Individual and Community in Nietzsche’s Philosophy ed. by Julian Young (review) [Book Review]

Journal of Nietzsche Studies 46:469 - 472 (2015)
Authors
Richard Elliott
Birkbeck College
Abstract
"In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content: This excellent collection, edited by Julian Young, features ten essays on the topic of Nietzsche’s valuation of the individual and the implications this has for notions of community. The book features contributions from some of the most respected contemporary Nietzsche scholars, and each essay displays rigorous analysis while being written in an engaging style. Many of these contributions are evidently written in response to Young’s own provocative reading of Nietzsche as a communitarian thinker in Nietzsche’s Philosophy of Religion (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), and Young presents aspects of this reading in the opening essay. He argues that Nietzsche’s “liberal communitarianism” (8) stems from his intellectual inheritance from Wagner of a distinctly Hegelian project, that of synthesizing the need for common meaning with the desire for liberal individual rights. Young provides a close reading of Wagner, identifying the liberal aspect of Wagner’s communitarianism in a form of “soft power” (9)—namely, the capacity to inspire, rather than coerce, the collective toward a shared ideal. This soft power opens the space for reconciliation between the desires of the individual and the goals of the community at large. Young contends that Wagner’s early Hegelianism “appears virtually word for word” in Nietzsche’s Birth of Tragedy (16). More controversially and less convincingly, he extends this liberal communitarianism across Nietzsche’s entire corpus. In particular, for Young, we should understand Nietzsche’s free spirits as “agents of change” (25), exemplary individuals who both establish and question the evaluative boundaries of the collective ethical imperative. Hans Sluga’s chapter investigates Nietzsche’s call for a new “great politics” (32). Drawing comparisons with Plato, Sluga argues that Nietzsche views the lack of a socially recognized order of rank, a corollary of modern democratic pluralism, as the inception of political nihilism. Sluga locates this diagnosis in Human, All Too Human, where Nietzsche’s critique of modern democracy inaugurates his concern with the tensions between political processes and the prospect of cultural flourishing. For Sluga, however, it is in Beyond Good and Evil that Nietzsche floats the possibility of reconciliation between the two, with the prospect of exceptional individuals instigating a new political relationship. Sluga argues that Nietzsche sees the European notion of the nation-state as something that should and will be abolished. While taking Nietzsche’s recommendation to be problematic, Sluga concludes that his diagnosis is profound. [End Page 469] How convincing one takes Sluga’s argument to be depends on the literalness one thinks should be placed on the phrase “great politics.” By Beyond Good and Evil, is it not employed purely as a metaphor? This would accord with Ken Gemes and Chris Sykes’s approach in the following essay. Like Young, Gemes and Sykes emphasize Nietzsche’s kinship with Wagner, identifying the problem of meaning as central to both. Nietzsche is identified as conducting an anthropology of communities’ answers to the problem of meaning, or, rather, their creations of illusions to act as semblances of meaning. In his early works they take Nietzsche to hold that the foundations for the kind of cultural consecration necessary for the provision of collective meaning can be provided through myth, in the place of metaphysics. But, contra Young, Gemes and Sykes argue that Nietzsche develops away from his early communitarianism: first, toward an (ultimately pessimistic) investigation into the possibility of a scientific culture that provides meaning, and then by advocating a narrower individualism. For Gemes and Sykes, then, Nietzsche’s aspiration for communitarian cultural flourishing died at Bayreuth, and with Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Nietzsche makes a final attempt to provide a life-affirming “mythology” (72) for the flourishing of his intended recipients, now of a far more limited scope—namely, only truly exemplary individuals. Here one might wonder whether Nietzsche’s thought of the eternal recurrence might better fit this need for the provision of a mythology. Although Nietzsche marks out Zarathustra as the jewel of his oeuvre (EH P:4), he also declares the eternal recurrence, which receives..."
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