Monday, September 14, 2009

Who is the "Soverign Individual"? Nietzsche on Freedom

Sorry not to have gotten the draft of my paper for the FNS meeting at Oxford on-line before I left, but here it is. One serious lacuna in the current version (as Peter Kail rightly pointed out to me) is the failure to discuss Spinoza. But other comments are welcome, and soon, as I have to submit the final version by the end of the month for the Cambridge Critical Guide to the Genealogy.

In the discussion session, John Richardson (NYU) suggested that one familiar sense of freedom--not being subjected to the will of another--is in fact important for Nietzsche. I agreed that that sense of freedom is not a revisionary one, but I don't see the textual evidence that when Nietzsche writes about "freedom" it is this that he has in mind. Reader thoughts on this issue are also especially welcome.

I was sorry not to have been able to attend more of the FNS conference, which was an unusually good one, for which thanks and credit go to Peter Kail and Manuel Dries. I'll try to write a bit more about the conference by the weekend.


Rob said...

For me, one of the most powerful and beguiling instances of "persuasive definition" occurs in TI before the instances you cite; and perhaps, by virtue of its striking surface incongruity with the conclusion of "Four Great Errors" is supposed to prime one for the further instances you discuss: "Skirmishes" 36. This passage recalls, performatively, the way in which "freedom of the will" appears at the end of GM 3.10:

"You are never destroyed by anyone but yourself. This is just a death under the most despicable conditions, an unfree death, a death at the wrong time, a coward's death. Out of love for life--, you should want death to be different, free, conscious, without chance, without surprises."

(Freitod was and is a culturally-loaded term of reference, I gather, for German readers... I'd very curious to know if the circumstances of those remarkably well-read Kamikaze pilots whose reading included Nietzsche made them especially receptive to his "revisionary or highly deflationary senses", as you put it, of freedom, which I think permeates TSZ, the work of Nietzsche's apparently most widely read among them.)

Also, EH "TSZ", section 3 tallies with the passages you cite in BGE 188 and 213:

"Everything happens to the highest degree involuntarily, but as if in a rush of feeing free, of unconditionality, of power, of divinity..."

And this passage from TSZ ("Isles of the Blest") is nice:

"But thus does my creating will, my fate, will it. Or, to say it more honestly: precisely such a fate -- does my will will."

Lastly, a concern which probably extends beyond the scope of your paper: I sometimes get the impression that some contemporary readers of Nietzsche think that his attack on MPS-supported notions of "guilt" has revisionary implications for our punitive practices. And while he can seem to be pressing for such reform in HH, D, and in some late nachlass material, it is striking to me that nowhere (that I'm aware of) in his mature published writings does this seem to hold. The most I can discern is captured at the end of section 7 of TI, "Errors" where he calls only for sanctions to be 'cleansed' of MPS-supported "concepts of guilt and punishment"; and in GM 2.23 and EH "Wise", section 5 he seems to be expressing a related concern about not reforming punitive practice, but freeing them from MPS-supported concepts:

"If a god came to earth, he should do nothing but wrong: assuming not the punishment but the guilt-- that would be divine." (EH)

"...the gods served in those days to justify humans to a certain degree even in bad things, they served as causes of evil-- in those days it was not the punishment they took upon themselves but rather, as is more noble, the guilt." (GM)

What practical or institutional implications, if any, does Nietzsche think we should pursue from a recovery of "that innocence in which [the world] had lain before the invention of the bad conscience" (GM 2.15)?

Timothy McWhirter said...

Sovereign Society

In the preface to Beyond Good and Evil, Nietzsche refers to “we GOOD EUROPEANS, and free, VERY free spirits--we have it still, all the distress of spirit and all the tension of its bow! And perhaps also the arrow, the duty, and, who knows? THE GOAL TO AIM AT. . . .” The view of freedom he outlines here at the level of social systems appears to parallel that of the sovereign individual.

The “free” society is described as having the “power to will and persist” (BGE 208). It avoids “tropical” and “prestissimo” tempos in the revaluation of values (BGE 262, WP 71) and implicitly privileges a tempo that is similar to that of punctuated equilibria: long periods of widespread agreement marked by short periods of dramatic change. The free society is therefore able to attain widespread agreement on long term goals and persist until they are achieved. It is able to make a promise. I outline this in more detail in the paper I presented.

When you read GM II 2 with BGE 208 you can see clear parallels and some differences. BGE 208 begins discussing the philosopher who overcomes skepticism and concludes describing the “great politics” in the next century.

I believe Nietzsche’s discussion of this “free society” is consistent with your thesis that such an achievement is “not an autonomous achievement for which anyone could be responsible.” But it does support Richardson’s suggestion that the freedom he is describing is an important one. His discussion of it in the preface and throughout BGE suggests that this freedom is one of the guiding themes of the text.

Rob said...

In regard to the point you report Richardson making, I would think that that familiar sense of freedom (“not being subjected to the will of another”) is more emblematic of the “slave morality” ethos and “modern ideas”, and more of an instrumental and prudential value for the “high type” whose flourishing concerns Nietzsche. The former point seems to be made near the end of BGE 260:

“A final fundamental distinction: the desire for freedom, the instinct for happiness, and subtleties in the feeling of freedom necessarily belong to slave morals and morality, just as an artistry and enthusiasm in respect and devotion are invariant symptoms of an aristocratic mode of thinking and valuing.”

Such a negative view of freedom seems to tally with how “slave morality” characteristically conceptualizes “happiness” in GM 1.10 (and BGE 200), and with the “value of values” for “those who suffer and are out of sorts” (in GM. 3.17). Nietzsche, by contrast, seems to me to value such freedom largely as a “higher type’s” means of securing conditions (GM 3.8 is perhaps the most glorious statement, but also of course EH) for the creative activity he most centrally values – activity whose phenomenology he characterizes in so many places (several of which you point out in your paper) in terms of a (compatibilist?) synthesis of freedom and necessity in which that familiar sense of freedom has little, if any, presence.

Timothy McWhirter said...

The positive sense of freedom Rob describes is also mentioned at GM II 24. There he suggests that the "man of the future" will make "the will free once again."

Paul S. Loeb said...

I discuss Nietzsche's sovereign individual and his GM II:24 positive conception of freedom in my JNS 2005 paper, "Finding the Uebermensch in Nietzsche's Genealogy of Morals" (on Project Muse, and excerpted in Christa Acampora's collection on GM.)

Justin said...

This is perhaps late, but I have noticed through some of your recent work you are appealing to a Charles Stevenson to make your argument about persuasive definitions. If I may modestly suggest you investigate Kenneth Burke and his idea of consubstantiation. I think it allows you to make your argument better. Also, I would suggest checking out Douglas Thomas's "Reading Nietzsche Rhetorically."