Musing on Democratizing Zarathustra
Imagine if Zarathustra came down from the mountain and the ears of the people assembled in the marketplace were ready for his words. Nietzsche’s Zarathustra may have descended the mountain to “lure man from the herd” and compel him to assert his own values, become his own creator, but would Zarathustra have been so inclined if the marketplace were more full of artists and less full of flies?
The bourgeois culture, Nietzsche challenged, was built upon life-depriving traditions. In Christianity, for instance, the root of what Nietzsche called “slave morality”, the so called virtues espoused by the priestly class; solitude, fasting and sexual abstinence appear to Nietzsche as neuroses of self-denial rather than as exercises of self-control that increase vitality. Christianity and the slave morality that stemmed from it, Nietzsche argued are life depriving; not life asserting. The problem of morals Nietzsche took up informed his perspective on the Few and the Many. Those who adhered to the slave morality and it’s tenets of self-denial and self-sacrifice for the sake of being “good” or “just” subscribed to a herd mentality more conducive to misery, curtailment and degeneracy than the feeling of abundant life. On the contrary the few strong enough to exercise their will and act upon their instincts distinguish themselves from the herd by exhibiting “power, fullness of being, energy, courage in the face of life and confidence in the future”. The former are the masses and the latter, the individuals. Zarathustra went down into the marketplace to dare man to surpass himself and become the individual he alone has the potential to be.
If the values of bourgeois culture Nietzsche criticized were destroyed and replaced by new tables of values arrived at democratically would Zarathustra have returned to the solitude of the mountains?
Nietzsche explicitly rejects democracy: I am, he asserted, “the last anti-political German.” His reason; politics and democracy represented the leveling of men, the creation of common values that suffocate the individual by treating everyone the same. Politics and democracy with its laws and regulations posed a threat similar to slave morality with its precepts of self-denial. The laws and regulations institutionalized to promote the common good and preserve the existence of the political establishment would also oppress the few “human beings who are new, unique, incomparable, who give themselves laws, who create themselves.” A democracy, in the interest of maintaining the common good imposes restrictions, sets up constraints and punishes those who do not fit within the confines of the generalized rules of culture. A democracy’s (legal) assumptions about what constitutes the individual (his enumerated rights) limits the horizon of possibilities which Nietzsche holds is the “new, daring, untried” way which man must leap towards to overcome his all too human limitations.
Back to the question. Suppose Zarathustra descended upon a marketplace where people were engaged in critical discussions about values, where performances like the rope dancers were the norm rather than the exception, the marketplace was lively and the people, receptive to new ideas, were enthralled to hear about this “new species of man.” Imagine this marketplace fulfilling John Dewey’s ideal public where citizens, after having adopted an experimental attitude participate in creating social values that develop the capacities of man. Democracy as Dewey conceived it is “an affair primarily of doing.” If will and action are to Zarathustra what the democratic way of life is to Dewey and democracy depends upon “those engaged in combined action” might we have some room to combine the individual and the plural? A mass of individuals collectively exercising their will, creating their own laws, asserting their own values and reveling in the new truths they create together. “What the argument for democracy implies is that the best way to produce initiative and constructive power is to exercise it. Power, as well as interest comes by use and practice.” Zarathustra acknowledged his need for companions, even if only as a measure by which he could distinguish himself.
May Zarathustra have had a companion in this marketplace? What? In a marketplace exercising the “general will”? In a marketplace devoted to the “comprehensive social interest” of democracy the ruminoids abound, stretching their bellies to consume an infinite dish of petty policy. Here more than anywhere poisonous flies lay their eggs. At the altar of the common good Nietzsche stands hammer in hand.
“Good” is no longer good when one’s neighbor mouths it. And how should there be a “common good”? The term contradicts itself: whatever can be common always has little value.
This seems like a Nietzschean response.
Yet what is common to the overman in all the forms he may take, is struggle and strife, a yearning to become who one is. Surely we can envision a bold future of overmen if the Many realized how powerful they could be if they started dominating culture rather than consuming it. The greater good seems paltry compared to a more expansive horizon of possibilities. The central aim of Dewey’s democracy is to create just that, a culture that “liberates human potentialities.” In such a culture Zarathustra may multiply and thrive. At the very least, he would have a harder time laughing at “this thing they call culture” for he may find himself among “equals” as ready as he to leap beyond themselves and fly into the sun.