Nietzsche, Foucault, and the Death of God:
Aestheticism, Genealogy, Critique*
Nythamar Fernandes de Oliveira
* Originally published in Filosofia: Diálogo de Horizontes, ed. Heloísa Feltes and Urbano Zilles. Caxias do Sul: EDUCS and Porto Alegre: EDIPUCRS, 2001, pp. 529-544.
...[L]'herméneutique et la sémiologie sont deux farouches ennemies. Une herméneutique qui se replie en effet sur une sémiologie croit à l'existence absolue des signes: elle abandonne la violence, l'inachevé, l'infinité des interprétations, pour faire régner la terreur de l'indice, et suspecter le langage. Nous reconnaissons ici le marxisme après Marx. Au contraire, une herméneutique qui s'enveloppe sur elle-même, entre dans le domaine des langages qui ne cessent de s'impliquer eux-mêmes, cette region mitoyenne de la folie et du pur langage. C'est là que nous reconnaissons Nietzsche. (M. Foucault, "Nietzsche, Freud, Marx," p. 192)
According to Michel Foucault, the Nietzschean motif of the death of God not only implies the self-overcoming of man but proves itself to be an effect of the historicity of finitude brought about by the Kantian critique. To be sure, Kant's critique of dogmatic metaphysics and natural teleology did not seek to overcome the Judaeo-Christian teleology of history which came under attack in the Nietzschean genealogy of morality. Friedrich Nietzsche's genealogical project was guided by a threefold critique of religion, morality, and philosophy, which would ultimately lead to an active conception of nihilism through the supreme configuration of the will to power, hence the aestheticism of the Übermensch.1 As Nietzsche writes at the beginning of what would be the last section of the Third Book of his controversial, unfinished Wille zur Macht ("The Will to Power as Art," §§ 794-853), "Our religion, morality, and philosophy are decadent forms of man. The countermovement: art."(WP § 794)2 Insofar as an aesthetic perspectivism turns out to rule both epistemic and moral standpoints, I shall argue in this essay that Nietzsche's aestheticism --and Foucault's, for that matter-- preserves the political and ethical thrust of a radical critique of values, thanks to the transvaluation of values intrinsic to genealogy. And yet, whatever may be taken for an ethical or political motif in either author cannot be invoked as theoretical grounds for collective action, and this is particularly the case with Nietzsche's genealogy of Christianity. Nietzsche's critique of Christianity, as opposed to Marx's, does not propose any deeper structure of meaning that would allow for a radical political agenda precisely because it does not aim at a new political paradigm to replace the religious --for instance, emancipation in lieu of salvation. Hence there is no room for a liberationist activism in Nietzsche's semiology, contrary to Marxist hermeneutics --as witness liberation theologies in developing countries. In effect, from a Nietzschean perspective, liberation turns out to be a reactive, herd-like movement that betrays a slave morality of ressentiment--in the Christian context, nothing less than a mea culpa theology.
Without subscribing to any reduction of Foucault's genealogy to a Nietzschean deconstruction and far from reconciling his critique of power with a Marxian-structuralist semiology, one can recast Foucault's social thought in terms of a "critique of truth" (Kant) and a "critique of power" (Nietzsche) so as to reconstitute his own displacement of the critique vis-à-vis these two masters of suspicion.3 It has thus been assumed that the young Marx's Kritik der Kritik remains inscribed within the critical tradition of German idealism, leading back to Kant's practical philosophy. According to Foucault,
...it was Nietzsche who specified the power relation as the general focus, shall we say, of philosophical discourse --whereas for Marx it was the production relation. Nietzsche is the philosopher of power, a philosopher who managed to think power without having to confine himself within a political theory in order to do so.(PK 53)4
Since neither Hegel nor Marx breaks away from the Kantian teleological conception of history, Nietzsche is the one who better exhausts modern critique --even to the point of exploding it, to paraphrase Habermas.5 Insofar as such a radical critique has been identified with nihilism and historicism, as Habermas and others have interpreted it, Nietzsche's critique of morals may as well be regarded as an "aestheticism," in that the overcoming of the Kantian, noumenal rupture is displaced by an aesthetic perspectivism. And yet, nihilism, historicism, and aestheticism in Nietzsche deserve special qualification, since he explicitly marked off his thought from, say, Schopenhauer's, Hegel's and Plato's. Nietzsche's philosophy is in effect so intimately related to his critique of the