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From the Right: And then we blinked...

Columnist

Published: Friday, November 16, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, February 13, 2013 15:02

My thoughts in the early morning hours of Nov. 7 brought me back to a passage in a book I read some time ago. The passage from Walter Krauffman’s translation of Friedrich Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra reads:

 “Alas, the time is coming when man will no longer give birth to a star. Alas, the time of the most despicable man is coming, he that is no longer able to despise himself. Behold, I show you the last man.

‘What is love? What is creation? What is longing? What is a star?’ thus asks the last man, and blinks.

The earth has become small, and on it hops the last man, who makes everything small. His race is as ineradicable as the flea; the last man lives longest.

‘We have invented happiness,’ say the last men, and they blink. They have left the regions where it was hard to live, for one needs warmth. One still loves one’s neighbor and rubs against him, for one needs warmth...

One still works, for work is a form of entertainment. But one is careful lest the entertainment be too harrowing. One no longer becomes poor or rich: both require too much exertion. Who still wants to rule? Who obey? Both require too much exertion.

No shepherd and one herd! Everybody wants the same, everybody is the same: whoever feels different goes voluntarily into a madhouse.

‘Formerly, all the world was mad,’ say the most refined, and they blink...

One has one’s little pleasure for the day and one’s little pleasure for the night: but one has a regard for health.

‘We have invented happiness,’ say the last men, and they blink.”

 In this passage, Nietzsche develops the last man, a thinly veiled and brutal critique of bourgeois society. Here, he cites the absence of creativity, a tendency toward materialism, and the exhibition of herd behavior to demonstrate the weakness of man in this stage of human history. Perhaps the most disturbing quality of the last man is his ability to convince himself that he has found happiness in these qualities. Are the results of last Tuesday’s election indicative of the fact that modern America has now come to epitomize the last man’s reign?

“Who do we love?!” the campaign staffers asked. “Maggie for Gov!” the poll standers shouted back. That was the scene in Exeter a little after 7 a.m. last Tuesday. In the weeks before Election Day, I couldn’t help but notice the manifestation of “Obama Cares” stickers adhered to the bumpers of Honda Civics and Volvos around the state. This is the state of contemporary American political discourse: Who cares about me? Who loves me? Who will take care of me?

 Could it be that the denigration of the family and the breakdown of the community have given rise to an age in which citizens now look to the government for these commodities of human emotion? Could anything be more masochistic than looking to politicians and bureaucrats for the sort of support that only family members and neighbors can provide? And what are the values of this new age of paternal government? One might say we are now living in the midst of an envy epidemic.

Rigid class structure and permanent class struggle are not features of American life, but the rhetoric of economic division, too, has now entered into the realm of American political discourse. The stillborn Occupy Wall Street movement gave us the absurd 99 percent -1 percent dichotomy, while politicians like Barack Obama and Elizabeth Warren have attributed the accomplishments of every successful man and woman in this country to the government.

 The president: “If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.”

 Senator Warren: “There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own – nobody! ... You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for; you hired workers the rest of us paid to educate; you were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory, and hire someone to protect against this, because of the work the rest of us did. Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea. God bless – keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is, you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.”

 Crippling taxation and regulation are a small price to pay for utilizing one’s innate abilities and sharing one’s creativity with others via a market system. The wealth created by some, said the politician, ought to be rendered to the state for the material comfort of others. In this way, human happiness will finally be achieved. The herd agreed and then we blinked. 

 

Nick Mignanelli is a senior political science major and a former intern at the Heritage Foundation. 

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5 comments

Convince Me to Vote Conservative.
Tue Nov 20 2012 13:52
I'll be honest and point-blank blunt. As a member of that ever-growing group of mysterious "independent voters", I have to say that the right is sounding more and more aloof, angry, and radical. If I am to be persuaded to understand the opinions of and vote for conservative candidates, there needs to be a change back to more moderate values.

