ISSN: 1705-6411
Volume 9, Number 2 (July 2012)

Ecce Idolum

Review Essay: Ashley Woodward (Editor). Interpreting Nietzsche: Reception and Influence. London: Continuum, 2011.

Paul O’Mahoney
(Dublin, Ireland)

“I am no man,” Nietzsche infamously ventures in Ecce Homo:  “I am dynamite”. If indeed we characterise his work as an explosion, it was one which would shape the intellectual landscape of the last century like nothing else. The twentieth century is the century of Nietzsche. Let us take one immediate example of the scope and depth of his influence. Much energy has lately been expended in apportioning blame for the global financial crisis: in the United States, legitimate censure of excessively deregulated markets has fuelled hostility toward the restricted concentration of the country’s wealth, or the assets held and influence wielded by the increasingly stigmatised ‘one percent’. The counter-charge focuses on the argument that the wealthy are invariably large employers as well as innovators in business, and are, therefore, entitled to be viewed as ‘job creators’ or ‘wealth creators’. The merits of claim and counterclaim are not our concern: what is, is that to understand the pedigree of the latter argument in its developed form, which takes an overwhelmingly positive view of risk-taking, and praises business-innovation as the driving force of the economy, one must appreciate how much it owes to the resurrected notion of the entrepreneur expounded in Schumpeter’s Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy (1942). That figure itself, like the attendant concept of ‘creative destruction’, is heavily indebted, via the intermediary of the sociologist Werner Sombart, to Nietzsche – albeit to a reading of him perhaps rather lacking in nuance. Further, one should not underestimate the link between the endorsement of risk and the modern injunction that one should be original, or should engage in self-creation – mostly irresponsible or meaningless injunctions which ultimately have the fingerprints of (a thoroughly bastardised) Nietzsche all over them. Such is only one of the less obvious reverberations of the explosion, or the event, ‘Nietzsche’. Freud, it is often reported, confessed himself reluctant to read him, fearing he would find everything he had laboured to uncover about the human psyche anticipated, or even fully formed, in his predecessor’s writings – and no doubt expressed with a lightness of touch that would make clinical discourse look clunky and tired. Jung and Adler went back to him with enthusiasm – a set of seminars by Jung even yielding a monumental commentary on Also Sprach Zarathustra. Nietzsche’s influence on the literary arts, from Chekhov, Thomas Mann and Hesse, through Gide and Malraux, to Henry Miller, is inestimable; and it is not always so obvious as are these examples: Yeats read him avidly and with fascination; Eugene O’Neill’s widow would recount how her husband had considered Also Sprach Zarathustra “a sort of bible”, carrying a copy with him from a young age. And of course, Nietzsche’s revolutionary effect on philosophy puts him on a par with any of its most influential innovators.

We are so accustomed to his spectre that the remarkableness of this fact escapes us. That it is even conceivable that one might call the last century ‘Nietzschean’ is a fact that defies the ordinary diffusion of ideas. A man who died in the first year of it, after eleven years of ecstasy-blasted incapacitation, having left behind a modest-sized body of work that often appears disjointed and often is very difficult; who had a public, or published, writing life that essentially spanned only two decades; who formerly earned his corn as a professor in a discipline, philology, departments of which have disappeared from most western universities; and who was closer in spirit to Socrates than to Rockefeller – none of these surface facts suggest his destiny should have been greater than any other eccentric, talented author who succumbed to madness: another Hölderlin (the young Nietzsche’s favourite poet – see Kaufmann 1974: 22) or Artaud. 

The character of his influence is equally curious. There has never been a school of Nietzschean criticism, as there has been of Freudian or Marxian, but Nietzsche’s influence and reputation has arguably overtaken the former and outlasted the latter. Still more remarkable is the fact that not a single one of the central ideas of his philosophy – the Eternal Recurrence, the Übermensch, or the will to power – has been taken up by major subsequent philosophers in a serious fashion. And yet Nietzsche’s ideas have so appealed to so wide a spectrum of people – both the scholarly and the dilettantish among politicians, artists, musicians, filmmakers, writers, social scientists, philosophers, students, even theologians – that his intellectual legacy has become truly immeasurable. He casts a shadow greater than any of his contemporaries or successors. The theoretical discoveries of an Einstein or a Feynman remain understood, comparatively speaking, by a very select group, and have little if any continuous, everyday influence on how we conceive of ourselves as human beings. As for the purveyor of the ‘dangerous idea’ so memorably likened to ‘universal acid’: Darwin illuminated man’s place and relation to other beings in the natural order; but while his ideas may have lit a fire under country parsons and pious old maids, they could hardly have scandalised any scholars of Lucretius, or indeed anyone who had arrived at their own rejection of the ideas of divine attendance or intelligent design.  

