March 18, 2023


Madame Mao's Nietzschean Revolution (DYLAN LEVI KING MARCH 17, 2023, Palladium)

Jiang's philosophy of heroism seems unusual for the wife of China's most famous communist. Marxist analysis doesn't obviously lend itself to individual valorization. But Marx was not Madame Mao's teacher in these matters. That role fell to Friedrich Nietzsche.

Jiang was hardly the only Nietzschean in the red camp. Mao Zedong himself had been exposed to Nietzsche before Marx. Late Qing reformers had picked up Nietzsche's ideas as they visited Japan and Germany; the young Mao devoured their work. The archives preserve Mao's first writing on Nietzsche, scribbled in the margins of Cai Yuanpei's translation of Friedrich Paulsen's A System of Ethics. Mao admired the neo-Kantian Paulsen but had an instinctual sympathy with Nietzsche's view that traditional morality needed to be upended. Only by harnessing powerful, buried forces did Mao see a path toward a new world.

The artists and thinkers of the early Republican period were likewise enthralled by Nietzsche, the rebel philosopher who believed in the power of culture. For those focused on sweeping away the dust of feudal China, his nihilistic attack on tradition and call to overcome slave morality translated well into the post-imperial context. It is no wonder that Nietzsche was idolized by Chen Duxiu and Li Dazhao, who would go on to found the Communist Party.

Even once figures like Chen, Li, and Mao turned left, they continued to absorb Nietzschean ideas. His thinking permeated many of the Bolsheviks, as well as radical Russian intellectuals and artists. Vladimir Lenin, Leon Trotsky, Aleksandr Bogdanov, and Nikolai Bukharin all refer to Nietzsche explicitly or implicitly. Bukharin and Bogdanov, in particular, drew on him enough to be dubbed "Nietzschean Marxists" by scholars. In the words of historian Bernice Glatzer Rosenthal, Nietzsche was "a vital element of Bolshevism," animating an "activist, heroic, voluntaristic, mercilessly cruel, and future-oriented interpretation of Marxism." This line of Soviet cultural revolution intensified under the leadership of Stalin in the 1920s and 1930s: monumental art glorified the proletarian hero. There was even room for the Dionysian excess of the Russian avant-garde, though Stalin eventually turned against it.

Jiang, moving in radical circles in the 1930s, absorbed these ideas. Her study of Nietzsche came through the scholar Lu Xun. Before becoming the patron saint of socialist literature in the People's Republic of China, Lu was its foremost interpreter, translator, and popularizer of Nietzsche. Jiang idolized him, later declaring that while Mao was her political north star, Lu Xun provided her cultural guidance. While his books had been bowdlerized to remove more provocative texts, Jiang kept an unexpurgated 1938 edition of his collected work on her bookshelf deep into the Cultural Revolution, handbound in twenty volumes.

Lu Xun was a Nietzschean through and through. His reading of ‚Äč‚ÄčThus Spake Zarathustra in Japan in 1902 changed his worldview completely. In "On Cultural Extremism," an essay published in 1908, he pointed to the ideals of Nietzsche as the solution to China's ills--only the will to power of supreme individuals was capable of leading the benighted masses. Jiang would certainly have read "On Satanic Poetry," which Lun wrote under the stated influences of Nietzsche and Lord Byron. In it, he called for spiritual fighters and savage rebels to destroy the ultrastable system of Chinese ethics. Like Maxim Gorky in Russia, Lu's political allies downplayed his Nietzschean sympathies after he moved to the left, but they continued to energize his writing, theory, and criticism until his death in 1936.

When the Communists took control of China in 1949, Nietzsche was in the bloodstream of the party. His thinking would inform the psychopolitical project of creating the New Socialist Man in the ashes of the old society. When Jiang led her Dionysian artistic assault on the Apollonian state, Nietzsche was with her.

The Long War between Anglospheric and European philosophy has always been a disaster for the latter.

Review: Waller Newell's "Tyranny and Revolution: Rousseau to Heidegger" (Paul Krause, 03/08/2023, Merion West)

One of the great lies of modernity is that the ancient world was despotic, totalitarian, and authoritarian while we, by contrast, living in the afterglow of the Enlightenment (the greatest propaganda term ever invented), are freed from that ancient darkness and tyranny. The actual record of history calls this narrative into question. Modernity is witness to the "utopian genocides" of the last 200 years, beginning with the Terror of the French Revolution and proceeding with horrifying mass murderous regimes of the Bolsheviks, Nazis, Maoists, Khmer Rouge, ISIS, and others. Far from some glow of liberty, we live in the era of de-humanizing totalitarianism. How did we go from the noble humanism of the ancients and Christians to the de-humanizing tyranny and terror of the moderns?

This is the question that Waller Newell attempts to answer in his brilliant and provocatively insightful new book, Tyranny and Revolution: Rousseau to Heidegger, which was released this past September. Beginning with Jean-Jacques Rousseau, proceeding through the luminaries of German Idealism and Romanticism--climaxing with Hegel--then marching beyond Hegel to Marx, Nietzsche, and Heidegger, Newell gives a reading of philosophy gone wrong. Horribly wrong. Or did it really go horribly wrong upon a second reading?

At first glance, Rousseau and the men and women inspired by him wanted freedom. Peter Neumann, in his recently translated work Jena 1800, called these men and women "free spirits," who sought the liberation of the soul from what threatened to enslave it. As I noted in the conclusion of my review of that book, "ironically, their ideas have often ended up enslaving and tyrannizing billions more despite the promise of liberation and liberty they desired." Most educational institutions and professors teach Rousseau, Hegel, Marx, even Nietzsche, and sometimes Heidegger as desiring a liberty denied by fraudulent bourgeois liberalism. I can recall from my first exposure to some of these philosophers (like Rousseau) in Advanced Placement European History as a high school student to my more immersive experience as a philosophy undergraduate that many of these philosophers were presented as champions of liberty. This is still the faulty and misleading presentation of them today which clouds our reading of them.

Newell offers a penetrating close and even sympathetic reading of these philosophers (especially Rousseau). But, in doing so, he also reveals the hate and venom at the core of their beliefs. It was not so much freedom that these men wanted, though they hid behind liberty's rhetoric. They wanted war with groups of people they regarded as the corrupters of human innocence and happiness. Their call for liberty and liberation was a veiled expression for their hatred and desire for war and vengeance.

Rousseau, "the intellectual godfather of the French Revolution," gave to the world the "loathsome vision" of the "bourgeois" man who is entirely self-centered, egoistical, and sentimentally apathetic or downright cruel. Today, that rhetoric is now commonplace. In Rousseau's time, it was not. Rousseau's incubation of hatred toward the commercially minded urban professional was then carried forward by subsequent philosophers, none more famous than Karl Marx. More on him in a bit. [...]

I began by noting that these philosophers examined in Newell's fantastic book are really philosophers of resentment. At least Nietzsche openly admitted it though it is not that hard to see it in Rousseau and Marx, when one is not poisoned by their acidic ideologies. Their liberty is premised on a hatred of the other, in whatever form and conjured-up image it takes: the bourgeois, the master, the capitalist, the parasitic materialist, the Christian, the Last Man, the technocratic modern. In that hatred of the other, the seed of tyranny and revolution was nurtured--not as a want for liberty but as a desire to punish those who had taken away some past or future birthright of freedom and happiness.

Identitarianism is a function of these hatreds. 
Posted by at March 18, 2023 7:45 AM