the kind of dilettantism you hear in first-year critical theory seminars
August 17, 2017 11:48 AM   Subscribe

The alt-right is drunk on bad readings of Nietzsche. The Nazis were too. They don’t understand him. (SLVOX)
posted by beisny (73 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
 
The abyss is full of dipshits.
posted by Artw at 11:55 AM on August 17 [52 favorites]


Nice to see some media belatedly getting on the Spencer-is-dumb beat — the guy is clearly quite dumb indeed, yet he's gotten way too far on just name-dropping and sophomoric pseudophilosophical arglebargle (and, of course, a few expensive diplomas) with way too many credulous media profile writers. Yet every account from any former classmate or teacher of his that I've seen, not to mention the direct evidence of his words, concur: he's just a complete dipshit who has no idea what he's even talking about.
posted by RogerB at 12:00 PM on August 17 [17 favorites]


I, too, experienced an intellectual awakening reading Nietzsche as an isolated teenager living in the fundamentalist suburbs. His books, like The Gay Science, Beyond Good and Evil, and Thus Spoke Zarathustra taught me the importance of the intellectual conscience--always asking oneself why one believes what one does--and to ask, always, whose interest a given set of beliefs serves. He taught me about the self-satisfied stupidity of nationalism and the deep, political significance of memory and forgetting--both on an individual and collective scales. His works gave me hope when I thought I was the only non-believer in the world. But most of all, Nietzsche taught me that it is absolutely imperative not to let oneself become an idiot. I guess these preposterous fools like Spencer are just reading some other Nietzsche.

There is plenty in Nietzsche's writings that I find deeply disturbing--his misogyny certainly comes to mind. And there is plenty in his work that makes him easier for generations of idiots, beginning with his horrid sister, to appropriate than the writings of almost any other serious philosopher. Still, there is a dark and terrible irony to the way that some of Nietzsche's biggest admirers (though also his poorest readers) are exactly the kinds of people he reviled.
posted by a certain Sysoi Pafnut'evich at 12:21 PM on August 17 [58 favorites]


The trouble with aping German political movements is that inevitably you get sucked into German philosophers and like 98% of the population is just going to fuck that up. I mean, impenetrability has two benchmarks: tank armour and German philosophy.

The left can understand Marx because he left Prussia and moved to London and so got used to dealing with numbskulls. But trying to understand a guy who was the youngest Chair of Classical Philology at the University of Basel? GTFO, if you're smart enough to do that you're smart enough to move on and do something else with your life.
posted by GuyZero at 12:21 PM on August 17 [51 favorites]


The whole "they like Christendom but not Christianity" thing is sorta true, but not quite. For instance, they cite Vox Day, but Vox Day is explicitly Christian, as are many of the other online neo-nazis, they talk about Christ explicitly. There are some who are essentially Spenglerian, who view religion as not necessarily true, but useful both historically and now as a glue that holds Western society together and controls the unwashed masses, there are others who claim to be Christians, but reject a whole bunch of mainstream Christian stuff as "corrupted by the Jews" (these would be your Christian Identity folks), and then there are a bunch of nazi pagans, atheists, and sundry. It's safe to say there's no commonly accepted view on religion within the modern far right.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 12:27 PM on August 17 [5 favorites]


The alt-right is drunk on bad readings of Nietzsche. The Nazis were too. They don’t understand him.

One of the many ironies, of course, is that there's a legitimately talented German philosopher who was also a Nazi.

But if this dolts can't grasp Nietzsche, they don't have a prayer of getting Heidegger.
posted by leotrotsky at 12:37 PM on August 17 [15 favorites]


Still, there is a dark and terrible irony to the way that some of Nietzsche's biggest admirers (though also his poorest readers) are exactly the kinds of people he reviled.

I feel the same way when neo-Nazis try to compare themselves to Aragorn or whatever. For all of Tolkien's many blindspots -- a great number of them racial -- he definitely would see neo-Nazis as Orcs rather than Men, just as he saw the original Nazis the same way.

Of course, we're talking about people who watch American History X, Falling Down, and Fight Club and see glorification of their shitty ideology rather than deconstruction. It's not a surprise they can't handle Nietzsche either.
posted by tobascodagama at 12:39 PM on August 17 [15 favorites]


oh god is the world so short of philosophers to admire/study/redeem in thinkpieces that it's worth devoting time to the guy who said things like this?

"From the beginning, nothing has been more alien, repugnant, and hostile to woman than truth—her great art is the lie, her highest concern is mere appearance and beauty"
And
"Woman's love involves injustice and blindness against everything that she does not love... Woman is not yet capable of friendship: women are still cats and birds. Or at best cows"

he's just straightup, stupidly, emotionally wrong about a full 50% of humanity, which is a real problem for a philosopher and should call into question the value of anything he has to say about the nature of being human

jfc let the nazis have him, who cares if they're not reading him correctly. they probably think "every breath you take" is a love song, maybe Vox should set them right about that
posted by mrmurbles at 12:43 PM on August 17 [45 favorites]



Of course, we're talking about people who watch American History X, Falling Down, and Fight Club and see glorification of their shitty ideology rather than deconstruction. It's not a surprise they can't handle Nietzsche either.


