Marasmus

 

There is an occasionally quoted passage even hardened Nietzscheans may find provocative:-

 

"In any case, even as a restless mole under the soil of a society that 
wallows in stupidity, socialism will be able to be something useful and 
therapeutic: it delays "peace on earth" and the total mollification of 
the democratic herd animal; it forces the Europeans to retain spirit, 
namely cunning and cautious care, not to abjure manly and warlike 
virtues altogether, and to retain some remnant of spirit, of clarity, 
sobriety, and coldness of the spirit- it protects Europe for the time 
being from the marasmus femininus that threatens it.
" (Will to Power §125)

 

The passage was referenced in Oxford Professor Malcolm Bull's attempted deconstruction job Anti-Nietzsche.

 

My dictionary defines marasmus as a wasting away of the body.

 

 A case might be attempted that the feminisation that threatened at the beginning of the twentieth century was delayed by war, and the necessary virtues called into play. Left behind were causes recently taken up by what we have come to call the liberal elite, of which anti-Nietzschean Malcolm Bull is a paid up member. With the destruction of conventional hierarchies, egalitarian doctrine brings opportunities for a ruling class to secure and consolidate its domination.

 

What in the lives of recent generations might have won Nietzsche’s approval? For that of my parents, war meant that some stereotypical, often philistine, masculine virtues were called to the fore. Surely that was not hardly what Nietzsche had in mind, even if we disregard all the wreckage world war brought about?

 

People apply Nietzsche to modern circumstances to radically different ends. For those in the elite, the world takes on a benign aspect. Some interpret the great yea-sayer, as always on the side of power. This is hardly tenable given his expressed distaste for some projected futures. On the other hand, identifying him with a lot of old lost causes could rule everything he says out of court.

 

Where the philosophical conclusions of mediaeval and renaissance philosophers like Ockham and Pomponazzi led them away from faith there was a way of salvaging them. Philosophy need not interfere with orthodox dogma. It’s the same today. The objection to peace on earth involves an old issue that goes right back to the ancient Greeks and can be treated fairly abstractly.

 

Ockham, reputedly the finest logician of the middle ages wrote:-

 

I consider it to be dangerous and temerarious to force anyone to fetter his mind and to believe something which his reason dictates to him to be false, unless it can be drawn from holy scripture or from a determination of the Roman Church or from the words of approved doctors”.

 

Later, Pomponazzi, herald of the Renaissance, and close student of Aristotle, wrote a book on the immortality of the soul, in which he argues against Aquinas that reason shows the soul to be mortal. Nevertheless the scriptures reveal that God has made the soul immortal so, he says, he follows that.

 

Rather than scripture and the Church, moderns are confronted with the moral imperative for certain versions of equality. In few countries is this imperative more explicit than in Sweden, a nation idolised by the left and demonised by much of the right, though this may be about to change. In modern conditions Sweden has provided a more congenial model for leftist idealism than the old Soviet Union, which it replaced. For many on the right, it is a country completely dedicated to the ideal of the last man and the marasmus femininus, which Nietzsche presents as his own antithesis. Most Swedes do not describe themselves that way, and may regard themselves the moral leaders of mankind, proud of having elected the world’s first feminist government.

 

Some Nietzscheans say Nietzsche’s case is trivialised when he is turned into a humanist, which could make him compatible with egalitarianism and even align him with people like Trotsky. Others will say there is no better way to trivialise him than to use him to attack Swedish feminists. In the modern culture wars Nietzsche bestrides an irreconcilable division between right and left. Since the nineteen seventies, official Swedish culture has frequently been characterised as a form of totalitarianism[1]. The right’s loathing for political correctness, contrasts with the idea of a leftist utopia, whose people are the happiest in the world. Nietzsche dismisses this last consideration.

