Will to Power
Will to power is the cornerstone of Nietzsche’s thought. It is not a metaphysical thesis nor an empirical generalisation but a universal perspective which aims to reveal incontrovertible facts which opposing perspectives conceal or deny. The motive for his thought could be traced to resentment of ideas disliked and that stand in the path of his own ambition. What are to him demoralising ideas are decisively discredited.
As a result of their different perspectives, their conflicting desires, ambitions, and the different ideas in their heads, different people assert very different things. Nietzsche's own perspective he calls will
to power. This perspective insists upon recognising the suppression of alternative possibilities that is involved in any change or assertion, and sees different viewpoints as striving with each other for mastery. Crucially, there are some perspectives with which this demonstrably conflicts. Insofar as Nietzsche can convict these of untruth, or falsification, his own perspective is vindicated.
Chapter 1 - Persuasion in Hitler, Wagner and Nietzsche
Far from being a proto-Nazi, it can be argued that Nietzsche was the opposite of one. Ideas that appear to have influenced the Nazis are to be found in the work of his one time friend and hero Wagner. In distancing himself from Wagner Nietzsche came to count himself his antipodes. Wagner’s artistic achievement was a standard and a spur for Nietzsche’s own ambition. He felt he could himself produce a vision as powerful and exciting as Wagner’s. Resisting what he says is Wagner’s tyranny, he needed to make his own individual dissidence authoritative. In rejecting what he sees as Wagner’s seduction, deception and tyranny he required a hard intellectual discovery to underpin his attitudes, as distinct from just persuasive rhetoric. This he considered he had found with the will to power theory.
appendix - Notes on Wagner and Philosophy by Bryan Magee
I find confirmation of my interpretation in this book by a Wagnerite and Schopenhauerian.
Chapter 2 - Degeneration, Nordau and Nietzsche
In his book Degeneration Max Nordau produced an extreme version of what was to become a common way of dismissing Nietzsche. Nietzsche’s ideas are traced to psychological disorder, including sadism, with the implication they can therefore be disregarded. I argue that the nature of his claim makes its psychological origins irrelevant when it comes to judging the value of his achievement. Furthermore Nietzsche’s arguments undermine conventional assumptions like Nordau’s, which all come across as questionable, unsubstantiated dogmas.
Chapter 3 - Nietzsche contra psychoanalysis
There are crucial differences between Nietzsche and Freud. Freud’s idea of the danger of the instincts is not shared by Nietzsche. By Nietzsche’s standard of health, happiness and instinct need not be in conflict. Freud offers a path to happiness focussing on memories of infantile sexuality, selfish but deeply uncompetitive, even solipsistic in tendency. The effectiveness of the promise also depends upon believing in it. Nietzsche's own interest was focused not upon direct speculations about happiness and how to achieve it, but upon the threat faced to the individual from demoralising ideas. This sets him against the pessimism of Freud's view. His overcoming of those ideas was his will to power theory.
I describe an attack on Nietzsche as delivered by a modern Freudian. Bypassing Nietzsche’s arguments, this offers a rationale for political correctness, for fearing and censoring out his insights and ideas. I look at the motives of the author from Nietzsche’s point of view, and turn much of his argument on himself.
Chapter 4 - Nietzsche's Anti-Darwin
The theory of universal will to power involves a perspective of radical egoism. Even knowledge itself is to be conceived as a product of the selfish will.
In his response to Darwin Nietzsche was mostly concerned with clarifying and communicating his own doctrine of the will to power. Evolutionary science overlooked what to him was the all important and unmistakeable fact he called the ‘revolting truth’, the observation that throughout nature individual strength is regularly overcome by the collective power of the individually weak. Much of the value of Darwin as an opponent is due to what he shares with him, including the egoism and atheism. When enlightened by knowledge of the revolting truth, egoism has radically different practical implications from what it has in Darwin and his followers.
appendix - The Descent of Man
Looking at this book rather than the Origin of Species we see that many of Nietzsche’s criticisms gain more obvious plausibility.