If philosophers have not seriously taken up Nietzsche’s central ideas, they have by no means neglected him; and they have, of course, in seeking to understand him, sought to interpret these central concepts, elusive though they are (and often deceptively so). Woodward’s book presents some of the most influential interpretations of Nietzsche’s thought by subsequent philosophers.

We get a baker’s dozen, a glance at which reminds us of a crucial aspect of Nietzsche and his tastes, as a man and as a thinker (though there are perhaps few people in history for whom the vocation so consumed or coincided with the person). As with his great antagonist, Socrates, in whom Nietzsche saw “the turning point and vortex of so-called World-history” (The Birth of Tragedy § 15), Nietzsche balanced the ambition for universality in thinking with particularity in his tastes. If Socrates was not only a person but an event, he was, for all that, a peculiarly Greek, even Athenian one. Analogously, the event ‘Nietzsche’ is a peculiarly European one (and perhaps also German). It is noteworthy that in the so-called ‘American century’, the United States could apparently remain so resistant to Nietzsche’s teaching in undiluted form. In one respect, this is thoroughly understandable. Even prior to his association with the Nazi regime, Americans would never have been comfortable with the strain of anti-democratic elitism – or to put it in more firmly philosophical terms, the belief in an order of rank of human beings – that characterises Nietzsche’s work. Mencken, an early enthusiast, wrote a book on Nietzsche’s philosophy, but the man whose most famous quip – though it is apocryphal or garbled – is that nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public, could hardly have hoped, or indeed wished, to address them directly in a democratic fashion. This determinedly ‘aristocratic’ aspect of Nietzsche perhaps also accounts for the absence of defining Soviet scholarship on his work. This is not to say that Nietzsche had no influence in either pole of the Cold War. His American legacy is assessed in Conway (1995) and Ratner-Rosenhagen (2011), while Rosenthal (1994, 2004) details his presence in Soviet thought and writing (especially prior to his proscription in the 1930s).  

And of course, Nietzsche’s ideas did come to America, albeit, as with what Schumpeter inherited from Sombart, often via mediators or popularisers. Nietzsche’s grasp of what the nineteenth century’s ‘historical sense’ meant for human thought and its ambitions, his elaboration of a position that embraced perspectivism and historicism, prepares much of the ground for Weber, and for the Weberian discussion of “values” and ideal of a “value-free” social science. This language has so permeated popular speech that bastardised elements of it, such as “lifestyle”, are staples of magazine columns. Allan Bloom has memorably recorded this dissemination of relativistic thought in American academia and popular culture. He writes of it: “This popularization of German philosophy in the United States is of peculiar interest to me because I have watched it occur during my own intellectual lifetime, and I feel a little like someone who knew Napoleon when he was six” (1987: 147). Bloom called the peculiarly American absorption of the Nietzschean problematic – whereby the Central European style of existential reflection was dropped in favour of positive gospels of self-creation, equality of values or ‘lifestyle choices’ – “nihilism without the abyss” or “nihilism with a happy ending” (ibid., 155, 147).

In this diagnosis, as in everything he wrote, Bloom was ultimately following his mentor Leo Strauss, who had remarked of this popularisation: “It would not be the first time that a nation, defeated on the battlefield and, as it were, annihilated as a political being, has deprived its conquerors of the most sublime fruit of victory by imposing on them the yoke of its own thought” (1965: 2)1. There are other great German thinkers of historicism who were known to American academia, such as Friedrich Meinecke, but Nietzsche is the most potent force behind the twentieth century institutionalisation of relativism. 