 

Whether it is hedonism, pessimism, utilitarianism, or eudaemonism - all these ways of thinking which measure the value of things according to pleasure and pain, i.e. according to subsidiary circumstances and secondary considerations, are superficial ways of thinking.” (Beyond Good and Evil §225)

 

On his view, whether or not you favour some model of a reformed society never depends on abstract calculations about human happiness discoverable by empirical research, but rather on how it answers to your present emotions and desires. What he identifies in the egalitarian movement is not the generous impulse seemingly conceded by De Tocqueville[2], but envy and resentment. The right hate conformism of thought; the left condemn the selfishness of the right. The former argue that the loss of freedom, involved in mental conformism can only be favoured for the satisfaction it offers to feelings of revenge.

 

In the quoted passage Nietzsche floats the suggestion that socialism, either being fought for or resisted, can throw up interesting ideas, helping to promote clear thinking and healthy conflict. He does not believe socialism as he understood it could win, but apparently fears feminism could wreak a lot of harm. With the principle of gender equality the content of creative ideas is downplayed in favour of the right to equal respect of those who produce them. The demands of the producer take precedence over the meaning of what is produced, which is treated as fluid.

 

For an idea of what Nietzsche might mean by marasmus femininus I quote from an article in the London Evening Standard last year.

 

Maria Jane Balshaw CBE (born 24 January 1970) is director of the Tate art museums and galleries. The appointment was confirmed by the UK Prime Minister on 16 January 2017, making her the first female director of the Tate.

 

She said in a speech:-

"We are all sharply aware of Tate’s historical gender bias. But since 2000, and with increasing momentum, most recently led by my colleague Frances Morris, director of Tate Modern, much more has been done to reconnect our audiences with significant — but overlooked or forgotten — work by women and by artists whose race, ethnicity or geographical location meant they had been denied national and international recognition. 

The individuals Frances has championed — Louise Bourgeois, Georgia O’Keeffe, Mona Hatoum, Phyllida Barlow, Ana Lupas and Magdalena Abakanowicz — are all great artists. 

We should get to the point when we don’t even have to mention that they’re women. Although I believe this to be a “golden moment” for gender equality in the arts in the UK, more needs to be done to achieve real parity. Because this is about representing the world we’re all in — that is, an equal balance of men and women." 

 

Tate Britain is the gallery for all British painting from the sixteenth century till the present. This woman is in charge of it and aims to transform the collection with the latest trendy idea, which happens to be gender equality.


The late art critic Brian Sewell was convinced there have been no great women artists. Without going so far as Salvador Dali, who insisted that to be a great artist it is essential to possess balls, we may say that if Sewell was right the new director of the Tate is out systematically to debauch taste. Personally I'm happy to give up on Tate Modern, but Tate Britain has long been one of my favourite places in London. I fear it will be so no longer. 


As for what is going on in Tate Modern, here is what Sewell said about Louise Bourgeois, extolled by Balshaw as one of her greats:- 

 

Wielding Occam's Razor to this menacing old crone, I see her as inventing memories to justify her imagery and inventing images to justify false meaning - six of one and half-a-dozen of the other. Her work is enthusiastically exhibited only because she is, or pretends to be, a woman who hates men. This is political correctitude gone mad: the work of any male sculptor who did with female genitals what she has done with the penis would never see the light of day and, regarded as a psychopathic danger to society, nor would he.

If you admire surrealism, you are now expected to honour Bourgeois as up there with Dali, Ernst, Magritte and the others. Given the motive behind it, can any professing Nietzschean go along with this revisionism? Undoubtedly many will, even though Nietzsche reserved his deepest scorn for the idea of equal rights.

 

Injustice never lies in unequal rights, it lies in the claim to ‘equal’ rights… (Antichrist)

 

With the principle of fair distribution, seriousness goes out of ideas. What your little sister thinks claims as much validity as your own hard earned discoveries. Any of Nietzsche ideas might be corrected by the objections of Elisabeth or those of Lou whom he misguidedly tried to recruit as his Muse. This is heralded as freedom and equality. Could Nietzsche be susceptible to the relentless feminist rhetoric that is employed in its defence? Can we hope to discriminate between what is essential and what is inessential in him, what mere emotion and what argument or at least a clearly delineated point of view that needs to be acknowledged?

