Note from the Editors: This essay is part III and the final part of an online symposium on D’Annunzio, Nietzsche and Bronze Age Pervert. Read part I, here, and part II, here.
Friedrich Nietzsche: A Right Turn from Conservatism and Liberal Christianity
“I mistrust all systematizers and I avoid them. The will to a system is a lack of integrity.”
– Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols
“First let us make the younger generation good pagans and afterwards let us make them Christians.”
– C.S. Lewis
The notion of a Nietzschean right-wing outside of conservatism should be fairly coherent for many. This, after all, is what figures like Bronze Age Pervert (BAP) are inspiring and igniting online – a Right which is not ‘classically liberal’, nor Republican, nor rooted in the Enlightenment, but rather invested in mythology, beauty, health, and national greatness.
But another idea – the question of whether it is possible to be Christian and not liberal – should be considered an equally important issue.
Liberal Christianity was exemplified by George W. Bush. The imperial elements of Christianity made subservient to his secular nation-building, during which the sacrifice of the oldest Christian communities were seen as necessary collateral damage for feminism and gay rights to emerge in the Middle East.
Obama fulfilled the great promise of Bush II, allowing Christian charity to become a deranged, weaponized empathy in which abortion and gay marriage were the new acts of ‘love’ for the downtrodden.
Wokeness itself is less some kind of neo-Marxism, and more a Christian heresy. The Puritans who founded Harvard and Yale as a vehicle for their Unitarian, Masonic, Deistic beliefs, have simply reached the endgame of their religion – a Gnostic hatred for our world and our spiritual and historic homelands.
But despite Christians having long been at the heart of the Right, whether you can be both Christian and right-wing requires some introspection. Today the Pope is certainly not right-wing, and more of a Davos/Geneva man. The same can be said of all the ecclesial communities, at least in the West, who would surely have no problem in recognizing the teaching authority of this pope.
But what does it mean that a man of the appetites of Trump was considerably more sympathetic to their vulnerabilities in the American system than the devout Bush?
It means that Christians need to ensure they are not afflicted by their own heresy, to exorcise the liberalism which had made Christianity into an egalitarian acid of culture.
The notion that Nietzsche can help in this cleansing may be regarded as fanciful for many. After all, that a thinker who literally described himself as the Antichrist can offer Christians anything of value sounds absurd. The immediate reaction would be to ask the obvious: Which Nietzsche? The Nietzsche who killed God? The Nietzsche who in the persona of Zarathustra declared himself to be the Übermensch, a being necessarily higher than any god or mere philosopher? The Nietzsche who declared himself beyond good and evil?
But if Nietzsche is so important for a new, non-reactionary Right, we must at least entertain the idea that there might be a way for his thought to be reconciled with right-wing Christianity, particularly with those who have not abandoned their own essential teachings of authority and spiritual aristocracy.
What does it mean to be right-wing?
Today right-wing politics is not about ‘return’ or conserving, but rather about believing in what the throne and altar stood for. The passage out of the Dark Ages was not ‘Conservative’. Gothic architecture was not ‘Conservative’. Bach and Shakespeare were not ‘Conservative’. And Christianity itself was not ‘Conservative’. It was fulfillment, consummation, and partnership with an intervening Divine Energy, and it was Progressive in the true sense of the word.
Nietzsche’s philosophy is in some sense analogical to this. He abhorred the sentimental Reich nationalism of Wagner. He did not want to conserve its sentimentality, but to blow it up. As his recent biographer, Sue Prideaux, writes:
“The Kaiser and his Iron Chancellor Bismarck had famously forged the arch-conservative and repressive Second Reich on industrialisation, capitalism, unscrupulous expansionism, the Protestant Church, artistic conservatism and censorship. All this had coagulated into one massive, congested, sclerotic, nationalist, repressive and authoritarian world power – as Nietzsche had feared would happen. Even while the edges of Nietzsche’s mind were fraying, he had not let go his horror of the Second Reich.”
But Prideaux goes too far. At the same time that Nietzsche was no conservative, he was also clearly no liberal or nihilist, despite the efforts of the likes of Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, and Walter Kauffman in this reaction. He was no liberal because he detested egalitarianism. He also detested Socialism – except as a great test for Europe. He was no liberal because he hated the liberal nation-building of his own time. He mocked Kantianism and utilitarianism and prophesied our own time, in which the last men would take revenge like great tarantulas in a new society built on the Great Resentment. When one has no real health, or strength to carry the truth of the will to power, he must denigrate the entire natural order to gain the power of a slave.
Nietzsche’s great insight was that all the philosophical, moral, and religious systems of his day were founded on slave morality, a decadent will to truth only for the sake of parasitic power. This is why he focused on aspects of life exiled by the intelligentsia of his time – the importance of fresh air, the body, exercise, diet, art, and daily living. Likewise, the last thing that the new Right needs today are a new system, a new set of policies, or new arguments. No system can renew or inspire.
