Beyond History and Philosophy

The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE, December 15, 2016 | Go to article overview

Beyond History and Philosophy


Martin Cohen on a study that strives to position a much-quoted thinker as a social geographer

Nietzsche's Earth: Great Events, Great Politics

By Gary Shapiro

University of Chicago Press 264pp, £31.50

ISBN 9780226394459 and 4596 (e-book)

Published 14 November 2016

What would Friedrich Nietzsche make of Donald Trump? Of the European Union? Of the UK voting for Brexit?

These might seem like silly questions, yet Nietzsche has often been called on in support of political causes, most infamously with the issuing of copies of Thus Spoke Zarathustra to German soldiers during the Great War. One of the appreciative recipients was Adolf Hitler.

Indeed, in this unusual study of a much-quoted but little understood philosopher, Gary Shapiro argues that wars of civilisations, jihadism and, yes, Brexit, have all been to some extent foreseen and foreshadowed by Nietzsche.

Take the EU, for example. Nietzsche is presented here as firmly endorsing it as a grand project "allowing for hybridity, nomadism and cosmopolitanism", as a route for "becoming one". And, of course, for undermining the nation state, that false god of Hegel's.

However, Nietzsche's identification of the weakening of nation states and mongrelisation of peoples has long been tied to completely different political bandwagons. But Shapiro is not interested in this point, saying that too much time has been spent "attacking or praising Nietzsche's political thought" for its supposed sympathies - just before launching into a long paean to his political wisdom. As Zarathustra speaks of a shrinking Earth and its last inhabitants, Shapiro hears a critique of globalisation and mass consumption, of modern states in the grip of "money-makers and military despots".

Although there are many flashes of insight, this book's style is dense, repetitive and pedantic. …

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