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Ten Books…Part XIV: Nietzsche/Machiavelli

We have to do the chapter on Nietzsche in three parts instead of the usual two (or one) because of the odd tone in Wiker’s prose. The process for me in doing these entries is to read the chapter once through, then go in a second time with my notebook and mark down quotes, if needed a third time happens just to re-check the context of the quotes. This time the third repeat was not for contextual sake it was tonal.

Most of the previous chapters had a smugness in the town. The sort of pretentiousness that is usually contained in a person that believes they know “the truth” and has to subject themselves to the trial of dealing with something that is so false it is contemptible to them. I know when I am guilty of it so I can easily see when another person is as well. Those remaining chapters that are not smug, or full of visceral spite. The chapter on Marx is a good example of it. Not only does Wiker not understand why a person would like Marx he automatically hates that person as well.

Which then brings us to this chapter–which is unique in that it possesses neither of these tones. The chapter itself is hardly specific to Nietzsche’s classic Beyond Good and Evil instead containing polemics against Mill, Darwin, Machiavelli, and Hobbes. A nice recap, but like most recaps (i.e. good portions of the show Lost) it is unnecessary, in fact it seems like filler. There are long portions where Wiker uses Nietzsche to level attacks on Utilitarianism. Which is good and bad.

Good because it allows us some real criticisms of Mill’s theory, unlike Wiker’s which states that it wanted the benefits of Christianity without the religion to sustain it. It’s bad because it simply isn’t needed here. Neitzsche’s criticisms of Utilitarians centerred around the idea that they attempted to remove suffering from the world, an idea that Nietzsche thought would remove the struggles from society. Wiker correctly summarizes this point, but having already dealt with Utilitarianism why go back to it?

And that is why we have the third read through. I missed it the first time because I was mentally checking off mistakes, I missed it the second time because it was subtle, on the third time I caught it. Wiker admires Nietzsche. Believe me it’s there, the tone is one of admiration. I can appreciate a good enemy, or villain, and until now I didn’t think that Wiker could. He hadn’t so far so why would he start now? I don’t know, but the careful handling of the Nietzsche chapter the use of his philosophy to attack Hobbes, Mill, and Darwin all points to a reverance that does not exist in the other chapters. Although Nietzsche hates his Christian worldview and Wiker likewise to Nietzsche’s atheism there is something here which is an odd respect. Like Batman for the Joker, or Magneto for Professor X, or Patton for Rommel. It is, in effect very Nietzschean to respect one’s enemies.

It’s also Machiavellian, which is not the most subtle of seques but it will work here. This side note has to happen because I am sick of hearing something from Machiavelli’s detractors. This is one of the most popular attacks on the Florentine ambassador, “power was more important than moral distinctions.”

To make that sentence correct we can’t simply negate it, nor can we reverse it, hell, even the contrapositive won’t work. It’s simply not correct. We have to replace “power” with “the state.” The state, or expedience as Cicero would say, was more important than moral conventions. This not only existed in the Renaissance but before that as St. Augustine had to justify how followers of a religion that said “turn the other cheek” and “if someone steals your coat, give him your cloak as well*” could go to war, or punish a criminal.

Before the Renaissance, Dante Alligheri in the sublime “Divine Comedy” placed kings and leaders of state on the shores of Purgatory (Canto VII) even though they were responsible for numerous deaths and other sins. They were left there because they had other duties to perform. One could not be a true Christian and expect their state to maintain itself. It would be quickly overrun by criminals and invaders.

Dispatching with this…again, we can move on to Wiker’s actual criticism of Nietzsche tomorrow.

*Although for the life of me I could never figure out why you would wear your coat over your cloak and not the other way around.

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