 

Even today Zoroastrianism is sometimes invoked to attack many of the premises of Greek philosophy from the oriental, originally Iranian perspective of revealed religion, out of which proceeded Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Such considerations were apparently in Nietzsche’s mind when he selected the Zarathustra figure for his mouthpiece.

 

Enthusiasts for Zoroastrianism sometimes share a morally inspired dislike for mysticism. Zoroastrianism looks forward to a state of individual and social perfection, a reign of human brotherhood. Despite some tendencies in Plato, the authentic Greek spirit as Nietzsche understood it, was viscerally opposed. One powerful symbol is Alexander burning down the palace of Persepolis in a drunken revel.

 

In Ecce Homo Nietzsche explained why he chose Zarathustra:-

 

Zarathustra created this most calamitous error, morality, consequently, he must also be the first to recognize it.... The self-overcoming of morality, out of truthfulness; the self-overcoming of the moralist, into his opposite---into me---that is what the name of Zarathustra means in my mouth.

 

When Heraclitus famously deplored the hope for strife to cease among gods and men he expressed much, though not all, of what Nietzsche was getting at. For Nietzsche, conflict is not only what sustains the universe, it is the key to a true understanding of any possibility of human happiness. As peace on earth is equivalent to cultural death, human brotherhood, as well perhaps as peace between the sexes, is a formula for tyrannous oppression. As he writes:- “What is happiness? The feeling that power is increasing--that resistance has been overcome.”

 

Years ago in a second hand bookshop I came across a book with an intriguing title, Zoroaster’s Influence on Greek Thought. I didn’t finish reading it at the time, but have done so earlier this year. I had no idea about the author, Ruhi Afnan, till I googled him and discovered he was a grandson of the Bahullah, the martyred Persian founder of the Bahai religion. I had assumed he must have been either a Parsee (Zoroastrian) or a Muslim. As I read it the book has some interest because it goes to the heart of an old dispute between east and west, attacking many of the premises of Greek philosophy from the oriental, originally Iranian perspective of revealed religion, from which were to proceed Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Such considerations were presumably in Nietzsche’s mind when he picked Zarathustra to set right his old errors.

 

The ideal state to which Zoroastrianism aspired was a rational order like socialism, or Swedish social democracy. It may be significant that in the early sixth century AD Zoroastrianism begat an outright communist movement founded by the prophet Mazdak, which had some success before it was crushed.

 

For his interpretation of Zoroastrianism Afnan draws on Robert Charles Zaehner (1913 - 1974), a British scholar of Eastern religions. Zaehner had a diplomatic as well as an academic career, and took part in secret service operations to undermine the democratically elected Iranian prime minister Mossadegh in the early 1950s. Zaehner’s reputation rests mainly on his studies of Zoroastrianism, including his Dawn and Twilight of Zoroastrianism. (1961). His history has been criticised for eccentricities like discounting the whole Parthian period as not Zoroastrian.

 

Zaehner was also a writer on mysticism, who attacked the idea of the mystical unity of all religions. In his Mysticism Sacred and Profane he tries to uphold a “distinction between monism on the one hand and theistic mysticism on the other”. He thus sets himself firmly against Aldous Huxley's concept of the Perennial Philosophy. His experience of psychedelic drugs was very unpleasant, which did not stop him claiming that it had given him deep insight into assertions about mystical reality. He argued against the oriental inspired monism he saw as leading logically to the excesses not only of Aleister Crowley and Timothy Leary, but ultimately to those of Charles Manson. On this he follows Ed Sanders book The Family with its melodramatic philosophical take on the Manson murders.

