Wednesday, June 13, 2018

It Will Help You Sleep at Night. It Will Make It Seem That Right Is Always Right

Ian Marcus Corbin:

En route to such an argument, Beiner suggests that we must continually engage Nietzsche as a live opponent, who might just have his hand on something that is both wicked and enduringly attractive. “Reading these thinkers,” Beiner assures us,

doesn’t automatically turn us from liberals into something else (or hopefully it doesn’t!); but hopefully what it does do is draw us into a fully ambitious questioning of what human life expects of us.

This is a generally welcome exhortation, basic to the practice of philosophy, but if Beiner ever concludes his ambitious questioning (and is still a liberal!) I hope he will write another book in which we can learn what it means for “human life” to “expect” anything at all of “us” in a God-shorn universe. Nietzsche thinks it expects nothing at all, and we need to demand that it meet our expectations. One is tempted to see this as another example of Beiner’s quietly placing all of the most momentous philosophical action offstage, as if there is some agent out there called “human life” that will save us from the heavy task of judging and deciding in the absence of a Great Judge.

...Beiner’s good instincts are part of what makes his book so frustrating; he mysteriously fails to follow his own excellent counsel, as he refuses to explore or acknowledge the very real—and yes, potentially dangerous—beauty of Nietzsche’s prescriptions. But maybe he’s just exercising prudence. If these prescriptions are potentially dangerous, why bother to discern the goodness or beauty in them? These ideas are not liberal! Keep them under wraps!

By the time I reached this point in Corbin's excellent review, I had already remembered a line from Thus Spoke Zarathustra: "And whoever wanted to sleep well still talked of good and evil before going to sleep." Apparently, Nietzsche was fine when he was being used as an all-purpose tool of intellectual deconstruction by postmodern academics, but in our hyperventilating, panicked political environment, orthodox progressive opinion has once again quarantined him as a dangerous inspiration to fascism. Ah, the vagaries of fashion.

Corbin goes on to draw parallels between Beiner's bedtime fable, where equality and justice triumph to live happily ever after, and the well-documented paradox of social media, which makes communication with countless strangers both easier and faster, yet ends up creating silos, echo chambers, vituperative distrust, and astonishing ignorance. As Corbin shows, the hope that life would finally be tamed and solved by means of gathering mankind under the comforting shelter of the One True Politics was present in Nietzsche's time, too, and he saw it for the delusion it is. Bien-pensants like Beiner will never understand this, preferring to tell the same old tales of good and evil before going to sleep.