Nietzsche's Political Skepticism

Nietzsche's Political Skepticism

Tamsin Shaw
Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 192
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Nietzsche's Political Skepticism
    Book Description:

    Political theorists have long been frustrated by Nietzsche's work. Although he develops profound critiques of morality, culture, and religion, it is very difficult to spell out the precise political implications of his insights. He himself never did so in any systematic way. In this book, Tamsin Shaw claims that there is a reason for this: Nietzsche's insights entail a distinctive form of political skepticism.

    Shaw argues that the modern political predicament, for Nietzsche, is shaped by two important historical phenomena. The first is secularization, or the erosion of religious belief, and the fragmentation of moral life that it entails. The second is the unparalleled ideological power of the modern state. The promotion of Nietzsche's own values, Shaw insists, requires resistance to state ideology. But Nietzsche cannot envisage how these values might themselves provide a stable basis for political authority; this is because secular societies, lacking recognized normative expertise, also lack a reliable mechanism for making moral insight politically effective.

    In grappling with this predicament, Shaw claims, Nietzsche raises profound questions about political legitimacy and political authority in the modern world.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2812-8
    Subjects: Political Science, Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Abbreviations
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-11)

    Nietzsche is a frustrating figure for political theorists. Those who take seriously his insights into morality, culture, and religion have often been struck by the fact that he abstains from developing these insights into a coherent theory of politics. There are two ways in which we might nevertheless try to derive a political theory from his work.

    One way would be to uncover an implicit theory underlying his avowed political views. This route has not been widely held to hold much promise. He does, of course, indulge in some strident criticisms of naïve or decadent political ideals. But these have...

  5. CHAPTER 1 The Predatory State
    (pp. 12-35)

    In a speech to the Prussian Chamber of Peers, in 1873, Bismarck defended hisKulturkampf, the battle that he had lately been so vehemently waging against the political power of the Catholic Church in Germany. He insisted that it was not “a matter of a struggle between faith and unbelief.” Rather “it is a matter,” he declared, “of the age-old struggle for power, as old as the human race itself, between kingship and the priestly caste, a struggle for power that goes back far beyond the coming of our Saviour to this world.”¹ The conflict between the secular state and...

  6. CHAPTER 2 The Self-Destruction of Secular Religions
    (pp. 36-58)

    Nietzsche would not have to fear the ideologically predatory state if our capacity to distinguish truth from ideology were sufficiently robust. His fear is that knowledge of truth (and in particular, I shall argue in chapter 5, normative truth) is not only difficult to come by, it is even harder to disseminate. Before setting out his arguments for this view, I would like in this chapter to sketch the way in which he comes to be preoccupied with the problem of intellectual authority that lies at the basis of his concerns.

    He comes to this problem, I shall claim, via...

  7. CHAPTER 3 Laws of Agreement
    (pp. 59-77)

    Nietzsche identifies a general problem concerning our need for both agreement and correctness. Philosophers, he thinks, are most likely to have the correct views but hardly anybody agrees with them. Others can generate broader social agreement but the views on which they converge are not very likely to be correct. In some areas of life this matters more than in others. In politics it seems to matter rather a lot, since the issue is of fundamental importance to our notions of legitimacy and authority.

    As we shall see in chapters 4 and 5, Nietzsche identifies a particularly acute problem in...

  8. CHAPTER 4 Nietzsche as a Moral Antirealist
    (pp. 78-108)

    Nietzsche’s political skepticism, I have argued, derives from the following set of arguments: stable political authority requires normative consensus; this consensus must be manufactured ideologically; and although Nietzsche wants to preserve political authority in some form, he cannot concede to the state this ideological power, for he wants to preserve evaluative freedom. His skepticism, then, can be seen to derive from a perceived conflict between the requirements of political authority and the requirements of normative authority.

    The commitment to evaluative freedom implies what we have called a “transcendental” argument for limiting state power.¹ So long as the fundamental determinant of...

  9. CHAPTER 5 Nietzsche as a Moral Realist
    (pp. 109-136)

    The readings evaluated in chapter 4 take seriously Nietzsche’s antirealist meta-ethical claims and therefore read his objectivist-sounding value-criticism as having a peculiar character. In this chapter, I hope to show that a case can also be made for taking the value-criticism at face value, and thus for viewing the antirealist meta-ethical suggestions as a misdescription of the value-criticism. The scattered remarks that imply a more realist meta-ethics can be more coherently related to the overall evaluative project. And the realist reading of this project allows us to comprehend more clearly the political predicament that Nietzsche seems to be concerned about....

  10. CHAPTER 6 Nietzsche as a Skeptic about Liberalism
    (pp. 137-152)

    Since Nietzsche never addressed systematically the core questions of political thought, it requires some extrapolation to see the bearing that his work has on particular normative political theories. In the case of democracy, as we have seen, his view of its limitations is drawn quite explicitly. In the case of liberalism, his engagement is more oblique and takes place largely on the terrain of debates about education. But it is interesting to draw out the nature of his arguments. We can infer from this the grounds of the hostility toward liberalism that he sporadically expresses in the later works. And...

  11. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 153-154)
  12. Index
    (pp. 155-159)