The lie of the ideal has hitherto been the curse on reality....— Nietzsche, Ecce Homo, Foreward, para. 2 (his emphasis).
The seemingly progressive point was already banal but of late it is being made with renewed intensity. It is to the effect that hostility to the United States would diminish or cease if only there were an export of that country’s virtuous attributes, pre-eminently freedom and democracy, rather than their being checked through military and other oppressions. The more solipsistic, and it would seem more common, view would have it that the extraversions of the United States are in any case always in the cause of the good. The near-corollary is that “anti-Americanism” can be countered by promoting a more adequate picture of the United States and its deeds. That such hostility may amount to more than this is for George W. Bush inconceivable: “Like most Americans, I just can’t believe it because I know how good we are.” Focusing now on freedom alone, what these positions affirm or import is an idea of freedom as immune to its effects. This is a self-sufficing freedom, complete in and of itself — an “enduring freedom,” to borrow an accessible phrase. What will be brought to bear here, in the refracted light of recent and continuing “events,” is a contrary idea of freedom once offered by Nietzsche and since amplified in empathic thought, of which more shortly. For Nietzsche “freedom is measured…by the resistance which has to be overcome, by the effort it costs to stay aloft.” Such freedom is an affective “superiority over him who must obey;” it entails a readiness “to sacrifice men to one’s cause;” and, when “viewed more closely” in the setting of liberalism, it is a “war for liberal institutions.” Perhaps, then, freedom and war may not be so contrary. Perhaps if freedom were less distanced from its effects, it could become more attuned to responsibility.
The notion of freedom against which Nietzsche inveighs is one of a freedom which is quasi-transcendent and universal, yet one which is also possessed of a sealed immanence, of an enwrapped completeness. It is, for instance, the freedom espoused by Arendt when, with an apt resonance, she declares that “we [that is all of “us”] hold human freedom to be a self-evident truth,” an “axiomatic assumption.” As such, this freedom is not only the well-spring of “practical” or “political” action but also its validation. But, Nietzsche again, “the raising” of such an idea always involves a “breaking” and a “sacrifice.” When the raised is instantiated, when it is enclosed in particularity, there is an inexorable exclusion and sacrificing of others — of those who are “other” to that emplacement of universal freedom. That exclusion, in turn, takes on an irreducible intensity because those excluded others, being beyond a universal good, can only “be” absolutely beyond. They can only be “enemies of freedom,” as George W. Bush put it in his address to the Congress of the United States on September 20, and this is why they “hate us.” Yet, being universal, that good also extends incipiently to them. Here an apt rhetorical charge is provided by British Prime Minister Blair. The clarion that was his speech to the annual conference of the Labour Party on October 2 would spread the “values of democracy and freedom round the world,” and would bring into the fold “the wretched…those living in want and squalor from the deserts of northern Africa to the slums of Gaza, to the mountain ranges of Afghanistan: they too are our cause.” In all, yet another variant of the frustrated algebra impelling the Occident’s universality — the impossible combining of exclusion with inclusion. This is not exactly “wanted dead or alive,” to borrow another presidential aperçu, but rather “wanted dead and alive.”
From what position can “the lords of humankind” thus bestride such an ambivalent world? How can universal arrogation be conjoined with particular location? There are many expedients but the most prominent in the current situation is that of the exemplar. A universal value or ideal is concentrated in the particular through an exemplar conceived in occidental or national terms. The very purchase on the universal becomes folded into and even a prerogative of this exemplar. Along with that condign ability comes the responsibility, the burden, the “mission,” the destiny of making the value or the ideal “truly” universal. This is a surpassing responsibility for the other, not a responsibility to the other. And so the British Prime Minister, in that same speech to the conference of his Party, could call “us” not just to benevolent action but also to force of arms and, in responding to both calls, we would “reorder the world around us,” all in the name of that selfsame world. Such calls can only be absolute — “let there be no moral ambiguity.” If they were anything less, if such calls were explicitly contingent or delimited, the exemplar could no longer appear as the carrier of the universal, as the repository of the anima mundi.
That exorbitant position can hardly be a pacific one. Not only is there an oppositional exclusion of others in its very constitution but, with the universalist imperative that these same others be included, it ensures that the relation to them is an engaged confrontation. Then there is the not inconsiderable matter of the affective range of this position. The modern universal cannot be endowed with enduring content in some quondam reference beyond. Nor can such content form within this universal, for to come to the universal from within is never to encompass or be able to hypostatize it. In short, the bringing of the universal into a determinate, and determinant, particularity can never be something irenically set. The particularity of its instantiation will be continually subject to dissipation. In the result, the position of exemplarity has constantly to be “held,” self-evidently or otherwise. To achieve this there has to be some responsive regard to the chaos of infinite effect that ensues from an orientation towards, and from within, the universal. That responsiveness, in turn, has to combine with a bringing of the chaos of effect into order. Summarily, with its embracing of the universal, the position of exemplarity brings effect into an operative relation with the particular and, in the same moment, its universalized elevation of the particular rejects what is found unfitting. An attuned mechanism of exemplarity can thence be instanced in the recently proclaimed “war on terrorism.” With its vacuity of content and range, its pervasive incipience and pall, this war not only accommodates indefinite effect but also generates specific “targets” of exclusion.