history of philosophy that it would be misleading to interpret the former without presupposing his own interpretation of the latter. Interpretation in Nietzsche is indeed grounded in his own readings of great philosophers of the past, especially the metaphysical tradition that runs from Plato through German idealism. Nietzsche examined the modern fate of metaphysics in light of the three great movements that, following the Renaissance and the Reformation, characterized the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth century as the rule of reason (Descartes), feeling (Rousseau), and craving (Schopenhauer) respectively--so that Kant's enlightened critique of metaphysics is placed between the Romanticism of moralists and the fatalism of Hegel's Geistigkeit.(WP § 95-97, 101) Thus, the Cartesian contribuition to the metaphysical problematic can be summed up in two main assertions: (1) is metaphysically credible (hence true) only that which may be understood with the clarity and the distinctiveness (clare et distincte) of mathematical propositions, and (2) whose truthfulness is so intrinsically obvious that it cannot be doubted (as in geometrical postulates) or can be proved with the same rigor as applied to theorems in geometry. To these general assertions that translate, for Nietzsche, the "rule of reason," one must oppose the "sovereignty of the will."(WP § 95) Of course, as both Nietzsche and Foucault have pointed out, Descartes did not suspect that by assigning to the thinking subject a logical certainty (WP § 484), he was assuming a substantial transparency as criterion of truth (WP § 533, 577, 578). Hence the morality of knowledge, inasmuch as our finite cognition was ultimately anchored in God's substance. After Descartes, Spinoza and Leibniz would appropriate in a positive way the project of a foundation of the logic of human knowledge (including the knowledge of God and the immortality of the soul), preserving the rationalist thrust of the Cartesian method, while Locke, Berkeley, and Hume adopted the same project in an empiricist attitude, rather negative (hence skeptical) with respect to the possibility of a certain knowledge without the mediation of our sensations and experiences. Immanuel Kant appears, in this historical context, as the philosopher who revolutionized the fate of metaphysics in modernity. We know that Nietzsche held this rather sympathetic view of Kant during the time he came under the influence of Schopenhauer's critique of Kant.6 Schopenhauer reduced Kant's dualism to a metaphysical principle that founded the world (Welt) as will (noumenal) and as representation (phenomenal).7 And yet, the honorable place accorded to the Königsberger in Schopenhauer's philosophy will finally give way to Nietzsche's iconoclastic remarks:
Kant, with his 'practical reason' and his moral fanaticism is wholly eighteenth century; still entirely outside the historical movement; without an eye for the actuality of his time, e.g. Revolution; untouched by Greek philosophy; fanciful visionary of the concept of duty; sensualist with the backdrop of the pampering of dogmatism. (WP § 95)
If one takes into account all the passages in which Nietzsche mentions Kant or some of his ideas --discounting of course Nietzsche's caricatures--, it becomes clear that Kantian philosophy is above all denounced for its claims to overcoming dogmatism, insofar as it remained attached to a Christian morality. However visibly influenced by Schopenhauer, Nietzsche's reading of Kant does not conceal the profound influence that the "Chinese of Königsberg" exerted on the young philologist, e.g. when quoting the § 51 of the Third Critique to sustain the Greek conception of "free play" (das freie Spiel) in opposition to the Roman conception of the "individual personality" (die einzelne Persönlichkeit).8 We know that Nietzsche's entire work of maturity will reveal the continual movement of overcoming German idealism and, in particular, a radical subversion of Kant's practical philosophy. Thus, Nietzsche's aestheticism culminates in a critique of the teleology that would betray the claims of the overcoming of dogmatic, ontotheological metaphysics, based in the same ideal of truth that prevailed in the history of Western philosophy, from Plato to Kant. Whether Kant's system presupposes a metaphysical conception of finality-- as Nietzsche suspected-- remains a decisive problem for our understanding of a genealogy of modernity. If, in the last analysis, Kant and Nietzsche share radically different conceptions of truth, power, and ethics, the nihilism and historicism associated with the aestheticism of the latter account for much of this convergence. Nietzsche's nihilism, as Arthur Danto has argued, cannot be reduced to the conjunction of "negativity and emptiness."9 The same can be said about his