Friedrich, Martin, and Don: The Will to Power as @realDonaldTrump

Friedrich, Martin, and Don: The Will to Power as @realDonaldTrump

By William F. Zachmann, Semeiotic

“Of what is great one must either be silent or speak with greatness. With greatness ─ that means cynically and with innocence. What I relate is the history of the next two centuries. I describe what is coming, what can no longer come differently: the advent of nihilism. This history can be related even now; for necessity itself is at work here. This future speaks even now in a hundred signs; this destiny announces itself everywhere; for this music of the future all ears are cocked even now. For some time now, our whole European culture has been moving as toward a catastrophe, with a tortured tension that is growing from decade to decade: restlessly, violently, headlong, like a river that wants to reach the end, that no longer reflects, that is afraid to reflect.”  Friedrich Nietzsche.

These words, written between November 1887 and March 1888, begin the “Preface” of the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche’s book, “The Will to Power: Attempt at a Revaluation of all Values”,  that really was not a book but rather an assembly of some of his notes, written between 1883 and his mental breakdown at the end of 1888, that were subsequently collected, edited, in various ways distorted, and published (in 1901) after his death in 1900 at the age of 55, by his sister, Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche.

By far the most insightful, thoughtful, and fundamental analysis and interpretation of Nietzsche’s work is that of Martin Heidegger, himself the most important European philosopher of the 20th Century, in a series of courses, lectures, and publications spanning more than three decades from the 1930s through the 1960s. Heidegger’s most important works on Nietzsche are available in English in four volumes edited by David Farrell Krell under the overall title “Nietzsche: By Martin Heidegger” including “Volume I: The Will to Power as Art”; “Volume II: The Eternal Recurrence of the Same”; “Volume III: The Will to Power as Knowledge and as Metaphysics”; and “Volume IV: Nihilism”.

Donald J. Trump, who is about to lock up the Republican nomination and will very likely win the election in November and become the 45th President of the United States of America in January 2017, embodies in some quite remarkable and even astonishing ways not only the continued unfolding of the “history of the next two centuries” that Nietzsche said he would “relate” some 130 years ago, but the essential themes of the path of Nietzsche’s thought as further examined, explored, and traveled by Heidegger. Trump’s unconventional approach to politics (and to life) resounds with echoes of Nietzsche’s and Heidegger’s thought about “will to power” as the ultimate end yet also the indispensable condition of a necessary “revaluation of all values” in what has come to be called our “postmodern” age.

Nietzsche is best and most conventionally known for words first spoken by the main character in his book “Thus Spoke Zarathustra: A Book for Everyone and No One” published in 1883: “God is dead.” Heidegger correctly understands this not to refer specifically to the God of Christianity but, rather, to the transcendental world ‘above’ (or ‘beyond’) the world as we ordinarily experience it that has been part of the “Western” world picture since Plato’s articulation, two and a half millennia ago, of a timeless ‘superior’ realm of pure ideas of which things that we encounter in lives are ‘mere shadows’.

Plato’s ‘realer than real’ eternal world of ideas is taken up and transformed, in medieval Christianity, into a theology that characterizes the world as we know it as a “veil of sin, tears, and suffering” redemption from which through Jesus Christ into an eternal “heavenly” realm is the only valid, meaningful aim and purpose of human existence. But with the Protestant Reformation and the dawn of modern ‘science’ in the 16th Century the Medieval theological ‘consensus’ begins to come apart. The “natural laws” of math and science begin to emerge as independent of the “divine laws” of Scripture. A succession of thinkers from Descartes through Kant and Hegel re-think the “two worlds” as apparent and real, being and becoming, true and false in ways that make it increasingly difficult to reconcile.

By the second half of the 19th Century, when Nietzsche begins seriously to think about it, Plato’s transcendental world of timeless ideas has been reduced, at least as Nietzsche sees it, to little more than a realm of ‘values’ that are somehow tacked onto ‘things’ understood as merely transitory extended stuff (matter) in motion (energy) and as such the subjects of the various ‘objective’ sciences. The once assured meaning of the divinely given theological values in scripture become increasingly arbitrary as sects and ideologies proliferate in the essentially value-less world of science and practical use. This is at least approximately what Nietzsche and Heidegger name as ‘nihilism’.

