Marasmus expanded


There is an occasionally quoted passage even hardened Nietzscheans may find provocative:-

"In any case, even as a restless mole under the soil of a society that
wallows in stupidity, socialism will be able to be something useful and
therapeutic: it delays "peace on earth" and the total mollification of
the democratic herd animal; it forces the Europeans to retain spirit,
namely cunning and cautious care, not to abjure manly and warlike
virtues altogether, and to retain some remnant of spirit, of clarity,
sobriety, and coldness of the spirit- it protects Europe for the time
being from the marasmus femininus that threatens it."

The passage was referenced in Oxford Professor Malcolm Bull's attempted deconstruction job Anti-Nietzsche. He found an original way of rejecting the philosopher. As he writes:-

Even those who consider Nietzsche to have offered an absurd caricature of the socialist project would probably agree that the subhumanisation of man was a repulsive goal. But if we are reading like losers we may think differently. Just as the superhumanisation of man will fill us with terror,
the dehumanisation of man into a herd animal will strike us as offering a welcome respite
from a cruel predator and as opening up new possibilities for subhuman sociality.

In this case the observation that an Oxford professor with a string of books to his name is hardly to be thought of as a loser seems entirely appropriate. Nevertheless my point will naturally be denounced as an ad hominem argument. Not all philosophers would see that as a valid objection. As W M Urban wrote:-

an argumentum ad hominem…in ultimate matters
this is, as Lowes Dickinson says, “the only argument possible
and, indeed, the only one in which anyone much believes.”

On Nietzsche’s understanding, to put yourself at the head of a decadent movement is one obvious bid for power.

My dictionary defines marasmus as a wasting away of the body. A case might be attempted that the feminisation that threatened at the beginning of the twentieth century was delayed by war, and the necessary virtues called into play. Left behind were causes recently taken up by what we have come to call the liberal elite, of which anti-Nietzschean Malcolm Bull is a paid up member. With the destruction of conventional hierarchies, egalitarian doctrine brings opportunities for a ruling class to secure and consolidate its domination.

In the later years of the nineteenth century aggressive feminism was already on the march, a tendency especially noticeable in England. Nietzsche had written to Swedish dramatist August Strindberg asking him about possible translators into different languages. Strindberg replied in a letter dated 7th December 1888:-

"With regard to England I have nothing really to say, for there we have to deal with a puritanical land, delivered into the hands of women - which signifies the same thing as having fallen into a state of absolute decadence.”

Oscar Levy, German editor of the first English edition of Nietzsche’s collected works, while conceding the militancy of English feminism, took a different stance. In The Nietzsche Movement in England, , his introduction to the Index to Complete Works, comparing England with France, which stood for much of the Continent, he writes that in France
“the aristocracy has appropriated the Christian religion to itself in order to fight the revolutionary lower classes, which were strongly, but wrongly, suspected by them of a lack of Christian spirit Wrongly, I say, because they quite forgot that Christianity, in spite of a benignant mask, is in reality a revolutionary religion, and that not the lack of religion, but the very spirit of religion, had driven the French people to cut off the heads of their king and their aristocrats.”

He began his work of translation wit the belief that “England was no doubt the most important country of all to conquer for Nietzschean thought.”

Though France is “a country much more Nietzschean than England” where the women are not yet “in open rebellion”. Nietzsche’s message is less obviously applicable to French conditions.

“French free-thought although certainly of a much more independent nature than what is called free-thought elsewhere, that French free-thought, I say, is not too much to be depended upon when it is supposed to turn in earnest against an old religion. It is on account of these peculiar religious conditions that Nietzschean thought seems more likely to be understood in England than any other country of Europe, for in England, and only in England, can it still be seen that Nietzsche was right in describing Christianity as the religion of the lower classes, while on the Continent his whole attack seems to be without significance, his whole philosophy based upon assumption.”