historicizing of the subject of modernity, which cannot be equated with Hegel's logical historicism or Marx's dialectical historicism. In effect, Nietzsche's active nihilism and his genealogy are to be opposed to both nihilism and historicism, as they have been traditionally understood in philosophy. Thus, if Nietzsche's philosophy has been often characterized as an "aestheticism" that results from the critique of values --the transvaluation of all values effected by his genealogy of morals--, the interpretative principle that radically conceives of truth as metaphor cannot be reduced to an inflationary primacy of the aesthetic over the ethical. Aestheticism must rather be understood lato sensu, as correlative to Nietzsche's perspectivism and experimentalism, inasmuch as all meaning is always already the interpretation of a subject, socially and historically situated, within power relations, and with self-constituted regimes of truth and rights. And this subject is never alone, but emerges within a flock or herd-like framework. It is for this very reason that, as Max Weber would later stress, the critique of religion --and of Christianity in particular-- is of the utmost importance for a full understanding of how modern man has been constituted as a rational, sociable self. As he writes on the genealogy of masquerade in European identity, Nietzsche scorns the possibility of overcoming history and ideology:
Perhaps this is where we shall still discover the realm of our invention, that realm in which we, too,can still be original, say, as parodists of world history and God's buffoons -- perhaps, even if nothing else today has any future, our laughter may yet have a future. (JGB § 223)
The revealing expression Hanswürste Gottes ("God's buffoons") serves to invoke the aestheticist motif of Nietzsche's nihilism, in that the death of God and the revaluation of all values unveil "monumental history" as a parody and genealogy itself, as Foucault observed, as "history in the form of a concerted carnival."(FR 94) If Beyond Good and Evil was regarded by Nietzsche himself as a "critique of modernity" and a parody on its myths of "objectivity," "pity for all that suffers," and "historical sense"(EH JGB § 2), his Genealogy of Morals was meant as its sequel, to "supplement and clarify" its aphorisms. Hence the three essays of the Genealogy will largely focus on the three main topics of modern subjectivity already invoked --namely, the critique of religion (Christianity qua slave morality), the critique of morals (Kant's ethics of duty, autonomy, and conscience), and the critique of philosophy (nihilism and the ascetic ideal). Nietzsche's "psychology of the priest" (EH GM) strikes us as a radical hermeneutics of modern subjectivity, in that hermeneutics --as traditionally understood-- comes under attack and is revalued by Nietzsche's genealogy. In particular, the interpretation and appropriation of classical texts that allowed for the "historical sense" to emerge among modern Europeans, who identified themselves with a universal spirit that evolved from Ancient Greece, Judaism, and Christianity, had to be unmasked precisely because of their moral belief in a solemn origin (Ursprung). It is in this sense that, as Foucault points out, Nietzsche's genealogy qua analysis of descent (Herkunft) and historical method (GM II § 12) is correlated to a semiology or a radical hermeneutics of suspicion and opposed to a "deep" hermeneutics (Freud, Marx) or to hermeneutics tout court--such as the biblical hermeneutics that inspired nineteenth-century historical criticism and historicism. As Foucault remarks in the 1964 essay quoted above, "hermeneutics and semiology are two irreconcilable enemies." I must remark in passing that the postmodern shift from so-called "hermeneutics of suspicion" (Ricoeur) towards "deconstruction" (Derrida) that took place in the sixties finds in Foucault a rather unholy ally, despite the latter's explicit commitment to an aestheticism clearly influenced by Nietzsche and Heidegger. Even though Habermas and others have placed Foucault in the vast field of French post-structuralism, it must be stressed that, to the extent that Foucault's genealogy remains critical, his aestheticism seeks to avoid both historicism and irrationalism. Hence Foucault's reading of Nietzsche seeks to rescue the ethical, political thrust of the latter's perspectivism. It is under the aegis of a Nietzschean textuality of endless interpretations that Foucault goes on to reaffirm the impossibility of delimiting the subject's closure in history, since every valuation is itself an effect of the will to power. And yet, Foucault denies the primacy of discursivity over nondiscursive practices and institutions, in that they are only different facets of the same historical process of subjectivation. Nietzsche's