How could this position, at least in its lineaments, be otherwise? For modernism a responsive orientation towards the universal combined with a violence of exclusion would seem to be ineluctable. And Nietzsche’s imprecations on freedom as ascendant force and war can be read as a recognition of the inevitable. Furthermore, characteristic notions of “liberal” freedom already recognize and restrain the violence of its assertion. With such notions, freedom is tied to responsibility. It is constrained when there are pertinent obligations to others or when its exercise would do “harm” to others. These constraints, however, constitute a posterior and formulaic qualification that is not allowed to disturb freedom’s primal efficacy. What the qualification involves is a consequential calculation, one aimed not infrequently at softening the effect of the initial free assertion or aimed at securing its acceptance. Qualification of this kind serves to sustain rather than disabuse claims to the prerogative possession of a “self-evident” freedom. The enduring innocence of such freedom depends on an unknowing, on the unknowing that would embed belief in one’s invariant “goodness.” To begin to open out that encased hubris, there would have to be some recognition that free assertion and the sacrifice of others are coeval. From that recognition could flow some responsibility for the assertion and some responsibility to those others. Whether and how far such responsibility is to be assumed is a matter of judgement, but what is needful for the opening out is the heeding of judgement. Not that even the most hospitable assumption of responsibility can fully or assuredly accommodate it. The sacrifice, the knowing, the responsibility, and the judgement, all escape confining calculation; nor can they ever be fully absorbed within finitude. In their illimitable quality, “we” meet the plangent provocation ever, and freely, to be otherwise.
To dispel any Panglossian aura that may attach to such a conclusion, it could be contrasted with the reported response of Donald Rumsfeld who, when “asked what he would call a victory in America’s new war,... said that if he could convince the world that Americans must be allowed to continue with their way of life, he would consider it a victory.”
Peter Fitzpatrick is Anniversary Professor of Law, Birkbeck, University of London. His Modernism and the Grounds of Law was published this year. His other books include The Mythology of Modern Law. His essay, “Bare Sovereignty: Homo Sacer and the Insistence of Law” appeared in issue 5.1 of Theory & Event. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
1. David Owen, a former British Foreign Secretary, opined that now people in the United States “are more aware that outsiders have a distorted view of their democracy and they’ll make more effort to explain their position,” in “A World of Difference.” The Guardian — G2, October 11, 2001, 2.
2. In his press conference of October 11, 2001: see Matthew Engle, “Bush Nods to Blairite World View.” The Guardian, October 13, 2001, 4.
3. Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols in Twilight of the Idols and The Anti-Christ, trans. R. J. Hollingdale (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1968), 92, (part 38 of the 9th chapter) —his emphasis.
4. Ibid., and Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, trans. R. J. Hollingdale (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1973), 30, (part 10 of the 10th chapter)—his emphasis.
5. Hannah Arendt, Between Past and Future (New York: Penguin Books, 1993), 143. For resonance becoming direct attribution, see Arendt’s identification of such freedom with the US revolution in On Revolution (London: Penguin, 1973), chapter 4.
6. Arendt, Past and Present, 143, 151.
7. Friedrich Nietzsche, The Genealogy of Morals in The Birth of Tragedy and the Genealogy of Morals, trans. Francis Golffing, (New York: Doubleday, 1956), 228.
8. See Arundhati Roy, “The Algebra of Infinite Justice.” The Guardian, Saturday Review, September 29, 2001, 1. My use of the word “algebra” shortly is suggested by her title.
9. See Richard Shannon, “History Lessons.” The Guardian — G2, October 4, 2001, 3.
10. Jacques Derrida, The Other Heading: Reflections on Today’s Europe, trans. Pascale Anne-Brault and Michael Naas, (Bloomington: Indiana University Press. 1992).
11. See Hywel Williams, “The Danger of Liberal Imperialism.” The Guardian, October 4, 2001, 21.
13. It is a war well-fitted in this way to the professed policy of the United States of “full-spectrum dominance,” which translates as “the ability of U.S. forces operating alone or with allies, to defeat any adversary and control any situation across the range of military operations,” and these operations would also include “amorphous situations like peacekeeping and noncombat humanitarian relief:” See Jim Garamone, “Joint Vision 2020 Emphasizes Full-spectrum Dominance.” American Forces Press Service, June 2, 2000. This is quoted here merely as indicative of a mentality and without regard to its compatibility with later changes in defence policy.
14. Jacques Derrida, The Gift of Death, trans. David Wills, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995).
15. See Roy, “Infinite Justice,” 2.