With America and the Soviet Union, the other notable absentee here is Britain; the general lack of engagement with Nietzsche in British philosophy is a phenomenon irreducible to the prevalence of ‘analytic’ over ‘continental’ philosophy and worthy of further reflection. Interesting to note, this neglect seems to have been obliquely anticipated by Nietzsche, less in his famously intemperate diatribes about the English mentality than his judgement that Bacon, Hobbes, Hume and Locke represented a devaluation of the concept ‘philosopher’ (Beyond Good and Evil § 252). The common assumption, which any reading would seem to confirm, that Nietzsche did not read the English philosophers well – which is not just to say, only in translations – has been challenged by Thomas Brobjer, who contends that Nietzsche knew more American and English authors, and was influenced more deeply by them, than most critics allow. But even if, at certain periods in his life, he read English and American authors with interest, even ‘intensively’ (Brobjer 2008: 12), it is difficult to conclude that he read them charitably. His antipathy to Mill and Carlyle is perhaps understandable; his cursory treatment of Hume, as if he were little more than a flint with which Kant could spark his critical philosophy, is less so; and his dismissal of Hobbes is genuinely puzzling.

That noted, there are few better illustrations of how Britain, as she has indeed so often striven to demonstrate, is not European, than the comparative neglect of Nietzsche. In fact, if one were to sum up the differences between the analytic or Anglo-American and the continental traditions of philosophy, one might do so by contrasting the reception and influence of Nietzsche. Neither the divergent responses to Frege of Husserl, on the one hand, and Russell and Moore on the other, nor the attitudes to common predecessors such as Kant, are as symptomatic of the differences between them as are their conflicting attitudes to Nietzsche. If excessive enthusiasm for Nietzsche led strands of European philosophy astray, the hostility toward him in the British tradition was certainly to its detriment. Russell’s treatment of Nietzsche in his whiggish, priggish History of Western Philosophy is only slightly less imbecilic than Ayer’s treatment of Heidegger in his continuation of the master’s project.2

One way European ideas came to America was of course via immigrant scholars, particularly those refugees from fascism who formed the core of the so-called ‘University-in-Exile’, and their contemporaries on the west coast, such as Adorno or Thomas Mann. There are three naturalised Americans of European origin represented here, the Greek Alexander Nehamas, and the German-born pair, Walter Kaufmann (the Princeton professor who did most to rehabilitate Nietzsche in America in the post-war period, when the latter’s name was associated with fascism) and Leo Strauss, a man who, against every intellectual (or anti-intellectual) trend of late-twentieth century culture, and his own instinctive reserve, has probably exerted more lasting influence on American political thought than a Kennedy or a Kissinger. There are, in addition, three more Germans (Heidegger, Löwith and Müller-Lauter), six French (Bataille, Deleuze, Klossowski, Derrida, Kofman and Irigaray) – though one of that group is Algerian-born and another Belgian – and one Italian (Vattimo).

The aim is to assemble classic interpretations of Nietzsche’s thought; it is not then simply a matter of influence – thus, Foucault, though he stated in a late interview (1990: 251), “I am simply a Nietzschean”, appears only in fleeting references, while Baudrillard, who likewise commented in interviews: “Nietzsche is...the author beneath whose broad shadow I moved, though involuntarily, and without even really knowing I was doing so” (2004: 2)  and “If I have a master, it is Nietzsche” (Downing and Bazargan 1991: 288), does not feature at all. Neither, it may fairly be said, produced definitive, or even definite, interpretations of their master. The aim in this selection, writes Woodward in his introduction, was to discuss interpretations that have been “indisputably influential”, are “historically significant”, which have “to some degree stood the test of time”, and which “retain some currency in contemporary scholarship” (2). The latter two criteria are presumably behind the exclusion of Jaspers, and of the six-volume study of Charles Andler, very influential in its time and crucial in introducing Nietzsche’s work to France, Nietzsche, sa vie et sa pensée (1920-31). The collection arguably departs from its primary criteria by the inclusion of a chapter on Irigaray’s Nietzsche – no one could truly contend that the obscure, bizarre Amante marine: de Friedrich Nietzsche has become a standard interpretation or reference-point for subsequent writers on Nietzsche, and Irigaray’s presence seems more than anything a sop to feminism (which subject, to be fair, recurs in quite a few of the essays), which tradition she represents in a way that Sarah Kofman, much the superior reader of Nietzsche, does not.

