Wednesday, August 25, 2010

On understanding Nietzsche and Fukuyama (Part 1)


While Richard (see his comment below) doesn't precisely say what it is I've written that he disagrees with, he has an interesting way with innuendo. One of the aspersions he may have been casting has to do with young people. Such people, he may be implying, may not be capable of understanding Nietzsche, or if they do, may not be capable of understanding him as well as a seasoned philosopher from Mainz. For the sake of discussion I will assume that is what he is implying.

My first thought, when I thought Richard was saying that young people are less likely to be able to handle complex ideas than older people had to do with mathematicians and logicians. Not so long ago I was interested in Alfred Tarksi. Rather than search through Fefferman & Feferman's Alfred Tarski, Life and Logic for the passage I was interested in, I turned to Wikipedia where I found: "Tarski's first paper, published when he was 19 years old, was on set theory, a subject to which he returned throughout his life. In 1924, he and Stefan Banach proved that, if one accepts the Axiom of Choice, a ball can be cut into a finite number of pieces, and then reassembled into a ball of larger size, or alternatively it can be reassembled into two balls whose sizes each equal that of the original one. This result is now called the Banach–Tarski paradox." My impression is that logicians and mathematicians such as Tarski do their best work when they are young.

Also, in The World Turned Upside Down, Christopher Hill discusses young people: On page 366 he writes, "Part of the ebullience I have been discussing springs from the youth of the actors. Young men of ability have far more chance of coming to the top in a revolution. I have already quoted accounts of the appeal of religious radicalism to the young. Brailsford pointed out how very young were the Agitators of 1647. It was true of higher ranks in the Army too. Fairfax was Commander-in-Chief of the New Model Army at the age of 33, Ludlow military ruler of Ireland at the same age. Henry Ireton was only 40 when he died in 1651. John Lambert was perhaps the second most powerful person in the kingdom at the age of 35; his political career was finished when he was 41, though he languished for another 23 years in gaol. The New Model offered one career to the talents; but leaders of democratic sects also had to establish their ascendancy in open competition, and most of them were very young when they entered on these careers. Bidle was born in 1616, Nayler in 1617 or 1618, Coppe in 1619, Fox in 1623, John Rogers in 1627, Richard Hubberthorne in 1628, Edward Burrough in 1634. All were under thirty when the civil war ended. James Parnell was still not 20 when he died in 1656. It was a young man's world while it lasted."

Since Richard hasn't offered any particular objection to anything I've written -- only innuendo; which if I am smart enough (now being over 20) I may be able to figure out and comment upon, I offer the above as impressions or illustrations of how the young men in certain disciplines (mathematics and logic) and in a certain very memorable time in British History were capable of showing a high level of ability. And I venture to assume that understanding Nietzsche at age 25 was far less difficult than the activities described above. I don't recall finding Nietzsche "difficult." I did find it difficult to understand him in any systematic way. He presented his philosophy as literature (Thus Spake Zarathustra) or as raging; which suited me at the time. Were I to have devoted my life to the study of Nietzsche, I would have added experience and additional data over the years -- not necessarily "ability."

Richard hinted that he also disapproved of Fukuyama's perception of Nietzsche's Ubermensch. I would be interested in learning whether Richard has actually read Fukuyama's The End of History and the Last Man, or drawing his hinted conclusion from what I said about him. My impression is that Fukuyama's discussion of Nietzsche's "Last Man" is the part least discussed by those interested in his book. And this should not be surprising. We are all familiar with Marxi having turned Hegel on his head in order to argue that Communism rather than Capitalism would be "the end of history." So after the fall of the Soviet Union it was fascinating to have someone (Kojeve and Fukuyama) argue that Hegel was right after all. Capitalism (now known as "Liberal Democracy") was to comprise the "end of history" and not Communism.

One of Fukuyama's professors, Samuel P. Huntington, kept attention on that aspect of Fukuyama's thesis by writing (in 1994, two years after Fukuyama's End of History was published) The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. Many of us speculated about which theory would turn out to be correct. The fly in Fukuyama's ointment was Islamism. When he wrote his book, he considered the Islamist threat, but thought that it wouldn't be able to compete militarily or economically with Liberal Democracy. Huntington on the other hand, broke the world into several "Civilizations" and argued that they would not in the foreseeable future be at peace with each other. There would always be clashes along their "fault lines." Also, each Civilization had a "core state" that protected or kept in line the member states. While Huntington's argument gets a bit tenuous if we try to fit all nations into his thesis, it is fairly clear when we argue that Russia is the "Core State" of the "Orthodox Civilization," and the U.S. is the "Core State" of the "Western Civilization." And, following Huntington, we can see that part of the reason that the "Islamic Civilization" is in such a chaotic condition is that it has no "Core State."

It is an interesting fact that many in the Islamic world have taken to Huntington's thesis. The idea that they are "clashing" with other civilizations appeals to them. The question of which nation is to be the "Core State" is also of interest. It can't be Turkey, because they aren't religious enough. It can't be Indonesia because they aren't Arab. It can't be Iran because Iran is Shiite. It can't be Saudi Arabia because it is too small. It might have been Iraq if it hadn't been dominated by that scoundrel, Saddam Hussein, but wait. Could a revitalized Iraq assume that mantle?

