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Title: The Loss of the Human
Subtitle: Nietzsche and Arendt on the Predicament of Modernity
Author(s): ROODT, Vasti
Journal: Ethical Perspectives
Volume: 9    Issue: 1   Date: 2002   
Pages: 31-47
DOI: 10.2143/EP.9.1.503842

Abstract :
First, a remark on the topic of my paper, which contains an 'and' where one would expect an 'or'. It might seem highly questionable to want to establish a relation between the self-proclaimed 'last anti-political German', teacher of self-overcoming and solitude, and a political thinker with an express commitment to political action and citizen equality. Would a genuine concern with both thinkers not precisely preclude any attempt to fabricate an alliance between them?

One way of circumventing this difficulty might be to argue that Nietzsche is really a political thinker, and, more problematically, that he is some version of a radical democrat. Conversely, one might try to demonstrate that Arendt is really a closet Nietzschean — provided, of course, that one takes Nietzsche to be amenable to a modicum of democratic theory.

However, such an attempt to force their divergent projects into the straitjacket of mutual consistency would lose more in integrity — and ultimately, in relevance — than it would gain in cohesion. It is not my intention, therefore, to try and merge their respective undertakings into either a watered-down Nietzsche or a spiced-up Arendt, or to cobble together a new political theory out of their different philosophies.

Instead of aiming at an ultimate synthesis, my concern in this paper is with a particular field of inquiry where Nietzsche’s thinking finds, to some extent, its analogue in that of Arendt. The purpose of this exercise is not to simply show up a few points of similarity, but rather, to illuminate a particular problem from two perspectives that stand in an analogical, rather than dialectical, relationship to one another.

This analogical relationship does not resolve itself into an ultimate synthesis, and is not predicated on a seamless fit between two different fields of reference. On the contrary, this relationship, like any analogy, has an inevitable remainder, something held in abeyance that transcends the relationship with the analogon. Moreover, as will become clear, it is the differences as much as the affinities between Nietzsche and Arendt’s thinking that serve to illuminate the question this paper aims to address.

This question concerns modernity as a condition of disintegration or loss, and particularly the loss of a coherent cultural complex — that is, an inter-human domain of “structured sense”, to borrow a term from Nancy (1997: 8) — which necessarily circumscribes the meaning of the human. The premise of the paper, then, is that what has been lost in modernity are the cultural conditions for being — or becoming — human, as opposed to enduring only as a form of animal life (which of course we always still are) or, on the other side of the scale, descending into barbarism (which is itself a form of animalization). This premise derives from the analogous critiques of modernity developed by Nietzsche and Arendt, in so far as both thinkers examine the problem of modernity through the optics of culture.

My argument proceeds in three stages. The first part of the paper examines the meaning and status of 'modernity' in Nietzsche's and Arendt’s respective projects. Here I investigate the time of modernity as falling literally 'between past and future', in which the present exists as only as a gap or aporia between the 'no longer' and the 'not yet'. This focus also serves as an introduction to the problem of the meaning of the human in the absence of any conception of a durable world. Part two examines Nietzsche's and Arendt’s analogical understanding of the human in relation to limitation and transcendence, which allows for a consideration, in part three of the paper, of the extent to which modernity (in the sense established above) entails a negation of both limitation and transcendence, and a concomitant loss of the human.

By way of conclusion, I offer a brief consideration of the future of the human, at which point it also becomes clear in which respects the Nietzschean and Arendtian projects ultimately diverge.

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