genealogy of morality allows for a rapprochement with Foucault's genealogy of modernity inasmuch as both unveil the aesthetic unity that binds together the doer (moral subject) and her/his deed (moral action), the governing agent and her/his self-governance. For Foucault develops his archaelogical studies in the direction of a genealogy, as his early aestheticism is problematized when art, language, or discourse can no longer be said to constitute the primary realm of human experience --as opposed to, say, nondiscursive practices. In effect, Foucault resorts to a co-originary articulation of both discursive and nondiscursive practices, involving both knowledge and power, in the very historical process of our self-constitution as subjects. Aestheticism stands then for a perspectival conception of reality which levels discursivity, historicity, and subjectivity, as over against foundationalist conceptions of a metaphysics of the subject. As Foucault himself said, in response to Sartre:
...man as subject of his own consciousnes and of his own freedom is at bottom a sort of theologization of man, the redescent of God on earth which has in some fashion made the man of the nineteenth century theologized. (FL 38)
Both Nietzsche and Foucault endorse an active, aesthetic nihilism as the appropriate attitude for modern existence, the philosophical ethos of modernity. Instead of resenting the meaninglessness of life, they enjoin us to celebrate our innocent becoming in its fullness, by creating our own world and revaluing our most cherished values. This artistic ideal, which is somewhat reminiscent of Kant's notes on the genius (KU §§ 46-50), is certainly to be regarded as an existential style of self-affirmation and self-assertive subjectivation, rather than as a withdrawal from political existence. Moreover, artistic self-creation also points to the self-overcoming of a de-deified human nature, as human self-creation replaces the divine in the aftermath of the death of God. If "the most extreme form of nihilism" is the view that there is "no true world," then everything is "a perspectival appearance whose origin lies in us," hence "the necessity of lies."(WP § 15) Since there is no absolute truth, no thing-in-itself, no "intelligible freedom," modern man is alone in this revaluation of all values and "rational faith," like religious and moral beliefs, cannot provide us with an ultimate goal or meaning.(WP § 13, 18-20)
For Nietzsche, the Christian religion is to be opposed precisely because of its binary opposition to life as a sickly faith, as if suffering itself were not a natural component of the vital flux, a necessary moment of the innocent becoming, the true measure of the will to power. Nietzsche's polemos against Christianity, like Kierkegaard's "Attack upon Christendom," has to be read in the light of his own writings as a corpus, the living body of thoughts that constitutes his autobiography. For Nietzsche's polemic corresponds to the very hermeneutical thrust of his genealogy of Christianity, from The Birth of Tragedy to The Will to Power: here is Nietzsche the man, ecce homo, reflecting on the staging of his greatest works. Such is the ambiguous unveiling of the divine, as the absence/ presence interplay with Dionysus, "the god of darkness"(EH GM), seems to allow for the myths of return after the death of God. Aestheticism seems to imply that new forms of mythology and religion will inevitably emerge in the revaluation of values. And yet, it would be misleading to merely resort to the young Nietzsche's ideal of the artist-philosopher or to the earlier interplay of Dionysian and Apollinian motifs so as to grasp how his reaction to Schopenhauer's aestheticism tacitly gives way to another one.10 David Allison has convincingly shown the impossibility of reducing Nietzsche's reading of Kant to Schopenhauer's appropriation of the latter. As Allison argues, not only is it inadmissable to read Kant's noumenal thesis into Nietzsche's conception of the will, but his account of the Dionysian "corresponds to a fully empirical order" and is decisive for his reformulation of the modern conception of subjectivity.11 In effect, the antithesis of the Dionysian and the Apollinian, which first appears as an "idea" (like Hegel's Idee), is "translated into the realm of metaphysics," developed and historically "sublimated [aufgehoben] into a unity."(EH GT § 1) Nietzsche's account of the tragic destiny of the Greek splendor announced already its decomposition into Platonic, Christian morality. As Nietzsche reviews it in his autobiography:
The two decisive innovations of the book are, first, its understanding of the Dionysian phenomenon among the Greeks... Secondly, there is the understanding of Socratism: Socrates is recognized for the first time as an instrument of Greek disintegration, as a typical decadent. "Rationality" against instinct. "Rationality" at any price as a dangerous force that undermines life. Profound, hostile silence about Christianity throughout the book. That is neither Apollinian nor Dionysian; it negates all aesthetic values --the only values recognized in The Birth of Tragedy: it is nihilistic in the most profound sense, while in the Dionysian symbol the ultimate limit of affirmation is attained. (EH GT § 1)
One may argue that the Nietzschean "affirmation of life," "even the harshest suffering," is indeed the affirmation of Nietzsche's own tragic destiny. According to a "religious" reading of Nietzsche, this gospel of tragedy did not mean to dispense with religion, but it sought to come to a "second innocence" (zweite Unschuld) --as unveiled in the mythical aestheticism and life-become-artwork of Nietzsche himself ("How one becomes what one is"). As his early writings foresaw,
Yes, my friends, believe with me in Dionysian life and the rebirth of tragedy. The age of the Socratic man is over; put on wreaths of ivy, put the thyrsus into your hand, and do not be surprised when tigers and panthers lie down, fawning, at your feet. Only dare to be the tragic man; for you are to be redeemed. You shall accompany the Dionysian pageant from India to Greece. Prepare yourselves for hard strife, but believe in the miracles of your God. (GT § 20)
Nietzsche's ambiguity certainly has to do with an "intellectual honesty" (Redlichkeit), a complexity in the constitution of everything given (data) to us, not as an ultimate truth fallen from heaven, but as something to be interpreted, revalued in its constitution by subjective relations --and eventually ruminated, organically incorporated as food for thought. If the aesthetic must stand between and against any polarization of subject and object, Nietzsche's recognition of Christianity as a source of untruth (pia fraus) would thus point to the unveiling of his own search for an absent arché, an anarchic genesis of the divine. "The general first probability one encounters," Nietzsche wrote, "as one contemplates holiness and asceticism is this: their nature is complicated."(MAM § 136) Nietzsche did not establish a rational method for his lifelong research, for his own life provided the meta-hodos for his "self"-deconstruction (the calling into question of his psychological identity, the undermining of the cogito as self-consciousness, the decentering of the metaphysical "subject"), as he willed only one thing, viz., to remain true to the untruth/truth of this self-overcoming "self," always "on the way" to the "truth" of his own becoming, aesthetically conceived. That is why Christianity, as the historical rationalization of an archic "God" through the sedimentation of Christian dogmas, appears as the antipodal expression of the aesthetic, in its moralization of ursprüngliche values and in its idolatry of an ascetic "God" faute de mieux:
The truth of the first inquiry [i.e. expression, Ausdruck, in the Genealogie der Moral] is the birth of Christianity: the birth of Christianity out of the spirit of ressentiment, not, as people may believe, out of the "spirit" -- a counter-movement by its very nature, the great rebellion against the dominion of noble values.(EH GM)
Christianity is thus identified with a "slave morality" (as opposed to a "master morality"), born of ressentiment.12 "The slave revolt in morality," Nietzsche writes, "begins when ressentiment itself becomes creative and gives birth to values: the ressentiment of natures that are denied the true reaction, that of deeds, and compensate themselves with an imaginary revenge."(GM I § 10) The "action" of Christian morality is, for Nietzsche, "fundamentally reaction," and, like the Jews, "the priestly nation of ressentiment par excellence," will not escape the fateful overcoming of its own ascetic ideal, beyond good and evil (GM I § 16). In effect, this reactive genealogy of Christianity was eschatologically constituted for its own overcoming (Selbstaufhebung), from the outset, by the very arché of its theonomy:
All great things bring about their own destruction through an act of self-overcoming: thus the law of life will have it, the law of the necessity of "self-overcoming" in the nature of life --the lawgiver himself eventually receives the call: "patere legem, quam ipse tulisti." In this way Christianity as a dogma was destroyed by its own morality; in the same way, Christianity as morality must now perish, too: we stand on the threshold of this event. After Christian truthfulness has drawn one inference after another, it must end by drawing its most striking inference, its inference against itself; this will happen, however, when it poses the question "what is the meaning of all will to truth?" (GM III § 27)
