Book Review: Shaw, Nietzsche’s Political Skepticism
A review by Brian Leiter:
Nietzsche’s Political Skepticism (hereafter NPS) is a serious, learned, and novel contribution to the literature on Nietzsche’s relevance to political theory. Against the two dominant strands in the secondary literature — one attributing to Nietzsche a kind of flat-footed commitment to aristocratic forms of social ordering, the other denying that Nietzsche has any political philosophy at all — Shaw stakes out a new and surprising position: namely, that Nietzsche was very much concerned with the familiar question of the moral or normative legitimacy of state power, but was skeptical that with the demise of religion, it would be possible to achieve a practically effective normative consensus about such legitimacy that was untainted by the exercise of state power itself. Although, as I will argue below, there are reasons to be quite skeptical that Nietzsche was interested in anything like these questions, Shaw has laid down a clear and invigorating challenge to existing scholarship on Nietzsche’s politics, and it is one worth meeting.
Shaw’s project is animated by interest in the following issue about political authority in the modern era: namely, how can states in practice have legitimate normative or moral authority when religion is no longer available to secure a consensus on the ‘correct’ or ‘true’ normative criteria? The problem is compounded by the fact that states need to be perceived as legitimate, and thus will use their considerable powers to produce a perception of legitimacy. Against the power of the state to produce the appearance of legitimacy, the rational insight of philosophers into the genuine moral foundations of legitimacy is no match. That, I take it, is the structure of the problem that animates Shaw’s reading of Nietzsche. But is Nietzsche really worried about these issues?