Friday, December 19, 2008

Nietzsche's Relationship to Political Philosophy

I've posted my review essay of Tamsin Shaw's book Nietzsche's Political Skepticism (Princeton, 2007), which will appear in Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews in January. Most of the review is given over to a detailed critique of Professor Shaw's argument. Those who have read my work for awhile know that I don't waste time doing detailed critiques of insignificant work, so even though I am skeptical about Shaw's main theses, I think they are very much worth engaging.

Here are the introductory and concluding paragraphs of my review essay:

Nietzsche's Political Skepticism (hereafter NPS) is a serious, learned, and novel contribution to the literature on Nietzsche’s relevance to political theory. Against the two dominant strands in the secondary literature—one attributing to Nietzsche a kind of flat-footed commitment to aristocratic forms of social ordering, the other denying that Nietzsche has any political philosophy at all—Shaw stakes out a new and surprising position: namely, that Nietzsche was very much concerned with the familiar question of the moral or normative legitimacy of state power, but was skeptical that with the demise of religion, it would be possible to achieve a practically effective normative consensus about such legitimacy that was untainted by the exercise of state power itself. Although, as I will argue below, there are reasons to be quite skeptical that Nietzsche was interested in anything like these questions, Shaw has laid down a clear and invigorating challenge to existing scholarship on Nietzsche’s politics, and it is one worth meeting.

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NPS is meticulously footnoted, and Shaw displays a wide and generally deep knowledge of all the pertinent secondary literature. I believe this is the first time I have read a work that cites to book reviews I have written, though in each case the citation was substantive: there was a point made in the review that really was relevant to the issues at hand. Professor Shaw is also quite generous in her treatment of other commentators, even when they are, like Leo Strauss, fairly irresponsible. Her discussions of Burckhardt, Lange, Rankean nationalists, and other contemporaneous intellectual developments were learned, lucid, and helpful. The book is almost always quite well-informed about philosophical issues that affect her reading, and Shaw is particularly good, I thought, in her critique of Nadeem Hussain’s important “fictionalist” reading of Nietzsche (see esp. 92-94). Most books by political theorists on Nietzsche are unreadable for philosophers; this book is the exception that proves the rule. I would not hesitate to say that it is the best book on Nietzsche’s political theory I have ever read, even though I find it unpersuasive. Philosophers interested in Nietzsche’s political thought will have to read this book, and it certainly deserves critical attention and response.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

High praise - what about Ethics of an Immoralist?

Brian Leiter said...

That book is amateurish and philosophically incompetent. You can access my review of the book from Mind here: http://mind.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/reprint/105/419/487

david mc callum said...

Brian,
in the context of the Greek translation of your "Nietzsche on Morality" you stated that your political "sympathies" are "on the left".

I appreciate that such terms are mere shorthand for often widely differing viewpoints, but could you expand a little on what part of the "Left" you are affirming, or, refer me to a text where your political views (and their grounding)are more apparent?