At the end of the 19th Century (and of Nietzsche’s life) there was a strong trend of optimism and even utopian expectation for “the progress of mankind onward and upward forever” as scientific discovery practically applied would create a ‘rational’ society and a harmonious civilization for the world as a whole. Nietzsche, however, even before his breakdown in 1888, saw a much more dangerous, darker world ahead. He foresaw a coming breakdown of traditional values exposed not as divine ordinances but, rather, as creations of human subjectivity. To him, the scientific positivism of the late 1800s was but a vestigial remnant of traditional values in decline accompanied by a naïve unthinking assumption that material progress could somehow automatically create values out of nothing.

For Nietzsche, the only viable option for the future was a re-creation of values by a superior type (the ‘overman’ or ‘superman’) who, realizing that creation of values was not only a power inherent in human life as such, but that it is itself a manifestation of the “will to power” as the fundamental being of all that is who would, in effect, create new values rather than look for them ‘outside’ in some no-longer-plausible ‘superior’ realm. He distinguished sharply between the “last man” who simply un-thinkingly muddles alongside what is already taken for granted and the “overman” who would preside over the destruction of the remnants of the ‘transcendental’ values and create new values out of the full exercise of the will to power as such.

While it is probably best not to try to make too much of the comparison, there certainly seems to be a very interesting if rather rough parallel between the “last men” of the American political establishment, on the one hand (including, by the way Hillary Clinton as well as Jeb Bush and his family) and the “overman” as represented by Donald J. Trump (and to a somewhat lesser extent by U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders as well). Trump clearly refuses to allow himself or his possibilities to be defined by the “conventional wisdom” by “what you are supposed to do” or, for that matter, by the typically unchallenged “you can’t do that!” assumed ‘values’ of “political correctness”.

Like Alexander the Great when faced (in legend at least) with the Gordian Knot, Trump refuses and rejects the assumption that the only way to loosen the knot is to attempt, patiently and painstakingly to untie it bit by bit. He, instead, draws his sharp sword of focused intent, swings the blade, and slices through the ‘not’. Whether this proves, in the end, to be a good thing or not remains to be determined. But that it is an ongoing occurrence, happening now and on a very grand scale, is well beyond doubt.



Why (and how) Trump is Going to Win

The Professional Pontificators got it wrong, again. They are all over the place trying to make sense of last night’s (Tuesday, 15 December, 2015) Republican debate and they are as clueless as ever. Trump is going to win. He’s going to win the Republican nomination. He’s going to win the general election in November 2016. And he’s going to win by a lot. Here’s why (and how).

Trump is much smarter, not only intellectually, but in practical ‘street smarts’ than nearly anyone gives him credit for (or understands). He’s also amazingly consistent in what he believes in, what he really cares about, and what he likes to do, and what wants to do. Anyone with half a normal working brain can readily confirm that by simply reading the book he published in 1987 (“The Art of the Deal”) and comparing it to what he’s been saying over the past year, including last night’s debate.

He is also not the least bit crazy, erratic, impulsive, or reckless. His ‘crazy’ is entirely as in “crazy like a fox”. It is deliberate, conscious, carefully crafted, and used as an instrument (or, when necessary, weapon) to get the results he aims to get. Whether he has ever read it or not, he embodies the practical wisdom described in Thomas Cleary’s “Thunder in the Sky: Secrets on the Acquisition and Exercise of Power”, a brilliant translation of two Chinese Taoist classics: “The Master of Demon Valley” and “The Master of the Hidden Storehouse.” (We’ll have more to say about that in a later article.)

So far nearly everyone (friends, foes, pundits, the media, and just about everyone else) has grossly underestimated Trump. This is, in large part, because he is far more interested in getting the results he aims for than he is in getting attention, praise, blame, money, fame, or anything else.

As far as the Republican nomination goes, the tipping point in Trump’s favor will come when Republicans who oppose him shift from trying to defeat him to trying to ingratiate themselves with him in hopes of a favorable position in or in relation to his administration as President of the United States. Last night’s debate shows that Trump is very close to that tipping point. The signs are abundant.

