Nietzsche, Foucault, and the bridge of power

Mass culture has ironically deemed the central ill of western civilisation as ‘the lust for power’. The alternative is human affection and interpersonal love, in the form of familial or friendly ties, or, alternatively, transactional commercial deals. Power, however, is dangerous because it is impersonal, abstract, and therefore a potential alternative to the ruling abstraction: money. The collective term ‘money and power’ is intended not to reject both abstractions but to attribute power to money, and to attempt to rob money of its power, thereby defending ‘powerless’ money against influence by power-hungry humanity. This, of course, increases the power of money. Thus, critique strengthens the constructions it intends to weaken. The left and the centre form a circle. An alternative is the right, which is open and honest about power, traceable to Nietzsche’s reactionary case against Kantian liberalism, as a fragile mask on the Hobbesian state which represses individuality. Nietzsche ironically draws on the centre-ground, Kantian idea of the individual in critiquing capitalism as a system which prevents individuals, particularly ingenious individuals such as himself, from doing whatever the hell they want.

The Golden Gate Bridge.

Foucault is similarly sceptical of repressive society, and mounts a left-wing critique of the way in which capitalism puts individuals into boxes that prevents them from unleashing their creativity potential, in the Marxian sense of realising one’s powers to the full. In mounting these critiques of liberalism, Nietzsche and Foucault unintentionally defend the system of money and power that underpins it, by dressing up power in virtuous colours. Perhaps they hope to, as Marx did, use the state to destroy capitalism. But they also critique the modern state, preferring Greek city-states (in Nietzsche’s case) or some form of syndicalism (in Foucault’s case, as shown in his exchange with Chomsky). The love of power and the love of money are one and the same — as both are fallen from the love of the higher ideals of ‘God’ and ‘Good’, to use the terms of neo-Platonist philosopher Iris Murdoch, writing in the wake of the godless evils of the twentieth century.

But something must be said for power. Power is not the goal towards which we reach. But it may be a means. Indeed, it may bridge between the mere means of money-making and the pure ends of goodness and godliness. The power of states and seers balances between the immanent lust of moneymakers and the transcendent pride of virtue-braggers. But power, to balance between the body and the soul, must keep its feet on the ground and its eyes fixed on the sky towards which it rises. That way, the love of power may bridge between the love of bare life and the love of the good life. The life of power is neither the life of the mind nor the life of matter. Between the physical world of food and drink, and the conceptual world of ideals and forms, there is the political world of power and pressures. Perhaps the question we must ask is how to bridge between these worlds. Perhaps power itself is one bridge.

While grasping towards a good use of power, the traditional points on the political spectrum — left, centre, and right — fail to give a truthful answer to the question of how to bridge between the worlds. Older theories, like republicanism, had proposals that couldn’t be realised in their time, due to the limitations of technology. But these theories were built in their time. We need to build a bridge in our time, for our time, by our time. We need to remake power in the image of truth and goodness. We need to learn from the old, in order to build something new. Shall we begin?

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