Chapter 5 - Nietzsche's Socrates, the Origins of Philosophy in Envy and Resentment
Here I deal with Nietzsche’s ambivalent relation to Socrates, which gives the clue to his own conception of philosophy, which is clarified by contrast with what he sees as Socrates’ limitations. Like Nietzsche, Socrates opposed the decadence of his own society, measured by the dominance of demoralising ideas. Socrates’ cure for decadence was too dependent upon his own personal solution for the disorderly desire he found within himself. Here again, given the different nature of his ideas, Nietzsche’s own personality was not an issue, however personally decadent we take him to be.
Nietzsche’s own motive in philosophy was as combative and aggressive as Socrates’. His challenge to received opinion was rooted directly in his own self assertion and ambition.
Chapter 6 - God Unpicked
The origins of the concept of God are traced to certain tendencies in Plato. Like Wagner, Plato is conceived as a spiritual tyrant. I explain Nietzsche’s reservations about Plato and his dogmatising. His objections are balanced by his admiration, and he by no means intends to undo all that Plato achieved.
Dogmatising interpretations of Nietzsche’s own philosophy are open to the same objections that he levels against Plato. Nor should Nietzsche’s own philosophy be taken as springing from motives of philanthropy. Nietzsche’s thought relates to the good for him. Its demand on other people is not necessarily that it is the good for them, its authority is based on other factors. Rooted in his perspective of individual dissidence, he aims to emancipate individual strength against the collective pressure to conform.
Chapter 7 - Nietzsche and the Postmodernists
Here I argue against postmodernist interpretations largely inspired by the idea that Nietzsche rejected the idea of truth. The consequences of such a view often turn out as the reverse of what Nietzsche meant, and are used in support of ideas and tendencies to which he was fundamentally hostile. Also some ingenious but far fetched principles are invoked to make sense of a Nietzsche detached from the discipline of facts.
Nietzsche’s central thesis depends upon catching out his opponents in falsification. Resisting demoralising ideas is a question of avoiding tyrannising and emphasising the ordinary truths that are revealed by the will to power perspective. Politics and culture shall continue to be determined as they are at present, by a battle of wills. We have our objectives and others have theirs, we struggle against each other. The only difference is that certain weapons in common use are to be decommissioned.
Chapter 8 - Spengler’s Nietzsche
There is a strong current of laisser-aller once slave morality has been disabled. We entertain what thoughts we like in the confidence they never need lead us where we do not want to go.
Some attacks on Spengler are implicitly attacks on Nietzsche. Oswald Spengler claimed to be developing Nietzsche’s thought. Though we need not accept this, much of what he had to say can made compatible with a liberal and humane, what I would say is an accurate, interpretation of Nietzsche. Spengler offers an interesting example of unrestrained creative thinking.
Chapter 9 - Peoples and Fatherlands
On a similar theme, in this chapter I argue that Nietzsche’s remarks on national characters in Beyond Good and Evil are not to be taken too seriously, that they are to be read esoterically, following clear hints he gives himself. Even lazy prejudices can lead to creative thinking when balanced against each other.
The ingredients that go up to make the good European do not require training in some new mode of thought. Rather they are a lot of old prejudices, often lazy and self indulgent thoughts. It is part of his thesis that these need not be harmful. Disorder is prevented simply by exposing the lies and falsifications in which received opinions are often implicated. Conflicting motives will balance and cancel each other, much as they do already, but without the distorting effect of slave morality. He is far from intending each of his perspectives to override all others.
Chapter 10 - Master Morality and Ugly Truths
Concentrating particularly on the first essay of the Genealogy of Morals I show that Nietzsche rejected neither truth or morality, despite some seeming indications to the contrary. I argue that he was far from a moral nihilist, and that what he meant by transvaluation was just the refutation of what he called ‘slave morality’, which would leave ‘master morality’ intact, and that this was what he recommended. I argue against the widespread contention that Nietzsche aims to guide us more closely than that, and conclude that his high philosophical ambitions were nevertheless fully realised.
This interpretation makes the best sense of Nietzsche. Alternative, incompatible interpretations compromise the coherence of his thought and make the ambitious nature of his claims hard to credit.