2. The Four Aeons: Platonic, Machiavellian, Nietzschean, Homeric.

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2. The Four Aeons: Platonic, Machiavellian, Nietzschean, Homeric.

Post  Sauwelios on Mon Jan 05, 2015 2:29 am

Near the end of 2012, I came to understand the last four great ages or Aeons of the Western world as follows:

1) the Homeric Age as the age of the theistic deification of nature;
2) the Platonic Age as the age of the theistic demonisation of nature;
3) the Machiavellian Age as the age of the non-theistic demonisation of nature;
4) the Nietzschean Age as the age of the non-theistic deification of nature.

We are now in the transitional period between 3 and 4, in which the two overlap. The necessary link between the two is nihilism.

Anyway, I then came to see the main point of agreement between 1 and 2 in the light of something Nietzsche says:


    "It is perhaps just dawning on five or six minds that physics, too, is only an interpretation and exegesis of the world (to suit us! if I may say so) and not a world-explanation; but insofar as it is based on belief in the senses, it is regarded as more, and for a long time to come must be regarded as more--namely, as an explanation. Eyes and fingers speak in its favor, visual evidence and palpableness do, too: this strikes an age with fundamentally plebeian tastes as fascinating, persuasive, and convincing--after all, it follows instinctively the canon of truth of eternally popular sensualism. What is clear, what is "explained"? Only what can be seen and felt--every problem has to be pursued to that point. Conversely, the charm of the Platonic way of thinking, which was a noble way of thinking, consisted precisely in resistance to obvious sense-evidence--perhaps among men who enjoyed even stronger and more demanding senses than our contemporaries, but who knew how to find a higher triumph in remaining masters of their senses: and this by means of pale, cold, gray concept nets which they threw over the motley whirl of the senses--the mob of the senses, as Plato said. In this overcoming of the world, and interpreting of the world in the manner of Plato, there was an enjoyment different from that which the physicists of today offer us, likewise the Darwinists and anti-teleologists among the workers in physiology, with their principle of the "smallest possible force" and the greatest possible stupidity. "Where man cannot find anything to see or to grasp, he has no further business"--that is certainly an imperative different from the Platonic one, but it may be the right imperative for a tough, industrious race of machinists and bridge-builders of the future, who have nothing but rough work to do." (Source: Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, aphorism 14, entire.)


The Straussian scholar Seth Benardete, in his The Bow and the Lyre, which first made me see Homer as a philosopher in the Nietzschean sense--i.e., a commander and legislator (BGE 211)--, seems to me to argue that Homer's innovation was the promotion of the Olympian gods to the rank of supreme gods and thereby the demotion of the cosmic gods to lesser gods:


    Homer [...] gives the impression that the Sun punished Odysseus's men; but we are later told that the Sun cannot punish individual men; he can withdraw his light from gods and men equally, but he needs Zeus to carry out what alone would satisfy him (12.382-83). Homer does not mention Zeus. If we may distinguish between cosmic gods like the Sun--gods whose possible existence is manifest to sight--and Olympian gods, about whom there is only hearsay, then Homer begins [the Odyssey] with a cosmic god who punishes human folly, but he is at once corrected as soon as the Muse takes over and introduces Homer and us to Poseidon, Zeus, and Athena. Homer on his own suggests that Odysseus's wisdom and justice are supported by the cosmic gods, who no less exact terrible vengeance for injustice and folly. That this suggestion is not confirmed by the Muse to whom Homer hands over the story seems to imply that Odysseus, in choosing to return home, chooses the Olympian gods. [Source: Benardete, op.cit., page 5.]


