I am about a third of the way through Nietzsche’s The Will to Power – a book made of ideas, notes, fragments and meditations on what was to become his summary masterwork. Or, what I heard Will Self describe rather amusingly as a ‘systematised destruction of all systems.’
Nietzsche is a highly thought-provoking thinker. He is rich in passionate intelligence, fierce paradox and has a rhetorical momentum that is at times overwhelming. And it is on this latter point I have been thinking. Clearly, after his death, when his sister edited his works and “managed” his estate, and became ever closer to the Nazi government, his reputation was inevitably tarnished but Nietzsche was definitely not a Nazi thinker. That said, you could argue there is a culpability, at least in potential, provided by some of the implications carried ahead of him in some of his more feverish writing.
I think the momentum of his writing, the rhetoric and stylistic force, becomes such that elusive portals begin to open in some of the semantics. For instance, when he talks about abolishing slave morality, to free up a creative potential in mankind subdued by morality, to create an exceptional race of immoral men (and he does say men) – it is hard not to see this as morally dangerous – and it is morally dangerous because Nietzsche intends it to be. He wants human beings to utilise immorality, turn it to economy as he said, and create something new. He even deplores the decadent moral view that human existence has a teleological concept – always progressing towards the good. He wants this abolished so we can embrace the full enigma of mankind – the full and uncomfortable being that we are: all the stratas both good and evil that make up the ‘self’. Let society fall into decline, along with its decadence, Nietzsche thus hopes that the new immoral exceptional men, freed from their hideous moral constraints, will use this decline, this smog and degradation to create something new and powerful that only they can. And therein lies the sheer power, the portal of momentum: what? What comes next, what are we are to fashion? He deliberately and pointedly gives us no guidelines.
But can human beings really be their own moralists of a post-moral age?
As you can see it is all about potential, implication, impetus, power. There are no guidelines as to how you should act. Nietzsche feels, morally speaking, each man should fashion his own image. But it is equally hard, after looking back on the ravages of the 20th Century, to gloss over the heavy shadows in the prose of Nietzsche – that maybe his ideas have the power to over-extend the human tragically – and contrary to the strange nihilistic optimism of Nietzsche – this may by definition lead to ruin and not to power.