- Nietzsche's Great Politics by Hugo Drochon
Hugo Drochon's Nietzsche's Great Politics is a well-written and well-argued account of Nietzsche's political vision that presents itself squarely within the tradition of Cambridge School intellectual history. As such, Drochon explicitly rejects interpretations of Nietzsche's political thought that start from the premise of normative democratic theory, but he also fully and rightly rejects any attempt to read Nietzsche's political ideas through the lens of his appropriation by the Nazi regime. Instead, Drochon's aim is to situate Nietzsche in the context of the nineteenth century, especially Imperial Germany, and he is correct in pointing out that the formative periods in Nietzsche's intellectual development roughly map onto Bismarck's government of Germany. Nietzsche's "visions of politics"—to use the title of Quentin Skinner's highly influential collection of essays that outline the program of Cambridge School intellectual history—are visions of "great politics" that seek to overcome the Machtpolitik of Bismarck's Reich, centered as it was on the internal stabilization of the new German Empire after the Franco-Prussian War. In opposition to both Bernard Williams and Brian Leiter, and also in contrast to Martha Nussbaum, Drochon is entirely right to conclude that Nietzsche does field a relatively coherent vision of political life, and he is also on the mark in his conclusion that Nietzsche's politics remains a politics of the nineteenth century that cannot fully be translated into the present.
This is the central thesis that stands behind Drochon's argument, and it is the interesting thesis of a generally solid book. However, the book is [End Page 170] marred by three central problems: a rather shorthand understanding of the actual context of German society and politics in the years between 1871 and the late 1880s, a strange reluctance to discuss in more detail Nietzsche's philosophical account of morality, and an almost complete absence of any secondary literature in German. (The latter is particularly bothersome to this reviewer. Imagine the reverse: writing a book on Thomas Hobbes without reference to any research published in English. What is simply absurd in other fields has become the standard in much English-language Nietzsche scholarship. This is, to be sure, not Drochon's fault, but his approach merely reflects what is generally done.)
In a first chapter focused on Nietzsche's lectures on the pre-Platonic philosophers and on PTAG, Drochon seeks to reassess Nietzsche's reception of Plato. He suggests that Nietzsche draws a distinction between Plato's philosophical commitments and his political interests: while Nietzsche rejects the metaphysical implications of Plato's philosophy, Plato nevertheless provides the overall vision that guides Nietzsche's view of politics throughout his intellectual career. Foregrounding the importance of cultural excellence, coupled with a realistic understanding of social and political hierarchies and inequalities, Plato's politics is thus presented as the blueprint for what Drochon, responding to John Rawls's famous account of Nietzsche's presumed perfectionism, describes as Nietzsche's moderate philosophical perfectionism. The latter is moderate precisely because it accepts a pluralism of values, which not only is directed against Rawls's somewhat more literal reading, but also stands in some opposition, of course, to Plato's philosophical program. Drochon, thus, seems to underestimate how closely aligned Plato's philosophical program and political vision really are, which makes it more difficult to draw such a clear-cut distinction between Nietzsche's political agreement with Plato and his philosophical disagreement. For Drochon, Nietzsche seems ready to adopt Plato's quasi-aristocratic vision of politics, even though he rejects Plato's metaphysical claims about the primacy of the good and the immortality of the soul, which, however, underpin Plato's conception of the philosopher king.
Nietzsche's own political vision, however, gains traction in his encounter with Richard Wagner, and Drochon argues for a structural equivalence among Wagner's idea of "total revolution" and Nietzsche's emerging concept of a "revaluation of all values." Against this background, and in contrast [End Page 171...