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  • Newton contra Alt-right Nietzsche:Dionysus as Androgynous Black Panther
  • Joshua M. Hall

I saw a man move catlikeAcross the rooftops,Glide along the horizons,Casting no shadow . . .

—Melvin Newton (qtd. in Hilliard and Weise 245)1

perhaps the most egregious subcommunity responsible for today's political crisis in the United States, pre-dating and facilitating the rise of its forty-fifth president, is the group known as the "alt-right" (short for the alternative right of the political spectrum). It is composed primarily of younger (millennial) cisgender white men, and it developed in response to a well-publicized controversy in the world of computer gaming known as "Gamergate."2 And one of their primary philosophical influences, like the Nazis before them, is Friedrich Nietzsche. They interpret Nietzsche, often through the filter of Ayn Rand's work, as a powerful precursor to their self-appointed role as nemeses of "political correctness" and champions of the hierarchical views embraced by capitalists, racists, sexists, xenophobes, and so on (which they mask as "free speech").

One major aspect of the mainstream right to which the alt-right is "alternative" is orthodox Christianity. Many on the alt-right proudly identify as atheists or agnostics and, like Nietzsche, reach conclusions highly critical of democracy, women, Jewish people, and so on, that are shared by the mainstream right, but they do so via routes that do not explicitly endorse any religious beliefs. As has frequently been observed, however, regarding the alt-right's favorite contemporary philosophers (namely, "New Atheists" such as Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, and members of the "Intellectual Dark Web" such as Jordan Peterson), this rejection of religion does not preclude a central place for mythology.

It is at this mythological locus that the present article stages an intervention into this political crisis. One important example of this mythology is [End Page 110] Nietzsche's personal favorite god, Dionysus. The problem with that favor, in light of scholarship on that deity since Nietzsche, is that his interpretation is not merely unduly narrow, highly selective, and fundamentally distorted (all of which, admittedly, Nietzsche would acknowledge and celebrate, along with many of his scholarly admirers). What is more—and deeply ironic, given his and the alt-right's boasts of championing free speech and difficult truths—Nietzsche's conception is also a heavily censored one, stripped of Dionysus's most controversial progressive political content.

More specifically, Nietzsche hides Dionysus's androgyny and his advocacy for women, queer people, the poor, foreigners, the city, democracy, and peace. (Here, I will address only the first issue, having addressed the others elsewhere). The critique of Nietzsche, for some scholars, including Walter Otto and Alain Daniélou, is mostly implicit, inferable from the many relevant characteristics that they note in Dionysus, but that Nietzsche suppresses. For other scholars, the critique is explicit, and often damning. Richard Seaford, for example, criticizes Nietzsche primarily for an overly abstract conception in which "the Dionysiac unity of humankind has no political significance" (6, 144). Arthur Evans laments Nietzsche's views on democracy, women, and slavery (193–94). And Carl Kerényi complains that Nietzsche "ignores the Dionysian woman, after the god the second most important person in the drama, in a manner that was almost as pathological as his later appalling preoccupation with Ariadne" (136).

What is worse than Nietzsche's own censorship is that his academic philosophical interpreters, who are as predominantly white and cis-male as the alt-right, have followed Nietzsche in this censorship, failing to hold their infamously slippery subject accountable. For a relatively recent example, James Porter's The Invention of Dionysus: An Essay on The Birth of Tragedy (2000), despite its title and its repeated insistence that Nietzsche is untrustworthy and unreliable, fails to raise even one of these politically charged dimensions of Dionysus. Such omissions go all the way back to Walter Kaufmann, and the entire school of U.S. Nietzscheans inspired by him, who have abetted this repression of politically progressive truth, wittingly or not. It should give us pause that a philosophy scholar such as myself could study and publish on Nietzsche for over a decade, consulting philosophy research from various traditions, and...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1944-6489
Print ISSN
1930-7365
Pages
pp. 110-128
Launched on MUSE
2020-06-18
Open Access
No
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