It is certainly a brilliant idea for a book. The content and tone, however, is very much introductory: little knowledge of Nietzsche is assumed, and none at all of his interpreters (Jon Roffe beginning his chapter on Deleuze’s interpretation with “Gilles Deleuze was one of the foremost French philosophers of the twentieth century” seems particularly superfluous). The essays can be read individually with no reference to one another; however, it is interesting, taking in the volume as a whole, to see how these interpretations develop not only in dialogue with Nietzsche but with prior interpretations: Klossowski reviewed Löwith’s book (in the same issue of the journal Acéphale in which Bataille reviewed Jaspers’) and translated Heidegger’s lectures. Löwith was Heidegger’s student, Kaufmann his unrelenting critic, while Müller-Lauter started out working on him, and later developed his own Nietzsche interpretation partly as a corrective to Heidegger’s. Kofman’s philosophical analyses owed much of their inspiration to Derrida, and her work on Nietzsche was also indebted to Deleuze.   

The arrangement of thinkers is roughly chronological, but its kicking off with Heidegger also allows one to perceive how others responded to this most significant of interpretations from one of the century’s most influential philosophers. Heidegger’s various engagements with Nietzsche are well outlined. The only questionable assertion in the account is that it is with Heidegger’s analyses that Nietzsche is “unreservedly announced to the world for the first time as a philosopher” (5). This is arguably how he was seen already by his first interpreters in France, such as Lichtenberger, Halévy and Andler, and indeed by the early admirer Georg Brandes, who delivered the first lectures on Nietzsche in Copenhagen in 1887 – lectures which were extremely popular, and whose conclusion prompted an ovation (Hayman 1995: 317).

Löwith’s Nietzsche is partly a response to Heidegger’s, and J. Harvey Lomax outlines excellently how he ‘deconstructs’ the notion of the eternal recurrence, showing up a contradiction in Nietzsche’s elaboration of the idea. He also agrees with Löwith’s important contention that Nietzsche “has no logical or scientific warrant whatsoever to use the key term ‘will to power’ to refer to the interminable, goalless ebb and flow of nature” (27). Löwith’s criticisms of the eternal recurrence may be contrasted with Deleuze’s treatment of the idea, which sharply criticised any straightforward interpretation of the idea as a cosmological doctrine. Deleuze had written: “Every time we understand the eternal return as the return of a particular arrangement of things after all the other arrangements have been realised, every time we interpret the eternal return as the return of the identical or the same, we replace Nietzsche’s thought with childish hypotheses” (1983: x). Jon Roffe explains how Deleuze rather took Nietzsche’s philosophy, including the hypothesis of the eternal recurrence, which furnishes a rule for the will, as the completion of Kant’s critical project (68ff.). The profound influence of Nietzsche on Deleuze is strikingly illuminated by Roffe’s report that the title of Difference and Repetition could, according to Deleuze’s own intimations, be rewritten as The Will to Power and the Eternal Return (78).

Bataille, we are told, hoped to effect a ‘depoliticization of Nietzsche’ (36ff.). This becomes especially interesting in light of the fact that Bataille presumably had to re-politicise his reading somewhat later, not least when he discusses Nietzsche under the heading of Sovereignty, the title of the third volume of The Accursed Share (43). The ground of this political question is deeper and more urgent, however. Yue Zhuo reports Klossowski’s explicit statement that Bataille’s aim in the 1930s was “to create a religion without God” (38). One can hardly imagine a stupider or more tedious enterprise for a philosopher, and anyone marshalling Nietzsche to such purpose would be a poor reader of him indeed – Nietzsche was the man who expressed horror at the notion of an aura of secular sainthood eventually surrounding him, an expression of horror one gauges was not entirely in jest (Ecce Homo XV.1, cf. I.2). One might indeed link the implicit hunger for religiosity in such an enterprise to the times, considering the agitations of the Action Française group, for whose agnostic figurehead Maurras the Roman Catholic religion was essential to France’s national identity. Like Charles Maurras, Bataille’s concerns were ultimately political. Unlike Maurras, Bataille was a staunch anti-fascist, and used the journal Acéphale to attack the incipient threat of fascism in Europe. This oscillation between political activism and apolitical reading is perhaps what makes Bataille’s long engagement with Nietzsche most interesting.  