Has Huntington's thesis replaced Fukuyama's? I don't believe so. Fukuyama discussed the Muslim civilization and believed the Islamist threat, while theoretically a challenge to Liberal Democracy, was not in the long run up to the task. But in the "short run" it might, and in the short run Fukuyama and Huntington represent two useful ways to view the Islamist threat.

Fukuyama was taken up as the theoretician of the Neocons. At first Fukuyama was probably flattered, but when he perceived that they were trying to advance the spread of Liberal Democracy by military means, he wrote America at the Crossroads, Democracy, Power, and the Neoconservative Legacy and "resigned" from the Neocon movement. To advance Liberal Democracy by military means would be neither "Liberal" nor "Democratic" and could be counter-productive. Fukuyama's thesis was that Liberal Democracy would become "the end of history" by virtue of its values and effectiveness. Wars should be fought for the old reasons of self-defense or self-interest and not to advance Liberal Democracy.

This thesis of Fukuyama's is in part dependent upon the belief that Islamism will not succeed. And in reading his America at the Crossroads we see him invoking Gilles Kepel and Olivier Roy in support of the idea that Islamism is not the threat that some believe it to be. I read Kepel and Roy and when Fukuyama created The American Interest to at the very least deal with his approach rather than the Neocon approach used in The National Interest, I subscribed to it. Is Islamism a serious threat? Well, yes, Fukuyama would say, but not as serious as such writers as Bat Yeor, Oriana Fallaci, Claire Berlinski, Bruce Bawer, David Horowitz, Daniel Pipes, Mark Steyn, and David Selbourne say it is -- not that Fukuyama has read all these writers, but I have and believe he would agree with what I have written here.

If I were to voice an opinion about the future, it would be a tentative one. Fukuyama may well be right, but only strategically. That is, in the long run, Liberal Democracy may very well be "the end of history," But in the short run, in a tactical sense, it strikes me as foolish to act on that belief -- as though it were not tentative but an established fact. Consider a fact of history: Hitler and his Third Reich lost World War II, but this loss in the 1930s and a few years into the 1940s was not a foregone conclusion. Hitler could have won World war II. The military historian, Bevin Alexander wrote a book entitled How Hitler could have won World War II, the Fatal Errors that Led to the Nazi defeat. It took a lot of hard work and the sacrifice of a great number of lives to defeat Hitler. Now consider the Islamists. Is it a foregone conclusion that they will be defeated by Liberal Democracy -- without the forces of Liberal Democracy having to work toward that defeat? Or are there things we should be doing tactically to assure our victory?

When I argue, for example, against the Ground Zero Mosque, I have in mind what would further our cause tactically. That the Islamists intend to defeat the West isn't a matter of debate. They do. They have argued that they do, and they have acted in accordance with that argument. On the spectrum of Islamic belief we can put Islamism on the far right and Turkish secularism on the far left. We can only guess and have less than provable opinions about where any particular person or group fits on this spectrum. I have argued that the building of the Cordoban Mosque is toward the Islamist end of the spectrum. It can be claimed as one more victory for Islamism. I have been disappointed that those on the Left have no wish to put the building in the spectrum at all. It is as though the Islamic opinion is of no value in coming to a conclusion. All that matters is American opinion; so they look to our bill of rights and trot out "freedom of religion," and say "case closed." Perhaps the case will be closed from the standpoint of New York City and the building of this mosque, but the case is wide open in regard to the advance of Islamism. Islamism can theoretically win "World War III" if its enemies do nothing to stop it.

[I'll consider Nietzsche's "last man" and "superman" in Part II]

-----Original Message-----
From: Richard

Jesus was, and Lawrence is, worried about the "blind guides" of the people, for Jesus, the Pharisees and the Sadducees, for Lawrence, the "Journalists [his capitals] and political hacks who use nothing but their extremely-faulty opinions to influence the ordinary descendants of those who lived during a time" (long gone, 1650) when better people than nowadays still knew how to "use their 'freedom' to formulate their own philosophy." When Lawrence was in his 20s he was "a great admirer of Nietzsche" and read all his works then published, but now, to refresh his memory in answering my critique of his understanding of Nietzsche's Superman, he Googles a Michigan State English major in his 20s who says that Nietzsche, "[i]n eliminating the idea of God and the values attached to it in his system ... is forced to give us a parallel substitute, that is, another god like figure from whom we may receive our new values in order to fill the void which is created." The young man's essay will eventually end on a "thumbs up," at least for the time being, for the Christian over the Nietzschean "doctrine" of beliefs and values: "So though we are here given two equally important doctrines it seems for this present day and age, though it may be dying out, the idea of Christianity is more useful in that we as a whole are still far too reluctant to part with its ideas about life."

Whether the real problem is Fukuyama's (mis?)conception of "Nietzsche's fear for the future and his belief in the necessity of Superman," I cannot say, but I do seem to be having, perhaps "faulty" visions of capes and big Ss. And that cannot be attributed to Nietzsche. Until he wrapped his arms around the dray's head in a Turin street and began addressing postcards to friends signed by the Crucified One, he had no particular fear for the future, his personal, Europe's or the world's, and only knew what a burden it was to use his freedom to formulate his own philosophy, and not rely on a deity, or whatever hardwiring Lawrence has, to determine what is a "faulty" opinion or idea or value or belief.


University of Mainz

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