As for Germany:- “And since the country of our philosopher, as he rightly prophesied himself (see Ecce Homo,), is out of the question on account of its low-church morality, its mental confusion, its indecision in matters of intellect, it became a most urgent necessity to carry conviction to that country which has the most deeply rooted aversion to any convictions — and especially to those pronounced in dictatorial terms — to England.”

Few of us would altogether accept Levy’s take on Nietzsche. For example he spoke favourably of the eugenics movement, only wishing to Nietzscheanise it. Such policies would seem to presuppose an unacceptable level of authoritarian state power. However his remarks on France are undoubtedly perceptive. French Catholicism he says is an old religion with some cultural riches that are not altogether Christian in Nietzsche’s sense.

“It must never be forgotten that Catholicism, unlike Protestantism, has really entered into the hearts of its believers; that the head of a Latin may be as free- thinking and daring as possible, but that his heart will shrink nevertheless from drawing the final conclusions of his intellectual persuasion. Catholicism, besides, is an admirable system, thought out by real connoisseurs of human nature; it is well adapted to the requirements of Southerners, and it has not yet quite led to those intolerable conditions which Nietzsche so constantly attacks in his works. There is still a remnant of patriarchalism left in Latin countries; the family is not yet totally undermined; nor woman in open rebellion; nor the authority of the father quite abolished; nor are the children imbued with the in- flexible conviction that " they must live their own lives at all cost!" And, as patriarchalism in domestic and business life has not yet quite disappeared in these countries.”

Even in our post-Christian era it is noticeable that many French interpretations do not take their Nietzsche neat. This applies to the left as much as the right The Nietzsche of Deleuze, Foucault and Derrida may have many points of interest but it is not authentically Nietzsche; take Deleuze with his active and reactive forces, Foucault on the fascism in your mind, Derrida with his rejection of truth, let alone the perspectives of some of the communist minded French feminists, such as Luce Irigaray. Much modern Nietzsche scholarship relies on French takes on Nietzsche, many of which could be characterised as misinterpretations and distortions. Levy gives a good explanation for this phenomenon in his own day, largely to do with the effect of the French Revolution and the hold of Catholicism.

Arguing for Nietzsche is not just about Nietzsche versus the outside world, the same battle goes on within Nietzsche studies themselves. Among those who claim to be influenced by Nietzsche him, there are many who obstinately refuse to take some apparently essential aspect of his thought seriously.

Despite his hopes for England, Levy writes:- “That in matters of the intellect England is a real brick wall there is not the slightest doubt”. This, too may often still seem to be the case. Some British philosophers’ attempts to make sense of Nietzsche can seem, if not so dishonest as the French, nevertheless obtuse and evasive. Some analytical historians of philosophy ignore him completely, and when they don’t they show a limited understanding. Scruton, for example, in one of his books treats him primarily as a complete relativist who denies truth, and easily refutes that straw man. Where Nietzsche is taken seriously the efforts to make sense of him often come across as unnecessarily pedantic. Richardson invokes Quine’s dissolution of the analytic/synthetic distinction to resolve supposed difficulties with the will to power so putting him in a context which defangs him.

On a popular level Chesterton’s breezy smugness had some currency as it still does today:-

Nietzsche was a great epigrammatist, and as such deserves praise and perusal. But to compare him to Carlyle or Dickens is like comparing a Chinese pyrotechnist to a Greek sculptor or a Venetian painter.

Some of Levy’s hopes for England were crushed by the First World War. Thomas Hardy, who was a Schopenhauerian pessimist, deplored Nietzsche for his life affirmation and repudiation of compassion. When brought a reaction against all things German, and Hardy’s views got a wider hearing. The whole intellectual climate changed. The celebrated satire on English school history, Sellars and Yeatman’s 1066 and All That, ends with the sentence:- America was now top nation and history came to a . The war changed the whole intellectual climate, and some urgent themes went on the back burner.

