- Nietzsche's Machiavellian Politics, and: Political Writings of Friedrich Nietzsche
The debate over Nietzsche's political teaching—whether he had one and if so, what it was—shows no sign of abating, despite a great deal of scholarly exchange on the topic over the last few decades. Don Dombowsky has participated in this debate over the last few years with the publication of two books: an argument for a political reading of Nietzsche (Nietzsche's Machiavellian Politics) and (with Frank Cameron) an edited volume collecting Nietzsche's political writings throughout his career (Political Writings of Friedrich Nietzsche). I will address the books in order.
In Nietzsche's Machiavellian Politics, Dombowsky approaches Nietzsche with a distinct argument; he wishes to emphasize the political context of Nietzsche's own time and how Nietzsche fit into this context: "The principal imperative guiding this study, conversely, is to situate Nietzsche's political thought in relation to the political issues, critiques, and movements of his own period" (1). As Dombowsky points out, Peter Bergmann's Nietzsche, "The Last Antipolitical German" is one of the few other works to address this matter in detail, so there is ample room for such research. To this end, Dombowsky points to Nietzsche's frequent mention (often in asides) of Bismarck, the Kulturkampf, and other issues of the late nineteenth century. But he also seeks to connect Nietzsche with intellectual movements of his time, such as neo-Machiavellian elite theory. On top of this, Dombowsky strongly criticizes postmodern and radical liberal interpretations of Nietzsche and contends that Nietzsche subscribes to Machiavelli's political teachings, combining force with fraud.
Dombowsky begins by making the case that for Nietzsche, morality is reducible to politics, making him a thoroughly political thinker. Dombowsky extends this idea by claiming that all of Nietzsche's key philosophical ideas fit into this political view; indeed, we cannot escape Nietzsche's politics, even if we choose to focus solely on his views on, for example, aesthetics or epistemology. Part and parcel of Nietzsche's political views is his profoundly antiegalitarian sentiment: his emphasis on agonism and order of rank and his project of the revaluation of values are fundamentally elitist. Dombowsky makes his case strongly here (although I am predisposed to agree with this [End Page 129] part of his interpretation): he offers extensive textual support for his argument and cogently fits the parts of Nietzsche's philosophy together.
In the next chapter, Dombowsky takes on what he calls the radical liberal reading of Nietzsche. This view, put forward by scholars such as Mark Warren, William Connolly, and Lawrence Hatab, argues that Nietzsche's philosophical teachings are incompatible with his antidemocratic political views. Instead, the argument goes, Nietzsche's moral and epistemological teachings lend themselves to a postmodern theory of democracy: if no view is privileged, then all are equal, and none can legitimately suppress others. Dombowsky argues that this view is flat-out wrong, and it is here that he makes perhaps the best argument of the book. Nietzsche's elitist views are inextricably linked to his epistemology and ontology. Not all perspectives are equal. Nietzsche's agonism implies a lack of equality because will to power involves the strong dominating the weak. Again, I am predisposed to accept this interpretation of Nietzsche's thought, but I find that Dombowsky makes a compelling case that the radical liberal view simply misses the point.
Instead of a radical liberal view, Dombowsky argues that Nietzsche should be understood as growing out of thinkers like de Tocqueville and Taine (what Dombowsky calls the aristocratic liberal school of thought). These thinkers were very skeptical of democracy's leveling tendencies but did not favor replacing liberal regimes with aristocratic ones. Nietzsche shares this school of thought's profound skepticism of the common person and the fear that democracy is ruining culture. Nietzsche, however, radicalizes this school of thought, pushing...