Sunshine Recorder

Excerpt from “Nietzsche: A Philosophical Biography” by Rudiger Sanfranski

Nietzsche’s highest goal was always the flourishing of culture. Of Burckhardt’s three major forces of existence—namely state, religion, and culture— culture was the highest objective for Nietzsche, who wanted everything to revolve around it. He was outraged that even the slightest hint that culture had been subordinated to the objectives of the state or the economy.

…Every advanced culture needs an exploitable, working class, a “slave class”, Nietzsche declared without mincing his words. He went on to write: “There is nothing more dreadful that a barbaric slave class that has learn to regard to its existence as an injustice and sets about taking revenge not only for itself but for all generations.”

Nietzsche penned this words in early 1871 in the preface to an unwritten book called “The Greek State”. The newspapers reported from Paris in May 1871 that insurgents had pillaged and destroyed the Louvre (in actual fact, there are only been a fire in the Tuileries). Nietzsche interpreted the event as a beacon of impending barbarism. On May 27, 1871, he wrote to Councillor Willhelm Vischer-Bilfinger in the context of excusing his absence from a university meeting: “The reports of the past few days have been so awful that my state of mind is altogether intolerable. What does it mean to be a scholar in the face of such earthquakes of culture! One feels so atomistic! You use your entire life and the best of your powers to deepen your understanding of and learn to explain a period of culture; how does this profession seem if a single unfortunate day reduces to ashes the precious documents of these periods! It is the worst day in my life.”

Nietzsche regarded the fire in Paris as a precursor of major crises to come. He attributed these social conflict to an increase in demands owing to a heightened awareness of suffering among the masses rather than any deterioration of their standard of living. He watched the masses stepping onto the political arena, with incalculable repercussions. When he learned in the fall of 1869 that a convention of the International Workers Association was being held in Basel, of all cities, Nietzsche was filled with alarm. A few years later, he was seized with the suspicion that the “International” was scheming to prevent the Bayreuth Festival. He considered efforts to solve the social question with reference to the workers a threat to culture. He accused “democrats” of wanting to emancipate the masses and leading them to believe in the “dignity of labor” and the “dignity of man”, with the result that the masses only then would perceive their situation as flagrant injustice and demand equality. They would compare their depressed circumstance to the glitter of high culture, which they abhor because it is not intended for them and because they do not figure in it, although they have wrought the material preconditions for it with the labor of their hands. But are the claims to social justice and liberation from exploitation not justified, and is it not understandable to hate a culture that the masses view as nothing more than vile luxury? Nietzsche asked himself these questions and found himself pondering the connection between culture and justice. He drew a set of conclusions that would endure, some vacillations notwithstanding, until his final creative period of his work on The Will to Power.

Life, as we saw earlier, is tragic. It unfolds with enormous suffering, death, and cruelty of all kinds. In The Birth of Tragedy, Nietzsche coined the famous formula “Existence and the world are eternally justified solely as an aesthetic phenomena.” In “The Greek State,” and in other fragments from this period that addressed issues pertaining to the social mass movement and Nietzsche’s fear of the Paris Commune, the implicitly political meaning of this formula came through more clearly than in The Birth of Tragedy, which had muted this topic. In his notes, Nietzsche sharpened the problem of the link between culture and social justice. When it comes to culture, a decision must be made as to its essential aim. The two major options are the well-being of the greatest possible number of people, on the one hand, and the success of individual lives, on the other. The moral point of view gives priority to the well-being of the greatest possible number of people, whereas the aesthetic view declares that the meaning of culture lies in the culmination of auspicious forms, the “peak of rapture.”

Nietzsche opted for the aesthetic view. In the fall of 1873, he noted in a fragment that individuals must bow to the “good of the highest individuals,” namely “creative people.” The latter produce great cultural achievements in art, philosophy, and the sciences; these achievements are the direct fruits of exploitative labour. In some cases, creative individuals are themselves works of art that merit out attention. These heroes of creativity are justified not by their social usefulness but by their superior existence. Although they do not improve mankind, they embody and display its better possibilities. Culture and states are justified if these “highest exemplars can live and create” in them (7,733). These “highest exemplars” are, according to The Birth of Tragedy, the “bright lights” (1,65; BT 9) in the dark night of the tragic sense of being alive.

If happiness and freedom of the greatest possible number are given higher priority, Nietzsche claimed, the result is a democratic culture in which mass taste triumphs. The orientation of a democratic culture to comprehensive welfare, human dignity, freedom, egalitarian justice, and protection of the weak impedes any prospects for development of great personalities. The “bright lights” vanish from history and along with them any last vestige of meaning.

In his quest to defend the aesthetic significance in history, Nietzsche assailed democracy as far back as the early 1870s, even before his shrill attacks on the “complete appeasement of the democratic herd animal” some years later. Nietzsche considered the ancient Greek slaveholder society the paragon of culture for the very reason that it disallowed concessions to the “democratic herd animal.” He extolled antiquity for being honest enough not to have covered up the terrible foundation from which its blossoms grew. The ancient Greeks freely confessed to the need for slaves. We can certainly find evidence in Plato and Aristotle just how staunchly and aggressively the need for slavery was defended in the name of continual existence of culture. Just as people need brains and brawls, Nietzsche argued, society needs the hardworking hands of laborers for a privileged class, allowing them “to engender and fulfill a new world of needs.”

