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Nietzsche’s Contribution to the Understanding of Political Violence Essay

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Updated: Feb 11th, 2022

Introduction

Based on a consistent and critical review of the essential approaches to understanding violence in modern political and philosophical literature, several hypotheses can be mentioned as the core of the theory of political violence. Nietzsche examined these hypotheses in his works; he did not distinguish between politics, reason, and violence, but instead tried to prove their relationship. The purpose of this paper is to analyse Nietzsche’s views on political violence, to discuss his criticism of nihilism and nationalism, as well as to consider his ideas in the context of modern politics.

Nietzsche’s View of Conflict and Political Violence

Violence is not an accident, but a part of the category which is referred to as politics. Violence should be included in the definition of politics itself because the primary goal of politics is the organisation of society. It follows that the significance of violence for politics cannot be limited to the role of the means. In other words, politics is always violent, although the forms and goals of this violence can vary depending on the political context (Fox, 2018). Politics is a historically stable relationship between reason and violence, and in this perspective, it represents conflict and never has an insoluble contradiction.

However, the opposition between reason and violence in politics does not mean that the latter turns into violence and is inseparable from it. Such a difference is present only in abstract theory, but not in the structure of practice, in which violence is a necessary way of affirming and self-preservation of the mind of a given historical type (polis, cosmopolitan-imperial, liberal, and any other). In practice, the contradiction of politics is that the violence of the dominant mind can generate reasonable violence of resistance (Habermas, 2018). Undoubtedly, Nietzsche’s political philosophy was rooted in an anti-democratic sentiment. It was this view, as well as the sharp hostile attitude towards socialism, that was later widely used in fascist rhetoric. Nietzsche gave occasion to this with his contempt for the crowd, the preaching of power, the cult of Superman (leader).

Furthermore, Nietzsche justifies the legitimacy of privileges, advantages, and inequalities, rejecting the idea of ​​equality and freedom (Appel, 2019). Thus, the law is seen as a derivative of power, and its source is reflected in the law of war. The logic of the philosopher is based on the statement that “right is an advantage,” and such an advantage should be determined by being (Appel, 2019, p. 45).

Nietzsche’s attitude toward war is highly favourable, with his statements serving as evidence of this. He says that the blessing of war sanctifies every goal; therefore, there should not be long periods of peace in the world. Moreover, the philosopher connects hopes for a new high culture that would result from war. Nietzsche (2019a, p. 56) claims that “In favour of the war, that is how it said: in both of these actions it barbarizes people and thereby makes them more natural; for the culture, it is the time of hibernation, a person comes out of it stronger for good and evil.” Thus, war and military estates are prototypes of the state and will be used for its advancement.

Nietzsche On Nihilism

Nihilism refers to a philosophical movement that does not recognise the rules and authorities established by society. A nihilist is an individual who shares such a worldview and calls into question any generally accepted norms (Gertz, 2019). This term has been steadily gaining popularity in multiple areas such as religion, culture, law, and social relations.

When having considered nihilism as a component of public relations, it can be found out why it had appeared and at what time. Therefore, it is essential to analyse the principles and views of nihilists and the goals that they usually pursue. The general meaning of the term nihilist is defined as the denial by the individual of certain things, such as the meaning of existence, the presence of authorities, and the worship of religious idols. Nietzsche’s approach is radical nihilism, which requires a revisionist approach toward the reappraisal of cultural, philosophical, and spiritual values.

His European nihilism reduces to some basic tenets which the philosopher must proclaim with harshness, without fear and bias. Nietzsche (2018, p. 30) claims that “nothing is true anymore; God is dead; there is no morality; everything is allowed.” Nietzsche must be precisely understood as he seeks, in his own words, not to handle complaints and moralistic wishes, but to describe the future that cannot manifest.

According to Nietzsche’s most profound conviction, which is that the history of the late 20th century should not be rejected in any way, nihilism will become a reality for many people at least for the next two centuries. European culture has been developing under strain, which is continuously exasperating, bringing humanity and the world closer to disaster (Clark, 2019). Nietzsche declares himself the first nihilist of Europe as well as the philosopher of nihilism and the messenger of instinct in the sense that he portrays nihilism as an inevitable occurrence and calls to understand its essence.