Example: A fiscally conservative and socially moderate candidate who suggests:
1) more wise spending

(rather than "Cut All The Taxes", how about "I agree our troops, the disabled, and the elderly need to be supported. Let's get rid of upper-class tax loop holes, and actually take care of those disadvantaged groups in a financially and economically responsible manner with a timetable I will stick to. "

2) I may not agree with you, but I respect your right to believe your own beliefs

Instead of "Abortions and Gays are evil, and I only respect those of my own religious beliefs", what about "As long as this stays in your bedroom and doesn't jump without consent into my bedroom/church/pocket, I will agree to disagree with you" and "I accept you as my neighbor, and will treat you how I would like to be treated - as an equal citizen" and "Please don't use a coat hanger. Although I am unhappy you are choosing to make this choice, I would rather you be responsible and safe."

3) I am honest and blunt about my beliefs.

Instead of being a "Etch-a-sketch", what about "I have my own beliefs. These are how I personally live my life. However, I will not push them onto you - what's important is serving the people of my country according to how they want me to represent them. If the majority belief I should do X and I want to do Y, it is my responsibility as a leader and citizen to state my preference for Y, but serve X for my country as I was elected to do so."

If you can find any Republican candidate who sticks to his guns, and follows all 3 of these rules, that will convince me to vote for them way more than this poetry piece would any day. Quoting a literary work the average reader has never heard of only makes them more likely to tune out. The Democrats figured out that a simple message works best, especially if this makes the candidates sound more approachable and helpful to We the People. The Republicans gave a good try this presidential election, but their downfall was a disappointing choice of a comically robotic individual who time and time again proved to break all 3 of these simple rules.(It doesn't help that this candidate acted extremely socially awkward, such as in mentioning his love for the height of trees and the amount of little lakes in states.)

In summary, now that I have accidentally written the equivalent of an article myself in response, here's my qualm: if the Republican Party wants to attract the elusive Independent voter, there needs to be a bit of give and take in our "relationship". If the G.O.P. can get over the social issues just enough to become more moderate on them, emphasize actual details for financial plans to fix the economy, and support candidates at the state and national level whom are consistent in their actions/policy change/voting record, THEN and only then can they expect to have an overwhelmingly STRONG win nationwide.

Nietzschean Voter
Sun Nov 18 2012 10:35
@Mike D. Academic philosophy has hijacked Nietzsche and one cannot even use him to frame the the items which we know he was writing about. What a pretentious and truly modern perspective!

Writing off the works of Nietzsche as "grand words from a different time" is much more scandalous than using the words" thinly veiled" to describe a description that was...well, thinly veiled. What could be more ignorant than a sentence such as this one: "I don't really think the contents of the quote (even assuming this reading of it is correct) has much to do with the perceived desire for a majority of Americans to have 'the government' dole out goods and services to its citizens to the detriment of our market economy, all the while feeling more and more dissatisfied with their existence."

What utter deception! Is it your supposition that Nietzsche could not have been referring to the coming age of statism? Then let me correct you: he lived it! German Chancellor Otto von Bismark was the first leader in modern history to create a welfare state of its size and scope. "Everything the State says is a lie, and everything it has it has stolen." Will your also write this passage off to preserve your philistine and and humanist view of Nietzsche's politics.

Nietzsche cannot be sanitized and ignorance in reference to the writings of Nietzsche cannot hidden behind a grandiose commenting style.

Anonymous
Sun Nov 18 2012 10:04
"Everything the State says is a lie, and everything it has it has stolen." ― Friedrich Nietzsche.
Anonymous
Sat Nov 17 2012 17:09
Jeez, give Mike D the column. Those two paragraphs are better than anything "From the Right" has ever written.
Mike D
Sat Nov 17 2012 12:19
I think the analysis of Nietzsche here is suspect and that Thus Spoke Zarathustra is a pretty complex text which has scholars and philosophers continuously debating and scratching their heads--not something that can be described as "thinly veiled." I think quoting this without any context and expecting people to understand what is being said is a bit reductionist and naive. Also, applying this quote to the most recent election strikes me as self-aggrandizing and pretentious. I don't really think the contents of the quote (even assuming this reading of it is correct) has much to do with the perceived desire for a majority of Americans to have "the government" dole out goods and services to its citizens to the detriment of our market economy, all the while feeling more and more dissatisfied with their existence.

Honestly, it's very difficult for me to imagine Nietzsche thinking it at all reasonable for his words here to be applied to a defense of a slight preference for government de-regulation for corporations and tax breaks for the wealthy that one candidate had over the other in this election. Let's not hide behind grand words from a different time.





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