- Nietzsche and Political Thought ed. by Keith Ansell-Pearson
New York: Bloomsbury, 2015. viii + 245 pp. isbn: 9781474241847. Paper, $39.95.
Nietzsche continues to be a source of inspiration for political thinking, as this diverse collection of articles makes clear. The aim of the volume—according to its commissioning editor Keith Ansell-Pearson, known for his seminal Introduction to Nietzsche as Political Thinker (Cambridge University Press, 1994) and Nietzsche contra Rousseau (Cambridge University Press, 1996)—is not to determine, once and for all, what that contribution to political thought ought to be, but rather to show how Nietzsche continues to provide new and interesting ways of thinking about politics today. So Rosalyn Diprose in “Nietzsche on Truth, Honesty and Responsibility in Politics,” for instance, criticizes Hannah Arendt’s view of the role of truth in politics from a Nietzschean perspective, arguing that Nietzsche’s commitment to perspectivism entails that “honesty” be the most important value in the political sphere, and not the distinction between factual and moral truth that Arendt wants to uphold. Peter Sedgwick, in “Nietzsche, Naturalism and Law,” challenges the view that Nietzsche is the enemy of law, characterized here as only the expression of power relations, positing instead that after the birth of the state law becomes a site of contestation in which authority itself comes into question. Taking his cues from Deleuze, Alan Schrift, in “Spinoza vs. Kant: Have I Been Understood?,” explores the possibility of a Nietzschean nontranscendental politics inspired by Spinoza’s immanentist alternative to Kant, and which, even if it might not lead to an explicit political theory, opens up the space within which one can be developed. In “Nietzsche and the Engine of Politics,” Nandita Biswas [End Page 119] Mellamphy, focusing on Nietzsche’s concern with physiology, offers an interpretation of the Übermensch that privileges physis over logos, and thus affords us a glimpse into her recent work The Three Stigmata of Friedrich Nietzsche: Political Physiology in the Age of Nihilism (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011).
As these examples show, the collection keeps its promise of opening up new and different avenues through which to explore how Nietzsche’s political thinking might be used to think about politics today. This is amplified by the fact that it brings together both well-established and more up-and-coming Nietzsche scholars, and makes certain authors who work in the broader field address more specifically Nietzschean topics. In doing so, the collection offers a rather full and fertile snapshot of the state of Nietzsche scholarship today, and will not be of interest just to Nietzsche scholars, but can also serve as an excellent introduction to students entering the field, as a way of grasping a number of the different positions available in a rather concise manner.
This thinking, it must be said, is done very much in the “Continental” vein: the collection after all appears in the Bloomsbury Studies in Continental Philosophy series. It is interesting to note, however, that while the figures that are called upon are very much Continental, or more to the point French—Deleuze, Badiou, Klossowski, and Lacan in particular loom large—the contributors themselves are more often than not drawn from the Anglo-American world, notably the United Kingdom, the United States, and, increasingly, Australia. So aside from Bruno Bosteels (a Belgian who teaches at Cornell), Vanessa Lemm (who studied in Paris, now in Australia), and Herman Siemens (of Leiden but, like much of the Netherlands, working in English), none of the authors are themselves French, and there is little engagement with contemporary French interpreters of Nietzsche. That, however, might be more of a commentary on the state of the French literature, which has seen a (natural) decline since its postmodern heyday, than anything else, and in any case contemporary French scholars such as Patrick Wotling and Monique Dixsaut do not work within the framework that interests the contributors to this collection in the first place.
While the collection explores new terrain in Nietzsche studies, this does not mean that more conventional topics are not treated. So the theme of perfectionism runs throughout the book: Michael Ure, in...