 

He is very hostile to mystically inspired asceticism. In Our Savage God he writes:-

 

 “The whole ascetic tradition, whether it be Buddhist, Platonist Manichaean, Christian or Islamic, springs from that most polluted of all sources, the Satanic sin of pride, the desire to be ‘like gods”.

 

We will naturally be reminded of Nietzsche’s Zarathustra here. If there were gods, how could I bear not to be a god? Therefore , there are no gods.

 

For Schopenhauer asceticism is a move towards liberating ourselves from the pressure towards frustration of desire. Even for Nietzsche it is not just a mistake. Nietzsche has passed through Schopenhauer. As one early commentator wrote “No longer is there to be pessimism and optimism ; pessimism is only the whip for shallow optimists.” (Mugge)

 

Zaehner writes contemptuously:-

 

There is indeed a sharp division between those religions whose characteristic form of religious experience is prayer and adoration of Pascal’s God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob on the one hand, and religions in which sitting postures designed to find the God within you are thought to be the most appropriate ways of approaching the deity.”

 

Nietzsche’s vision is undermined and demeaned when interpreted essentially as a selfish and reprehensible desire to get his own way. For many of his admirers the will to power interpretation means enlightenment, and draws on the language of demonstrable fact. Against it there is still a huge body of feeling, superstition, inertia, ignorance, and resentment fully capable of articulate expression.

 

Zaehner and Afnan’s pro-Abrahamic, Persian inspired attacks on mysticism, may strike us as socialist in nature. Instead of pursuing your own enlightenment you are to commit yourself to a consensus about the whole good of humanity. Insofar as Greece did not buy this, it was exemplified by Heraclitus rejecting the desire for strife to cease among gods and men.

 

Having read the whole of Afnan’s book I found scarcely anything about Zoroaster’s influence on the Greeks and much about his difference from them. For Afnan Plato means asceticism and regimentation. Against this he says Zoroaster stands for the expression of individuality and personality. Yet these are to be dedicated to the service of a predetermined idea of what is good. To Nietzsche, as to an ancient Athenian, that would be slavishness. Life is affirmed, but subject to a condition. The contradiction is overcome by this essentially arbitrary idea of morality.

 

All Afnan has is the dogmatic idea of divine revelation and a universal divinely ordained plan for mankind as a remedy for the weaknesses he claims to find in Plato. It is easy to attack Plato’s totalitarian republic. Afnan condemns it as socialist, but he sounds no less socialist himself. His book fails to live up to its title, being mostly an exposition of Plato and how it conflicts with the simple message that is supposed to resolve the contradictions found in him. Bahaism is not mentioned often. He advocates opinions dogmatically held, as if that is all that is necessary for salvation. Afnan follows Zaehner in his interpretation of Zoroastrianism.

 

For Nietzsche, any moral demand is someone’s will to power. Submitting to someone else’s against natural inclination would mean compromise and seem to demand compensation. Those in the liberal elite may be consoled for the suppression of some desire by the promise of status and authority. This solution will obviously not be available to everyone.

 

All the things these Zoroaster inspired critics say the Greeks were lacking are for Nietzsche forms of corruption that should be avoided. Man is not ruled by a divine plan or by ethical imperatives that mimic it. The moral imperatives we are now asked to obey are divine commands without divine authority. Nietzsche did not regard Stoicism an objection. For him Stoicism is not authentically Greek. He writes that:-

 

The Stoic is an Arabian sheikh wrapped in Greek togas and notions

 

As for Kant, what compensation does he offer for the renunciation of desire demanded by his ethics? There has been a plausible suggestion that Kant suffered from severe sexual frustration, which led him to renounce happiness for the pride of virtue and so called freedom. For Nietzsche, and even Schopenhauer, this pride was rooted in metaphysical fantasy.

 

It cannot be argued that the classical Greeks had any understanding of Zoroastrianism or that they saw the war against Persia as a clash of ideologies. It was in later eras that the ideological conflict began to play out, with Jewish and Christian attacks on pagan culture.