Dumb people have always personified Poe's Law. Just look at the sales assholes who love Glengarry Glen Ross.
posted by leotrotsky at 12:43 PM on August 17 [5 favorites]


Also, I'm now picturing an alternate universe of the Good Will Hunting bar scene where the ponytail sweater guy is talking about how Nietzsche proves that white, Christian civilisation is superior to all other cultures on the planet.
posted by tobascodagama at 12:47 PM on August 17 [5 favorites]


Two things:

1. Recently I dipped back into Twilight of the Idols because it's such a hodgepodge of brilliance, stupidity, clarity, and blindness that it's a marvel. What jumped out at me this time was the prose. Shitty stupid internet buttholes are all writing bad, fourth-hand Nietzsche impressions. The rhythms, the weird tone, it's all right there. The internet buttholes are nowhere near as skilled as he was, but still.

It's like hearing Eddie Van Halen shredding and realizing that's what every mope with a Fender in the '80s was trying to sound like.

2. Nobody's quoted cinema's most famous "Nietzschean" yet? From A Fish Called Wanda, when wannabe-philosoper and actual killer Otto is called an ape by Wanda:

OTTO: Apes don't read philosophy.
WANDA: Yes they do, Otto. They just don't understand it.


Truer words, etc.
posted by Harvey Jerkwater at 12:58 PM on August 17 [41 favorites]


Of course Nietzsche. The DeadGod Emperor of the cult of Well, Actuallyism. There's no one white guys like to cite and refute each other claims over more than him. That alone should suggest there's a problem, and one which needs a better response than another go around of the same "Who has the superior intellect " game playing.
posted by gusottertrout at 1:06 PM on August 17 [4 favorites]


jfc let the nazis have him, who cares if they're not reading him correctly. they probably think "every breath you take" is a love song, maybe Vox should set them right about that

I care? I mean, there's never a bad time to point out that these guys are dimwitted thugs, up to and including the song lyrics thing you mentioned. Never know who'll read what article and take them just that much less seriously. Basically, no ground should be ceded to them about anything ever, no matter how small.

Doing that doesn't mean we have to embrace Nietzsche ourselves or anything.

Still, there is a dark and terrible irony to the way that some of Nietzsche's biggest admirers (though also his poorest readers) are exactly the kinds of people he reviled.

Eh. Way of the world. I mean, look at the loudest Christians, or - for one near and dear to my heart - how the loudest proponents of markets don't understand the 101 stuff about how they work.

I feel like this all ties into Dunning-Kruger: the stupidest among us are the most confident in their interpretations of stuff, even though it went way over their dense, useless heads.
posted by mordax at 1:11 PM on August 17 [13 favorites]


They also love Martin Heidegger, who by the 1930s and 1940s was endorsing a view that, following Nietzsche, society had degraded enough that it was no longer metaphysically possible for humans to connect to true Being; that the German people carried the same promise of connection to Being as the ancient Greeks; and that the rootedness of a unitary nation allowed Being to manifest itself.

This is, in our day, embraced by purported Putin-whisperer Aleksandr Dugin, who wrote a really awful screed on Heidegger's thought (which I found a copy of that fell off a truck on this information superhighway) -- published by Richard Spencer's think tank's publishing house Radix. I won't link to those here. Dugin himself is inspired by Julius Evola, who Bannon reveres.

Heidegger can be even more "seducing", as a German lit professor of mine put it, than Nietzsche, thanks to the intentional obscurity and convulsions of his language. (never mind that Heidegger was literally a Nazi, while Nietzsche wrote against this idiocy.)

It takes a fair bit of absorbing his new vocabulary (e.g. "In the gift of the outpouring dwells the simple singlefoldness of the four") before you can get even close as a reader to being able to claim you have an inkling of what he's talking about. By that point, you're completely, uncritically, in Heidegger's world. Which is where these pseudo-intellectual philosophasters want you to be if you're not already marching in the streets with lit torches.
posted by Theiform at 1:16 PM on August 17 [11 favorites]


All you need to know.
posted by sammyo at 1:24 PM on August 17


Heidegger was literally a Nazi

If anyone doubts the sincerity of Heidegger's Nazism, check out the black notebooks
posted by thelonius at 1:27 PM on August 17 [6 favorites]


But if this dolts can't grasp Nietzsche, they don't have a prayer of getting Heidegger.

Heidegger is easy. You get the pattern after 100 pages and then you realize it's all the same. Fookin' Nazi.

Nietzsche on the other hand is rarely consistent, mercurial, poetic, elliptical and deliberately puzzling. He has no doctrine or overarching theory, and he contradicts himself from book to book, essay to essay. He's a wanker, but a great stylist and provocative thinker.

