Masters of Suspicion Part I
When I was studying for my Master of Philosophy at the University of Leuven (Louvain) I was introduced to the term, “Masters of Suspicion.” The Masters of Suspicion were Friedrich Nietzsche, Sigmund Freud and Karl Marx. Each one in a different way cast doubt or raised questions about the rationality of the society around them.
First Master of Suspicion - Friedrich Nietzsche
Friedrich Nietzsche eschewed the German Idealistic philosophy of his day. He hated Georg WF Hegel. Nietzsche did not believe that the Prussian state was guided by rationality. Nietzsche believed that the wealthy and weak had devised their philosophy to protect their prerogatives and privileges. According to Nietzsche Prussia was not the kingdom of God on earth, but rather a place where old men tried to keep their own positions.
Nietzsche felt, for instance, that the Christian religion was used to keep the weaker in charge. Nietzsche despised the fact that “Old woman’s religion” and “Old woman’s morality” bound the strong to behaving like weak sheep. Nietzsche believed that the only true motivation was “will to power.”
Will to power means that everyone wants to rule and no one wants to serve. However, since most people weren’t strong enough to rule or force their will on others, they adopted systems like Christian morality to force the strong to be kind and follow the rules, which would benefit the weak.
Nietzsche believed that it was only the Superman, Übermensch or Blonde Beast (Teutonic males) who should rule. The powerful should rule by force. The powerful should make the laws for the weaker. What the powerful want should be law.
Giving “reasons” was only giving rationalizations for what one wanted. The Superman should impose his will without giving reasons. Will was primary for Nietzsche, not “reason”, since will was what drove people.
Nietzsche wrote in a literary, aphoristic style. He would not write systematic philosophy. For generations he has been either despised as a sideshow to philosophy or seen as a brilliant mind, who overthrew the sham of old German Idealism.
Nietzsche helps us all to examine our motives and ask whether we really are seeking what is morally good and true, or whether we are simply trying to gain the upper hand.
A Russian Response to Nietzsche - Dostoevsky’s Crime & Punishment and The Idiot
Fyodor Dostoevsky wrote Crime and Punishment to answer Nietzsche. Raskolnikov, the “hero” or anti-hero of the novel, chooses to act as a “Superman” to determine that, in his case, murdering his landlady to steal her money was justifiable, since he was the more evolved person morally and was above the law. Raskolnikov could not finally maintain this super human status, and finally confessed his crime and repented.
Dostoevsky also wrote another novel called The Idiot in a way again it is a reply to Nietzsche. There are two male figures, who are among the main characters: Prince Myshkin and Rogozhin. Myshkin is a physically weak person. He is an epileptic. Still he is a kind person, despite being despised due to his “foolishness.” Myshkin has a childlike faith in people and is “naive.” Rogozhin (which literally translated means “the horned one” [Satan?]) takes what he wants by force. Rogozhin and Myshkin love the same woman. Rogozhin can’t stand that she won’t choose him. So, he decides to kill her. Both men go mad after this act. There is a difference, though Rogozhin goes mad having murdered someone and loses his mind while raving and cursing. Myshkin likewise goes mad, but as he does he is holding Rogozhin in his arms, rocking him and comforting him.
It seems a rather bleak story, but Dostoevsky’s point is that: “Yes, Nietzsche is right. We will all return to unconsciousness. We will all die, but we can choose how we die. We can choose to “go down” raving and cursing or blessing and comforting.” Dostoevsky is not directly answering Nietzsche, but he is facing us with an extreme dilemma: Would we rather embrace Nietzsche’s will to power and achieve what we want (if we could) at whatever price it costs or is the “old woman’s morality” so bad, even if it is “unworldly?”
However, Nietzsche as a Master of Suspicion can still goad us to examine our motives. We say that we are Christians, but are we really rather using anything at our disposal to get what we want? Are we really behaving as true believers or are we really acting as anyone else in the world?
A Postmodern thinker influenced by Nietzsche was Michel Foucault. Foucault wrote a seven volume history of sex. He was gay. One of his basic insights is that the powerful criminalize those behaviors they dislike. The reason for laws is not some basic moral code, but fear of the other, the different, and a desire to remain in power. Whatever we think of Nietzsche or Foucault, we need to ask: Just what are our motives? Are we driven by love and truth or are we driven by a desire to remain in control? For Foucault it is all about power plays, not about rationality.