Fragments on Nietzsche, Democracy, and Ethics
When I begin reading a text, I immerse myself in it. As many of my friends and colleagues know, when I start reading a thinker, too, I like I dive all the way in. I purchase or borrow any and all of their books. I push through as much as I can as carefully as I can so that I might understand the constellation of their work, their themes, their thoughts. I’ve had my love affairs with Ls: Latour, Laplanche, Levinas, Laclau, Lacan. I’ve recently delved into Connolly’s work, reading three of his main pieces. Weber, Simmel, Tarde, Luhmann—the list in social theory goes on.
But I have found that most, if not all, of the thinkers that I read seem to come back to Nietzsche, indebted to him in some way. Their thoughts seem to recall a Nietzchean theme, somewhere lost in time—seemingly adopted in the culture that at once he despised and critiqued. His thought is us. I seem to remember that Freud mentioned, somewhere in a note or some correspondence, that had he continued to read Nietzsche he would have had nothing original to write about.
I feel a certain affinity for the man. He was troubled with sickness most of his life. He felt isolated, alone, terrified of the opposite sex (well, maybe not terrified). But he was also the consummate skeptic—a thinker whose range seemed only to be matched by an unwillingness to settle for fundamentalism. Even his seeming avowed hatred of Christian dogma wasn’t rooted in fundament. It was literary irony. It was his writing, riven with the subtle marks of historical knowledge, that led his philosophized hammer only to play the role of a tuning fork. He saw fundamentalism in both science and religion. He was the first pluralist, even if many see him as anti-democratic. And as Foucault points out in The Order of Things, if Nietzsche is to blame, he killed both God and Man.
I have ruminated over this idea that he is responsible for the demise of both the transcendent God and Man. In their stead he sees the flux, the ever-shifting state of becoming. He sees the immanent as the source of social inspiration. He marks the first thinker of becoming that situates its finer points within a discourse against the grain of 19th century science, against Newtonianism, and against the Enlightenment heirs that still reigned at academic universities throughout Europe (still do, I might add—and here in America). What is there beneath the transcendent moment? Can a democratic politics be merely immanent, contingent, and constituted by rapidly growing differences and identities? How can there be an ethos of respect from such a disarray of innumerable human iterations? That becoming-human, that never fully realized state of subjectivity—that is the terrain on which any Nietzschean should be treading.
I feel that democratic projects cannot be theorized unless we plunge back into the depths of Nietzsche’s later writings. And I hope to come back to resituate The Twilight of Idols to rethink how our queer political movements, our leftist and radical democratic projects, might be given new life if only by rethinking and resituating them in certain Nietzschean themes: of contingency, a radical connection to the present and to amor fati, a relational conception of who we are and what are to do, and how a collective politics is not herd politics if it avoids the fundamentalism of proceduralism, consensus, and the divisiveness of normality.