Monday, December 24, 2007

Nietzsche on liberalism

It is this sort of thing that has got Nietzsche a bad press:

Liberal institutions cease to be liberal as soon as they are attained: later on, there are no worse and no more thorough injurers of freedom than liberal institutions. Their effects are known well enough: they undermine the will to power; they level mountain and valley, and call that morality; they make men small, cowardly, and hedonistic — every time it is the herd animal that triumphs with them. Liberalism: in other words, herd-animalization.

Twilight of the idols.

He goes on:
The highest type of free men should be sought where the highest resistance is constantly overcome: five steps from tyranny, close to the threshold of the danger of servitude. This is true psychologically if by "tyrants" are meant inexorable and fearful instincts that provoke the maximum of authority and discipline against themselves; most beautiful type: Julius Caesar.

This is the sort of quote that has made people associate Nietzsche with Nazism. They can see Hitler in the tyrant that Nietzsche describes. Indeed, the Nazis saw it themselves.

But this is not the whole truth. There is nothing here about brute cruelty, insane ideology, about the destruction and desecration of society, which is what the Nazis were about. It is dangerous to take thoughts out of context, particularly from someone as strident and problematic as Nietzsche. He may not have considered democracy to be an ideal state, but nor would he have approved of the murderous morons who inherited his country a mere forty years after he wrote these words.

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