Thursday, December 19, 2013

Democratic nihilism

Note: This is a companion piece to “Transcendent will.”

“Life has, as a matter of fact, always shown itself to be on the side of the most unscrupulous polytropoi.” –Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science

Nietzsche’s doctrine of the will explicitly rejects the validity of checks on individuals’ innate desire for self-realization. “A virtue must be our own invention, our most necessary self-expression and self-defense,” he wrote in The Antichrist. “Whatever is not a condition of our life harms it.” Social conscience obstructs the will. The verity of sin, an indictment of the earthly nature of every person, obstructs the will. According to Nietzsche, man doesn’t need forgiveness for his sins because he has no sins to seek forgiveness for. “There are altogether no moral facts,” he declared in Twilight of the Idols.

In principle, he is echoed by Tom Gualtieri, who maintains moral agency is doing what makes you happy as long as it does no harm to others. Everything else, to quote Gualtieri, is a “cock-and-bull story about why I’m morally superior.” Nietzsche likewise saw moralists as preening and hypocritical, imposing themselves passive-aggressively via an imaginary God:

Reality shows us an enchanting wealth of types, the abundance of a lavish play and change of forms—and some wretched loafer of a moralist comments: “No! Man ought to be different.” He even knows what man should be like, this wretched bigot and prig: he paints himself on the wall and comments, “Ecce homo!” (Behold the man!)

However, a “wealth of types” also extends to sin. Nietzsche tended to conflate sin with passion, “the lowest and the highest desires of life.” Morality is “anti-natural,” “hostile to life,” in effect a castration of desire, the human spirit, and the will to power. Nevertheless, it is suitable for “those who are too weak-willed, too degenerate to be able to impose moderation on themselves.” Here Christianity serves a useful purpose for Nietzsche: Finding complacency in servitude makes life bearable for the weak, undisciplined masses who are destined to be conquered by a race of supermen.

If there were none but an earthly realm from which to draw ultimate conclusions, I would be inclined to agree with Nietzsche on every point. Is not this the observable way of the world? Do not the powerful exert their power, eschewing morality, eschewing truth itself? To quote Thucydides, is not “right, as the world goes, only in question between equals in power, while the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must”?

At least there is order in the hierarchy. On the other hand, a democratic nihilism, in which each man pursues his will, ends one of two ways: anarchy or tyranny. It will either fall apart, faithful to the last day that moral agency includes not harming others, or survive by subduing all to the will of a despot.

“If [Nietzsche] is a mere symptom of a disease, the disease must be very widespread in the modern world.” –Bertrand Russell

Our postmodern psychosis combines two disastrous ideals: the will to power and egalitarianism. By themselves, they are repulsive. The will to power is merciless and inhumane, removing individuals from natural communion with each other, resulting in slavery and genocide. Egalitarianism strips man of his natural rights, forcing him to find meaning in and bond to the collective.

Together, they forge a unique dictatorship—a dictatorship of relativism, to borrow from Pope Benedict XVI. We genuflect at people’s images of themselves (i.e., political and sexual “identities”) that they see fit to immortalize by demanding we sanction them. Thus, in collective nonjudgment, we undermine objective truth, draining the pool of civilization in a race to the depths, devolving to a brutish, chaotic state of nature.

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