The Magazine


Jul 14, 1997, Vol. 2, No. 43 • By MARK BLITZ
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It is true that love, or acquiescence to one's heritage, is part of what gives direction to a family or a people. But such "irrational" attachment to what guides us also includes a view that our pursuits are reasonable and worthwhile, and not merely the product of our tradition or our inexplicable decisions. In any event, such local attachments would be insufficient for Nietzsche. He seeks a "philosopher of the future" able to overcome what is comfortable and immediate and to affirm not just this or that thing but all things, despite the lack of rational or transcendent standards.

Lowith's main argument is that if one believes eternal return is a demonstrable scientific truth, the decision to affirm any and every event as something that will reappear again and again in all its glory and misery hardly seems necessary. The affirmation does not make one "responsible"; it just means that one is acknowledging a fact. Lowith, however, leaves it at pointing out this problem; he does not try to engage Nietzsche by seeing how he might overcome, or might be made to overcome, the difficulty.

One may conclude from these issues that affirming the recurrence of each event as eternally necessary is, finally, an act of insincerity: It can never take the place of pursuing goals that attract our passionate attention and whose nature we seek to uncover and understand. Rather than overcoming nihilism while still affirming the death of what is transcendent, the attempt to will eternal return shows the continued need for, and in this sense the continued allure of, the unchanging ends that nihilism denies. For Nietzsche, the possibility of affirming eternal return is inseparable from the arguments through which he tries to show that nihilism is the dominant truth of contemporary life. Therefore, if the act of affirming eternal return is neither morally nor logically authentic, one is justified in questioning the primacy and inevitability of nihilism.

Mark Blitz is the Fletcher Jones Professor of Political Philosophy at Claremont McKenna College.