April 20, 2016


Nietzsche, Morgenthau, and the Roots of Realism (Michael Laurence, 4/20/16, ISN Blog)

Through Nietzsche, Morgenthau felt as if his experience of the world was affirmed. He found in Nietzsche a solitary figure much like himself, a man who stood apart from the crowd and relied on his own inner strength to succeed. Even more, he found a keen diagnostician concerned with how things really were and not with how they ought to be. Morgenthau was captivated by what he perceived as Nietzsche's steadfast refusal to take flight from reality (Frei 2001: 102). It was from this basic attitude that the realist paradigm was built. Yet in order to begin this construction, Morgenthau turned away from Nietzsche's emphases on great politics, the √úbermensch, and the radical transformation of culture and society. By means of an insistence upon the categorical split between the way things are and the way things should be, between the descriptive and normative tasks of thought, Morgenthau falsified the complexity of the movement of Nietzsche's thought. His admiration for Nietzsche as a detached, diagnostic, and sober analyst who revealed how things really were, took precedence at the cost of the directionality of Nietzsche's thought, its futuristic orientation, the way it opens up to a new horizon beyond Christian culture and morality. Under the flag of the hard-nosed diagnostician, Morgenthau smuggled through the back door the cynical conviction of the non-negotiable status of pre-existing political and subjective forms.

Morgenthau's basic ideas concerning the nature of reality constitute a significant departure from Nietzsche in two specific senses: (1) they overlook Nietzsche's understanding of the ontological productivity of power, and (2) they consequently ignore Nietzsche's theory of the subject and of subject production. In other words, the worldview that would become realism was developed on the back of Nietzsche but without fidelity to the nuanced conceptual and ideational landscape of his actual texts. [...]

[He] does not consider the force relations by which individuals and identities are produced and come to appear as natural. The political consequence is that his thought remains firmly committed to the ways in which things already exist, at the cost of the ways in which things could exist otherwise.

Realism is the dominant approach in the field of International Relations. Despite the richness and complexity of this paradigm, the many forms it takes, it remains committed to existing identities and forms of reality by way of the negation of the ontological productivity of power. In an effort to account for the complexity of realist scholarship, Michael R. Doyle divides the paradigm into four main schools of interpretation: complex realism, fundamentalist realism, structuralist realism, and constitutionalist realism (1997: 44). While each school differs from the others in important ways, they all nonetheless share a set of views about reality that form a common identity (Doyle 1997: 43). They share the assumption of international society as a condition of anarchy where independent states and other actors contend with one another for power (Doyle 1997: 43). They also share the commitment to a politics of ressentiment by way of an ontology of identity and its representation, whereby life is pre-defined and the subject pre-composed. This is especially true for realists of the fundamentalist school, who, following Morgenthau, contend that the anarchy of global politics is ultimately rooted in the power-seeking activity of individuals. Nietzsche, on the other hand, compels us to put ontology in motion, to think beyond the subject and the fixed categories of identity.

In Ecce Homo, Nietzsche exclaims: 'I am not a man. I am dynamite' (2000: 782). He speaks of himself as a man of calamity, and foretells the coming of upheaval, of earthquakes, of the explosion of old power structures (2000: 783). To affirm life, to be a creator, one must first be a destroyer. Nietzsche combines the creator and the destroyer in one figure: Dionysus. It is Dionysus who will destroy and overcome Christian morality and all of its slavish manifestations. His writings hold this Dionysian capacity to incinerate the reactive ontology from which realist theory operates. Realists, in the interest of self-preservation, are therefore correct to keep him at arm's length, to keep his name in the shadows, to let the monster sleep, in so that their slumber can continue undisturbed. The irony is that contemporary realism can only maintain its theoretical and ontological coherence by means of suppressing its origins. The Nietzschean theatre of power and subject production is the explosion at the beginning. From this explosion a new (anti)realism can be developed; one that does not reactively serve the securitization of pre-existing identities; one that opens up toward a different future, toward a politics of self-overcoming. One that can reclaim the future from ressentiment and cynicism. Such Nietzschean efforts are already well on their way.

Realism in geopolitics--whatever its intellectual antecedents--is the preference for externally quiet dictatorship over internally noisy self-determination.  Deliciously, the dynamite to these regimes is, and has been since before Nietzsche wrote, the Christian Anglosphere.

Posted by at April 20, 2016 6:42 PM