Saturday, May 8, 2010

Young's Biography of Nietzsche Reviewed in the NY Times

Several readers have sent along this review; as usual, the Times chooses someone without any relevant competence to review a book related to Nietzsche. But given what a trite intellectual lightweight Fukuyama is, this could have been worse! As a Straussian, Fukuyama hasn't much interest in the actual philosophical details of Nietzsche's moral psychology; he is much keener to talk about the possible "political" implications of Nietzsche's views. Here, alas, he can take advantage of Young's utterly idioscyncratic and implausible view that Nietzsche is a religious communitarian. Thoughts from readers on the review?


Afshin said...

I first wish to say that I'm very glad to have found your blog, as it has helped me weed out my own misunderstandings of Nietzsche. Though it must be said that I'm still a novice as I began reading his work two years ago so working to understand the immense power his works have had is still over the horizon for me. But one thing I'm always cognizant of is not to believe that there is a categorical method of directly applying his work to my life as that would defeat the entire purpose of understanding. I sense that this was something that was missing from Fukuyama's review as it read like I was supposed to stigmatize Nietzsche's work because it can be used to provide fodder for ideological pursuits towards religious power. This overreach has been a personal concern in my own understanding of Nietzsche since being careful in deconstructing attitudes is essential.

Yet I still have a hard time determining Fukuyama's leap in this regard. From where did he make this leap that Nietzche's political values is similar to the methods that Khamenei used to build the theocratic structure of Iran? Where are the dots that Fukuyama connected from Young's work to claim that Nietzsche believed in political/religious communitarianism. Was he comparing Khamenei's role to that of the Pope in that the loss of positive values is the void that provides the impetus towards such theocratic political structures? And was that an attempt to criticize Nietzsche? But this is entirely wrong. To my understanding Nietzsche is a man of consequence and the strongest man I know in that. But I find Fukuyama's understanding of Nietzsche to be Hegelian more than anything else, so after reading that review I am left confused as to whether I am missing something specific from Nietzsche's works.

In all I feel like I'm overreaching myself in being critical of Fukuyama so please correct me if I have been too liberal in sharing my own understanding. I just wish to use this opportunity to crystallize the understandings I have had of Nietzsche so far.

Thanks again for updating this blog.

Clayton Littlejohn said...

"One of the pitfalls of writing a biography of a great philosopher is the temptation to reduce important ideas to mere psychology ..."

It's an interesting opening line coming from a Straussian who I might imagine would continue by saying "... when they ought to be reduced to claims about their political significance".

Unknown said...

"Whether we acknowledge it or not, we continue to live within the intellectual shadow cast by Nietzsche. Postmodernism, deconstructionism, cultural relativism, the “free spirit” scorning bourgeois morality, even New Age festivals like Burning Man can all ultimately be traced to him. There is a line running from “Beyond Good and Evil” to Justice Anthony Kennedy’s assertion (in Planned Parenthood v. Casey) that liberty is “the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe and of the mystery of human life.”

Do you believe that from his NYT review of this book? What is this trite patronizing rant supposed to mean, that this wide range of people, ideas and cultural phenomena (including Burning Man?) represent moral decadence rooted in the ideas of Nietzche?

Eliot said...

I remember finding a book by Fukyama called the End of History and the Last Man and being excited that the "Last Man" in the title was actually a reference to the passage in Zarathustra. I thought I'd found someone who would actually respond to Nietzsche's critique of the flattening direction of Western Society. I read that chapter and was really disappointed at how little he engaged with Nietzsche. I would guess that that book is what gave him the credibility to write this review in the NYT's eyes since it at least appears to respond to Nietzsche.

mbarber said...

Say you wanted to read Nietzsche's work in its entirety for the purpose of getting the most personal picture of who he was as a person and thinker, in what order would you place each book?

david said...


Although Nietzsche himself described GS as his most personal book, I persist in considering two of the Untimely Meditations ('History' and 'Schopenhauer') as the most usefully personal of all his books.

Acquaintance with both these works will demonstrate, in a manner more sustained and "practical" than will be found in the later works, what Nietzsche means (and doesn't mean) by "culture"; with, of course, the caveat that the details of Nietzsche's thought evolved in significant ways.

Still, the basic, visceral, dispositional Nietzsche is nowhere more naked than in these two works.