On the Genealogy of Morals

Some very rough notes:

Friedrich Nietzsche strikes me as a nineteenth century version of Niccolò Machiavelli, in ideas to some extent, and certainly in temperament. Compare the former's dichotomy between aristocratic and slave values, and the latter's contrast between the civil religion of the Roman Empire and Christianity. "Rome against Judaea, Judaea against Rome".

Nietzsche hates transcendent ideologies, but I think he searches for a particular transcendence of his own:

"again and again one will reach the light, again and again experience the golden hour of victory -- and then stand forth new-born, indestructible, tensed in readiness for what is new, more difficult, more distant ... let me be granted a glimpse, just one glimpse of something complete, wholly successful, happy, powerful, triumphant, something still capable of inspiring fear! A glimpse of a man who justifies mankind..."

Nietzsche is asking for more fear, less comfort and cleverness. A return to antiquity, with all its blood and iron. I get the feeling he has probably been reading too much Homer, and thought that this shit was REAL -- that such Conan-like heroes really walked the earth. You get something similar with Machiavelli, who talks of 'admirably wicked' princes, although always in terms of practicalities. An approach that also leads him to prefer republicanism.

Machiavelli's twin concepts of virtue (male) and fortune (female) strikes me as similar to Nietzsche's unifying force behind history: the will to power. Nietzsche idolizes a human will that can impose itself on circumstances, indeed redefine reality in its own interest. Machiavelli's The Prince is basically a guidebook for how to do that.

The endless struggle between aristocratic values / the will to power on one side, and slave morality / resentment / Christianity on the other, has been internalized of late, according to Nietzsche. It has become a psychological struggle. You have a superiority complex telling you to go out and do things, battling with an inferiority complex telling you that everyone else has already done things, and that your contribution will be worthless. Here Nietzsche, like every writer ever, is talking about himself.

Harold Bloom describes him as a psychologist more than anything, and I would agree. His general project is to liberate the human animal from the cage of civilization. All those moralities that inhibit our vilest instincts need to go. The strong must be allowed to be strong again. The naturally servile will naturally be dominated. True relations will be reestablished. This, by the way, is why Nietzsche is crazy.

A sidebar on Nietzsche's view of love. Seeing as selflessness is just weakness, love is equated with respect, and ultimately, fear. There is no loss of individuality or assertiveness. Nietzsche's love must not blunt the will to power.

Another sidebar on whether Nietzsche is a Nazi or not. A stupid question, seeing as he died at the end of the nineteenth century. But speculation is fun, right? Douglas Smith, who is the editor and translator of my text, points out that Nietzsche was dismissive of political anti-semitism, seeing as it was grounded in feelings of resentment, rather than will to power. True, but then there is Nietzsche's love of Napoleon, the last great hero Europe has produced. I cannot help but wonder whether Nietzsche would have also seen Hitler in the same light -- a forceful ruler remaking a country in his own image, using anti-semitism for his own ends...

Final note. Nietzsche attacks science because he considers it the latest manifestation of a belief in transcendence. Scientists still search for truth, hence remain in thrall to asceticism. This strikes me as a fundamental misunderstanding of the way science works. All scientific truths are provisional, always and forever tested against the evidence. It's quite a good system for understanding the world, perhaps the best we have. Nietzsche wants to do away with it because it impedes the morality he is trying to promote: a will to power aloof from the limitations of worldly circumstance. His heroes create their own truth.

OK, really, final note. As Douglas Smith points out, this attack on truth ultimately undermines Nietzsche's whole argument. He is only offering HIS truth, which is in fact only a perspective. Here is Nietzsche on knowledge: "to have all the arguments for and against at one's disposal and to suspend or implement them at will". And here: "the more feelings about a matter which we allow to come to expression, the more eyes, different eyes through which we are able to view the same matter, the more complete our 'conception' of it". I wonder, is this why Nietzsche is crazy? Is he aware of the extraordinary nature of his proposals, but is arguing for them anyway, in order to provoke a response, to make you think through your assumptions? Whether it is done knowingly or not, I don't know, but that is certainly why reading his mad ramblings is of value.

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