There's been an e-mail circulating around the web promoting Autonomedia's book "Nietzsche and the Anarchists", which is probably a really good book. Unfortunately, along with the goodness there seems to be a sort of willingness to overlook the real contributions that Nietzschean philosophy made to the growth of fascism.
And this brings us to the question of what do I mean when I say 'society'? This blog used to be subtitled "Against the capitalism, the state, and society". A gentleman who I jousted with once has recently made a comment about 'society', so this makes a good opportunity to expand on the concept a little bit.
"Against Society". That comes from Nietzschean influenced ultra-left theorists like Jacques Camatte, author of 'The world we must leave' and other writings. Also people like the perpetual favorite of the feds, Mr. John Zerzan, as well as some others. Well, all these guys who talk about the concept of 'society' and being against it, at least from a leftist perspective, really are 1) against bourgeois society, and 2) are suggesting looking at non-western societies for examples of how a real, healthy, functioning society could look like. So they aren't abstractly against the concept of 'society' in general, just the dominant society which we live in. Zerzan likes tribes living in remote parts of Africa and, I suppose, the Americas, who have little in the way of organized hierarchical social structure but who nevertheless have a high quality of life and much free time. Camatte may be a little more flexable than that.
Other people who have done the same thing include Maurice Godelier, fabulous French Anthropologist, who wrote the now out of print "Rationality and Irrationality in Economics", where he made the same sort of argument against bourgeois society, pictured in this case through bourgeois economic thought; then he did years of field work with a society in Indonesia which was more structured than Zerzan would like and
came back with an analysis of how they looked at the world and organized their lives differently from us, in a way which, in all probability, he sees as being much better. The current of thought which this is all part of overlaps heavily with the Third World Marxist current, as in "Communism with African characteristics" or "Communism with Asian characteristics", etc...
So society in general, as in an organized group of people living and working together for common benefit and living a common existence, isn't what I'm against.
But, ok, and this is how it gets back to the Nietzsche, there's a common misperception that that in fact is what people who use rhetoric like that mean, meaning that they'd be against any society anywhere no matter what it looked like because they're just cranky little buggers.
Fair enough, because there are people out there like that, including many who would call themselves anarchists inspired by Nietzsche, but even Nietzsche himself wasn't really saying that.
People out here in the U.S. of A. forget that Nietzsche was writing within a specific historical moment, and that his criticisms of society weren't happening in a vacuum. Specifically, Nietzsche really hated middle class life. He hated the rising bourgeois world around him, thought that it was producing blowhards and idiots masquerading as being important and knowledgable when really they weren't, etc....but reading Nietzsche with the knowledge that he was writing this in 19th century Germany, in fact in the later years of the 19th century, puts a whole different spin on it.
Because in Germany at that time the middle class was not dominant, it was just a rising interest group. You had many people who believed like Nietzsche did, and most of them were upper class aristocrats who wanted to get rid of bourgeois society by pushing back the clock. This was who Nietzsche was allying himself with when he spoke out against society.
In particular, his later writings, which combine his usual contempt for the middle class world with a high amount of praise for modernity and technology, could easily be seen as being an endorsement of the Prussian government's policies, which aimed at undercutting socialism by combining social programs and modernization with a continued dominance of social and governmental life by the aristocracy.
The point was to defeat both socialism and capitalism by evolving a way to a modern economy which kept the traditional social relationships intact.
After the Prussian Empire was defeated in World War I and dismantled, along with the Austro-Hungarian Empire, thereby destroying any credible hope for an alternative to Republican government by conservatives, you have a phenomenon known as fascism start to occur.
The first people in Germany who were identified publicly with fascism were people who still stuck to the idea of an revived Prussian empire, somehow, people like Ernst Junger. But without that traditional lodestone of Prussian society in place they started to farther and farther afield to more and more radical and odd ideas, so that it seems to have gone from traditional Prussian aristocratic ideas to Germanic Aryan utopias pretty quickly.
They wanted a national revolution which would have social characteristics, with the national being the thing placed first, because they felt that their nationality was being undercut by foreign ideas and forms of government.
The socialists, on the other hand, wanted a social revolution first, with maybe a national thing here and there to reflect the particular historical experience and culture of the region.
Sort of like the difference between people who want to put America first, and then maybe do some social security 'ownership society' business which is supposed to help out the working folks, and progressives who want a progressive program but also want to reach out to red stater folks with a message that resonates with real people, no?
It all relates back to Nietzsche and all this stuff somehow....oh yeah...Nietzsche was the prophet of the Prussian way to try to sidestep capitalism which became German Fascism once Prussian society was no more.
Just goes to show you that there's more at stake than just being simply against 'society', because if that's all you're dealing with then both a fascist and a leftist could claim with equal legitimacy that they were against it.