For what it's worth, even scholars of Nietzsche don't understand Nietzsche (I'm looking at you Brian Leiter, Babette Babich, and so many others), mainly because they want to tell you that *this* is what he was about, not *that*, when Nietzsche was just about what ever crazy shit came into his head when he was writing.
posted by dis_integration at 1:35 PM on August 17 [9 favorites]


Nietzsche had nothing but scorn for the anti-semites and German nationalists of his time; he thought they were weak-minded fools.
posted by kenko at 1:54 PM on August 17 [3 favorites]


Of course Nietzsche

I went to see Jim Carroll give a poetry reading, a very long time ago. It was in a rock club and there was a big turnout.

So, the poetry was great, but even better were the asides and stories and self-interruptions that he could not refrain from. One of these concerned the time he watched Billy Idol let his girlfriend take a pot bust for him in New York City. Carrol says that he then confronted Idol, who said something to the effect of "Whatever doesn't kill her will make her stronger, man".

"Why is it always Nietzsche with these guys?," Carrol asked us. "Just once I'd like to hear something different. 'You know, Wittgenstein said that if you want the door to turn, the hinges must remain fixed' or something.".

unfortunately he didn't have that Wittgenstiein quote at hand but you get the idea
posted by thelonius at 1:56 PM on August 17 [17 favorites]


Beyond Good and Evil 251:
In the meantime they [European Jews] are, rather, wanting and wishing, even with some importunity, to be absorbed and assimilated by and into Europe, they are longing to be finally settled, permitted, respected somewhere and to put an end to the nomadic life, to the `Wandering Jew' ‑; one ought to pay heed to this inclination and impulse (which is perhaps even a sign that the Jewish instincts are becoming milder) and go out to meet it: for which it would perhaps be a good idea to eject the anti‑Semitic ranters from the country.
(Beyond Good and Evil as a whole has many more good than bad things to say about Jews as a people.)

This is even aside from the Last-Manism of Spencer and his dreck, which the article doesn't go into nearly enough for my taste—Nietzsche would look at these people and rightly conclude that they're despicable in general and despicable according to the values that he himself held (among which intellectual honesty and the ability to face up to difficult truths and changing circumstances—like, say, the facts about one's country's less than wonderful history—ranked high).
posted by kenko at 2:07 PM on August 17 [3 favorites]


when Nietzsche was just about what ever crazy shit came into his head when he was writing.

Hot take: this is also not a good reading of Nietzsche, whose texts exhibit far too much design for this to be true.
posted by kenko at 2:14 PM on August 17 [8 favorites]


Makes me think of this Slate article about the Nietzsche of angry young men, which has a line I love so much I still remember it six years after first reading it: "there's something in every book you're likely to pick up—some enticement of form or content or both—that addresses your horniness/alienation and flatters you in the pretense that, though you have no formal training and are actually kind of a crappy and distracted reader, you are doing philosophy."
posted by Tentacle of Trust at 2:25 PM on August 17 [19 favorites]


Whoa, Bannon's a fan of Evola? That's... disturbing. Evola is a bit more than "[an] Italian thinker who inspired Fascists", Evola was in many ways much more radical than the Italian Fascists themselves, and even to an extent than the German Nazis. Fascism and racism wasn't just politics for him, it was religion, a whole esoteric world view who led him to declare stuff like rape being the natural form of sex, an expression of male desire in its most natural and pure form, and his antisemitism was mystical in nature, speaking of how Aryan and Jewish were types of souls, that could even be independent of actual ethnicity, and was additionally into that whole Kali Yuga esoteric Hitlerism, Hitler as Kalki thing that was vogue with some esoteric milieu in Europe in the thirties and beyond.

In short, Evola was a serious, serious crank, a mix of a Gorean who takes things way too seriously with the esoteric weirdness of Savitri Devi and Miguel Serrano. If that's a touchstone for Bannon, he's way out of the mainstream even for the far right, especially the US far right, in a way that's so weird and kooky that I'm surprised he's managed to get himself into a position like the way he's in. This is the kind of fringe that even most neo-nazis reject as too complicated and odd.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 2:28 PM on August 17 [26 favorites]


They just don't understand it; the short clip from A Fish Called Wanda.
posted by clew at 2:48 PM on August 17 [3 favorites]




Nietzsche mocks convention and propriety (and mocks difficult writers you'd prefer not to bother with anyway).

He really breaks out the folding chair whuppin' on Kant, for example
posted by thelonius at 3:15 PM on August 17 [1 favorite]


Some of the alt-right is also fond of Jordan Peterson, whose interpretation of Nietzsche is not at all similar to theirs. In fact, I suspect the author of this article would like Peterson's comments on Nietzsche.

Telling the alt-right they are reading Nietzsche wrong is unlikely to convince them. It might be more effective to tell them an academic they seem to like has a an interesting take on the subject.

