Wednesday, May 06, 2009

A critique of Nietzscheanism and it's relationship to liberalism

Notice I'm using the word "Nietzscheanism", denoting people who follow Nietzsche rather than solely the man himself. There's been a focus for a long time on the authoritarian criticism of Christian morality that Nietzsche offers, with anti-Christian being defined by folks as being accepting and worshipping power, recognizing inequality, turning your back on love and compassion, dividing people into folks possessing slave morality and those with a higher, a-moral, morality so to speak. While these qualities definitely are anti-Christian there's a curious one sidedness to them, one that stems from Nietzsche's writings themselves but has been thoroughly and totally adopted by these followers. To explain this one sidedness let's look at Rome.

Rome was Christianity's whipping boy, the embodiment of everything bad and unjust that early Christian society perceived existed in the world. The martial, Caeser like, traditions in Rome were condemned but what was also condemned was the hedonism and pleasure seeking of the Roman world. Sex and the like of sex was condemned, as was homosexuality. Traditions of indulgence in the good life, from fine possessions to excessive consumption of fine food were reviled. The book of the Revelations of St. John, commonly known as the Book of Revelations, has a very interesting section where John outlines some of what he sees as being wrong with the world, and he names things like cities where they have gold and silver jewelry, gemstones, and rich material possessions as corrupt and negative. This aspect of pre-Christian Roman paganism is almost never discussed by Nietzsche and hardly ever mentioned by Nietzscheans who talk about power and inequality.

Nietzsche did in fact mention this sort of hedonism in his first book, "The Birth of Tragedy", where he identified it as belonging to the Dionysian archetype as opposed to the more severe Apollonian one, but it exits his work after that, certainly towards the end.

Christianity, then, can be opposed not only by opposing love and compassion but also by opposing the restrictions on pleasure and instinctual fulfillment that has been present in it from the start. Or, alternately, you could oppose Christian ethics by just opposing the restrictions on pleasure....you'd be quite a libertine for doing so. It would be Caligula's pre-Christian pagan ethics as opposed to Caesar's pre-Christian pagan ethics, which brings me to the next subject: Liberalism.

The charge has been thrown out there that liberalism is just Christian ethics without Christianity and that recognizing liberal values as being valid is tantamount to approving of Christian values. But if you look at what proponents of liberalism in the 17th and 18th centuries were actually putting forward, an alternative to that view comes about.

Libertines, present in French and English society, believed that personal liberation and a liberal mindset entailed an acceptance of hedonism and a hedonistic lifestyle. For them, indulging the senses and opposing being a modest, religious, person were two sides of the same coin. Their liberalism challenged the aspects of Christianity that we've already mentioned. In fact Peter Gay subtitled the second volume of his history of the Enlightenment as a whole "The Birth of Modern Paganism" because of the high praise that classical values got from the proponents of Enlightenment liberalism.

So liberalism appears to be potentially anti-Christian. More than potentially, in fact, as liberal values are still a threat to reactionary Christians, as the battles over things like gay marriage and drug legalization prove. The folks that the Christians are opposing aren't the neo-Social Darwinists who have a Nietzschean perspective, they're the liberals who want to pursue their liberty unhassled by their fellow men.

Nietzscheanism is only one attitude towards Christian society, one that can be opposed without yourself falling into the trap of advocating Christian values, in any form.

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