Did Nietzsche foresee the First World War and its effects? For all his perspicacity that seems unlikely. Nevertheless his prophecies were accurate to the extent that there was some interruption to the feminist movement as communism, fascism, and the resistance to those revolutionary ideologies captured the attention of western man. Unfortunately in English speaking countries there was also an interruption in interest in his own work.

What in the lives of recent generations might have won Nietzsche’s approval? For that of my parents, war meant that some stereotypical, often philistine, masculine virtues were called to the fore. Surely that was not hardly what Nietzsche had in mind, even if we disregard all the wreckage world war brought about?

Nietzsche continued to have his admirers post war, especially in artistic circles. Even after the Second World War there were bohemian rebels who revered him in America. There was the beat generation which went on to influence the hippies. Among these groups feminism would take some time to catch on.
People apply Nietzsche to modern circumstances to radically different ends. For those in the elite, the world takes on a benign aspect. Some interpret the great yea-sayer, as always on the side of power. This is hardly tenable given his expressed distaste for some projected futures. On the other hand, identifying him with a lot of old lost causes could rule everything he says out of court. This could include his antifeminism.

Might a form of Nietzscheanism be compatible with political correctness? Political correctness is promoted by a privileged group, the so called liberal elite, and worked to secure its power and authority. On Nietzschean principles they could be compared to the Catholic hierarchy in renaissance Italy, using a slave ideology to promote feelings of guilt in which they do not themselves necessarily believe. A declared fascist like the late Jonathan Bowden, who counted himself a Nietzschean , spoke on behalf of those expected to be weakened by this ideology through shame and guilt. Those who feel themselves as the powerful and privileged may have different perspectives. Note that in places Nietzsche expressed sympathy for the Catholic hierarchy, even against the superior honesty of Protestantism.

Clearly Nietzsche is against egalitarianism as a moral demand. To regard him as against democracy, especially applied to our own circumstances, is an oversimplification. He was not a revolutionary, and democratic institutions currently provide the framework for political and other ambitions. Their existence is not the live, sometimes contentious issue it was in his day, when different sides may reasonably have been taken. Modern feminism is a different matter. It is more than just a framework, though it may be treated as that to an extent. It involves truth clams and moral imperatives one should be reluctant to concede.

Where the philosophical conclusions of mediaeval and renaissance philosophers like Ockham and Pomponazzi led them away from faith there was a way of salvaging them. Philosophy need not interfere with orthodox dogma. It’s the same today. The objection to peace on earth involves an old issue that goes right back to the ancient Greeks and can be treated fairly abstractly.

Ockham, reputedly the finest logician of the middle ages wrote:-

“I consider it to be dangerous and temerarious to force anyone to fetter his mind and to believe something which his reason dictates to him to be false, unless it can be drawn from holy scripture or from a determination of the Roman Church or from the words of approved doctors”.

Later, Pomponazzi, herald of the Renaissance, and close student of Aristotle, wrote a book on the immortality of the soul, in which he argues against Aquinas that reason shows the soul to be mortal. Nevertheless the scriptures reveal that God has made the soul immortal so, he says, he follows that.

Rather than scripture and the Church, moderns are confronted with the moral imperative for certain versions of equality. In few countries is this imperative more explicit than in Sweden, a nation idolised by the left and demonised by much of the right, though this may be about to change. In modern conditions Sweden has provided a more congenial model for leftist idealism than the old Soviet Union, which it replaced. For many on the right, it is a country completely dedicated to the ideal of the last man and the marasmus femininus, which Nietzsche presents as his own antithesis. Most Swedes do not describe themselves that way, and may regard themselves the moral leaders of mankind, proud of having elected the world’s first feminist government.

