Saturday, October 13, 2012

On Nietzsche as Lamarckian; Tom Hayden and SDS

 ( Originally written and posted on MySpace on  February 12, 2008 )

 Was Nietzsche a Lamarckian?

[ I ] cannot resist the temptation to ask stupid questions about Nietzsche.   The last one at this "blog" site raised the question of why Nietzsche has his Zarathustra, a cave-dweller, fulminate against newspapers.   Admittedly, Nietzsche's Zarathustra is not the Zoroaster of old, but the reference to newspapers seems rather too anachronistic.

Dover Publications has recently reprinted in facsimile the 1911 translation by J.M. Kennedy of Nietzsche's The Dawn of Day.   The price, at $9.95, is slightly more than it should be, but I could not resist buying a copy, if only to have an opportunity to read once again an interesting work from Nietzsche's middle period.   My attention was caught by aphorism 241, which follows:

    " FEAR AND INTELLIGENCE    --     If that which is now expressly maintained is true, viz. that the cause of the black pigment of the skin must not be sought in light, might this phenomenon perhaps be the ultimate effect of frequent fits of passion accumulated for century after century (and an afflux of blood under the skin)?   while in other and more intelligent races the equally frequent spasms of fear and blanching may have resulted in the white color of the skin?      For the degree of timidity is the standard by which the intelligence may be measured; and the fact that men give themselves up to blind anger is an indication that their animal nature is still near the surface, and is longing for an opportunity to make its presence felt once more.     Thus a brownish-grey would probably be the primitive colour of man -- something of the ape and the bear, as is only proper. "

Here Nietzsche implicitly accepts Lamarckianism,  the belief that acquired characteristics can become hereditary.   Of course, Nietzsche did not know about Gregor Mendel's researches into inheritance.  Lamarckianism, with its belief in willful uplift, might explain why Nietzsche in his Ecce Homo dismisses as a misconception the notion that the Uebermensch can be the outcome of deliberate breeding.  The Dawn of Day came after Thus Spake Zarathustra in which the Uebermensch is first proclaimed. 

Some readers may be troubled by what they see as "racialism" in this aphorism by Nietzsche, but even more troubling (from the perspective of this reader) is its implicit acceptance of a belief that one can become what one thinks.   How is this all that different from New Thought and "thinkers" such as Kahlil Gibran or Napoleon Hill?  
( Originally written and posted on MySpace on February 3, 2008 )

Tom Hayden Speaks at A.L.A. Mid-Winter Convention

Few people will be surprised that the star speaker at the A.L.A.'s Mid-Winter convention was Tom Hayden.   Hayden was a prominent spokesman for the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), the leading New Left organization during the 1960's.

Sometime during 1967 I heard Tom Hayden speak on my campus, a large state university in Ohio where I was enrolled as a graduate student.   It was not immediately obvious why he had risen to become a prominent SDS leader,  but the same principle may have applied that was involved in the elevation of Earl Browder to the leadership of the Communist Party, USA, during the 1930's.   It was said, jokingly, that Browder was selected to head the CPUSA because he was the only leader who did not speak with a Bronx accent. 

Something similar was going on with the SDS.  I attended a couple of the SDS open meetings which were held on campus at the end of 1966.   Overhearing the comments of the attendees was revealing in itself.   Rather than condemning "the capitalists" or even "the rich," they focused their hatred on "the middle class" and especially "WASPs" and "rednecks."    None of the SDS adherents I encountered came from the working class.   Their fathers were owners of stores or lawyers or even doctors,  quite unlike the small town  Ohio "WASPs" of modest income with whom I could identify.   Many of them had spent their summers touring Europe.   Some had trust funds.

These liberators of the working class really hated "the rednecks" most of all.  Perhaps they really feared the "rednecks" because the main fault of the rednecks seemed to be their racism and their anti-Semitism.   The rednecks were perhaps America's equivalents to the Cossacks.  These same SDS adherents were ready to explain that they had enrolled in a state university in Ohio only because "the quotas" had kept them from enrolling in an Ivy League institution back east from whence most of them came.   The people behind these "quotas" were the evil WASPs.

No, the students of SDS back then were certainly not promoting a class war.  Quite the contrary, they were promoting a culture war and had plenty of support among faculty members and people in the mass media.   They seem to have won their culture war.

One of the leaders of SDS on my campus eventually became an account executive at his family's stock brokerage firm.  (As Dave Berry says, I am not making this up.)   One of the leaders of the Young Workers' Liberation League on campus had a father who was a doctor.   She explained to me that a doctor could really be a member of the working class. 

Decades after the New Leftists "did their thing," the traditional culture of the USA, what little there ever was of it anyway, has been devastated.   Capitalism, however, their supposed enemy, has gone from one strength to another,  threatens to rage on out of control forever.  Was all this supposed "liberation" just one big cruel hoax orchestrated by someone somewhere?   There is not enough evidence to jump to that conclusion.

( Originally written and posted on MySpace on December 26, 2007 )

Nietzsche on Socrates: A Paradox

In his book Nietzsche and Paradox (2006), Almeida quotes the following assessment of Socrates which Nietzsche offers in the second part of his Human All-Too Human:

    " SOCRATES. If all goes well, the time will come
    when, in order to advance themselves on the path
    of moral reason, men will rather take up the
    Memorabilia of Socrates than the Bible, and when
    Montaigne and Horace will be used as pioneers and
    guides for the understanding of Socrates, the simplest
    and most enduring of interpretative sages. In him
    converge the roads of the most different philo-
    sophic modes of life, which are in truth the modes of
    the different temperaments, crystallised by reason
    and habit and all ultimately directed towards the
    delight in life and in self. The apparent conclu-
    sion is that the most peculiar thing about Socrates
    was his share in all the temperaments. Socrates
    excels the founder of Christianity by virtue of his
    merry style of seriousness and by that wisdom of
    sheer roguish pranks which constitutes the best state
    of soul in a man. Moreover, he had a superior in-
    telligence. "

What seems paradoxical about this positive assessment of Socrates is the fact that elsewhere -- in his The Birth of Tragedy and in Twilight of the Idols -- , Nietzsche condemns Socrates as a decadent and a promulgator of decadence, as the destroyer of the Dionysian sense among the ancient Greeks,  the subverter of the great tragic sense of the Greeks. 

Does Nietzsche contradict himself?   Human All-Too Human is dedicated to Voltaire.   Does that offer a clue?   Does Nietzsche in this book see Socrates as a kind of Voltaire in his ancient Greek society?   Both men persisted in conducting a piercing and relentless inquiry after the truth.   Both raised questions that leading elements of their respective societies had no wish to ponder. 

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