I suspect that very few alt-righters have read Maps of Meaning or any of Peterson's better work, and have instead simply found his Youtube rants, most of which are pretty unfortunate. But hey, if the Puritans could found Harvard, maybe the alt-right folks can get into something that isn't total bullshit.

Like, certain corners of the alt-right seem to have a bookish, philosophical bent, and I think it's a mistake to write that off as them grasping for intellectual support for their bigotry. I think it's a strategic liability that anti-alt-right philosophical sorts should exploit.
posted by andrewpcone at 3:23 PM on August 17 [6 favorites]


People whose introduction to philosophy is through Ayn Rand and never found her work questionable are rarely people whose thoughts will ever mature or be of value.
posted by at by at 3:25 PM on August 17 [4 favorites]


Since I have nothing smart to say, here's my Nietzsche fun fact: his records indicate that during the summer of 1881, he didn't eat a single fruit or vegetable.
posted by paper chromatographologist at 3:28 PM on August 17 [23 favorites]


People whose introduction to philosophy is through Ayn Rand and never found her work questionable are rarely people whose thoughts will ever mature or be of value.

True, but many smart people go through an Ayn Rand phase, during which they are insufferable, but then move on to greener pastures. Passionate, headstrong people often go through bullshit phases. In particular, they are susceptible to cultish, involuted thinking like Ayn Rand or the alt-right.

Writing off people as "rarely people whose thoughts will ever mature or be of value" is a good way to underestimate people, make enemies, and miss opportunities.
posted by andrewpcone at 3:29 PM on August 17 [12 favorites]


oh god is the world so short of philosophers to admire/study/redeem in thinkpieces that it's worth devoting time to the guy who said things like this?

Well, it is short of philosophers of the stature and insight of Nietzsche, yes. But the point is that even great philosophers aren't gurus. They aren't for admiring. We gain by interacting with their work in an intellectually honest and rigourous manner, challenging it where it is weak and improving it where it is strong. One does not have to like, respect or admire a philosopher to recognise their importance. I, personally, have a deep and cordial hatred of Plato, for example (not unlike Nietzsche's, I must admit). But I'd never say that any of the time I have spent reading and studying Plato was wasted, because understanding Plato (especially where I think he's entirely wrong) helps me understand the world and the way we perceive and think about it. Reading Nietzsche is, I think, just hugely valuable, without us having to praise or defend him.
posted by howfar at 4:08 PM on August 17 [32 favorites]


Not mentioned, but also relevant: Nazis followed Nietzsche's sister, not Nietszche. After Friedrich's death, his highly conservative and volkisch sister gained control of his collected writings, and bowdlerized and selectively edited his works during the early 20th century to be more fascist and Christian.
It's taken decades to salvage Friedrich Nietzsche from Elisabeth Forster-Nietzsche. And to my mind, it's one of the sharpest argument for why every writer and creator needs to have a will clearly disposing of their intellectual property to a trustworthy caretaker. Otherwise, your life's work will go to your Christian fundie asshole sister, and her agenda.
posted by LeRoienJaune at 5:14 PM on August 17 [7 favorites]


Count me among the people who discovered Nietzche as isolated teenagers. I still love Zarathustra, though gender is one area where it fails. Nietzche's writings on women are a terrible, morbidly hilarious reflection of his own hangups.

"If you go to see women, do not forget your whip!" Whatever dude, we've all seen that picture of you pulling a cart driven by a whip-wielding Lou Salomé.

But I was lonely and far from home and felt unloved, and Romantic ravings like the Tree on the Mountaintop comforted me. I still often say the midnight poem to myself when I hear a clock strike twelve.

when Nietzsche was just about what ever crazy shit came into his head when he was writing.

Hot take: this is also not a good reading of Nietzsche, whose texts exhibit far too much design for this to be true.


Eh, depends on where he was in his life at the time. He *was* a brilliant philosopher in his prime. I love the more Dionysian stuff, where he channels the wild zeitgeist of Romanticism into something that's half philosophy, half poetry in a way that only he could do. After Beyond Good and Evil he slides quickly towards the cliff-edge of mental breakdown; Ecce Homo exhibits the ruin of his mind in a sort of heartbreaking way. Anything about Wagner tends to be mostly ARGH BLARGH WAGNER IS A DICKHEAD-- which, to be fair, he was; and Nietzche does have some interesting points about music.
posted by Pallas Athena at 5:17 PM on August 17 [7 favorites]


his poetry was dreadfully bad though
posted by thelonius at 5:18 PM on August 17 [2 favorites]


I'm skeptical of the desire to write off all these alt-right guys as dumbasses. It seems like a good way to underestimate your opponent.
posted by noxperpetua at 5:22 PM on August 17 [4 favorites]


Metafilter: Heidegger is easy
posted by uosuaq at 5:29 PM on August 17 [9 favorites]


oh god is the world so short of philosophers to admire/study/redeem in thinkpieces that it's worth devoting time to the guy who said things like this?

Well, it is short of philosophers of the stature and insight of Nietzsche, yes.