Some Nietzscheans say Nietzsche’s case is trivialised when he is turned into a humanist, which could make him compatible with egalitarianism and even align him with people like Trotsky. Others will say there is no better way to trivialise him than to use him to attack Swedish feminists. In the modern culture wars Nietzsche bestrides an irreconcilable division between right and left. Since the nineteen seventies, official Swedish culture has frequently been characterised as a form of totalitarianism . The right’s loathing for political correctness, contrasts with the idea of a leftist utopia, whose people are the happiest in the world. Nietzsche dismisses this last consideration.

“Whether it is hedonism, pessimism, utilitarianism, or eudaemonism - all these ways of thinking which measure the value of things according to pleasure and pain, i.e. according to subsidiary circumstances and secondary considerations, are superficial ways of thinking.”

On his view, whether or not you favour some model of a reformed society never depends on abstract calculations about human happiness discoverable by empirical research, but rather on how it answers to your present emotions and desires. What he identifies in the egalitarian movement is not the generous impulse seemingly conceded by De Tocqueville , but envy and resentment. The right hate conformism of thought; the left condemn the selfishness of the right. The former argue that the loss of freedom, involved in mental conformism can only be favoured for the satisfaction it offers to feelings of revenge.

Only the most blinkered socialist idealist could seriously maintain that that Nietzsche caricatures socialism. He was well informed about what that movement meant in his own times Some of his observations remain pertinent.

Socialism is merely an agitatory measure of individualism : it recognises the fact that in order to attain to something, men must organise themselves into a general movement — into a "power." But what the Socialist requires is not society as the object of the individual, but society as a means of making many individuals possible : this is the instinct of Socialists, though they frequently deceive themselves on this point (apart from this, however, in order to make their kind prevail, they are compelled to deceive others to an enormous . extent). Altruistic moral preaching thus enters into the service of individual egoism, — one of the most common frauds of the nineteenth century.

In the passage I quoted at the beginning, Nietzsche floats the suggestion that socialism, either being fought for or resisted, can throw up challenging ideas, helping to promote clear thinking and healthy conflict. He does not believe socialism as he understood it could win, but apparently fears feminism could wreak a lot of harm. With the modern principle of gender equality the content of creative ideas is downplayed in favour of the right to equal respect of those who produce them. The demands of the producer take precedence over the meaning of what is produced, which is treated as fluid.
For an idea of what Nietzsche might mean by marasmus femininus I quote from an article in the London Evening Standard 4th July 2017.

Maria Jane Balshaw CBE (born 24 January 1970) is director of the Tate art museums and galleries. The appointment was confirmed by the UK Prime Minister on 16 January 2017, making her the first female director of the Tate.

She said in a speech:-

"We are all sharply aware of Tate’s historical gender bias. But since 2000, and with increasing momentum, most recently led by my colleague Frances Morris, director of Tate Modern, much more has been done to reconnect our audiences with significant — but overlooked or forgotten — work by women and by artists whose race, ethnicity or geographical location meant they had been denied national and international recognition.

The individuals Frances has championed — Louise Bourgeois, Georgia O’Keeffe, Mona Hatoum, Phyllida Barlow, Ana Lupas and Magdalena Abakanowicz — are all great artists.

We should get to the point when we don’t even have to mention that they’re women. Although I believe this to be a “golden moment” for gender equality in the arts in the UK, more needs to be done to achieve real parity. Because this is about representing the world we’re all in — that is, an equal balance of men and women."

Tate Britain is the gallery for all British painting from the sixteenth century till the present. This woman is in charge of it and aims to transform the collection with the latest trendy idea, which happens to be gender equality.

The late art critic Brian Sewell was convinced there have been no great women artists. Without going so far as Salvador Dali, who insisted that to be a great artist it is essential to possess balls, we may say that if Sewell was right the new director of the Tate is out systematically to debauch taste. Personally I'm happy to give up on Tate Modern, but Tate Britain has long been one of my favourite places in London. I fear it will be so no longer.

