Nietzsche and Conservative Movement

Sometimes a look back few hundred years or so helps one’s perspective. I gained an appreciation for the socially concrete roots of the English word “worship” from reading Malory, and I sorted out the words fortune, fate, and fidelity reading Boethius. These last couple weeks I looked back a mere hundred fifty years to Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil.

BGE finally shed some light on a question that’s haunted me since I became aware of David Brooks, namely whether or not the phrase “conservative movement” was even an intelligible name. Nietzsche, because his historical moment is different enough from mine but participates in some of the same debates, made me realize that the intelligibility of movement presumes a prior metaphorical place from which something moves as well as a destination towards which it moves. In Nietzsche’s case, the starting point was the German liberalism that surrounded him, and in my own life’s moment it seems to be Roosevelt liberalism.

Conservatism for Nietzsche and for Reagan is not the same as the philosophy of a Thomas Aquinas or even an Edmund Burke. Both of these writers emerged at a moment when a certain system was ascendent, and they fended off (with differing degrees of success) movements that would radically change them by means of reaching out to traditions in the world around them. Instead, since time moves only forward, it’s more along the lines of a John Calvin or a T.S. Eliot. In both of these cases, the world around was corrupt as far as the conservative was concerned, and in ecclesiology and in poetry, both of these men reached beyond the current system, appealing to texts and to archaeology to forge something neither ancient nor modern.

Conservatism as a movement begins with a surrounding liberalism and selects certain elements, usually from books, from which to construct something new, post-liberalism. Thus the frustration of the “crunchy cons” and the disdain of Marxist leftists with capitalist Democrats like Clinton and Kerry and for loose Republicans like Giuliani and Schwarzenegger. Both “sides” seek to forge something new from the fragments of older things, and those folks who perpetuate the system as it stands must necessarily stand in the way such change.

In BGE, Nietzsche sees “slave morality,” the ordering of common life around the assumption that all are created equal, as standing in the way of the rise (resurrection?) of real men with real spirit. He does so by invoking Homer and Plato and the Romans, unapolagetically and persuasively arguing that indeed some men are meant to rule over others and that politics that assumes the equality of humans simply cannot forever stifle the great spirits of history. With the billionaires’ tax and executive overreaches on the news every night, the conservative movement looks more Nietzschean with every page of Nietzsche that I read. For now, though, I still stand with Augustine against Nietzsche, laboring still in behalf of the Civitas Dei over against the becoming imperium.


Filed under Reflections

3 responses to “Nietzsche and Conservative Movement

  1. J.Wizzle

    I admit that I’ve never read anything by Nietzsche, but I find it odd to compare him to conservatives…especially since conservatives don’t seem to like him all too much. Actually the book, BGE, was listed as one of the 10 most harmful books by Human Events Online. lol

  2. Nathan P. Gilmour

    Curious. My ignorance travels in the other direction (don’t know much about the conservative movement), but when I read the really serious conservative voices (George Will and Michael Novak, not the shock jocks), I detect a distinctively Nietzschean tone.

    And this week, reading Nietzsche, I was thinking of those folks the whole way through. I can see why they’d want to disassociate themselves (the Nazis’ claims and all), but N’s critique of liberalism is vigorous in ways to which they seem to aspire.

  3. forestwalker

    These three essays speak to what you’re saying.

    Loss of Soul

    Quarreling with Liberalism
    (scroll to 8/29)

    Just Be Yourself

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