Commentary on Political Economy

Tuesday 23 August 2011

Contrast with Heidegger - Nietzsche, History, Will to Power

This excerpt from our Nietzschebuch is intended as a reward to our visiting friends. This book was initially meant to be only a chapter of Krisis:Exegesis and Critique of Capitalism, but it swelled into a separate work. We truly hope you enjoy reading it.

The question was always to reconcile the freedom of the Will with the phenomenon of the Political. Is there something in this “freedom” that leads rationally – that is, legitimately in law, ethics and morality – to the reality of the State. This question eludes Schopenhauer as much as it will elude another strident opponent of Hegelian philosophy, Kierkegaard, both of whom simply liquidate the jusnaturalist solution: impossible to locate in the State the “agreement” of individual wills when these are irreducibly in-dividual and uncompromisingly “egoistic” in their pursuit of self-interest (Schopenhauer) or existential decision (Kierkegaard). For Schopenhauer, the State can exist at best only “negatively” as Police; it can protect individuals from the ubiquitous Eris of the Will to Life by ensuring that they do not harm (noli ledere) one another. And even that “negative value” is derived not from the Will but from the reflective reason, the intellect that subtracts itself from the futility of the Will and retreats to Nirvana. The State is an artifice that merely protects what belongs to individual wills at the time that the social contract is concluded; it is a preservation of the status quo ante, but it cannot legitimize “rights” that preceded the social contract in the state of nature – for no such “rights”, natural or divine, could possibly exist in a state of civil war.

Schopenhauer misses the problematic of Hobbes and then of Hegel working on the foundations of British jusnaturalism and political economy: whilst his critique of jusnaturalism correctly and comprehensively dimisses that doctrine on the strength of Hobbes’s “scientific-rational” approach, his State is unfounded because it arises from a principle of “do no harm” that has no rational or other origin in the Will to Life as he conceives it; he fails to identify a “material carrier”, a corpus and motive for the institution of the State . This is what Hobbes had achieved by attributing the institution of the State to the dira necessitas imposed on the Will to alienate its Power to a Sovereign in extremis, out of fear and from the threat and apprehension of imminent violent death.

Yet even Hobbes’s “dira necessitas” runs into difficulty in two directions: upstream, it does not account for the basis of the “rationality” of the Will in deciding to exit the civil war of the state of nature, the bellum civium; and downstream, even if the new civil state governed by the Sovereign guarantees the “possessions” of each member at the time of the social contract, it is still far from clear how the future conduct of “exchange” of these possessions is to be regulated. And in any case, Hobbes does not account for how the Sovereign, the State, can independently guarantee the execution of the social contract. The Hobbesian schema still falls short in a psychological sense (accounting for the “rationality” of the free will) and in an economic sense (accounting for the rules of the new civil society as governed by the State).

It is the “reconciliation” of the Will with the Political that will form the problematic of Hegel – the Arcanum of the State. If the Political is real, it is because it is pro-duced by the Will. But the freedom of the Will is not a philosophical abstraction: this freedom must be grounded on the very concrete reality of human communities, and even deeper on the intrinsic truth of consciousness and reason that reflects upon itself as it inter-acts with the Other – both nature and society. If it were possible to derive logically the rationality of the State from the dialectic of self-consciousness, then the Will could realize its freedom truly and rationally through a material civil society that would pro-duce both economic Value for its material reproduction and political Value for its political Vergeistigung in the State. The reflection of this evolution in time and space, in history, would be the proof that the understanding can com-prehend the phenomenon, that history can tame nature, that Subject and Object can realize the Idea dialectically – that “what is rational is real and what is real is rational”.  

