Term Paper: Post Enlightenment Political Thought

Pages: 12 (3970 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 5  ·  Level: Master's  ·  Topic: Mythology - Religion  ·  Buy This Paper

¶ … post-enlightenment period we see the increasing acknowledgment, both for better and worse, of groups who had historically been marginalized or ignored by traditional European political thought. Where before Jews had been marginalized due to religious Christian anti-Semitism, now they were being marginalized because they had introduced conscience and dampened man's natural ardor. Ironically, post-modernist analysis has contributed to and/or exacerbated persecution of Jews in the post-enlightenment period when liberalism has been the most widespread by giving anti-Semitism a patina of intellectual respectability. Indeed, the earlier anti-Semitism was very simply based itself in religious exclusion. Now, Jews were subjected to this philosophical ghettoization in the garb of sociology and economics.

While on both extremes of the argument there is an attempt to lionize or demonize both Marx and Nietzsche, this author will attempt to maintain what the Jewish philosopher Maimonides called the Golden Middle path in terms of analyzing these German philosophers. As usual, reaction needs to give way to rationale and the right questions have to be asked so that hopefully the right conclusions will come out of the analysis. It is the contention of this author that in the case of both Nietzsche and Marx, their philosophical musings have ironically and tragically marginalized the long suffering Jewish people. Sadly enough, post-modernism and existentialism have not brought an end to anti-Semitism, but have exacerbated it. While there is quibbling over the degrees of anti-Jewish feelings on the part of the two philosophers, one thing is certain: the tone of post-modernist analysis is dependent upon them chapter and verse. Their less than flattering portrayals of Jews do not help the cause of Jewish people at all.

On the part of Nietzsche, a Nazi type of anti-Semitism was certainly not his intended consequence. On many an occasion, he condemned racism and anti-Semitism. It has been asserted that Nietzsche's sister misrepresented his work, especially with regard to the later work, Will to Power. Carol Diethe makes this case very convincingly in her scholarly book on the subject where she provides documents the argument that this high priestess of the Nietzsche cult in Weimar Germany was a reactionary fascist. Indeed, here later extensive ties to key members of the Nazi Party, including Hitler himself helped to define her brother's reputation as a proto-Nazi. Elizabeth did this, especially after a trip to Paraguay and was motivated as much by her need of money as of anything else. As the association with Wagner and anti-Semitism became ingrained, it became harder and harder for the Weimar minions to shake it off, especially through her promotion of Will to Power (Diethe 81-83, 94).

What Nietzsche sought was a return to the heroism that he associated with ancient Greek life in the age of Homer. He simply wished to express his thought that the values of Christianity and bourgeois morality itself prevented humanity from reaching the level of heroism. Unfortunately, by taking down Christianity, Nietzsche indirectly attacked its sister religion Judaism via his encouragement of what was essentially a new paganism. In the Genealogy of Morals, the noble Greek race of priest kings was indirectly attacked by the Jews who in their fury against their Egyptian taskmasters turned the code that Nietzsche held upside down. It is necessary to quote Nietzsche briefly:

All the world's efforts against the "aristocrats," the "mighty," the "masters," the holders of power," are negligible by comparison with what has been accomplished against those classes by the Jews…it was the Jews who, in opposition to the aristocratic equation (good=aristocratic=beautiful=happy=loved by the gods), dared with a terrifying logic to suggest the contrary equation, and indeed to maintain with the teeth of the most profound hatred…"the wretched are alone the good; the poor, the weak, the lowly, are alone the good; the suffering, the needy, the sick, the loathsome, are the only ones who are pious, the only ones who are blessed, for them alone is salvation…We know who it was reaped the heritage of this Jewish transvaluation…with the Jews that the revolt of the slaves begins in sphere of morals; that revolt which has behind it a history of two millennia…because it-has achieved victory (Nietzsche 13-14).

