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In what ways, if any, did Nietzsche offer a political philosophy of the modern state?
Bernard Williams, in the unpublished 'There are Many Kinds of Eyes', argued that
Nietzsche 'had not the faintest idea of the nature of a modern state.' Williams made the statement on the basis of Nietzsche's pre-occupation with the ancient world, owing to his training and profession as a philologist. Moreover, Nietzsche himself advocated in his autobiography Ecce Homo (1908) that one needs to gain a distance from one's own epoch,
in other words, cultivate his untimeliness, in order to successfully overcome modernity.
However, it would be misleading to characterise Nietzsche as a thinker that insulated himself from the present and his surroundings. He was very much preoccupied with the malaise of modernity, although he often turned to the ancients for solutions. Although it is not difficult to pinpoint what Nietzsche wrote about the modern society or culture, it is more challenging to identify what insight Nietzsche has to offer when it comes to the modern state. This essay will define the modern state as possessing the Weberian characteristics of the rationalisation of authority and the monopoly of violence. When the modern state is boiled down to these characteristics, it appears clear that Nietzsche's worldview, especially his theory about power, does have a lot to say about the modern state. This essay will focus on three aspects of his political philosophy of the modern state.
Firstly, rejecting the social contract theory, Nietzsche offered a stark account of how the modern state originated and how it was legitimised; secondly, Nietzsche diagnosed the plague of the modern state to be primarily nihilism, a decease that would threaten the survival of mankind; thirdly, as Hugo Drochon (2016) has convincingly argued, Nietzsche offered a cultural and psychological account about how power should be organised in the modern state. Underpinning all the above propositions is Nietzsche's concept of the 'will to power'.
1 For Nietzsche, the state began with an act of violence and the modern state came about with secularisation and the removal of magic from the state. In The Greek State
(1871-72), Nietzsche hypothesises that the state originates with a 'conqueror with the iron hand'. He agrees with Hobbes that the state of nature is one of never-ending warfare, but he did not see the emergence of a prince as a matter of necessity or utility, but as an inevitable outcome of some being stronger than others. Nietzsche's account of the origin of the state is violent and bloody. This theory of the origin of the state is repeated in On the
Genealogy of Morality, where he identified the conqueror as the 'blond beasts of prey'—the master races. In Nietzsche's theory, the subjected are not bothered about the origin of the state. Rather, they look on the 'magic of the developing state' with amazement. Nietzsche did not attempt to legitimise the monopoly of violence by a conqueror race with a contract theory. The state is justified because it opens up the space in which culture and genius can flourish, a proposition that will be explored in the last section of the essay. How the ruling class is chosen is not arbitrary for Nietzsche; they came to dominate because of their relative strength, and their greater will to power, a 'cardinal drive' possessed by every living being. Although the term 'will to power' was first introduced in Thus Spoke Zarathustra
(1883), the belief that political authority is placed at the hands of the powerful has always been at the centre of Nietzsche's political thought.
The rationalisation of state authority happens at a later stage. In 'A Glance at the
State' (1878), Nietzsche linked his proposition about the demise of religion (although the death of God was proclaimed in Zarathustra) with the rationalisation of political authority.
Nietzsche argues that the interests of the government and the interests of religion go hand in hand since the beginning of time. Firstly, in The Greek State, Nietzsche has already commented on the 'magic' of the state. In 'A Glance at the State', Nietzsche compared 'the
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