In the early years of Nietzsche studies, it was assumed that because the Nazis were drawn to his ideas, then Nietzsche himself must have been some sort of fellow traveller. He wasn’t. But part of the reason that fascists found his views so congenial is that he emphasised the concept of will and power over truth. If truth is simply a mobile army of metaphors — rather than something out there, fixed, waiting to be discovered — then what counts as truth is established through power and assertion, not dispassionate observation or careful listening. We used to call it lying. But for Nietzsche, the truth is what I assert it to be. Here, then, is where Donald Trump or Boris Johnson intersect with the woke Left. For all their superficial antipathy, they share a very similar metaphysical space.
…At the present moment, this philosophical position is supporting a kind of Left-wing run. But it won’t always do so. And when Nietzsche renews his conjugation with the Right, we may well descend even further into antipathy and madness. When truth with a capital T dies, all we have left is the struggle for dominance.
Might is right. Which is why, as the culture wars deepen, you will find me in church, on my knees, before my dead God. A dead God who, Nietzsche would be disappointed to hear, refuses to die.
A quibble: Nietzsche wasn’t “emphasizing the concept of will and power over truth” so much as he was suggesting that a world of “will and power” was an unintended consequence of the Christian West’s centuries-long pursuit of truth. It wasn’t a simple either/or question for him, as a couple passages from Beyond Good and Evil show:
Indeed, what forces us at all to suppose that there is an essential opposition of “true” and “false”? Is it not sufficient to assume degrees of apparentness, and, as it were, lighter and darker shadows and shades of appearance – different “values”, to use the language of painters? Why couldn’t the world that concerns us – be a fiction? And if somebody asked, “But to a fiction, surely there belongs an author?” – couldn’t one answer simply: why? Doesn’t this “belongs” perhaps belong to the fiction, too?
Nobody is very likely to consider an argument true merely because it makes people happy or virtuous….happiness and virtue are no arguments. But people like to forget — even sober spirits — that making unhappy and evil are no counter-arguments. Something might be true while being harmful and dangerous in the highest degree. Indeed, it might be a basic characteristic of existence that those who would know it completely would perish, in which case the strength of a spirit should be measured by how much of the “truth” one could still barely endure — or, to put it more clearly, to what degree one would require it to be thinned down, shrouded, sweetened, blunted, falsified. But there is no doubt that the evil and unhappy are more favored when it comes to the discovery of certain parts of truth, and that the probability of their success here is greater — not to speak of the evil who are happy, a species the moralists bury in silence.
The early church fathers taught that reason was a gift from God and the means by which we could progressively increase our understanding of scripture and revelation. In an almost-Hegelian twist, reason ended up undermining itself. And thesis begat antithesis, and antithesis begat…whatever revaluation of all values we’re living through now. We pursued truth out into space and found it difficult to believe in our cosmic importance any longer. We pursued truth through the natural world and found ourselves face-to-face with our own animal origins and nature. We pursued truth into the subatomic realm and found reality to be weirder than we’d ever imagined. Like a magnifying glass focusing the sun’s rays, our pursuit of truth burnt away the fragile webs of social fictions that connected us.
Was it to meet such grinning evidence we left our richly odored ignorance? Was the triumphant answer to be this? The Pilgrim Way has led to the abyss. — Auden, “For the Time Being: A Christmas Oratorio”
What if the truth is that Christianity is just one more religion among countless others? What if truth with a capital-T has always been dependent upon who had the power to assert it and successfully defend it against challengers? What if Fraser is simply caught in the same snare as the rest of us, asserting a preferred fiction over an unpalatable truth? He’s not answering the question so much as begging it.