Woodward himself tackles that most fascinating and idiosyncratic of interpretations, Klossowski’s. He has been preceded in this in summaries of Nietzsche and the Vicious Circle by its English translator, Daniel Smith (2005a, 2005b). Woodward however broadens his account to include Klossowski’s other, shorter engagements with Nietzsche. The most interesting material in the chapter is the discussion of “culture and conspiracy” and the explanation of how Nietzsche saw Darwinism as facilitating bourgeois morality (91-3). Klossowski read Nietzsche’s philosophy as fundamentally reflecting his recurrent illness and ailments, born in part from the suffering of his body. Nehamas is in some respects exactly the opposite. Though his calling his study Nietzsche: Life as Literature might suggest otherwise, in fact he disengages from the essentials of Nietzsche’s health and madness by declaring that he will not concern himself with “the miserable little man” who wrote Nietzsche’s books (1985: 234). Mark Tomlinson gives a good account of an interpretation considered here as the most recent to be firmly established as  influential, and which indeed possessed no little charm for subsequent readers such as Richard Rorty (1989: 27 n. 4).

Perhaps the most difficult commission here, as hinted at earlier, is that of Joanne Faulkner, tasked with convincing readers of the merit of Irigaray’s study of Nietzsche. She is forced into preliminary, embarrassing caveats such as: “Irigaray does not proceed by means of careful exegesis or explanation of either Nietzsche’s or her own position” (180); or: “To an English-language reader, raised on a diet of plainly articulated arguments, Irigaray appears to lack objectivity” (181). Perhaps she does not make her task any easier, and perhaps even does her subject a disservice, by concentrating for the most part on the first section of Amante Marine, “Speaking of Immemorial Waters”, the most ‘poetic’ and obscure of the book’s three divisions. She does importantly point out Irigaray’s debt in the text to Gaston Bachelard’s L’Air et les songes (something previously highlighted by David Farrell Krell) – but one should also note, given Irigaray’s concentration on ideas of fluidity, whether in the form of water or amniotic fluid (189), the likely parallel debt to Bachelard’s companion-text L’Eau et les rêves (Bachelard 1942).

If there is a criticism to be advanced against the collection, it is that, for this author at least, some essays were a bit too short, and too lacking in substantial analysis; surely in a project of this nature there was scope for greater critical engagement with the individual interpretations. There was, perhaps, always going to be the problem of at whom precisely a volume such as this was aimed. The scarcely-initiated student of Derrida, Heidegger or Deleuze will learn too little of those thinkers; the experienced student will likely already know too much. The obvious answer to the question would be: the serious student of Nietzsche. And that qualifier, or that quality – the serious student – highlights the shortcoming. It is not, as Woodward himself asserts, intended as an introduction to Nietzsche (3). In light of this, the scholars involved should have been given greater leeway to analyse and critically assess, rather than summarise and adumbrate criticisms.