Nietzsche's critique of religion can be thus placed within the very self-overcoming of human nature that aestheticism seeks to unveil, allowing for a nonreligious conception of artistic self-affirmation, explicitly opposed or indifferent to every religious form of asceticism. Hence we may contrast religious readings of Nietzsche, such as the ones proposed by Marion, Valadier, and Altizer,13 with the nonreligious interpretations by Deleuze and Foucault. To be sure, as Deleuze has argued, even if we concede that Nietzsche's genealogy allows for an active religion --as opposed to the reactive religion of ressentiment and bad conscience-- the essence of religion is such that, besides being a force, it is also and above all an effect of the will to power, so that it always already "finds itself subjugated by forces of an entirely different nature from its own and cannot unmask itself."(JGB § 62)14 At any rate, one point of agreement shared by all interpreters of Nietzsche's critique of religion is the strength of his historical-critical arguments for the genealogy of Christianity, in particular, his analyses of the Jewish descent of Christianity and its ascetic foundations in Pauline theology --rather than in Jesus' deeds. To be sure, as Girard and Glucksmann have argued, the three maîtres du soupçon (Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud) have all ironically failed to suspect that the Hegelian view of the Jews as a pariah people and of Judaism as a slave religion (giving birth to Christianity) was itself a hermeneutical problematic involving both cultural kinesis (history of Israel and ancient peoples) and translation (Hebrew into Greek), a legacy which Hegel the theologian inherited from German Romanticism without much criticism.15 It is certain, on the other hand, that Nietzsche opposes the grand style of the Old Testament to the rococo of the New. (JGB § 52; GM III § 22) For between the Old and the New Testaments an entire history of interpretation comes into being, a Christian story which has changed the world, dividing it in a "before" and an "after," like Nietzsche's own interpretive destiny.
From the clown to the madman, from Dionysus to the Crucified, Nietzsche's Selbstüberwindung turns, like Heidegger's Holzwege, into a labyrinthine interplay with the concealment of otherness, as life runs out of presence and absence becomes a true becoming. Whether this is the end or just a beginning in the horizon of the Same/Other, no truth can decide --at least on the autobiographical level of Nietzsche's interplay between Dionysus and the Crucified. In his "Attempt at Self-Criticism" (1886), added to a new edition of The Birth of Tragedy, Nietzsche had addressed an enigmatic question to his readers, "Who could claim to know the rightful name of the Antichrist?" The response was overtly assumed by his autobiographical unmasking, in his provocative Ecce Homo: "I am, in Greek, and not only in Greek, the Antichrist."(EH "Why I Write Such Good Books" § 2) The "anti-Christian" in Nietzsche's metaphorics has been translated, as he wrote in the same "Attempt," by "the name of a Greek god: I called it Dionysian." One question has nevertheless remained undecided --at least by Nietzsche's autobiography--, namely, "what is Dionysian?" Of course, Nietzsche immediately adds, in the same "Attempt," "This book [i.e. The Birth of Tragedy] contains an answer: one 'who knows' is talking, the initiate and disciple of his god." That is why I refrained from identifying Nietzsche's Lebensphilosophie with an aesthetic return to nature as arché. Granted, Nietzsche's critique of Platonism as the reversal of nature's phainomena into a deceptive "reality" of eidé (WP § 572) reminds us of a Heraclitean kosmos that lets the physis come into being as the Schauspiel of opposites. Yet Nietzsche prefers to dwell on the surface (FW § 256) precisely because genealogy has shown the mechanism of deception in humans' deepest convictions about things held to be true (FW § 354). And the death of God turns out to be the most revealing effect of this genealogical reversal. Nietzsche's radical reversal is to be thus distinguished from both Feuerbach's and Marx's in that Nietzsche is not simply switching back from "reality" to "appearances" --or from a metaphysical-spiritualist to a materialist-bodily conception of the world-- but he is ridding the world of any origin beyond its own historical, bodily-subjective becoming. The bodily-subjective becoming of the world appears then as a "natural revelation" of the death of God. Nietzsche's unmasking of the death-of-God motif --a theological motif which had already been invoked by both Luther and Hegel-- is, above all, a deconstruction of the christological idolatry, i.e. the christological motif of redemption which seeks to legitimize the transvaluation of "original sin," "spiritual