Nietzsche’s political ambition : his case for and against the modern state



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Friedrich Nietzsche witnessed the development of the modern state first-hand, and perceptively identified many of its major features. His analysis of modern politics was initially marked by a qualified sympathy, or at least thoughtful acquiescence. Nevertheless, in later writings Nietzsche became a virulent critic of the modern world, sketching out a radically anti-modern political counter-project. Nietzsche’s political thought is therefore relevant to both those who want to better understand the foundations and leading characteristics of modern politics, and to those who want to explore influential criticisms of it. At the same time, it presents a substantial interpretive dilemma, since it is not clear how these two poles of Nietzsche’s thought can be squared. Indeed, most readers have tended to approach them in isolation from one another, either focusing on the radical project of Nietzsche’s late writings, or looking to his “middle period” as a welcome-but-discrete alternative. In this dissertation I argue that these two poles of Nietzsche’s thought are more closely linked than most readers have realized. Drawing on the extensive autobiographical self-assessments that Nietzsche published during his last two productive years, I show that he shows that he helps readers to see how a critical dialogue between the more moderate and the more radical aspects of his thought can be established – and, moreover, that Nietzsche himself subtly engaged in just such a dialogue throughout his career. The result is a picture of Nietzsche’s thought that is more nuanced and self-conscious in both its criticism and its endorsement of modern politics than has been generally appreciated. Moreover, using Nietzsche’s autobiographical self-accounts to negotiate the tensions in his writings sheds light on the precise motivation lying behind his political ambitions, and thereby also helps to sketch out the lines of defense that are required against the sort of anti-modern politics that Nietzsche pioneered.