I feel kind of bad about my comment because to some extent it falls into the category of “if the thing is not for you, don’t comment on the thing.”

On the other hand, what I did want to get at is the fact that Nietzsche is very Cannon both academically and in a pop-culture way, and I think it’s worth calling that status into question. People wave their hands and say “oh the woman stuff, yeah that sucks but” — and my point is, maybe we shouldn't wave that away in a person whose whole thing is supposed to be lucid self awareness and insight into the human condition, when he dismisses HALF of humanity as fundamentally not human.

So it’s not about whether any one individual person can get something out of reading Nietzsche even if they don't agree with him on every point. In fact, it's related to questions like whether we should have monuments to Confederate generals. And to be clear: I’m NOT equating an article about Nietzsche with a statue of Robert E Lee. Nietzsche was certainly not responsible for the deaths of thousands in service of upholding white people's ability to keep black slaves, to make just a really obvious point very explicit.

What I’m saying is that it’s worth interrogating all of our cultural touchstones. Who deserves cultural honor and attention? What are we willing excuse in the people we call heroes or geniuses? Who are we overlooking when we do? Are there better, smarter people out there we could be studying or honoring instead?
posted by mrmurbles at 5:30 PM on August 17 [12 favorites]


The funny thing about Nietzsche is that he was an interesting and entertaining writer in a way that few philosophers are, as he goes off on his inconsistent vistas. He did something unique: he wrote in German a style of philosophical comedy that comes across as funny in translation. He was also kinda crazy and pathetic. I thought of him as the Lenny Bruce of philosophy.

I'd read a fair bit of Nietzsche when I was young, mostly influenced by Walter Kaufmann, who took the "gentle Nietzschean" view that his work was misinterpreted by the Nazis. Nietzsche made statements strongly against German Nationalism, and he hated his brother-in-law, who was a fanatic quasi-Aryan. When I mentioned this to my brother, he shrugged, and said: "Nietzsche also said things that can lead to fascism. He had a lot of weird ideas, Eternal Recurrence, what's up with that?"
posted by ovvl at 5:44 PM on August 17 [4 favorites]


I've had the impression that Kaufmann is way out of favor these days, in Nietzsche scholarship. Anyone here in relevant academia know if that is so? He was my introduction too, in the Viking Portable paperback, which has a long de-Nazification introduction.
posted by thelonius at 5:54 PM on August 17 [2 favorites]


I'm skeptical of the desire to write off all these alt-right guys as dumbasses. It seems like a good way to underestimate your opponent.

I have two responses to this.

First, context is important. It's not that long ago that allegedly-respectable news outlets were fawning over Spencer and the other assholes like them. They're not your grandpa's Nazis! They wear suits! (Because it's not like the original Nazis had Hugo Boss uniforms or anything.)

So articles like this are important counter-programming to the narrative that paints the "alt-right" as sophisticated intellectuals because they dress nice and can throw out a couple of 50-cent words.

Second, more important, intelligence is not a requirement to be dangerous. The original Nazis were a bunch of fucking buffoons. However, via brutality and low cunning, they were able to obtain enough power to force some actually smart people to work for them, and that was enough.

Personally, I'm inclined to the Fred Clark view (as expressed, e.g., here) that holding yourself to an evil worldview turns you stupid. Or at least makes you believe stupid things. Intellectual honesty is not compatible with the Nazi worldview. But you don't need intellectual honesty to pull a trigger or swing a club.
posted by tobascodagama at 6:29 PM on August 17 [9 favorites]


It’s a truth universally acknowledged that anyone in want of attention could do worse than take possession of Jane Austen.(NYT)

Austen’s connections with grubby contemporary politics are often played for pure laughs. In 2000, the online magazine Slate used the headline “Bin Laden a Huge Jane Austen Fan” to tease a column that had pretty much nothing to do with either.

That article is amazing for both showcasing such a different world we lived in 2000, and also how Slate hasn't really changed at all.
posted by Apocryphon at 6:51 PM on August 17


It would really be a shame if someone started spreading the rumor that Richard Spencer made a poopy in his pants in front of his entire Philosophy 101 class
posted by duffell at 7:21 PM on August 17 [1 favorite]


What I’m saying is that it’s worth interrogating all of our cultural touchstones. Who deserves cultural honor and attention? What are we willing excuse in the people we call heroes or geniuses? Who are we overlooking when we do? Are there better, smarter people out there we could be studying or honoring instead?

That would be a very Nietzschean way of reading Nietzsche.

It would really be a shame if someone started spreading the rumor that Richard Spencer made a poopy in his pants in front of his entire Philosophy 101 class

I heard Richard Spencer saw someone across the street kicking a broken-down car, so he ran over and threw his arms around one of the wheels.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 8:01 PM on August 17 [4 favorites]




I suspect that very few alt-righters have read Maps of Meaning or any of Peterson's better work, and have instead simply found his Youtube rants, most of which are pretty unfortunate. But hey, if the Puritans could found Harvard, maybe the alt-right folks can get into something that isn't total bullshit.