death," and "alienation from God" -- externalizing moments that were philosophically reconciled in Hegel's trinitarian dialectic. Thus Nietzsche read and criticized the Tübingen theologians of his time (David Friedrich Strauss, Ferdinand Christian Baur), as well as Ernest Renan, only to radicalize their views on "historical criticism." The death of the historical (historische) Jesus on the cross coincides thus with the death of the confessional (geschichtliche) Christ, i.e., the death of God tout court. Since the body of Christ survived Jesus' death on the cross --through the Church and its sacraments--, Christian theology relied on the historical handing down of popular accounts and rituals to legitimize its hermeneutics. This "history of traditions" (Überlieferungsgeschichte) has ironically translated and betrayed the very transcendent, supra-historical origins of theology. That has been a veritable betrayal of the body, insofar as the history of the body unveils the Christian, Western spiritualization of everything that essentially belongs to the body: eros, pathos, intellect, existence, life, and death. A bodily aesthetics alone can do justice to Nietzsche's carnivalesque genealogy. The decaying Body of Christ, the Church, as a living Holy Sepulcher that cannot control the effects of its theological contaminations must be left to decompose itself --there is no need for atheists to engage in theology. Even in Nietzsche's time, liberal theologians, under the influence of Hegel and the historicist school, already realized that the writing of the New Testament presupposed an interpretative translation of Hebrew motifs into a Greek, universal framework. The betrayal of a Jewish messianism was seen then as the universal hope for both Jew and gentile, both slave and free. Such was indeed the triumphalist outcome of a universal ideal to be epitomized in Hegel's theological writings. Nietzsche's critique of idealism unmasks the world of the spirit so as to unveil the primacy of the body and to review history in the service of life.
Just as Nietzsche's genealogy of morals unveils the pagan sources of Judaeo-Christian morality, Foucault's genealogy of modernity unmasks the humanist hope at the heart of the teleology of history. The Nietzschean-Foucauldian conception of power as bodily or field interplay of forces (active and reactive) and its displacement of self-identity (flux and reflux) must thus be regarded as a consequence of the death of God. If the problematic of values in Foucault is obviously connected to Nietzsche's genealogy and his critical overcoming of Kantian philosophy, it is also important to comprehend how Nietzsche's revaluation of values may contribute to a genealogical account of individualization, normalization, and an ethics of self-care that defies disciplinary powers that be. Christianity, through its slave revolt against Rome, strikes us as a major paradigm of Nietzsche's rapprochement between subjectivation and moralization. Christian asceticism is regarded by Nietzsche as the best example of hypostatizing a morality of customs into a sacred set of norms and practices (kanon, regula fidei). Of course, Nietzsche's analysis is equally applied to Ancient Judaism, though in the latter ethnic identity and oral traditions (e.g., reciting in Hebrew) still played an important role in the processes of assimilation, internalization, and socialization, undermining its universalist claims to a moral standard of conduct. Nietzsche has convincingly shown how early Christianity appropriated the moralizing principles of Judaism and, nollens vollens, combined them with Roman universalism so as to defeat, out of ressentiment, the noble morality of the oppressor. Tertullian's apologetic war opposing Jerusalem and Athens is thus displaced by the decisive battles of "Rome against Judea" and "Judea against Rome" until the Christian conversion of the latter.(cf. GM I § 15,16) Nietzsche's genealogical critique of herd-morality unveils the problem of social control of individuals through massive moralization. For Nietzsche, the origin of custom is linked to the correlative notions that "the community is worth more than the individual" and that "an enduring advantage is to be preferred to a transient one."(MAM II § 89) Thus he defines Sittlichkeit (morality) as "nothing other than simply a feeling for the whole content of those customs under which we live and have been raised --and raised, indeed, not as an individual, but as a member of the whole, as a cipher in a majority." And he adds the revealing remark that "through his morality the individual outvotes himself." In his own words,