Plato's innovation was basically what changed the Greek culture from a shame culture into a guilt culture; what changed the Greek morality from a master morality into a slave morality. The Platonic as well as the Homeric gods were invisible gods, though.--

Machiavelli's innovation brings us back to the cosmic gods, in a sense:


    According to Polybius, cyclical change occurs "according to nature" just as it did for Aristotle. According to Machiavelli, cyclical change occurs "by chance" or unforeseen accidents.The heaven-gods, too, are replaced by fortuna. Nature and the gods are not our friends but our enemies. We should not aspire to know them, let alone love or be loved by them. Above all, we must not allow ourselves to be terrorized by them and thereby become weak and lose our manhood and virtue. We must recognize them as nothing more than fortuna and be men enough to "regulate" her, "to beat her and to pound on her" (Discourses [on the First Ten Books of Livy], 3.30; Prince, chap. 25). Accepting the cyclical view of history as propounded by Polybius, Machiavelli blames the ancients for acquiescing to it, for their lack of resolve, courage, and the will to fight and control the cycle by political means--that is, by continuously renewing the political regime. The ancients' view of science, their contemplative ideal, was a cowardly surrender to the forces of nature, both external and human. [...] Man can control his own destiny and conquer nature by means of science, which is now seen as a servant to be used rather than a master to which one submits. With the political order well under control, the new science offers limitless vistas for progress in the future. [Source: Muhsin Mahdi, Alfarabi and the Foundation of Islamic Political Philosophy, page 239, quoting Machiavelli.]


Machiavellianism aims at breaking out of the cycle. Nietzscheanism aims at bending back into the cycle. Machiavellian science stands in the service of technology, which in turn is put into the service of the conquest of nature and thereby man's comfortable self-preservation. Nietzschean science does not stand in the service of anything; it is knowledge conceived as an end in itself.

Now it may seem as if Nietzscheanism cannot immediately precede Homericism, as what preceded the Homeric Age was nature worship, and Nietzsche seems to do the opposite of projecting gods into nature:


    "All the beauty and sublimity we have bestowed upon real and imaginary things I will reclaim as the property and product of man: as his fairest apology. Man as poet, as thinker, as God, as love, as power: with what regal liberality he has lavished gifts upon things so as to impoverish himself and make himself feel wretched! His most unselfish act hitherto has been to admire and worship and to know how to conceal from himself that it was he who created what he admired.--" (Source: Nietzsche, The Will to Power, Book Two, beginning; translation Kaufmann.)


But, paradoxically, it is precisely by way of this reclamation that Nietzsche restores the possibility of Western nature worship. For what does this reclamation mean?--That man is will to power. And Nietzsche argues that not only man, but all real things are will to power, and nothing besides. But what is will to power?


    On the face of it, will to power would seem to be the drive to acquire power; yet [Nietzsche asserts] that it essentially concerns the expenditure ("discharge," "sacrifice," "overflow and squandering") of power, "even to the point of absurdity." Furthermore, having criticized one "superfluous teleological principle," the instinct of self-preservation, Nietzsche seems to substitute another, the desire for power. Lastly, this desire (for power) would seem to signify a fundamental lack (of power), that is, a fundamental indigence and distress, which, however, here and elsewhere, Nietzsche repeatedly denies is the basic condition of nature.These difficulties rest on a teleological interpretation of will to power and disappear as soon as we begin to understand Nietzsche's doctrine otherwise. If the fundamental condition of life is one of superabundance and exuberance rather than indigence and distress, power is not primarily something an organism wants or needs but something an organism is or has and must exercise. Will to power, then, is not a teleological principle but a dynamic force, like a stretched spring or a dammed river. The "willing" of will to power, Nietzsche writes, "is not 'desiring,' striving, demanding"; rather, it is "[t]hat state of tension by virtue of which a force seeks to discharge itself" (WP 668).If Nietzsche's language is puzzling, his basic hypothesis is fairly straightforward. It is one later taken up and developed by the French Nietzschean Georges Bataille: namely, that the dynamic force of nature (that which propels growth, sexuality, procreation, struggle, and death) and of culture (production, form-giving, creativity, and play) is the superabundance of energy in the biosphere and the compulsion to expend it. As Bataille puts it, "it is not necessity but its contrary, 'luxury,' that presents living matter and mankind with their fundamental problems." For both Bataille and Nietzsche, the source and archetype of this expenditure is the sun and its prodigality[.] [Source: Christoph Cox, Nietzsche: Naturalism and Interpretation, pp. 230-31.]
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