I don't know that much about Peterson's prior career but he seems to have stumbled onto how lucrative mean-spirited culture war stuff has gotten and really run with it.
posted by atoxyl at 10:25 PM on August 17 [1 favorite]


The so-called alt-right is a mono-culturalism that would like to subvert the multi-culturalists, because they are so close in theory, which is culturalism generally. But the dump is bigger than any one pile of garbage, so no easy job there. Culturalism's hermit crab relationship with the hollow shells of dead religion and outdated tradition requires that it operate and pose as a fundamentalist movement, because they all perform the same fraud. It will typically introduce pseudo-transmitted knowledge to produce the effect of pseudo-certainty, especially as cryptic interpretations. Heidegger defended himself in later interviews about publicly standing up to the Nazis by giving a series of lectures on Nietzsche over the course of months, claiming that anyone who attended would have known he was in opposition to the regime. But this could have been Hitler's lame defense. Their devotion to truth was never over words or belief in doctrine, but always about the gift source of mob power.
posted by Brian B. at 10:26 PM on August 17 [2 favorites]


Clueless question: is the American alt-right anti-Semetic, in the sense that this is an important focus of their world view? Or are they more focused on some combination of the Islamic / black / feminist threat; and what they perceive to be an increasingly liberal left agenda; and some of them also do the 'oh yeah I guess it's the Jews too' thing because it's edgy? I feel like I don't really understand what 'alt-right' includes these days and how this intersects with older movements like neo-Nazis and the KKK.

In Australia (and I'm by no means close to this issue in the relatively left-wing bubble of our national capital) our modern white nationalists seem to be closer to the latter, much less the former, with neo-Nazis and other anti-Semites having their own more specialised groups, and alt-righters being more your garden variety aggrieved white males whining about women and refugees and 'political correctness gone mad'.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 10:28 PM on August 17 [2 favorites]


When I mentioned this to my brother, he shrugged, and said: "Nietzsche also said things that can lead to fascism. He had a lot of weird ideas, Eternal Recurrence, what's up with that?"

There is a lot of really good scholarship on this, as it happens, and there are a lot of remarks on similar themes in They Gay Science that don't get nearly the attention they deserve.

There's a lot of really good scholarship on Nietzsche in general. There is also, alas, a lot of really crap scholarship on him. (I myself have produced and published scholarship on Nietzsche, which I won't pretend to assess here. But it's a little dispiriting to see so many people saying, you know, oh, Nietzsche, he was just a nutty guy, and a phase, and not really worth your time.)
posted by kenko at 10:30 PM on August 17 [2 favorites]


... oh, Nietzsche, he was just a nutty guy, and a phase, and not really worth your time.

Reminds me of this essay from 2015 (which I thought was relatively accessible and insightful for nonphilosophers):

I teach an undergraduate class on Nietzsche, a philosopher who has a reputation for captivating young minds. After one class, a student came to see me. There was something bothering her. "Is it OK to be changed by reading a philosopher?" she asked. "I mean, do you get inspired by Nietzsche? Do you use him in your life?" / You have to be careful about questions like that, and not only because the number of murderers claiming Nietzsche as their inspiration is higher than I would like. What the student usually means is: "Nietzsche mocks careful scholarship: Can I, in his spirit, write my paper however the hell I want and still get a good grade?" In this case, though, the student knew perfectly well how to write a scholarly paper. She wanted to do something else too: Be Nietzschean!
posted by polymodus at 12:56 AM on August 18 [2 favorites]


Speaking of Ayn Rand and Nietzsche, this is philosophy. [fake]
posted by runcifex at 3:19 AM on August 18 [4 favorites]


What I’m saying is that it’s worth interrogating all of our cultural touchstones. Who deserves cultural honor and attention? What are we willing excuse in the people we call heroes or geniuses? Who are we overlooking when we do? Are there better, smarter people out there we could be studying or honoring instead?

That would be a very Nietzschean way of reading Nietzsche.


I read lots of Nietzsche and pretty much got that out of it. How Nazis got "kill the Jews", and how neo-Nazis got "white power"...WTF.

Nietzsche's point was "we need better points everything is dumb". I say this with absolute certainty because I am dumb.
posted by saysthis at 3:28 AM on August 18 [2 favorites]


Oh hell, I even saw a thing once somewhere that said "Nietzsche's talk on women is critique of contemporary (to him) femininity, therefore he is calling it dumb, ergo he is actually a feminist."

¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Nazis are undermensch.
posted by saysthis at 3:39 AM on August 18 [1 favorite]


Speaking of Ayn Rand and Nietzsche, this is philosophy. [fake]

That's hilarious.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 3:46 AM on August 18


Ecce Homo exhibits the ruin of his mind in a sort of heartbreaking way...

