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  • The Rise of Politics and Morality in Nietzsche's Genealogy: From Chaos to Conscience by Jeffrey Metzger
  • Allison Merrick
Jeffrey Metzger. The Rise of Politics and Morality in Nietzsche's Genealogy: From Chaos to Conscience. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2020. xi + 181 pp. Hardback, $90.00.

It is commonplace to note that there are distinctive questions to be found in the domain of political philosophy, queries as to how or why the state and society emerge or about how power should be exercised in society. Yet whether Nietzsche has a set of cogent answers to these sorts of questions is, of course, a contested matter. Jeffrey Metzger's The Rise of Politics and Morality in Nietzsche's Genealogy: From Chaos to Conscience answers in the affirmative. In offering a detailed and section-by-section reading of the Second Essay of On the Genealogy of Morality, Metzger argues that Nietzsche offers a vision of the origins of political life that, at once, is of primary importance in understanding Nietzsche's moral philosophy and marks Nietzsche's clear contribution to political thought on a par with the classic state of nature theorists (3–4).

The work distinguishes itself from other scholarship on Nietzsche's On the Genealogy of Morality in two ways. First, Metzger's work affords primacy of place to the Second Essay, which has often received the least amount of critical attention in the secondary literature on Nietzsche. Second, Metzger's interpretation relies on the will to power, which he interprets as a comprehensive metaphysical doctrine (7) that can serve both explanatory and normative purposes (10). Though this second claim could benefit from further development, as I will try to make clearer below, Metzger succeeds in demonstrating the importance of the sociopolitical in situating Nietzsche's moral philosophy, which, I think, is correct as a reading of Nietzsche's On the Genealogy of Morality.

To make good on these two fronts, Metzger carefully reconstructs Nietzsche's accounts of promising (chapter 1, sections 1–3 of Nietzsche's Genealogy), his sketch of political society and a sense of justice (chapter 2, sections 4–11), the character of punishment and its internalization through the formation of the bad conscience (chapters 3 and 4, sections 12–15 and 16–18 respectively), and the moralization of this mode of internalization (chapter 5, sections 19–25). Finally, in a concluding chapter, Metzger argues that Nietzsche fails "to give specific causal explanations for discrete moral phenomena," and points to some further lines of inquiry (154).

While the book certainly offers a welcome discussion of the Second Essay, my chief complaint concerns the central conviction that the will to power is an all-encompassing metaphysical and teleological thesis that explains all of biological life as end-directed (11). What this means, according to Metzger, is that "nature strives to create 'greater units of power'" (14), order from chaos, form from the formless (153). To put Metzger's central point another way, nature shapes the shapeless "in a long, senseless, violent, and wasteful process that is not guided by any morality or reason" (15). One clear upshot of Metzger's interpretation is that it refuses to follow other readings that have sought to sanitize or [End Page 353] downplay Nietzsche's views of this utter violence. Nevertheless, I found that Metzger too quickly dismisses the rival view that the will to power is best understood as a psychological thesis (8). Indeed, for instance, it might be plausible to hold the psychological thesis, as an explanation of the basic motivation of all human behavior, as primary and any extension of it to nonhuman realms as secondary—a prospect that Metzger does not consider.

One place in which further elaboration of this key thesis would be particularly helpful is chapter 3, which covers the most methodological sections of the Second Essay, 12–15. At stake is the very status of Nietzsche's own genealogical account: if meanings and functions are to be understood in terms of the will to power, which everything in the world necessarily seeks to enhance, what makes Nietzsche's interpretations of the phenomena uniquely valuable? Metzger's answer, if I have it right, is...


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