Opposed to everyone, Nietzsche has met with remarkably little opposition. In fact, his reputation has suffered only one apparent reverse—his enthusiastic adoption by the Nazis. But, save in Germany, Nietzsche’s association with the horrors of the Second World War and the Holocaust has served chiefly to stimulate further curiosity. Of course, the monster has had to be tamed, and Nietzsche’s thought has been cleverly reconstructed so as perpetually to evade the evils perpetrated in his name. Even those philosophies for which he consistently reserved his most biting contempt—socialism, feminism and Christianity—have sought to appropriate their tormentor. Almost everybody now claims Nietzsche as one of their own; he has become what he most wanted to be—irresistible.
This situation gives added significance to a number of recent publications in which the authors reverse the standard practice and straightforwardly report what Nietzsche wrote in order to distance themselves from it. Ishay Landa’s article, in which he persuasively argues against the idea that Nietzsche was anything other than dismissive of workers’ rights, is one example.footnote1 But it is only the latest in a small flurry of books and articles that take a more critical view of Nietzsche’s thought. The anti-Nietzschean turn began in France, where Luc Ferry and Alain Renant’s collection, Pourquoi nous ne sommes pas nietzschéens (1991), responded to the Nietzsche/Marx/Freud syntheses of the preceding decades with the demand that ‘We have to stop interpreting Nietzsche and start taking him at his word.’footnote2 The contributors emphasized Nietzsche’s opposition to truth and rational argument, the disturbing consequences of his inegalitarianism and immoralism, and his influence on reactionary thought. Ferry and Renant were seeking to renew a traditional humanism, but anti-Nietzscheanism can take very different forms. Geoff Waite’s cornucopian Nietzsche’s Corps/e (1996) links the end of Communism and the triumph of Nietzscheanism, and approaches Nietzsche and his body of interpreters from an Althusserian perspective from which Nietzsche emerges as ‘the revolutionary programmer of late pseudo-leftist, fascoid-liberal culture and technoculture’.footnote3 Claiming that, in that it is now ‘blasphemy only to blaspheme Nietzsche—formerly the great blasphemer—and his community’, Waite proceeds to uncover Nietzsche’s ‘esoteric’ teachings which aim ‘to re/produce a viable form of willing human slavery appropriate to post/modern conditions, and with it a small number of (male) geniuses equal only among themselves.’footnote4 Integral to this teaching is what Waite calls the ‘“hermeneutic” or “rhetoric of euthanasia”: the process of weeding out’. Those who cannot withstand the thought of Eternal Recurrence are, Nietzsche claims, unfit for life: ‘Whosoever will be destroyed with the sentence “there is no salvation” ought to die. I want wars, in which the vital and courageous drive out the others.’footnote5
Although Fredrick Appel’s succinctly argued Nietzsche Contra Democracy (1999) could hardly be more different from Nietzsche’s Corps/e in style, the argument is similar. Appel complains that as ‘efforts to draft Nietzsche’s thought into the service of radical democracy have multiplied . . . his patently inegalitarian political project [has been] ignored or summarily dismissed.’ Far from being a protean thinker whose thought is so multifaceted as to resist any single political interpretation, Nietzsche is committed to ‘an uncompromising repudiation of both the ethic of benevolence and the notion of the equality of persons in the name of a radically aristocratic commitment to human excellence.’footnote6 Unlike Waite, who suggests that Nietzsche to some degree concealed his political agenda, Appel argues that it pervades every aspect of Nietzsche’s later thought. Nietzsche’s elitism is not only fundamental to his entire world-view, it is so profound that it leads naturally to the conclusion that ‘the great majority of men have no right to existence’.footnote7
Appel draws attention to Nietzsche’s political programme not in order to exclude Nietzsche from the political debate but ‘to invite democracy’s friends to face the depth of his challenge head-on with a reasoned and effective defence of democratic ideals.’footnote8 Appel himself gives no indication of what the appropriate defence might be. For Waite, who takes up Bataille’s suggestion that ‘Nietzsche’s position is the only one outside of communism’, the answer is clear: the only anti-Nietzschean position is a ‘communist’ one, vaguely defined as an assortment of social practices leading to total liberation.footnote9 However, Waite does not say how or why such a position should be considered preferable. Nietzsche’s arguments were explicitly formulated against the practices of social levelling and liberation found within Christianity, liberalism, socialism and feminism. Pointing out that Nietzsche’s thought is incompatible with such projects is, as Appel rightly emphasizes, only the beginning.
But from where should Nietzsche be opposed? Most of his recent critics seek to reaffirm political and philosophical positions that Nietzsche himself repudiated. For them, reestablishing that Nietzsche was an amoral, irrationalist, anti-egalitarian who had no respect for basic human rights suffices as a means of disposing of his arguments. Yet if opposition comes only from within the pre-existing traditions, it will do little to dislodge Nietzsche from the position that he chose for himself—the philosopher of the future who writes ‘for a species of man that does not yet exist’.footnote10 The self-styled Anti-Christ who placed himself on the last day of Christianity, and at the end of the secular European culture that it had fostered, would not be displeased if his ‘revaluation of all values’ were to be indefinitely rejected by those who continued to adhere to the values he despised. He would live forever as their eschatological nemesis, the limit-philosopher of a modernity that never ends, waiting to be born posthumously on the day after tomorrow. What seems to be missing is any critique of Nietzsche that takes the same retrospective position that Nietzsche adopted with regard to Christianity. Postmodernity has spawned plenty of post-Nietzscheans anxious to appropriate Nietzsche for their own agendas, but there appear to be no post-Nietzschean anti-Nietzscheans, no critics whose response is designed not to prevent us from getting to Nietzsche, but to enable us to get over him.