I read a bit of that the other month. The Penguin Classics into suggested that he wrote it before he went mad. This claim didn't survive a reading of the first few pages.
posted by Mocata at 3:50 AM on August 18 [2 favorites]


I'm almost tempted to wonder if the man wrote all the hideous, adolescent misogyny as an ironic move. It displays such an astonishing lack of insight and self-criticism, for a thinker who makes so much out of his claim to be the first psychologist. And it points like a huge arrow to a thematic question, from his own philosophy: exactly how sick is this thinker, how fearful of life?
posted by thelonius at 3:55 AM on August 18


I mean, of all the things to keep from your "educator" Schopenahuer, you pick his ideas on women?
posted by thelonius at 3:58 AM on August 18 [1 favorite]


Clueless question: is the American alt-right anti-Semetic, in the sense that this is an important focus of their world view?

It's not explicitly front-and-center in their public discourse the way their Islamophobia is, but the dogwhistles about (((globalists))) and (((rootless transnational elites))) are there. And then if you peek behind the curtain to their "private" (read: echo chambers like Reddit and 4chan's /pol) discussion channels and you're constantly seeing super anti-Semitic cartoons passed around with the rest of the memes.
posted by tobascodagama at 5:47 AM on August 18 [5 favorites]


My humble contribution to the body of critical work on Nietszche... Took some poetic license but the basic point is defensible.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:19 AM on August 18 [1 favorite]


One thing that strikes me about Nietszche: he's really readable.

I'm a little bit against the bit from the Slate article that goes "flatters you in the pretense that, though you have no formal training and are actually kind of a crappy and distracted reader, you are doing philosophy", because it seems to lean on the idea that no one can "do" philosophy outside the academy, that philosophy is best left to the specialists. And in particular, that teenagers had better not kid themselves that they are "doing" philosophy.

Which, I guess, is why we need philosopher-kings? The rest of us are too dumb, also you need a PhD before you start thinking about the world in any but the most crudely material way?

Lots of non-specialist people like science fiction because - among other things - it's a way for the non-specialist to "do" philosophy, in the sense of "trying to think through problems of being in a systematic and not-too-dumb way". (So, for instance, I get about half what little post-structuralism I know from Samuel Delany's Neveryona books, which are explicitly written about post-structuralism. "The Tale of Old Venn" is a good example. ) My bet is that a lot of people would also like to read other philosophy that is as accessible as Nietszche and more complex and directly philosophical than much science fiction. (There's only so much one can do in fiction.)

It's not that one should not write difficult stuff in difficult language to do difficult things, and it's not that you can just cast, say, Derrida into plain language without losing important things. But I don't believe that thinking about the world is so difficult and so specialized that it can only be done in language that requires a PhD and a great deal of spare time, and should only be attempted by people who have always-already (as it was fashionable to say, for a time) read deeply in the European philosophical tradition.

You know what disaffected young men should be reading? Minima Moralia. Not quite as fun as Nietzsche, but definitely bite-sized, disaffected and a good stepping stone to other things. Minima Moralia, the more accessible bits of Frederic Jameson, maybe some Shulamith Firestone - those are all accessible, transgressive and interesting, and if you chew through them all, you'll strengthen yourself as a reader.
posted by Frowner at 7:35 AM on August 18 [13 favorites]


(There's only so much one can do in fiction.)

This sentiment helps me articulate my biggest complaint about science fiction. If the average author's approach to form and description had half the wonder and daring they have in regards to tech and society, it would be a lot more rewarding to read. I want to read sci by poets. I'll assume this exists but it's less successful it visible (somewhere in the neighborhood of Octavia Butler, Ursula K Le Guin and Samuel R Delaney?).
posted by idiopath at 8:11 AM on August 18 [2 favorites]


Clueless question: is the American alt-right anti-Semetic, in the sense that this is an important focus of their world view? Or are they more focused on some combination of the Islamic / black / feminist threat; and what they perceive to be an increasingly liberal left agenda; and some of them also do the 'oh yeah I guess it's the Jews too' thing because it's edgy?

Depends on which alt-right you're looking at. Some of the "neo-reactionaries" or Bell Curve-ers profess to include Jews among the favored races and there are some others who profess to be indifferent. But anti-Semitic memes and conspiracy theories have become waaaay too popular among the /pol set for the irony defense to fly, and the sort of people who were marching with torches in Charlottesville are generally all about it.

There's probably still something of a cultural divide between the 4chan guys and your older neo-Nazis and KKK types. I think the Richard Spencers are hoping to bridge that divide.
posted by atoxyl at 8:58 AM on August 18 [2 favorites]


@Brian B.:

Your post above deserves considerable attention. I googled "culturalism," a term with which I am unfamiliar, and found a fascinating article, "Culturalism: Culture as political ideology." Plenty there that merits reflection, discussion and argument. One of my favourite treatments of this subject is Morris Edward Opler's 1944 article, "Cultural and Organic Conceptions in Contemporary World History ." Here are some key passages:
Human history is the story of the diminishing importance of the body and the increasing importance of the superorganic or cultural.