This is also why it is not really necessary to read Nietzsche (or BAP for that matter) in the way one reads any other modern philosopher, of reading to discover and propagate systems, as his is not a philosophy of the university scholar formulating a system to win himself accolades. Instead, we read Nietzsche for wisdom and a healthy critique of decadence.
As BAP says, there are portals – and portals lead into uplands, into eternity, into things greater. This is how Nietzsche can be a path forward, and why his approach to philosophy should be the essence of the new Right. The German philosopher presents us with great thought, accomplished on mountaintops, as he hiked the weak intellectualism out of his body, to shake us out of conservatism, whilst energizing an impulse towards creation.
Practically, the new Right shouldn’t seek sentimental reverence for what is old and past – which ultimately leads nowhere – but embrace simple things; things that are already very popular with those outside the conservative/liberal trap: conservation of beauty, preservation of culture, ordered borders, denunciation of the current cultural orthodoxy, and revolt against the new Regime of safetyism.
Is it not clear then why Christians should read Nietzsche?
From a Christian point of view, of course, no earthly thing is absolutely essential, but that does not mean Providence does not offer gifts. After all, the Church historically made profitable use of the Pax Augustana, Greek culture, Aristotle, and the best of Pagan Europe. Justin Martyr in his First Apology to the Roman Emperor, Antoninus Pius, circa AD 156, writes:
“We have been taught that Christ is the first-born of God, and we have declared above that He is the Word of whom every race of men were partakers; and those who lived reasonably are Christians, even though they have been thought atheists; as, among the Greeks, Socrates and Heraclitus, and men like them…”
The same can be true of Nietzsche. Just as Aristotle corrected a Platonic tendency to flee the body, so does Nietzsche ask us once again to consider the fierce glories of earthly life and becoming.
And just as the likes of Heraclitus were justified by Justin Martyr as pre-Christians, there is a good case for Christians to argue that Nietzsche lived not in a pre-Christian world, but a post-Christian world.
Nietzsche wasn’t necessarily wrong in his famous statement “God is dead” – effectively he was dead to most of the inhabitants of the drab world of post-Christendom. As he would say, only where there are tombs are there resurrections. What Nietzsche and the faith of the Church fathers have in common is the idea that asceticism and charity is not abasement, or merely a cross, but a pathway to transfiguration.
In the persona of Zarathustra, Nietzsche says the bridge to the Übermensch and path of true life for those who undergo to overcome nihilism and create their own values, is to transform three times:
“Of three metamorphoses of the spirit I tell you: how the spirit becomes a camel; and the camel, a lion; and the lion, finally, a child.”
To be the camel means to carry a great burden… perhaps a cross?
The camel becomes the conquering lion, who can achieve a mastery – but this is not the end. To complete the path of the spirit, the ‘No’ of the lion must become the ‘Yes’ of the child…
“The child is innocence and forgetting, a new beginning, a game, a self-propelled wheel, a first movement, a sacred ‘Yes.’ For the game of creation, my brothers, a sacred ‘Yes’ is needed.”
Nietzsche famously said he could only believe in a god who dances. This is what the Church Fathers themselves believed, what John Damascene called perichoresis: the great movement within God.
Instead of John Damascene, the West, even as it bombs Damascus, has embraced the Christianity of the ‘weak’ postmodern thought of another ‘John’ from Turin: Gianni Vattimo, who saw in Nietzsche’s death of God, not as a prelude to a resurrection, but the death of any positive content or ‘Yes’ in Christianity – a fulfillment of faith as pure kenosis, humiliation, and of cross with no resurrection in some decadent act of ‘love’ emptying of all being. Nietzsche by contrast exhorts us to become.
Beneath this Christian and Nietzschean exhortation, is the supposition shared by both that humanity and the universe are destined for glory, if they overcome the threat of nihilism. This is what C.S. Lewis means when he says our generation needs to become pagan before it can become Christians. The weakness of Christ is only worth notice because of the strength from which it descends. This notion of humanity awaiting glorification and even deification cannot be taken from a mere reverence for whatever Reich we find ourselves in. It must be sought in the fire of the Logos, in the world of Value that supersedes conventional ethics.
Lou Salomé, the philosophical companion who spurned Nietzsche’s romantic advances, recalled that in their conversations that they spoke of nothing but God. The philosopher’s breakdown in Turin, almost a re-enaction of an episode from Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, itself speaks of a sympathy for Christians belied by some of his wilder rhetoric. What if the episode is the culmination of his philosophy of becoming, and not merely a personal failure or disease?
While incompatibilities at some point may likely still arise, Nietzsche need not be an enemy of Christians. And Christians need not flounder in the liberalism of their brethren, and relinquish a role in the great challenge of our times. Nietzsche’s philosophy of the will to power and the achievement of the Übermensch may perhaps be a kind of postmodern recovery of the tradition traced from Heraclitus to the Church Fathers. If one reads closely, listens closely, one may eventually need to ask: is the will to power the will to God?