 

The philosopher Xenophanes knew Ionia before the Persian conquest, which he blamed largely on the decadence of the Greek population. In a poem he wrote:-

 

And they learned dainty, useless Lydian ways

 While they were still from hated tyrants free.

 In robes all scarlet to the assembly went

 A thousand men, no less: vainglorious,

 Preening themselves on their fair flowing locks,

 Dripping with scent of artificial oils.

 

If this is moral censure, yet it was obviously not what Nietzsche had in mind when he attacked morality[3]. He did not mean to denounce the simple rules that help us in our passage through life.

 

Implicitly against peace on earth is Aeschylus’ drama The Persians. The new order threatened by invasion is the expression of human will and it is to be resisted by will. It is clear what side Nietzsche is on. For some of those on the other, the Persian Empire represents the completely rational order.

 

Nietzsche’s attack on morality may itself be exploited by people who themselves desire a utopian form of universal peace. They too may claim to be oppressed by morality, which is how they describe the norms they disagree with, looking forward to a Dionysian revolutionary fest of collective enthusiasm. We may imagine Nietzsche’s response. Firstly he would not be sympathetic. Secondly, as with socialism, he would not expect it to work. Without morality the revolutionaries would be outnumbered.

 

Commonly, moral values like equality are treated simply as background presuppositions. Typically a ruling class does not think of its values as open to argument. These days the virtue of democracy may be unquestioned. De Tocqueville, for example, is not to be engaged with, only to be taken as an influence on right wing opinion to be resisted.

 

Feminist enlightenment presages a new gulf between the sexes. Boys and girls are taught differently what life is about. As Max Nordau pointed out in the 1890s, such a programme is implicit, if with reservations, in much of Ibsen’s radical message. For Nordau Ibsen was a masochist, whose true affinities were with the novelist Leopold von Sacher Masoch. It may well look as if, in the new order, for males there is to be guilt and moral restraint, and for females egoism, indulgence and pride. While some suffering and frustration is wept over much other is blithely

 disregarded. There is an arbitrary quality to the ruling moral principle. Well within living memory very different ones have been upheld by perfectly intelligent people. Yet the way things are going there may be no holding off the marasmus. So is there any hope of moving beyond that once it has arrived? We don’t need to think that far. In divine command we were offered an alternative to the explicit will and desire that pervaded Greek culture. There is no necessity to believe in or accept this, and the same goes for Kantian ethics with its bogus assumption of metaphysical superiority. Any moral demand is the expression of someone’s will to power. At its worst it may be experienced as moralic acid.

 

Nietzsche deserves better than to be treated simply as reactionary who presents no challenge to any of our presuppositions. We should not see him as a source just to be mined for weapons, but as Ockham and Pomponazzi saw Aristotle, someone who has a compelling argument, even if for extraneous reasons we are unable to accept it. The argument is to do with the possibility of resistance to a constraining moral order, in our case the demand for equality. This may be too much for many to accept, but it is a position he clearly outlines.

 

Historically philosophers have quite often been guided by extraneous motives that have little to do with conviction. There is a story about Imam Razi, a distinguished Sunni philosopher active in Iran at the beginning of the thirteenth century. He used to attack the intellectual pretensions of the Assassins, saying they were unqualified. A messenger came from the Old Man of the Mountains, offering the choice between a swift death by dagger or an annual pension of a thousand gold pieces. Soon afterwards a colleague asked why he had stopped criticising the Assassins. Glancing nervously around Razi whispered, “Because their arguments are so sharp… and pointed.”

John S Moore 2018

 

 

 

 


 

[1] See The New Totalitarians by Roland Huntford, 1971

 

[2] “The nation [in 1789] exhibited the characteristic fault, but likewise the characteristic virtue of youth, or, rather, the virtue which used to be characteristic of youth; it was inexperienced, but it was generous.”

 

[3] We should substitute morality by the will to our own ends and consequently to the means to them. (WP 880)