[T]he rise of the Nazis and the present war itself are simply a phase of the overshadowing struggle between the two world conceptions, the organic and the cultural.

The greater freedom from determining instincts and the growth and refinement of culture provide choices and demand decisions and responsibilities.
Opler's view of culture as emancipatory seems helpful in criticizing cultural determinism.
posted by No Robots at 9:24 AM on August 18 [1 favorite]


I think mentioning Minima Moralia is interesting, because as a suitable foil for reading Nietzsche this further raises the issue of philosophical scholarship as a reader, like if a person is reading Adorno does it occur to them not to think of it as in competition to Nietzsche but rather do they ask themselves the question of what the interrelationships and contexts of their respective writings were, and considering the indirect discourse happening between different philosophers over space and time. And that and related ways of thinking can be taught or transmitted culturally, which is where academia can be of help, especially these days where resources are just a query/download away. There are pros and cons to having a teacher and real life scholarly environment and very much a tension between those inside and outside.
posted by polymodus at 3:42 PM on August 18


"Heidegger is easy. You get the pattern after 100 pages and then you realize it's all the same. Fookin' Nazi."

LOL. Even Heidegger didn't understand all of Sein und Zeit. There's tons to unpack on pretty much every page — if it's all the same to you after 100, the problem might be you, not Heidegger being a Nazi.

(One frustrating thing about Heidegger's Nazism is that, like, a huge chunk of his work is specifically about the risks of technology/industrialized thinking in reducing other beings to "standing reserve," or tools to be used, which corresponds pretty directly to how the Nazis industrialized. But he's pretty much the go-to for how you can be a genius about some things and a totally shitty human being in your everyday life.)
posted by klangklangston at 4:44 PM on August 18 [2 favorites]


Some of them no doubt just think they are just codplaying the antisemitism bit.

They are not.
posted by Artw at 5:38 PM on August 18 [1 favorite]


Thanks. Some reading ahead for me.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 3:05 AM on August 19


Thanks, No Robots. I'm reading the bit from Opler with a view that he is somehow delineating physical and cultural anthropology within his immediate political frame. Surely the Nazis were culturalists, based on mythology and folklore, exploiting the common belief that humans devolved from a pure tongue, and a pure set of genes from a common creation. But culturalism isn't just an abstract identity or devotion to a prophetic destiny, but a normalized social expectation and inherited social order. It is one thing to view culture as a cosmopolitan, or even as a tourist, but a separate problem to view it as a policeman, as culturalism does.
posted by Brian B. at 11:40 AM on August 19


Yeah, it's interesting, Brian B. You make good points, and I have a lot to learn and think about when it comes to this subject. If you have recommended reading, please share.
posted by No Robots at 1:40 PM on August 19


Did the Nazis root their culturalism in a concept of biologic race? Is the alt right doing that in the article I linked to earlier, "The Alternative Right Belongs to the Darwinians?" How should the Left combat race-based culturalism? I mean, it's great and all to argue that the Left should stick to economics, but doesn't it have to address the question of race? Wouldn't that open up the whole question of biology?
posted by No Robots at 2:31 PM on August 19


How should the Left combat race-based culturalism?

Good question. I would employ intellect over emotions, because the neutral third party is who needs convincing. Equal rights is a grand barrier to special rights and privileges, or anyone else owning us. It is not about needing to learn to like someone first, because it's based on an intelligent principle, not an emotional platitude tied to good feelings. It is mutual self-respect, because it protects everyone in principle. A genetic point system will not favor those desperate for a race-based solution.
posted by Brian B. at 5:15 PM on August 19


Agreed. Thanks for the interaction.
posted by No Robots at 5:47 PM on August 19


Even Heidegger didn't understand all of Sein und Zeit.

I dunno what that means exactly but Heidegger's difficulty is way overblown as part of the myth surrounding him and his supposed genius. He expresses what turn out to be simple concepts in unnecessarily complicated language because he has idiotic and completely racist notions about which modes of expression can approach truth (hint: those modes close to the German soil (fuckin nazi)). When the reader overcomes the expectation of incredible wisdom and sees the legerdemain and sleight of hand that Heidegger is constantly performing to make simple ideas seem profound, he shrinks. The black notebooks make it all too clear. Anyway Arendt's Human Condition does a far better job at getting to the important core of being & time, and with actual scholarship and arguments instead of oracular proclamation. I am a bit bitter because I was halfway through a dissertation on Heidegger's late work when the black notebooks dropped auf Deutsch and ruined everything.
posted by dis_integration at 8:44 PM on August 19


Clueless question: is the American alt-right anti-Semetic, in the sense that this is an important focus of their world view?

One of the chants of the self-proclaimed "alt-right" march in Charlottesville, VA was "Jews will not replace us" - they are clearly and vocally anti-Semetic.
posted by jammy at 1:43 PM on August 20 [2 favorites]


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