One reading may exemplify this, that of “Strauss’s Nietzsche”. Now, it is surprising in one respect that one can even speak of such an interpretation, as Strauss only ever published one essay on Nietzsche, titled “Note on the Plan of Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil”.3 The essay has already been the focal point of Laurence Lampert’s Leo Strauss and Nietzsche, whose lead the authors follow in citing Strauss’s essay by numbered paragraph. Given the existence of Lampert’s study, there was surely scope for greater analysis of Nietzsche’s place in Strauss’s thinking. Granted that the authors, Matthew Sharpe and Daniel Townsend, provide a very good account of the essay, and show that the interpretation therein is significant and original, their apparently approving mention of Stanley Rosen’s contention that Strauss is “almost a Nietzschean, but not quite” (144) suggests they should have delved deeper into Nietzsche’s traces in Strauss’s oeuvre. They mention that late in life, “Strauss recalled how he had, in his early years, secretly admired Nietzsche” (132). It would have done well here to note how emphatic he was on this point, in quoting a letter to Lōwith often referred to by scholars: “Nietzsche so dominated and charmed me between my 22nd and 30th years that I literally believed everything I understood of him” (see Lampert 1996: 5). The walking encyclopaedia of western civilisation that was Arnaldo Momigliano, one of the great scholars of the last century, wrote without reservation that Nietzsche was “always present in Leo Strauss” (Momigliano 1994: 182; cf. Sheppard 2006: 107). Incidentally, Strauss was apparently “overjoyed” by Momigliano’s characterisation of him, though for other reasons than the asserted affinity with Nietzsche (Benardete 2002: 96). Certainly Nietzsche’s influence looms large in Strauss.4 A recent essay has attempted to trace that influence on both the style and content of Strauss’s early reviews and writings (Miner 2010). What is more interesting, however, is that it is later discernible not only in Strauss’s diagnoses of the crises of western modernity, but also in aspects of his readings of the ancients. For the briefest indication, compare Strauss’s remarks (from a 1958 lecture course) on the relationship of Aeschylus’ work to Euripides and what Aeschylus stands for (2000: 26, 149) with Nietzsche’s assertions in The Birth of Tragedy § 13, and the vision of Socrates as “erotician” (2000: 7) with Nietzsche’s imagining of the erotic Socrates in Birth of Tragedy § 14.

Commenting on an apparently wholly negative appraisal of Nietzsche in Strauss’s essay “What is Political Philosophy?”, which seems to implicate Nietzsche unequivocally in the rise of fascism, Sharpe and Townsend add the qualification that: “although Strauss situates Nietzsche as the third wave of modern thought, in Plato’s Republic  –  from whence, via Homer’s Odyssey, Strauss’s metaphor of three waves comes  –  the third wave is the saving wave that positions philosophers as law-making kings” (132). To this must be added a note on the language Strauss uses. He writes: “...Nietzsche thus prepared a regime which, as long as it lasted, made discredited democracy again look like the golden age”. This, it is important to realise, is another Platonic echo. Plato, though a critic of democracy, wrote in his famous Seventh Letter that the period of the rule of the Thirty Tyrants (with some of whom Socrates was associated as mentor in the popular consciousness in Athens) made the Athenian democracy look, in retrospect, like a golden age (Letter VII.324d; Strauss references the remark at 1978: 131). What the choice of phrase indicates is that, just as the Thirty Tyrants did not invalidate Platonic (or Socratic) political philosophy, although the latter was later held up as one of the influences on their methods of governance, so Nietzsche’s implication in fascism, by virtue of his failure to take upon himself political responsibility (echoes again of Socrates), does not by any means invalidate Nietzschean philosophy, or whatever seeds of a political philosophy might be contained in it. This is another example of where the scope for analysis might have been broadened to the advantage of the essay.

This is not to take too much from Townsend and Sharpe’s essay, or from the collection as a whole, which is invariably interesting. It has the obvious merit of alerting students to the existence of certain readings of which they may have been unaware, and the treatments in the book are all sufficient to stir interest in their subjects, at least for readers whose tastes already tend in certain ways. Appended to each essay are helpful bibliographies dealing with the presented interpretation. The fact that each chapter can be read individually excuses the decision not to standardise vocabulary throughout (one finds alternately “eternal recurrence” or “eternal return”, and Übermensch rendered as “overman” or “superman” – though not as what latterly seems to have become more a translation of choice in Anglophone scholarship, “overhuman”).

Perhaps inevitably, the most valuable essays are those on thinkers less well known or critically neglected (often because untranslated) in Anglophone academia. Ciano Aydin excellently communicates the extraordinary depth and breadth of Müller-Lauter’s studies, and serves well as an advocate for this intriguing and conscientious interpreter. Duncan Large’s account of Kofman’s Nietzsche reuses material from his review of Explosion, Kofman’s two-volume commentary on Ecce Homo (1991: 151-4), and offers the reader good reason to consult such a singularly fascinating scholarly undertaking. Lomax clearly feels Löwith a neglected figure, and his summary might go some way to restoring (or establishing) his prominence among English academics; the chapter on Vattimo, meanwhile, serves as well as an introduction to this thinker who is best known in English for his proposition that nihilism is the natural outcome of modern and postmodern thought, and for his advocacy of ‘weak thought’ (pensiero debole, an idea invoked once by Baudrillard, without naming its source, 2005: 88).

