Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Liberals – Essential Beliefs Relativism 131

Nietzsche and America

Ideology today, in popular speech, is, in the first place, generally understood to be a good and necessary thing—unless it is bourgeois ideology. The evolution of the term was made possible by the abandonment, encouraged by Nietzsche, of the distinction between true and false in political and moral matters. Men and societies need myths, not science, by which to live. In short, ideology became identical to values, and that is why it belongs on the honor roll of terms by which we live. If we examine Weber's three forms of legitimacy* —tradition, reason and charisma— which cause men to accept a domination by other men founded on violence, we see immediately that we would call them ideologies, as well as values. Weber, of course, meant that all societies or communities of human beings require such violent domination—as the only way order emerges from chaos in a world with no ordering force in it other than man's creative spirituality—while Marxists still vaguely hope for a world where there are values without domination. This is all that remains of
their Marxism, and they can and do fellow-travel with the Nietzscheans a goodly bout de chemirt. One sees their plight in the fact that ideology no longer has its old partner, science, in their thought, but stands in lonely grandeur.

  • Alan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind, p. 219
* tradition, reason and faith are central elements of Catholicism and of Anglicanism. I almost feel here that “faith” in Weber's model is exemplified by charisma – the charm and power of someone so enlightened that such a person can command domination over others so that we all can emerge from chaos. Thus we can speculate that Weber is opening the door to a new civil religion based on personality. Bloom infers the same thing as he continues his discussion:

When one talks to Marxists these days and asks them to explain philosophers or artists in terms of objective economic conditions, they smile contemptuously and respond, "That is vulgar Marxism," as if to ask, "Where have you been for the last seventy-five years?" No one likes to be considered vulgar, so people tend to fall back into embarrassed silence. Vulgar Marxism is, of course, Marxism. Nonvulgar Marxism is Nietzsche, Weber, Freud, Heidegger, as well as the host of later Leftists who drank at their trough— such as Lukacs, Kojeve, Benjamin, Merleau-Ponty and Sartre—and hoped to enroll them in the class struggle. To do this, they had to jettison that embarrassing economic determinism. The game is surely up when Marxists start talking about "the sacred."

ibid, p. 220

Bloom contends that Marxism merged with Nietzsche by romanticizing revolution, where blood is spilled, proving that liberty is more important than life. Bloom writes, The violence has a certain
charm of its own, the joy of the knife. It proves decision or commitment. The new order is not waiting, but has to be imposed by the will of man; it is supported by nothing but the will. Will has become the key word, both Right and Left.” Bloom remind us that Nietzsche said, “A good war makes sacred every cause.” Bloom continues:

The causes have no status; they are values. It is the positing that is essential. The transformation of violence from a means to at least a kind of end helps to show the difference, and the link, between Marxism and Fascism. Georges Sorel, the author of Reflections on Violence, was a man of the Left who influenced Mussolini. The crucial thought goes back to Nietzsche by way of Bergson: If creativity presupposes chaos— hence strife and overcoming—and man is now creating an order of peace in which there is no strife, is successfully rationalizing the world, the conditions for creativity, i.e., humanity, will be destroyed. Therefore chaos must be willed, as against the peace and order of socialism. Marx himself recognized that man's historical greatness and progress came from contradictions he had to struggle to overcome. If, as Marx promises, there are to be no more contradictions after the revolution, will there be man? Older revolutionaries were willing peace, prosperity, harmony and reason, i.e., the last man. The newer breed wills chaos. Hardly anyone swallowed what Nietzsche prescribed whole, but the argument was infectious. It surely was impressive to Italian and German intellectuals in whose eyes the Fascist and Nazi "movements" found favor. Self-assertion, not justice or a clear view of the future, was the crucial element. Thus determination, will, commitment, caring (here is where this now silly expression got its force), concern or what have you become the new virtues. The new revolutionary charm became evident in the U.S. in the sixties, much to the distaste of old Marxists. There is also something of this in the current sympathy for terrorists, because "they care."

--ibid., p. 221

So the real thrill and reward is motion, passion, physical action:

I have seen young people, and older people too, who are good democratic liberals, lovers of peace and gentleness, struck dumb with admiration for individuals threatening or using the most terrible violence for the slightest and tawdriest reasons. They have a sneaking suspicion that they are face to face with men of real commitment, which they themselves lack. And commitment, not truth, is believed to be what counts. Trotsky's and Mao's correction of Marx in calling for "permanent revolution" takes account of this thirst for the act of revolution, and its appeal lies therein. The radical students of the sixties called themselves "the movement," unaware that this was also the language used by young Nazis in the thirties and was the name of a Nazi journal, Die Bewegung. Movement takes the place of progress, which has a definite direction, a good direction, and is a force that controls men. Progress was what the old revolutions were evidence of. Movement has none of this naive, moralistic nonsense in it. Motion rather than fixity is our condition—but motion without any content or goal not imposed on it by man's will. Revolution in our times is a mixture of what it was earlier thought to be and what Andre Gide called a gratuitous act, represented in one of his novels by the unprovoked and unmotivated murder of a stranger on a train.

Ibid, ppg. 221-2

Bloom contends that 20th century Marxists appropriated Nietzsche so that the “last man” was the result of the revolution. Marxism sold better when spiced with Nietzsche. Bloom specifically points to the writings of Alexandre Kojeve.

...he who says he hates the bourgeoisie can be seen to be a friend of the Left. Therefore when the Left got the idea of embracing Nietzsche, it got, along with him, all the authority of the nineteenth- and twentieth century literary tradition. Goethe and Flaubert and Yeats hated the bourgeosie—
so Marx was right: these writers simply had not recognized that the bourgeosie could be overcome by the proletariat. And Nietzsche, taken from the correct angle, can be said to be a proponent of the
Revolution. When one reads the early Partisan Review, edited entirely by leftists, one sees its unlimited enthusiasm for Joyce and Proust, whom they were introducing to this country, apparently in the opinion that they represented the art of the socialist future, although these artists thought
the future of art lay in the opposite direction.

ibid, p. 224

The result has been that emigres brought Nietzsche to America after he had been taken apart and put back together as a leftist:

So Nietzsche came to America. His conversion to the Left was easily accepted here as genuine, because Americans cannot believe that any really intelligent and good person does not at bottom share the Will Rogers Weltanschauung, "I never met a man I didn't like." Nietzsche's naturalization was accomplished in many waves: some of us went to Europe to find him; he came with the emigres; and most recently professors of comparative literature have gotten heavily into the import business, getting their goods from Paris, where deconstructing Nietzsche and Heidegger and reconstructing them on the Left has been the principal philosophical metier since the Liberation. From this last source Heidegger and Nietzsche now come under their own names, treading on the red carpet rolled out for them by their earlier envoys. Academic psychology, sociology, comparative literature and anthropology have been dominated by them for a long time. But their passage from the academy to the marketplace is the real story. A language developed to explain to knowers how bad we are has been adopted by us to declare to the world how interesting we are. Somehow the goods got damaged in transit.

--ibid., p. 225

Summary: We know that German philosophies came to America, particularly in the form of Marx, Weber, Nietzsche and Heidegger. Outside of closed societies where they have a monopoly, Marxist has had to evolve, which it has done through appropriating the energy and importance of the will in Nietzsche. There has become a reverence for action as the great virtue rather than intellectual rigor or principle. These German approaches seem to become increasingly clothed as civil religions rather than the pretense of anything scientific.

Since German thought is here in America to stay, in the next post we'll take a look at Nietzsche and at Heidegger and their major views. We will also look at the views of Heidegger successor.

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