- The Rise of Politics and Morality in Nietzsche's Genealogy: From Chaos to Conscience by Jeffrey Metzger
I am a big fan of the Second Essay in Nietzsche's GM. I find it mysteriously rich rather than embarrassingly incoherent. The Rise of Politics and Morality in Nietzsche's Genealogy is the first full-length study of this essay and, as such, is a welcome addition to the scholarship. Metzger's book makes several valuable contributions to the discussion of the Second Essay, but the overall argument of the book is hampered by two main issues: First, Metzger's central argument seems to be that the Second Essay details the morally creative expression of the will to power in bad conscience (158, 161), but it is not sufficiently nuanced on the meaning or scope of either the will to power or morality. And second, Metzger's reading fails to take into account Nietzsche's background in nineteenth-century ethnology—a background that informs his understanding of human prehistory.
Though Metzger starts by telling us that the crucial question in GM II "concerns the will to power and its ability to serve as the principle or foundation of a coherent explanatory account of morality" (6), and though he assures us a [End Page 170] little later that "Nietzsche does indeed offer a coherent and original account of the origin of political society and morality" (14) in terms of the will to power, the conclusion of the book talks about a "fatal flaw" (157) in the "hopelessly circular" (161) underlying historical narrative. At issue in these criticisms is Nietzsche's inability to explain, in terms of the will to power alone, how we went from prepolitical chaos "primarily shaped … by aggression" (162) to an organized political state. Of course, any such attempt to read the historical developments described in the Second Essay solely in terms of the will to power would surely depend for its success on a sufficiently robust and nuanced interpretation of this motive force. But Metzger never goes much beyond the notion of the will to power in humans as an impulse "to create forms" by violently or aggressively forcing things into greater and greater units of power (14–15). He does not engage, for example, with either of Bernard Reginster's or Paul Katsafanas's well-developed recent readings of the will to power. These deficiencies in Metzger's account of the will to power are, as we will see, compounded by the way he uses the idea of morality.
Nietzsche's reading of contemporary ethnology should be particularly important for Metzger because he tells us in the introduction that while other books on GM (by Aaron Ridley, Daniel Conway, Christopher Janaway, David Owen, and Lawrence J. Hatab) focus on "moral philosophy and psychology" in the Second Essay, he will concentrate on Nietzsche's "fairly detailed picture of the rise of political life" (2). Interestingly, Metzger both compares what Nietzsche is doing to Hobbes's and Locke's "classic state of nature" (3) theories, and also takes Nietzsche's claims to "real history" (GM P:7) seriously, at least to the extent that "the historical narrative of the Second Essay … must be puzzled out to make sense of whatever conceptual narrative and analysis is offered therein" (6). But shouldn't puzzling out this narrative involve looking into the picture of prehistory Nietzsche may have gleaned from the likes of J. J. Bachofen, John Lubbock, Edward Tylor, Walter Bagehot, Otto Caspari, and Albert Hermann Post? To be sure, Nietzsche does not outline his broader vision of prehistoric humanity in the Second Essay; instead, he just calls up various periods, moments, and practices that he sees as relevant to his genealogical interests. But GM II and other works clearly rest on an implicit set of theories and assumptions that Nietzsche takes from figures like Post, who draw from ancient history as well as comparative studies of nineteenth-century indigenous peoples in their speculations...