Given the remit of this journal, it must be reiterated that there is no mention of Baudrillard within the book (Woodward has published on him, specifically with reference to the Nietzschean problematic of nihilism, in an earlier issue of the journal and elsewhere). Students of Baudrillard should therefore be directed to the source, to Nietzsche himself, if they are to grasp the enormous debt owed by the former to the latter. There is much to benefit the student of continental philosophy generally, however, and most especially – though it need hardly be repeated – the dedicated student of Nietzsche.


1. The exemplary case, we may presume, is the ‘enslavement’ of Rome by her captive, the conquered Greece (Horace, Epistles II.1.156-7). How such a development deprives the conqueror of “the most sublime fruit of victory”, and what this implies that fruit might be, perhaps indicates as well as anything the Nietzschean flavour of much of Strauss’s thinking.

2. This claim is made in all seriousness. The conflicting reception of Nietzsche is symptomatic of the differences in the traditions because, ultimately, there is perhaps no single ground for their differences greater than this. 

3. Strauss did deliver a number of courses on Nietzsche, preserved recordings as well as transcripts of which will be made available online at the Leo Strauss Center website. Already available are the audio recordings of the 1971-72 course on Beyond Good and Evil, delivered at St. John’s College, Annapolis. Still pending are two University of Chicago courses, on Thus Spake Zarathustra from the Spring Quarter of 1959, and on Beyond Good and Evil and On the Genealogy of Morals from Winter 1967. See website at:

4. The authors conjecture, with reason, that early readings of Nietzsche might have influenced Strauss’s later “rediscovery” of esotericism in his study of Arabic and Jewish medieval philosophy (see on this Strauss 1997: 463). It is certainly a possibility, but Lessing, especially in his Ernst und Falk, was more important here. The idea of esotericism would have been familiar to Strauss from the medieval Islamic tradition. What Alfarabi attributes to Plato – combining the way of Socrates with the way of Thrasymachus, depending on his audience – was explicitly attributed to Alfarabi himself by Ibn Tufayl in his Hayy Ibn Yaqzan. Ibn Tufayl goes on to discuss esoteric sense in the works of Avicenna, and to attribute to Algazel a cautious tailoring of the type and content of his arguments according to his anticipated audience (see Lerner and Mahdi, eds. 1983: 140-41). Strauss certainly knew the text – whether through Maimonides’ commentary, his Arabist brother-in-law Paul Kraus, or some other source – referring to it once in his early book Philosophie und Gesetz (Strauss 1995: 148 n. 38), and later in Persecution and the Art of Writing (Strauss 1988: 14 n. 9, 111). What is less sure is that the placing of the Nietzsche essay in the central place (eighth of fifteen) in the collection Studies in Platonic Political Philosophy reveals his importance to Strauss (132, 134). This is not because such placing is unimportant to him – it very much is, ordinarily – but because, as Lampert had reported, this placing likely does not reflect the order Strauss intended (he died before the collection appeared, and was working on other pieces intended for it, including a study of Plato’s Gorgias that would have queered the present order. Lampert 1996: 12).



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Gaston Bachelard. (1950). L’Air et les songes: essai sur l’imagination du mouvement. Paris: J. Corti.

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Thomas Brobjer (2008). Nietzsche and the “English”: The Influence of British and American Thought on his Philosophy. New York: Humanities Books.

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Leo Strauss (1988). Persecution and the Art of Writing. University of Chicago Press.

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Maimonides and his Predecessors trans. Eve Adler. New York: SUNY Press.

Leo Strauss (1997). “A Giving of Accounts: Jacob Klein and Leo Strauss” in Strauss & Kenneth Hart Green, Jewish Philosophy and the Crisis of Modernity. New York: SUNY Press.

Leo Strauss (2000). On Plato’s Symposium, Ed. S. Benardete. University of Chicago Press.

© International Journal of Baudrillard Studies (2012)

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