his prose, with its pithy strikes and sudden swerves, can be fairly readily approximated in English.

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Kaufmann, in his translations, brought to bear a strong, pugnacious style. A series of translations from Cambridge University Press covered the gaps.

Nietzsche Introduction: On the Genealogy of Morality (essay 1)

These show a less awe-inspiring side of the philosopher, as he jots down items from his reading and delivers utterances esoteric, mundane, and bizarre:. Woman is so little satisfied with herself that she would rather permit herself to be beaten than—.

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