As for what is going on in Tate Modern, here is what Sewell said about Louise Bourgeois, extolled by Balshaw as one of her greats:-

Wielding Occam's Razor to this menacing old crone, I see her as inventing memories to justify her imagery and inventing images to justify false meaning - six of one and half-a-dozen of the other. Her work is enthusiastically exhibited only because she is, or pretends to be, a woman who hates men. This is political correctitude gone mad: the work of any male sculptor who did with female genitals what she has done with the penis would never see the light of day and, regarded as a psychopathic danger to society, nor would he.

If you admire surrealism, you are now expected to honour Bourgeois as up there with Dali, Ernst, Magritte and the others. Given the motive behind it, can any professing Nietzschean go along with this revisionism? Undoubtedly many will, even though Nietzsche reserved his deepest scorn for the idea of equal rights. As he writes in The Antichrist:-

Injustice never lies in unequal rights, it lies in the claim to ‘equal’ rights…

With the principle of fair distribution, seriousness goes out of ideas. What your little sister thinks claims as much validity as your own hard earned discoveries. Any of Nietzsche ideas might be corrected by the objections of Elisabeth or those of Lou whom he misguidedly tried to recruit as his Muse. This is heralded as freedom and equality. Could Nietzsche be susceptible to the relentless feminist rhetoric that is employed in its defence? Can we hope to discriminate between what is essential and what is inessential in him, what is mere emotion that may be disregarded, and what argument, or at least a clearly delineated point of view that needs to be acknowledged?

Even today Zoroastrianism is sometimes invoked to attack many of the premises of Greek philosophy from the oriental, originally Iranian perspective of revealed religion, out of which proceeded Judaism, Christianity and Islam, as well as some less known faiths. Such considerations were apparently in Nietzsche’s mind when he selected the Zarathustra figure for his mouthpiece.

Enthusiasts for Zoroastrianism sometimes share a morally inspired dislike for mysticism. Zoroastrianism looks forward to a state of individual and social perfection, a reign of human brotherhood. Despite some tendencies in Plato, the authentic Greek spirit as Nietzsche understood it, was viscerally opposed. One powerful symbol is Alexander burning down the palace of Persepolis in a drunken revel.

In Ecce Homo Nietzsche explained why he chose Zarathustra:-

Zarathustra created this most calamitous error, morality, consequently, he must also be the first to recognize it…. The self-overcoming of morality, out of truthfulness; the self-overcoming of the moralist, into his opposite-into me-that is what the name of Zarathustra means in my mouth.

When Heraclitus famously deplored the hope for strife to cease among gods and men he expressed much, though not all, of what Nietzsche was getting at. For Nietzsche, conflict is not only what sustains the universe, it is the key to a true understanding of any possibility of human happiness. As peace on earth is equivalent to cultural death, human brotherhood, as well perhaps as peace between the sexes, is a formula for tyrannous oppression. As he writes:- “What is happiness? The feeling that power is increasing—that resistance has been overcome.”

Years ago in a second hand bookshop I came across a book with an intriguing title, Zoroaster’s Influence on Greek Thought. I didn’t finish reading it at the time, but have done so earlier last year. I had no idea about the author, Ruhi Afnan, till I googled him and discovered he was a grandson of the Bahullah, the martyred Persian founder of the Bahai religion. I had assumed he must have been either a Parsee (Zoroastrian) or a Muslim. Bahaism which still has followers all over the world teaches the unity of humanity including the equality of the sexes. As I read it the book has some interest because it goes to the heart of an old dispute between east and west, attacking many of the premises of Greek philosophy from the oriental, originally Iranian perspective of revealed religion, from which were to proceed Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Such considerations were presumably in Nietzsche’s mind when he picked Zarathustra to set right his old errors.

The ideal state to which Zoroastrianism aspired was a rational order like socialism, or Swedish social democracy. It may be not without significance that in the early sixth century AD Zoroastrianism begat an outright communist movement founded by the prophet Mazdak, which had some success before it was crushed.