The “cruelty in the essence of every culture” confirmed for Nietzsche that existence is an “eternal wound”. The remedy of art, which is its aesthetic justification holds the wound open. People are sacrificed for the beauty of art, which is why the existence of art adds a further injustice to the wretched state of the world. He knew that his own existence was built on the sacrifice of others. In a letter of June 21, 1871, he rebuked his friend Gersdorff, who had arrogantly railed at the culturally hostile mob in Paris. Nietzsche wrote that scholarly and artistic life seemed an “absurdity” in view of the fact that the brilliant works of centuries could be undone by an act of vandalism within minutes. He had clung to the “metaphysical value of art, which cannot exist merely for the sake of poor human beings, but instead must fulfill higher missions.” “However,” he went on to write, “even when my pain was at its worst, I was unable to cast a stone against those villains, who struck me as nothing more than bearers of a general guilt, which ought to give us food for thought!”

…Nietzsche was touching on an old issue, namely the question of theodicy, which was once applied to the relationship between God and the world and now being reframed in terms of the relationship between art and non-artistic reality. By formulating the aesthetic justification of the world in the way he did, he was explicitly reworking the classic theodicy question, which has been posed as far back as Job and continued to be pondered by Leibniz: How can the existence of God be justified when there is evil in the world? Once the ancient God was no longer in the picture, the theodicy question could be applied to art in roughly the following terms: How can the relatively luxurious enterprise of art be justified when there is evil in the world? The fact that some produce art while others suffer is surely a scandalous proof of injustice in the world. The misery of the world and the incantation of art—how can they fit together? The young Hugo von Hofmannsthal later wrote a celebrated poem on this theme: “Many truly down below must perish / Where the heavy oars of ships are passing; / Others by the helm up there have dwelling, / Know the flight of birds and starry countries.”

Link: The Trouble with Scientism

”It is so easy to underrate the impact of the humanities and of the arts. Too many people, some of whom should know better, do it all the time. But understanding why the natural sciences are regarded as the gold standard for human knowledge is not hard. When molecular biologists are able to insert fragments of DNA into bacteria and turn the organisms into factories for churning out medically valuable substances, and when fundamental physics can predict the results of experiments with a precision comparable to measuring the distance across North America to within the thickness of a human hair, their achievements compel respect, and even awe. To derive one’s notion of human knowledge from the most striking accomplishments of the natural sciences easily generates a conviction that other forms of inquiry simply do not measure up. Their accomplishments can come to seem inferior, even worthless, at least until the day when these domains are absorbed within the scope of “real science.”

The conflict between the Naturwissenschaften and the Geisteswissenschaften goes back at least two centuries, and became intensified as ambitious, sometimes impatient researchers proposed to introduce natural scientific concepts and methods into the study of human psychology and human social behavior. Their efforts, and the attitudes of unconcealed disdain that often inspired them, prompted a reaction, from Vico to Dilthey and into our own time: the insistence that some questions are beyond the scope of natural scientific inquiry, too large, too complex, too imprecise, and too important to be addressed by blundering over-simplifications. From the nineteenth-century ventures in mechanistic psychology to contemporary attempts to introduce evolutionary concepts into the social sciences, “scientism” has been criticized for its “mutilation” (Verstümmelung, in Dilthey’s memorable term) of the phenomena to be explained.

The problem with scientism—which is of course not the same thing as science—is owed to a number of sources, and they deserve critical scrutiny. The enthusiasm for natural scientific imperialism rests on five observations. First, there is the sense that the humanities and social sciences are doomed to deliver a seemingly directionless sequence of theories and explanations, with no promise of additive progress. Second, there is the contrasting record of extraordinary success in some areas of natural science. Third, there is the explicit articulation of technique and method in the natural sciences, which fosters the conviction that natural scientists are able to acquire and combine evidence in particularly rigorous ways. Fourth, there is the perception that humanists and social scientists are only able to reason cogently when they confine themselves to conclusions of limited generality: insofar as they aim at significant—general—conclusions, their methods and their evidence are unrigorous. Finally, there is the commonplace perception that the humanities and social sciences have been dominated, for long periods of their histories, by spectacularly false theories, grand doctrines that enjoy enormous popularity until fashion changes, as their glaring shortcomings are disclosed.

These familiar observations have the unfortunate effect of transforming differences of degree into differences of kind, as enthusiasts for the alleged superiority of natural science readily succumb to stereotypes and over-generalizations, without regard for more subtle explanations. Let us consider the five foundations of this mistake in order.

Link: Hungary’s Government Tightens Grip on Arts

Already under attack from the European Commission for its policies on banking, the law and the media, Hungary’s national conservative government is now facing a tide of protest from the arts community. The government, led by Viktor Orban, stands accused of systematically replacing key figures in cultural institutions, staging pro-government exhibitions, rethinking permanent museum displays and replacing historic statues to fit its political agenda. “The fact that an authoritarian government wants to control the arts is in itself not surprising,” says the Hungarian economist Janos Kovacs. “But it’s incredible that this is happening in the middle of the European Union without provoking angry reactions in Brussels.”