Nihilism can be a symptom of a final decline in will directed against being. Nietzsche (2019b, p. 6) states, “what is bad? – everything that results from weakness”. And “nihilism of the strong” can and should become a sign of recovery, the awakening of a new will to live (Drolet, 2020, p. 89). Without false modesty, Nietzsche (2019, p. 7) declares that in regards to the “signs of decline and beginning,” he has a special instinct, which is stronger than in any other person.

Overall, Nietzsche adhered to the perspective of denying the existence of God and underlining the failure of Christianity as a religion. The principles of nihilism are always close to reality, and the reasoning behind its key provisions is based only on facts (Alan, 2018). A nihilist is a person who approaches every occurrence with sceptic doubt and suspicion; however, in many ways, it is crucial to find an alternative explanation for a phenomenon. Due to Nietzsche’s contribution to the study of the term, nihilism acquired the status of a philosophical category.

Nationalism as the Category of Nihilism

Nationalism is an ideology that puts the nation at the head of the state as the highest form of unity and the focus of all its efforts. It is an ideology and politics based on the idea of ​​national exclusivity, often leaning in the direction of national superiority (Gilbert, 2018). Therefore, nationalists are individuals who consider their state superior compared to others. Nationalism initially appeared when Medieval Europe was divided into hundreds of small principalities, and the common folk of that time did not care which master to serve.

In Medieval times, most people shared linguistic, class, religious, and cultural characteristics. There could be no question of the unity of the broad masses because of their belonging to one person, a master. Moreover, religion served as a link for people as they recognised themselves as parts of a single Christian church. However, everything changed in the 18th-19th centuries, when the position of Christianity was shaken by numerous divisions and the overall secularisation of Europeans’ consciousness (Van Ginderachter and Fox, 2019). It was necessary to find a new idea that would unite people, which explains why nationalism is often referred to as the civic religion.

There is a definite connection between Nietzsche’s nihilism and nationalism. When it comes to the reappraisal of values, the nation has the highest priority. Therefore, a person must be devoted to the national state and set its interests above the personal ones. Within the nationalist framework, there is a call for self-giving, and the willingness to sacrifice one’s life in the name of the nation (Ohana, 2018). A nation is the primary source of political power, with all its members entitled to participate in processes that are put in place to achieve superiority. Following this logic, those who ascribe to the principles of nationalism are symbolically equated with the elite.

The popularisation of nationalism turned resulted in Nietzsche unfavourably. The philosopher who presented himself as the propagandist of the freedom of spirit, was deemed an apologist for the totalitarian tyranny and anti-Semitism. It is essential to dispel the prejudice regarding Nietzsche’s anti-Semitism and the closeness of his worldview to the Nazi ideology. Contrary to popular belief, Nietzsche did not think of Superman as the bearer of death.

In the philosopher’s perspective, Superman represents a thinker, an artist, and an intellectual. In general, he wrote about races being dominant and weak in the context of moral and intellectual differences. The race of gentlemen represents a strong personality, high self-esteem, and a sense of pride. The weak race is considered cowardly, it will usually humiliate people for its benefit. The philosopher did not worship his nation, admitting that modern Germans appeared to have anti-French stupidity, then anti-Jewish sentiments, and then the opposition to Prussian nations.

Political Violence in the Modern World

The modern world has significantly adjusted the political power of violence. The changes aligned with the coming of the information characterised by the manipulation of the masses’ censoriousness. Therefore, there is a dichotomy of voluntariness and coercion that ceases to be unambiguous. For example, modern election campaigns or intrusive advertising use media to urge people to vote for a particular candidate, or buy a specific product, thus manipulating the public into making a decision that may not be favourable to them.