As early as the Untimely Meditations, Nietzsche had overcome the negatives Denken of his “educator”, Schopenhauer, which he perceived to be “powerless” to contrast the Hegelian dialectic. True it is that German Idealism from Leibniz to Hegel is an “astute theology”; that Schopenhauer restores our vision of history to “older, more powerful” ways of seeing events and men. But in demolishing the moral theology of Kant and Hegel, Schopenhauer stares into the abyss of meaninglessness and takes “honourable fright”: if the old values clash with reality, it is reality that he rejects and discards, in favour of Nirvana. In the Second Meditation especially, Nietzsche reflects on the phenomena of history, determined to see “what is rational in reality, not in reason and least of all in morality”. And what history reveals is that its “happenings” and “e-vents” are not the pro-duct of human free will or of a divine pro-vidence, that they do not dis-close a progressus or an e-volution. Rather, the radical critique of history and of human values, including metaphysics, shows that our very intuition of time and space, of causality and of the meaning of existence induce us to believe that the Will is not “free”, that the very “transcendence” of the Will over life and the world is the “result”, a “sign” and a “symptom” of the real antagonism between instincts of freedom that seek to impose themselves on other instincts.

The Will therefore cannot be interpreted in this trans-scendental fashion, but rather immanently; - not as the Subject able to dominate and make sense of the Object, but rather as a force that is within life and the world and can understand these only as a perpetual flux, an Eternal Return. It is not possible for anything in life and the world to com-prehend them, to bestow a Value on them: to attempt to do so would mean that the entity assigning such values could stand “outside of” life and the world. It is life and the world that as-sign values as a result of its mani-festation as Will to Power: and it is this mani-festation, this “showing” or “happening” (Geschehen), this e-vent that is the focus of Nietzsche’s immanentist approach to life and the world.

In this light, the novel intuition of history, of time and place in the Second Meditation, only touches on time and place as the horizon of Being – hence, of Being-as-Becoming. Nietzsche is not concerned with ontology except to establish that all ontological efforts “to close the circle” of interpretation of life and the world must end up in the desert of nihilism, in the fixity and void of “presence”. It is beneath the horizon of our intuition of time and space that history begins; and it is in that time-place of immanent experience that we must con-fine our under-standing, our com-prehension and con-ception of life and the world. Within the Hobbesian and Hegelian problematic of the Will, Nietzsche is concerned not with the sphere of inquiry that treats of the relation of the Will with the meta-physical, with the “totality” of reality. His focus is not on the “freedom” of the Will as the ambit of its trans-scendental being, its being “beyond” (meta) the physical life and the world (physics), but rather with the “need-necessity” of immanent existence.

It is not the “contingency” of existence that interests Nietzsche – not what lies “beyond” life. It is not the relation of Being to not-Being, to nothing-ness, that draws his attention. Nor is it the “existential pathos” of the individual conscience and its “decision” or “resoluteness” before the abyss of death. Everything that is occurs “within the Will”. Bluntly put, Nietzsche, like Hobbes and German Idealism, is not concerned with the anticipation of death as establishing the “authenticity” of the contingent being, the Da-sein, as “pro-ject”, as “possibility” in its “being-in-the-world”, as a “being among beings”. This “ab-stract”, transcendental quaestio occupies the “boundary” of Nietzsche’s intuition of time and place but only to the extent that it helps us situ-ate human being between “the first thing” and “the last thing” (the titles of the initial sections of Human All Too Human). He is concerned neither with genesis nor with eschaton: it is the place be-tween the walls of past and future that he in-habits. Nietzsche is not concerned with the anticipation of death: the Eternal Return, the amor fati, the love of life make the question redundant. He is concerned rather with the why and how human beings live and die as they do! His aim is pre-eminently and immanently political; it is to trace the mani-festation of the Will to Power as instinct of freedom within that realm of the human “memory of the will” that we call “history”. This is his istorein (inquiry, history). Nietzsche is dealing with the same problematic that Hobbes and Hegel faced – although his approach and answers differ radically – critically! - from theirs. And they differ most conspicuously in the characterization of the Will as well as in his account of its historical manifestation in “the onto-geny of thought”.

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