First is the obvious détente between Trump and his nearest rival, Ted Cruz. Some pundits say Trump held off criticizing Cruz because he (Trump) was criticized for being too critical of others. That’s a very stupid assertion. Trump does not hesitate to attack those who attack him (as he did last night with Junior Bush). Each time he does, his poll numbers rise. Trump did not attack Cruz because Cruz (after being clearly warned by Trump of the consequences) chose to back off criticism of Trump. Cruz clearly realizes that he and Trump actually are very close on most issues, that Trump has a better chance of winning than he does, and that running as Vice President on a Trump/Cruz ticket might not be a bad second choice option (there are other possibilities, like a position in President Trump’s cabinet).

Second is the equally obvious (for those who have eyes to see) change in relationship between Trump, on the one hand, and Reince Priebus and the Republican National Committee, on the other. As he did with Cruz in the run-up to last night’s debate, Trump also fired a shot across the bow of Priebus and the Republican establishment by hinting that if they tried to screw him (by working with the like of Junior Bush and Company) to stack a brokered convention against him (as implied by the morons at the Washington Post in another of their stupid desperate-for-anyone-but-Trump articles on behalf of Hillary Clinton and Company) that he would consider them in breach of contract and feel free to run as in independent. The result was hugs all around and a clear declaration by Trump that he would run only as a Republican.

The major highlight of the debate that got the most applause from the crowd in the Venetian Ballroom was when Trump so astonished Hugh Hewitt that Hewitt even forgot himself to the point of joining in the applause for Trump. Obviously expecting an evasive answer from Trump, Hewitt asked: “My listeners tell me again and again they are worried that Hillary Clinton will win the White House because you’ll run as an independent. Are you ready to assure Republicans tonight that you will run as a Republican and abide by the decision of the Republicans?”

Trump replied: “I really am. I’ll be honest, I really am.” That not only got the biggest and most enthusiastic round of applause of the night from the crowd, but from a clearly surprised (and pleased) Hewitt as well who, despite his role as a supposedly neutral debate moderator, said “I’ve got to applaud!” visibly and audibly clapped his hands for Trump, on camera, for all to see.

Trump swiftly (and skillfully) followed up saying: “I’ve gained great respect for the Republican leadership. I’ve gained great respect for many — and I’m going to even say — I mean, in different forms for the people on the dais, in different forms.” That brought a round of laughter from the crowd. Trump repeated, “In different forms” and went on to say “But I have great respect for the people I have met through this process. I’ve never done this process before. I’ve never been a politician. I mean, for the last six months I’ve been a politician. But I will tell you, I am totally committed to the Republican Party. I feel very honored to be the front runner.”

Hewitt then turned to pose a version of the same question to Ben Carson saying: “Dr. Carson, Mr. Trump just committed to stay the distance regardless of the result. How about you?” Carson replied: “Well, you know, the statement that I made last week, that I would leave the party, was contingent upon whether in fact the party acts like they have in the past with a lot of subterfuge and dishonesty, or like they’re going act now. Because I spoke to Reince Priebus, and he assured me that the Washington Post writer had it all wrong, and that they’re not be engaging in anything to thwart the will of the people. That’s why I got into this race, as a member of we the people, to try bring some honesty and integrity back to the process.”

Carson, of course, was the first of Trump’s rivals to align himself with Trump. Now Cruz has done so as well as have Priebus and the RNC. Rand Paul, while continuing to criticize some of Trumps’ positions, also held back from attacking Trump personally, using his heaviest ammunition on Chris Christie, instead. Carly Fiorina did not attack Trump, either. Neither, for the most part, did Marco Rubio. Rubio instead turned his guns Cruz, but Cruz demolished him, instead. Christie didn’t really attack Trump, either. He unloaded what little ammo he had, indiscriminately (and ineffectually), on Cruz, Rubio, and Paul.

So who still apparently wants to be told “Your fired!” by President Trump? Only the really big totally losers in the field, the distant also rans: Junior Bush, George Pataki, John Kasich, and Lindsay Graham. But they are done. They are history. They are going the way of Hillary Clinton. And they will not be missed.