For his interpretation of Zoroastrianism Afnan draws on Robert Charles Zaehner (1913 - 1974), a British scholar of Eastern religions. Zaehner had a diplomatic as well as an academic career, and took part in secret service operations to undermine the democratically elected Iranian prime minister Mossadegh in the early 1950s. Zaehner’s reputation rests mainly on his studies of Zoroastrianism, including his Dawn and Twilight of Zoroastrianism. (London 1961). His history has been criticised for eccentricities like discounting the whole Parthian period as not Zoroastrian.

Zaehner was also a writer on mysticism, who attacked the idea of the mystical unity of all religions. In his Mysticism Sacred and Profane (Oxford 1957) he tries to uphold a “distinction between monism on the one hand and theistic mysticism on the other”. He thus sets himself firmly against Aldous Huxley's concept of the Perennial Philosophy. His experience of psychedelic drugs was very unpleasant, which did not stop him claiming that it had given him deep insight into assertions about mystical reality. He argued against the oriental inspired monism he saw as leading logically to the excesses not only of Aleister Crowley and Timothy Leary, but ultimately to those of Charles Manson. On this he follows Ed Sanders book The Family with its melodramatic philosophical take on the Manson murders.

He is very hostile to mystically inspired asceticism. In Our Savage God (London 1974) he writes:-

“The whole ascetic tradition, whether it be Buddhist, Platonist Manichaean, Christian or Islamic, springs from that most polluted of all sources, the Satanic sin of pride, the desire to be ‘like gods”.

We will naturally be reminded of Nietzsche’s Zarathustra here. If there were gods, how could I bear not to be a god? Therefore , there are no gods.

For Schopenhauer asceticism is a move towards liberating ourselves from the pressure towards frustration of desire. Even for Nietzsche it is not just a mistake. Nietzsche has passed through Schopenhauer. As one early commentator wrote “No longer is there to be pessimism and optimism; pessimism is only the whip for shallow optimists.” (Mugge)

Zaehner writes contemptuously:-

“There is indeed a sharp division between those religions whose characteristic form of religious experience is prayer and adoration of Pascal’s God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob on the one hand, and religions in which sitting postures designed to find the God within you are thought to be the most appropriate ways of approaching the deity.”

Such an attack may be taken as extending to the Greeks and Nietzsche himself. Nietzsche’s vision is undermined and demeaned when interpreted essentially as a selfish and reprehensible desire to get his own way. For many of his admirers the will to power interpretation means enlightenment, and draws on the language of demonstrable fact. Against it there is still a huge body of feeling, superstition, inertia, ignorance, and resentment fully capable of articulate expression.

Zaehner and Afnan’s pro-Abrahamic, Persian inspired attacks on mysticism, may easily strike us as socialist in nature. Instead of pursuing your own enlightenment you are to commit yourself to a consensus about the whole good of humanity. Insofar as Greece did not buy this, it was exemplified by Heraclitus rejecting the desire for strife to cease among gods and men.

Having read the whole of Afnan’s book I found scarcely anything about Zoroaster’s influence on the Greeks and much about his difference from them. For Afnan Plato means asceticism and regimentation. Against this he says Zoroaster stands for the expression of individuality and personality. Yet these are to be dedicated to the service of a predetermined idea of what is good. To Nietzsche, as to an ancient Athenian, that would be slavishness. Life is affirmed, but subject to a condition. The contradiction is overcome by this essentially arbitrary idea of morality.

All Afnan has is the dogmatic idea of divine revelation and a universal divinely ordained plan for mankind as a remedy for the weaknesses he claims to find in Plato. It is easy to attack Plato’s totalitarian republic. Afnan condemns it as socialist, but he sounds no less socialist himself. His book fails to live up to its title, being mostly an exposition of Plato and how his philosophy conflicts with the simple message that is supposed to resolve the contradictions found in him. Bahaism is not mentioned often. He advocates opinions dogmatically held, as if that is all that is necessary for salvation. Afnan follows Zaehner in his interpretation of Zoroastrianism.

