The Corner

Nietzsche Grilled

I had hoped to avoid being dragged into the Strauss/Nietzsche fracas, but then Jonah had to go taunt me by suggesting an affinity between Weber grillers and Nietzsche. Jonah–that’s Max Weber you’ve got in your head next to Nietzsche, not Weber grills! And certainly not me! See if you get invited to my next BBQ!

Three points need to be raised. First, in my opinion no American conservatives today, or ever, have been Nietzscheans (with the possible exception of Bloom and a handful close to him, and they won’t admit it). Second, Strauss was not a Nietzschean. However, thirdly, Strauss recognized that Nietzsche expressed the innermost character of modern thought in its most powerful form, namely, moral relavitism or nihilism. Much of this is by now subsciously a part of the furnishing of modern thought, even among people who never read or even heard of Nietzsche. This is what Bloom meant when he said that whenever people use the word “values” (including, alas, conservatives) they are using the language of Nietzsche, and validating him in a sense. (The sensible alternative to “values” is “principles,” which point to some grounding in nature or revelation. I know, I know, “values” can too, but the subjectivity of value-language will win out. “I get my values at ‘True Value” hardware!!)

Strauss did think that refuting Nietzsche was no easy thing; the alternative to Nietzsche was a return to classical political philosophy (Aristotle being the antithesis of Nietzsche), but Strauss admitted that a return to the classics is problematic. This is why he is often accused, mostly by people on the left (but increasingly by paleocons) who have never read him, of being a Nietzschean. The co-called “West Coast Straussians” (one of whom I am which, to borrow the fractured syntax I heard once on a C-SPAN House broadcast) believe that the American constitutional order represents a synthesis of the classical outlook on political life modulated by modern refinements in classical thought, especially Locke; in other words, America is the solution to the problem of Nietzsche, with Lincoln being the obvious anti-Hitler.

Fortunately, the founders did not have to contend with Nietzsche or Hegel, or they might have botched the job. (In fact, it is Hegel who was the guiding philosopher of Progressive Era intellectuals, but that is another story.) This is one reason why Strauss, though he wrote little about American politics directly, was deeply attached to the American regime. He made numerous patriotic expressions about the U.S. Also, he was a subscriber to National Review, which suggests he had somewhat more affinity with the conservative movement than Irakly Areshidze suggests in his otherwise sensible letter that Jonah posted.

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