Sunday, October 17, 2004

From the Mail: God and Desire

Dear Maverick Philosopher,
I've been reading with great enthusiasm your weblog these past many weeks, having first been made aware of it through the estimable Keith Burgess-Jackson.
I'm wondering if you could -- in light of what follows below -- perhaps speak to the following problem(s) raised by one Professor Harry Neumann (professor emeritus, Scripps College). He believes himself to be taking Nietzsche as authority in asserting the ultimate non-existence of any atheistic human desire. (Yes, it can even be velleity for ice-cream). Consider this question in light of this description Neumann offers about his current graduate seminar, "Special Topics in Political Philosophy: The Politics of Atheism: Nietzsche's Zarathustra":
This course tackles the relation of Nietzsche’s atheism to his critique and radicalization of contemporary “liberation” movements. Nietzsche contends that atheism – and even agnosticism – is impossible for mere humans: No man, only a superman, could be the liberated individual, the real atheist, promoted by these movements. For nobody is, or wants to be, liberated from the political-theological cause (or as it is called today, the “political correctness”) of his (Left, Right, or Center) faction. All are willing – even fanatic – slaves of their faction’s “political correctness.” We will explore Nietzsche’s attempt, through his superman, to escape this enslavement endemic to the human condition. Nietzsche traces the intellectual roots of this enslavement to what he regards as the worst philosophic error, Plato’s invention (not discovery) of the universal good (or god). We will explore Nietzsche’s attempt, through his superman, to do Plato in.
I would be most grateful for any thoughts or reactions you can offer.
Feel free to quote from this should you happen to take this up at your weblog.
(Name witheld by request)
BV: Thanks for writing; I'm glad you've been enjoying my weblog. As you report Neumann's position, it is that for Nietzsche, every desire is at ontological bottom (albeit not manifestly) a desire for something absolute and infinite, i.e., God. This is supposed to hold even for such velleities as that for ice cream. I think this is essentially right. I am reminded of a passage from Zarathustra which I quote from memory: "Alle Lust will Ewigkeit, will tiefe, tiefe Ewigkeit. . . ." "All desire wants eternity, wants deep, deep eternity. . . ."
So in this sense atheistic human desire is impossible. "Atheism" as Neumann appears to be using the term refers not only to the denial of God as classically conceived, but also to the denial of all God-substitutes such as the State, the Party, der Fuehrer, the Aryan race, etc. Is that right? The suggestion seems to be that we cannot live without positing an absolute of some kind, and that politics just as much as religion is a quest for the absolute. The latter claim may be true for Islam, which appears to be a religion and a political ideology rolled into one, but how could it be true for those who espouse a libertarian or classically liberal politics?
I wrote a lot more, and I fisked the long passages you sent me, but unfortunately, the blogspot connection failed and it was lost. So I'll leave it here for now.