For Nietzsche, any moral demand is someone’s will to power. Submitting to someone else’s against natural inclination would mean compromise and seem to demand some form of compensation. Those in the liberal elite may be consoled for the suppression of some desire by the promise of status and authority. This solution will obviously not be available to everyone.

All the things these Zoroaster inspired critics say the Greeks were lacking are for Nietzsche forms of corruption that should be avoided. Man is not ruled by a divine plan or by ethical imperatives that mimic it. The moral imperatives we are now asked to obey are divine commands without divine authority. Nietzsche did not regard Stoicism an objection. For him Stoicism is not authentically Greek. He writes that:-

Stoicism,… is essentially the work of Semites (“dignity” is regarded as severity, law; virtue is held to be greatness, self responsibility, greatest sovereignty over oneself – this is Semitic. The Stoic is an Arabian sheikh wrapped in Greek togas and notions.

As for Kant, what compensation does he offer for the renunciation of desire demanded by his ethics? There has been a plausible suggestion that Kant suffered from severe sexual frustration, which led him to renounce happiness for the pride of virtue and so called freedom. For Nietzsche, and even Schopenhauer, this pride was rooted in metaphysical fantasy.

It cannot be argued that the classical Greeks had any understanding of Zoroastrianism or that they saw the war against Persia as a clash of ideologies. It was in later eras that the ideological conflict began to play out, with Jewish and Christian attacks on pagan culture.

The philosopher Xenophanes knew Ionia before the Persian conquest, which he blamed largely on the decadence of the Greek population. In a poem he wrote:-

And they learned dainty, useless Lydian ways
While they were still from hated tyrants free.
In robes all scarlet to the assembly went
A thousand men, no less: vainglorious,
Preening themselves on their fair flowing locks,
Dripping with scent of artificial oils.

If this is moral censure, yet it was obviously not what Nietzsche had in mind when he attacked morality . He did not mean to denounce the simple rules that help us in our passage through life.

Implicitly against peace on earth is Aeschylus’ drama The Persians. The new order threatened by invasion is the expression of human will and it is to be resisted by will. It is clear what side Nietzsche is on. For some of those on the other, the Persian Empire represents the completely rational order.

Nietzsche’s attack on morality may itself be exploited by people who themselves desire a utopian form of universal peace. They too may claim to be oppressed by morality, which is how they describe the norms they disagree with, looking forward to a Dionysian revolutionary fest of collective enthusiasm. We may imagine Nietzsche’s response. Firstly he would not be sympathetic. Secondly, as with socialism, he would not expect it to work. Without morality the revolutionaries would be outnumbered.

Some commentators, like Steven E Ascheim in The Nietzsche Legacy in Germany 1890 – 1990 (Berkekey 1992), distinguish between will to power and Dionysian Nietzscheans. The Dionysian seeks ecstasy through the breaking of rules. This latter lends itself to the misinterpretation Levy identifies with the French. Where Nietzsche is not understood as directed against the Christian inspired morality of the lower classes, instead he is used as a springboard for all sorts of ideas, including the egalitarian enthusiasms of the French Revolution.

Commonly, for the liberal elite, moral values like equality are treated simply as background presuppositions. Typically a ruling class does not think of its values as open to argument.

Wherever authority still forms part of good bearing, where one does not give reasons but commands, the logician is a kind of buffoon: one laughs at him, one does not take him seriously.

Of course this applies to Nietzsche himself and his own logical arguments. Established authority dismisses him, and even makes silly jokes about his ideas.

These days the virtue of democracy may be unquestioned. The reservations of De Tocqueville, for example, are not to be engaged with, only to be understood as an influence on right wing opinion to be resisted.

