In my last post, I talked a little about dialectics, the origin of critical theory, and most importantly the problem of human consciousness and the idea that we need to figure and understand the correct ‘mediation’ between ourselves and Nature. Hegel saw a ‘World Spirit’ working itself out through human history. Marx saw labour as the source of mediation. The next philosopher to come down the pipes was Nietzsche.
We normally associate Nietzsche with Hitlerlism, the idea of the superman, and madness. I know that personally I picked up Thus Sprake Zarathustra and was so put off by the emotive, dream-like writing, I put it down after about twelve pages. Its tag line of “A book for everyone and no one” is accurate, at least.
Having read a little bit more about his thinking, I believe it is far to say that he, like pretty much all philosophers has been misread. I would go so far to say that Nietzsche is probably the most misinterpreted and least understood of the philosophers, which is only partially his own fault. He died before the world wars, I imagine him horrified by the irony of what happened to his intellectual legacy.
Like Hegel and Marx, Nietzsche sets out to untangle the paradox of the individual in society; he is concerned with a sort of ultimate freedom. Hegel sees historic process, Marx, labor, and both of these have a somewhat reassuring ‘rational-ness’ to them. Nietzsche has no sense of an eventual utopia for humanity, and he follows a darker, more convoluted path: you could say his ‘mediator’ is will, or the ‘will-to-power’.
Nietzsche starts out by noting that to put it roughly, the vast majority of us will never know, much less be able to handle Truth. But a few people will come to know the Truth and master the “fear of nature that drives ordinary humans into society…induces social conformity” (quoting from The Critique of Instrumental Reason from Weber to Habermas by Darrow Schecter) through a special aristocratic, knowledge -enhancing form of life which will be different for each person. Nietzsche is concerned here with individual creation, and self-transformation, but I know that this is far left field. In a sense, and I should warn my viewers that I may be wrong in this, Nietzsche sees an inner turmoil, challenging the nature of ‘subjectivity’ (your life force in your own head is the closest I can come to explaining it); and through this struggle, one emerges with totally unique values and knowledge. This would mean people capable of living quite apart from what we think of as society, fully sustained emotionally and psychologically by a creative inner life force and values.
It is clear that there is quite literally and element of anti-social thought here, and one sees the potentials for the Hitlerian sense of the superman trampling other people; I also get a sense of Ayn Rand here as well. But Nietzsche, I think, was much more interested in inner-ness of this, not the ‘outer’ side of this. Nietzsche’s philosophy, if nothing else, bares important psychological insights for more systematic sociological study.
Well, I hope that was clear-ish…