Why I Am a Destiny: I know my fate. One day my name will be associated with the memory of something tremendous–a crisis without equal on earth, the most profound collision of conscience, a decision that was conjured up against everything that had been believed, demanded, hallowed so far. I am no man, I am dynamite.
– Friedrich Nietzsche, Ecce Homo
True, Nietzsche was no man, he was, as Heidegger would have had it, simply the “last of the metaphysicians,” his own “last man” in effect. Intellectuals have been making claims to such knowledge ever since men set up shop. However, Nietzsche’s all-out attack on the Tradition helps us to wake up from the nightmare of modernity, the culture that both of them thought would turn Europe into a wasteland. From a European perspective, and in particular from the universalizable perspective of our knowledge about Auschwitz and Kulaks, history is a single catastrophe.
Today, things look very different. Now we know that there is not only the European perspective on the 20th Century, and that any language game that urges us to totalize and legitimate itself as a true belief which corresponds to the way things really are, is doomed to failure. For any argument to the effect that my sort of belief gets something right is bond to be inconclusive and question-begging. As Richard Rorty nicely puts, “since we have no test for how things really are apart from the test of whether we are justified (by our current lights, given our present circumstances, to certain audiences) in describing them in a certain way. The very absoluteness of truth makes it an indefinable and unanalyzable notion, wrote in Truth, Evil, and Redemption.”
This account of “truth” resembles Nietzsche’s definition of “truth” as “a mobile army of metaphors,” metamorphosing into the heterogeneous range of life-styles and language games or discourses--literary criticism, history, physics, plumbers’ talk--that today we regard them all on a par, as far as their relations to reality go. Further, the Nietzschean view helps us to resist the temptation to think that some discourses, some part of culture, are in closer contact with the world, or represent the world better, than other discourses. As the literary critic Terry Eagleton says, “Science and philosophy must jettison their grandiose metaphysical claims and view themselves more modestly as just another set of narratives.”
If we step back far enough to bring a social democratic American perspective on the 20th Century , then the futility of Nietzschean worries--the European wasteland, the end of the romance of history, the end of philosophy of history--will become obvious. For Americans the 20th Century was that of the greatest experiment in terms of social progress, democracy, human rights, global civil society, and global human rights culture, ever seen in history.
To take the American experience into account in this way would be to stop insisting there must be large theoretical/strategical ways of finding out how to get rid of bad guys, as opposed to small experimental ways--the ones we used to condemned as of petty bourgeois reformism.
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