The Jews were at war with the noble Greek race on a philosophical level. His opposition was "professional" so to speak. While he had no personal problems or hatred to the Jews, they were in opposition with his Greek views of virtue. In this author's opinion, like a modern Epiphanius, Nietzsche represents a neo-Hellenistic tradition at loggerheads with the ancient Judaic religion in an almost Maccabean struggle. Had he analyzed Judaism from this ironic angle, he would have seen that this kulturkampf that he was reinitiating was fought and lost over 2000 years before. If he had, he might have found a will to power in the ressentiment of the Jewish people and would have seen the great power available to slaves and to the underdog.

Nietzsche portrayed Christianity and by extension Judaism as a religion glorifying weakness rather than the strength life requires. According to Nietzsche, religions demanded a useless and debilitating sacrifice of the flesh and the spirit rather than with heroic living and daring. For him, war and courage had accomplished more great things than anything else in the human experience. These skeptical currents sapped Christianity of much respectability. Under Nietzsche's influence fewer people joined the clergy. Many found they could live without Christianity. This especially appealed to those in urban areas. Nietzsche's ideas flourished in the existentialist environment following World War I. The war led many to doubt if humans were really in control. The destructive nature of war challenged the supremacy of rationality and human ability to improve. Indeed, the most terrible weapons of all were made of rational technological components. Pride in Europe in rational human achievements had dominated the nineteenth century and now this civilization was reduced to dust and ruins. Nietzsche's withering assault upon traditional morality helped further to kill out what the war had not destroyed as the shell shocked searchers looked over the devastation left by the war (Kagan, Ozment, and Turner 1095).

In Nietzsche sought not what was good or evil, but rather the psychosocial sources of the judgment of these mores. According to Nietzsche's reckoning, there was in actuality no moral phenomenon but only the moral interpretation of them. In the Genealogy of Morals, he questioned whether or not morality was valuable in and of itself since it was a made up convention that had no independent existence in and of itself in the world of reality (Kaufman 456).

In the opinion of this author Nietzsche, this discovery was liberating and led humans to create their own life affirming values instead. Christianity and its attendant bourgeois morality could be discarded as humans created their own moral order new and fresh that would affirm their strength, self-pride and assertive natures rather than the Christian mores of humility and meekness with its historically determined inevitable weakness. This new human judgment was based more on feeling and emotions and lead to a questioning of rationality. Will and determination forged the emotions of this new world. Nietzsche's views are definitely romantic and post-enlightenment. Indeed, Goethe would probably be considered a philosophical lightweight in comparison. Nietzsche indeed is a product of the Biedermeier world he was born into and his reaction against rationalism. While his life and that world were not an exact match chronologically, they certainly enjoyed a philosophical co-terminus.

The ethical systems proposed at the time by the major English philosophers such as Mill were nothing more than a manifestation of a will to power on the part of the weak. Nietzsche felt that this was the same for the popular moralities of the masses that followed religions such as Christianity and Judaism. According to Nietzsche, during his survey of the genealogy of moralities, he had found two basic kinds of moralities. One was the type of morality used by the noble classes where they overtly projected power over others and the "slave moralities" that weak people (such as meek Christians) had cooked up as schemes to acquire power over the fit and strong. The more preferred kind of morality for Nietzsche was the "master moralities" of the nobles. In terms of Christianity, Nietzsche was particularly critical of Christianity's claim to be a history of morality when it had such a lack of base in the historical reality and did not have the historical spirit. Originally, people in general would have called such people moral and would applaud their lack of ego, calling them "good" and moral (Ansell-Person 123-125).

Unlike Marx (as we shall see below) who in this author's opinion is genuinely anti-Semitic, Nietzsche's opposition to Judaism is religious and stems from his hostility to Christianity. The later hijacking of Nietzsche's philosophy by the Nazis to service their venal ends cemented in the general public mind frame the idea of Nietzsche as the racial anti-Semite. In this author's personal philosophical reading, it certainly ranks up with the hijacking… [END OF PREVIEW]

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