Feminist enlightenment presages a new gulf between the sexes. Boys and girls are taught differently what life is about. As Max Nordau pointed out in the 1890s, such a programme is implicit, if with reservations, in much of Ibsen’s radical message. For Nordau Ibsen was a masochist, whose true affinities were with the novelist Leopold von Sacher Masoch. It may well look as if, in the new order, for males there is to be guilt and moral restraint, and for females egoism, indulgence and pride. While some suffering and frustration is wept over much other is blithely disregarded. There is an arbitrary quality to the ruling moral principle. Well within living memory very different ones have been upheld by undeniably intelligent people. Yet the way things are going there may be no holding off the marasmus. So is there any hope of moving beyond that once it has arrived? We don’t need to think that far. In divine command we were offered an alternative to the explicit will and desire that pervaded Greek culture. There is no necessity to believe in or accept this, and the same goes for Kantian ethics with its bogus assumption of metaphysical superiority. Any moral demand is the expression of someone’s will to power. At its worst it may be experienced as moralic acid.

Nietzsche deserves better than to be treated simply as reactionary who presents no challenge to any of our presuppositions. We should not see him as a source just to be mined for weapons, but as Ockham and Pomponazzi saw Aristotle, someone who has a compelling argument, even if for extraneous reasons we are unable to accept it. The argument is to do with the possibility of resistance to a constraining moral order, in our case the demand for equality. This may be too much for many to swallow, but it is a position he clearly outlines.

Historically philosophers have quite often been guided by extraneous motives that have little to do with conviction. There is a story about Imam Razi, a distinguished Sunni philosopher active in Iran at the beginning of the thirteenth century. He used to attack the intellectual pretensions of the Assassins, saying they were unqualified. A messenger came from the Old Man of the Mountains, offering the choice between a swift death by dagger or an annual pension of a thousand gold pieces. Soon afterwards a colleague asked why he had stopped criticising the Assassins. Glancing nervously around Razi whispered, “Because their arguments are so sharp… and pointed.”

Though I have not so far argued we can or should move away from modern feminism, the question naturally arises as to how we might do so if we wanted. Solzhenitsyn, when asked why he had not been more explicitly critical of communism in the books that followed Ivan Denisovitch, explained from experience how when you want to jump off a moving train you must do so in the direction in which the train is moving. Feminism will not be easy to abandon. However if we could eventually managed to jump so clear that the moral pressure towards equality were no longer an issue, where might we find ourselves?

To condense the words of Lao Tsu in the Tao te Ching;- Do away with righteousness and the people will benefit a hundredfold.

Without the moral imperative for equality how else might we understand our own civilisation? For Nietzsche, as for Heraclitus, it would be much to do with conflict. This concerns women as much as men. For one view of the inner meaning of our modern, western Protestant civilisation as distinct from some other models, we may speculate on what our womenfolk actually want, measured by what they find most attractive. Traditionally the most attractive man is the anarchic or aristocratic rebel, the Byron figure. This is not conformity to a socially acceptable pattern; it is intensely individualistic, sometimes to the point of being criminal. Taking the inner meaning of our civilisation as conflict, men embody this, just by all disagreeing with each other, but it is women who affirm it, even when for self protection they seek stability and conformity. Yet the anti-Greek tradition lives on. An ideal of conformity, and an alternative to the conflict model, is presented by the oriental religion of Islam, where an ideal of manhood is ever present in the image of the Prophet, against whom you do not rebel. Our own Jesus is far too soft to fill this role.

Modern feminism emerged out of the convention breaking sixties. The youth movement was rooted in individualistic rebellion, and attempts to politicise it were widely seen as a betrayal. Among many baby boomer women who in youth were hippies, the egoistic principles developed seamlessly into feminism. One might want to characterise such a movement as essentially an agitatory measure of egoism, yet for those for whom it is uncongenial it is inseparable from hectoring moral coercion. This is the point where Nietzsche takes issue.

With footnotes:-

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License