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The Journal of Nietzsche Studies 24 (2002) 83-112
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Agonal Communities Of Taste:
Law And Community In Nietzsche's Philosophy Of Transvaluation
H. W. Siemens
Against the Standard Political Reading
The post-war years have seen the emergence of a broad consensus on Nietzsche as a political thinker. Most commentators are in agreement on his strength as a critic of modernity, as they are on his weakness as a constructive political thinker. While exposing the failure of our most progressive projects and institutions (liberalism, democracy, enlightenment, etc.) to furnish rational justifications for themselves, Nietzsche is unable to offer us viable alternatives or anything positive to build on, capitulating instead to a blind, irrational voluntarism. Nietzsche's "tyrannophilia" (Staten), his "politics of domination" (Warren), his "religion of power" as "totalitarian rule" (Grau): these are the refrains to which we have become accustomed. In what can be called the standard political reading of Nietzsche's thought, 1 three moments stand out: Nietzsche is first and foremost an autarkic individualist (Stern, MacIntyre), philosophically insensitive to the sphere of social relations and deaf to the ethical claims of community. In the wake of a total critique of reason as will to power, Nietzsche (secondly) abandons the claims of reason altogether, turning instead to aesthetic and archaic values such as the "Tragic," the "Dionysian" and the "Noble" (Habermas). Since, on his own terms, modernity is too decadent or depleted to sustain such values, he (thirdly) entrusts our salvation to a mighty act of will on the part of superhuman redeemers (e.g., the Übermensch, Dionysos) who are yet to come. In MacIntyre's words, "let will replace reason and let us make ourselves autonomous moral subjects by some gigantic and heroic act of the will." 2
In my contribution, I would like to challenge such readings by exploring the communitarian and pluralistic impulses in Nietzsche's thinking. These impulses will be used to contest the three key claims of the standard political reading: that Nietzsche is (1) an autarkic individualist, who (2) abandons reason in favour (3) of a radical voluntarism. My argument is not that they [End Page 83] are unfounded, but rather that they are one-sided and fail to do justice to the perspectival range and tensions in Nietzsche's thought. In neglecting competing pluralistic and communitarian impulses, I believe they underestimate the positive, constructive potential in Nietzsche for political thought. 3 The argument falls into two parts. First, radical individualism (1) is contested through a relational reading of Nietzsche's use of the word "genius" (Genie, Genius). Out of this confrontation, the question of community is opened. I then go on to examine community under the sign of taste and agonal conflict. By embedding Nietzsche's individualism and voluntarism (1, 3) in an agonal conception of community that is far from irrational (2) I hope to bring valuable, constructive impulses in Nietzsche's thought to light.
In order to open the question of community, I shall first examine the nature and status of exceptional individuals in Nietzsche's thought under the sign of "genius." Although subject to complex and conflicting tendencies, "genius" is essentially a relational concept for Nietzsche: the meaning and value of genius is always determined in relation to a larger context or collective, specifically the open-ended enhancement or perfection of human existence. Nietzsche's relational conception of genius completely transforms the individualist and voluntarist moments of the standard reading. His demand for self-transformation cannot be read as a solipsistic glorification of power; for it is inseparable from the creation of ethical communities within an ethical project of open-ended human perfectionism.
In Section III, I shall examine Nietzsche's sense of ethical community by asking: What is the character of ethical law in Nietzsche's thought? Here I follow the direction set by Daniel Conway, who has argued that Nietzsche's sense of community is encapsulated in a relation to ethical laws that bind collectively, but only within particular groups. For Conway, however, Nietzschean communities consist only of aesthetic...