History Notes > University Of Cambridge History Notes > History of Political Thought (1890-Present) Notes
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What role did Nietzsche envisage for politics in a world beyond good and evil?
Such a question has appeared to various recent commentators, including Thomas Brobjer, as inconsequential. I would like to argue that Friedrich Nietzsche's vision of politics is crucial to the understanding of his philosophical standpoint in totality. It is fair to suggest that Nietzsche is not primarily a political thinker or political polemicist. Nonetheless he is starling and provocative thinker and polemicist who did include politics in his visualisation of humankind. Ultimately, though not always clear in his writings, Nietzsche sought to escape the universal objectivity and dogmatism that he believed to plague modern society, politics, and morality. In this sense the question of Nietzsche's potentially apolitical stance is irrelevant; he launches a scathing attack on all concerns within the quintessential model of modernity. Although he refers to himself as 'antipolitical', it must be affirmed that it is not politics per se that Nietzsche took issue with but the liberal politicking of the modern state. In his famous book Beyond Good and Evil (BGE) Nietzsche confirms this view as he describes his 'compulsion to grand politics'. Fundamentally he believed a new transcendent political system was required in order to quell what he saw as the ills intrinsic to the modern conception of morality; symptoms of such ills include the 'advent of democracy, international courts in place of war, equal rights for women, the religion of pity...'(BGE). Within Nietzsche's conception of man's potential overcoming of, and emancipation from, modern morality, politics plays a central role. It is criticism itself that underlies all of Nietzsche's thinking. The scattered references throughout his work, not only to political systems, but also, and more importantly, to the shape that Nietzsche's social ideal would take are never conclusive. Although this leaves the reader of his works to endlessly ponder the true nature of Nietzsche's thought, this indeed was his intention. In the first analysis, it is apt to highlight the inadequacy of the question title. Nietzsche in his great book (BGE) or any other never stipulated that there would one day come to exist a 'world beyond good and evil'; this is a fallacy presupposed by the question. Absolutely crucial to understanding Nietzsche's political thought is his unequivocal exposition of inequality, or perhaps more explicitly distinction between classes and between individuals. Nietzsche never believed man would follow a single or unitary line of progression. Only masters or nobles in his writings are ever capable transcending the world of good and evil; the majority of man known as slaves conversely is content to remain in such a world. It is this distinction between masters and slaves that represents the unqualified locus of Nietzsche's philosophy. All men are born with the fundamental instinct to will to power, to crave and seek out power and glory at any cost. However only a select aristocracy of human beings possess the capacity to aspire effectively to and wield such power; these are masters or übermensch. Everyone else is in slavery to the masters, or at least they should be. Because these slaves will never overcome their state of good and evil, it is anachronistic to depict a Nietzschean political ideal as a 'world beyond good and evil', as such an ideal never came into Nietzsche's thinking. A universal world of men beyond good and evil is not a possibility. It is indeed Nietzsche's polemical objective to undermine the 'monstrous mixture' (BGE) that is modern society. Politics and morality in the modern world merely serve to suffocate the 'overmen' or the natural masters among the human race and promote the equality of all men, the most of which are unworthy of such status. Politics is therefore meaningless or nihilistic; it has no direction or purpose but to preserve what already exists; what already exists for Nietzsche represents a gross underestimation of man's artistic potential. Crucially in Nietzsche's thinking the 'art of commanding', neglected since the classical age, must be re-established over the modern 'herd instinct of obedience'. Great masters such as Caesar or Napoleon are capable of realising their potential for supremacy over other men 'based on the severest self-legislation'. In his On the Genealogy of Morals, Nietzsche writes that when a man becomes aware of his own innate deficiencies and contradictions he is then able to rule others and cultivate his own cultural or artistic ideals; 'mastery over himself also necessarily gives him mastery over...all weaker willed and less reliable creatures.' The point being made here is that is the distinction between men and classes of men is dependent on their inherent quality as individuals. This is the central pillar that Nietzsche's whole moral and political philosophy rests upon. Only the strong are able to rise above the world of
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