I typically do not like to write posts prompted by topical issues but current events have made me ponder the nature of democracy in a particularly Nietzschean way. I have no time or inclination (or, let’s face it, knowledge) to go over his full thoughts on that system, so let me just say that contrary to those who consider democracy as telic, or those who simply have no historical sense and imagine current systems are persistent, that democracy is a transition for him.
Nietzsche seems to consider that democracies of the modern European mode are inherently sown with the seeds of their own destruction, since they at once encourage an endless pluralism and liberality (rather than a natural commitment to any ruling ideal) along with a degeneration in the recognition of normative authority represented by the state. This latter went along with the demise of theistic thinking for Nietzsche, but I think it can more generally be seen as a function of the self-questioning activities that seem to arise amongst liberal societies.
And so democracies are almost inherently divisive and divided. In an unstable way, since it results, typically, in majority rule over the minority. Where 52% dictate the laws and lifestyle for the other 48% you begin to see that this is not a society, and democracy is not a system that works for a people. For Nietzsche, the positive was that this necessary division and tension would ultimately result in a new form of aristocratic rule, where cultural, artistic, political and every other variety of genius would form a counterpoint to the much larger herd, the herd unable or unwilling to formulate any better type of culture than the present one.
To our ears there are distasteful elements to this thinking, containing as it does the assumption of a group inherently better than the other, an elite that seeks to stand apart. In any event, my objection is not that this does not sit well with our democratic, post-Christian senses, but that I cannot imagine such a rise. Or, at least, I cannot imagine such a rise forming any kind of stable replacement. The herd will always pull down any who seek to rise and flee. The herd does not recognise or tolerate any system other than its own. Even Nietzsche’s wish simply that those who wish to rise above could simply be allowed to stand apart a little seems too much to wish for.
Majority rule, the essence of modern democracy, is stifling for the minorities. And while the nature of societies, states, changes, and inevitably so, I have never seen that there is a coherent progression in their doing so. One thing becomes another, without purpose, without awareness, and without balance. And that the wish of some of us to stand apart, even just a little, is not allowed to be possible…