Another thing about Nietzsche’s "Gay Science"

Nietzsche’s writing is “perspectival”. That is, he acknowledges that it doesn’t aim to be objective, indeed that being objective in a positivistic sense is not only impossible, but that attempting it would be to the detriment of humanity.

The problem with Nietzsche’s writing, which I hinted at earlier, is in terms of his lack of recognition of many of the other dimensions of knowledge that we take into account, in the 21st Century. For instance, he sees that power leaves an imprint on those who are its charges. More than that indeed, it gives them form and content. Power, therefore, in terms of Nietzsche’s formulation, has a necessarily benevolent attribute. It may also, for sure, be mean and nasty, and destructive of its charges, rather than simply benevolent. But this is an aspect to power that Nietzsche clearly wishes to de-emphasize. In so doing, he asserts his implicit principle — namely that nobility does not come from those who have been relatively disempowered. It comes only from those who relatively empowered, which — in order to maintain logical consistency — might also be damaging and hostile to those whom they rule over. Such hostility, however, has no legitimate meaning that isn’t given by the powerful ones themselves. According to Nietzsche’s broad psychological schemas, the “weak” tend to give moralistic meanings (if we apply Nietzsche’s perspectives in terms of a broad sweep, which is the manner in which they are given.)

Since Nietzsche is a philosopher who takes it upon himself to address, specifically, the issue of how power expresses itself in the world (Bataille refers to hm as a “philosopher of evil”), one wonders how Nietzsche could have avoided observing that power can sometimes abuse its power – a Nietzschean impossibility. As the paragraph above suggests, a certain sweeping reading of Nietzsche can be logically consistent with the view that Nietzsche certainly did not overlook such issues at all. Rather than accuse this philosopher of ignorance, let us suppose instead that Nietzsche wrote in such a way as to undermine any countervailing “moralistic” theory that might oppose his reductionistic notion that power is the irreducible cause of everything good.

Just as Nietzsche’s philosophy tacitly makes it nonsensical to talk about the “abuse of power”, it is also a feature of Nietzsche’s philosophy to hold that a retired professor of the middle classes (i.e. Nietzsche himself) could nonetheless gain access to power by means of expressing ideas alone. That Nietzsche could barely afford his own heating bills, and had to be subsidized by his mother who sent him a heater, is indicative of the dimensions of power that Nietzsche habitually overlooked. These are material dimensions. Also, in as much as he relied upon his mother and his sister’s charity, Nietzsche would also have had experience of the moral dimensions of human behaviour, which in an obvious sense (to us) maintained his form (if it did not, originally, actually formulate it).

But it is the undermining of the possibility of speaking about an abuse of power, in terms of Nietzsche’s theories, to which I return. As I have noted — if one wants to put an end to moralistic discourse, one can only speak about different contending forces of power, but never about an “abuse” of power, which is self-contradictory, for power alone gives meaning, and only when that product of power, meaning, mistakes itself for “power itself” does there arise the tendency to question power from the point of view of demanding an account of its meaning.

I have drawn a picture of Nietzsche’s paradigm of power and morality, and how they work together, and how Nietzsche wants to deny the latter its metaphysical force in society at large. The problem with all this is that the term, “power” is too narrow, in most people’s minds, as compared to how Nietzsche intended it to be understood.

If we are to imagine that the philosopher was logically consistent, then even “ideas” — that is without their material correlate of money and social status — can be powerful. (In other words, Nietzsche himself, deprived of money or very much social status, could still see himself as powerful, by expressing his ideas.)

It’s the reason that contemporary male Nietzscheans express the attitude, “Women have had it easy for too long, and now we are taking the gloves off.” (This attitude reflects Nietzsche’s aphorism in Gay Science that the Church has been too easy on women, historically, and that they need to learn how males are the boss. In the material sense, however, the Church has never been easy on women. Its misogynistic tendencies are well documented.)

When the contemporary male reader of Nietzsche thinks that Nietzsche wants him to take the gloves off when it comes to punching up women, because Nietzsche wants that, he is actually sneaking in a moralising justification of his own. “Nietzsche wants the strong males to beat up on the weak females in order to impose on society a ‘revaluation of values’.”

When the contemporary male reasons thus, the long legacy of his Christian training towards hating women rises to the surface in him. He is on a crusade.

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