Nietzsche: A Radical Challenge To Political Theory?

Only if mankind possessed a universally recognised goal would it be possible to propose ‘thus and thus is the right course of action’: for the present there exists no such goal. It is thus irrational and trivial to impose the demands of morality upon mankind. – To recommend a goal to mankind is something quite different: the goal is then thought of as something which lies in our discretion; supposing the recommendation appealed to mankind, it could in pursuit of it also impose upon itself a moral law …. Up to now the moral law has been supposed to stand above our own likes and dislikes: one did not want actually to impose this law upon oneself, have it commanded to one from somewhere.

Nietzsche, Daybreak. 1881

Nietzsche’s far-reaching critique of metaphysics, of philosophy’s claim to provide access to a realm of objective truth and universal values, has placed him at the centre of debates on the nature of the postmodern turn in Western thought. It is only recently, however, that any attempt has been made to examine the significance of his deconstruction of the philosophical tradition for political theory. An impasse on the question of Nietzsche’s status as a political thinker was reached by commentators adopting the practice of reading his overt neo-conservative politics back into his philosophy of power in an effort to discredit the philosophical site on which he had constructed his political edifice. Yet for anyone aware of the pivotal role that Nietzsche’s writings have come to play in contemporary debates in critical theory, poststructuralism and deconstruction, his status as a political thinker poses an enigma in need of explanation and enlightenment.


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