Morality is preceded by compulsion, indeed it is for a time itself still compulsion, to which one accomodates oneself for the avoidance of what one regards as unpleasurable. Later it becomes custom, later still voluntary obedience, finally almost instinct; then, like all that has for a long time been habitual and natural, it is associated with pleasure --and is now called virtue. (MAM I § 99)
If Nietzsche's critique of power departs from socialism and democracy, as Keith Ansell-Pearson has shown, his aristocratic individualism should not be confused with liberalism insofar as for the latter politics is a means to peaceful coexistence of individual agents, while "for Nietzsche it is a means to the production of human greatness."16 As Nietzsche himself wrote, his "philosophy aims at an ordering of rank (Rangordnung), not at an individualistic morality."(WP § 287) The conception of a cultural aristocracy is also found in William Connolly's thesis that Nietzsche's "brave ethics" does not preclude social, political engagement.17 According to Connolly, the will to power can be either construed as a Hobbesian-like play of forces that bring about domination and mastery (over nature, persons, and things) or as a Foucauldian-like device that recognizes and affirms forms of otherness.18 Foucault's merit, as far as political thought is concerned, thus consists in having rescued this Nietzschean aesthetic model of subjectivity so that, by giving style to one's character (FW § 290), political existence is ethically constituted through different processes of self-overcoming that resist massive normalization (State-controlled ideology, religious faith). A self-stylizing askésis implies a unity of character (ethos) that cannot be reduced to any particular institutionalized discourse or practice. As Ansell-Pearson has put it, "this unity of the self is not a moral unity, but an aesthetic one --more, it is one which is truly beyond the oppositions of moral judgment, that is, beyond good and evil."19 In the Genealogy of Morals, particularly in the second essay (§ 16), Nietzsche clearly states his thesis of "the internalization of man" which would be later reformulated as the Foucauldian critique of individualizing normativity.
Morality, in the last analysis, is the outcome of political disciplining and training, stemming from a codification of customs and shifting towards a spiritualization and rationalization of human conduct.(GM II § 2) In MAM I § 45, Nietzsche speaks of a twofold pre-history of "good and evil," namely, "firstly, in the soul of ruling tribes and castes" and "then, in the soul of the subjected, the powerless." As he remarks, for a long time, good and evil are respectively identified with noble and base, master and slave.(cf. GM I § 4-9,11,13,16) In Homer, for instance, both the Greek and the Trojan are always good. Nietzsche's thesis is that "our morality has grown up in the soil of the ruling tribes and castes." The same can be said about the conceptions of justice and fairness.(MAM I § 92) In brief, according to Nietzsche, to be moral first meant "to practice obedience towards a law or tradition established from of old."(MAM I § 96) Such was the tradition-directed "morality of mores" (Sittlichkeit der Sitte) which gave birth to the moralization of human nature.(cf. GM Preface § 4, III § 9; M I § 9) This is an accurate description of the meaning of ethics, especially from the standpoint of a philologist or cultural historian. What becomes more problematic is to bring this definition to a meta-ethical field, or to theorize about the meaning of conforming to certain patterns of conduct and to justify determinate actions and procedures. It could be said that neither Nietzsche nor Foucault was, after all, concerned about this kind of ethical theory, in that their work refers us to the historical field of the formation of moral subjects rather than the meta-ethics and ethical theories of contemporary analytical philosophy. Moral subjectivation stands thus for a genealogical account of the modes of subject-formation by which the self is made a moral individual within a given social group (tribe, clan, people, nation, society). Nietzsche's genealogy establishes a complex, typological relation between ethnos and ethos, which is appropriated by Foucault in his cultural, historical diagnosis of modern subjectivity. Foucault's conception of subjectivation in a genealogical analysis is thus best understood in light of the third axis (ethics) which concurs with truth and power to constitute modes of self-formation.
NOTES1- I dealt extensively with Foucault's interpretation of Nietzsche in my Ph.D. dissertation, On the Genealogy of Modernity: Kant, Nietzsche, Foucault (State University of New York at Stony Brook, 1994; published by Nova Science, Hauppauge, NY, 2003); cf. also my "Habermas on Nietzsche and Knowledge", New Nietzsche Studies (New York) Vol. 2, No.1/2 (1997): 101-110; "Crítica da Razão Moderna: Nietzsche e o Perspectivismo Político" in Tractatus ethico-politicus.