One of the most influential discourses on collective identity in the modern world is nationalism. In the post-Cold War era, the ideology has been facilitated by the unfolding of particularly large-scale and fierce ethnic conflicts, which are increasingly taking the form of international ones (Stavenhagen, 2016). Today in the world, there are about 160 zones of ethnopolitical tension. For example, the struggle of Catalonia for separation from Spain and the declaration of their national independence bears significant nationalistic undertones. (Dowling, 2017). Often the cause of ethnic conflicts is the organisations of a nationalistic nature, which proves Nietzsche’s point of view about the negative influence of nationalists and anti-Semitists.

At the beginning of the XXI century, the world remains religious, with groups disseminating their varied ideologies across nations. Populations become even more religious than in the past since the number of believers is growing. In recent decades, the political importance of religious organisations has been increasing due to the threat posed by some of them (Madeley, 2019). Moreover, such organisations are increasingly expressing themselves in the public space of even secular societies. Religiously motivated violence can be directed, first of all, at other believers or non-believers. From a security point of view, the religious situation in the modern world is perceived as rather alarming due to the limited methods available for dealing with them.

Security threats posed by religion, in terms of both personal and national safety, are most often associated with Islamic fundamentalism. This is not surprising since it represents radical, politicised Islam that is related to the growth of the terrorist threat in the second half of the 20th and beginning of the 21st century, specifically after the Cold War (Lane and Redissi, 2016). But with all its fame, Islamic fundamentalism is not the only form of organised religious violence. Hindu, Jewish, Sikh fundamentalists may also take radical action and complicate the situation on a global scale. Nietzsche considered religion unnecessary in society since it does only rule people but also pushes them against each other, which, in turn, can end in a large-scale conflict.

Concluding Remarks

To conclude the present exploration, it is essential to summarise the perspective of Nietzsche regarding war and approaches toward power. Even though the philosopher supported the war and clarified its positive aspects in his works, he did not praise nationalism, ethnic cleansing, and anti-Semitism. In the context of modern politics, one can support his views on religion, since giving power to the church often leads to negative consequences. Also, the nihilist approach toward society questions all the informational impositions that are now quite common. Thus, it is possible to y separate the truth from a lie more easily and avoid getting deceived. In general, Nietzsche’s concept of nihilism, war, and the role of religion can be applied to modern politics both positively and negatively.

Reference List

Alan, W. (2018). Nietzschean Nihilism: A Typology. In Nietzsche. New York: Routledge.

Appel, F. (2019). Nietzsche contra democracy. New York: Cornell University Press.

Clark, M. (2019). ‘Nietzsche’s Nihilism.’ The Monist, 102(3), pp. 369-385.

Dowling, A. (2017). The rise of Catalan independence: Spain’s territorial crisis. New York: Routledge.

Drolet, J-F. (2020) Beyond Tragedy and Perpetual Peace: Politics and International Relations in the Thought of Friedrich Nietzsche. Montreal: McGill-Queens University Press.

Fox, J. (2018). An introduction to religion and politics: Theory and practice. New York: Routledge.

Gertz, N. (2019). Nihilism. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Gilbert, P. (2018). The philosophy of nationalism. New York: Routledge.

Habermas, J. (2018). Inclusion of the other: Studies in political theory. New York: John Wiley & Sons.

Lane, J. E., & Redissi, H. (2016). Religion and Politics: Islam and Muslim civilisation. New York: Routledge.

Madeley, J. T. (2019). Religion and politics. New York: Routledge.

Nietzsche, F. (2018). The Joyous Science. London: Penguin UK.

Nietzsche, F. (2019a). Thus spake Zarathustra. Kyiv: Strelbytskyy Multimedia Publishing.

Nietzsche, F. W. (2019b). The Twilight of the Idols; or, How to Philosophize with the Hammer. The Antichrist. Glasgow: Good Press.

Ohana, D. (2018). Nietzsche and Jewish Political Theology. New York: Routledge.

Stavenhagen, R. (2016). Ethnic conflicts and the nation-state. Berlin: Springer.

Van Ginderachter, M., & Fox, J. (2019). National indifference and the History of Nationalism in Modern Europe: National indifference and the History of Nationalism in Modern Europe. New York: Routledge.

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