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The Politics of Agonism: A Critical Response to "Beyond Good and Evil: Arendt, Nietzsche, and the Aestheticization of Political

Action" by Dana R. Villa Author(s): Bonnie Honig Reviewed work(s): Source: Political Theory, Vol. 21, No. 3 (Aug., 1993), pp. 528-533 Published by: Sage Publications, Inc. Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/191802 . Accessed: 30/11/2012 10:46
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CRITICAL RESPONSES
EDITOR'SNOTE: Dana Villa's essayonArendtand Nietzsche inthe May1992issueofPolitical Theory engendered a largenumber ofcritical responses. I am sorry space considerations that alL. prevent mefrom publishing them

THE POLITICS OF AGONISM A CriticalResponseto "BeyondGood and Evil: Nietzsche, and theAestheticization Arendt, ofPoliticalAction"byDana R. Villa
BONNIEHONIG Harvard University

A RECENTESSAY,Dana Villa' walks HannahArendt's political two abysses.To save her from between thought along a tightrope the ofherHabermasian consensualism dialogical he stresses the appropriators, dimensions of Arendt's Nietzschean accountof action,in particular, its fall intothe "creeping of nonsovereignty. But, lest Arendt subjectivism model" Nietzsche's purely turn stresses Arendt's agonistic (p. 288),Villathen of tasteandjudgment to Kant,in whosetheory she sought thestability of a sensuscommunis thatNietzscheand postmodern and reassurance withimpatience. The result Nietzscheans are said to dismiss (mycritical is an elegantand commanding accountof an response notwithstanding) actionthatgoes "beyond aestheticized agonistic, good and evil" without ofnihilistic into thetrap falling subjectivism. ofhisessay, reached "the heart ofthe Villa Atthe beginning having issue," ... canonly a sustained "Arendt's be measured saysthat uniqueness through of herwork" of theNietzschean investigation dimension, proand contra,
on earlier comments toSteve Johnston and Tracy AUTHOR'S NOTE: Thanks Strong fortheir drafts ofthis essay.
1993 528-533 POLITICAL THEORY,Vol.21 No. 3 August ? 1993Sage Publications, Inc.

IN

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is tosuggest that much (p. 275). My aiminthis response remains tobe done Villa'scontrast ofNietzsche's "excessive with onthis front. agonism" Arendt's ofboth more "tame" Nietzsche variety (p. 288) produces misleading readings in whichtheinstitutionalism of boththinkers and Arendt is neglected and is and their aestheticism overdrawn depoliticized. that is themechanism Forexample, is Villacorrect Kantian that judgment Arethere no other or savesArendtian from agonism subjectivism? practices institutions that condition and stabilize actionon Arendt's account? What about actionin concert, promising, forgiveness, law, the public-private The problem and amendment? distinction, foundings, constitution-making, Villaleavesthese outofhisaccount. No reading is notmerely that elements is that as a can includeeverything. The problem Villa privileges judgment never to solve:theunruliness of to a problem Arendt solution quitewanted to itsexcess,itsresistance being action, captured-tamed-by anyperspecor story. tive, interpretation, in Arendt's Thereis a tension actionshe between theboundless thought and theboundary-drawing functions of promising, celebrates forgiveness, ofaction), constitutions forms orproducts (all themselves judgment, law,and thepublic/private distinction. The tension is a siteofcontest ina democratic a sitefrom which action is generated. ButVilladoes notinvestigate regime, tension. he resolves that it.He tamestheArendtian Instead, agon,byconit withan "excessive,""unrestricted," trasting "uncritical" agonismand thathe attributes to a particularly The subjectivism wild-eyed Nietzsche. contrast makesArendtian looksuccessful judgment as a deviceofdomestianditmakesus thankful that sheprovided it. cation, It is undoubtedly truethatArendt herself tendedto relyon thisvery contrast to distinguish herown account from Nietzsche's. But herdebtto Nietzscheis morecomplicated thanVilla allows. Villa's uncritical and ofthe approving redeployment nihilistic radically subjectivist, Nietzsche that Arendt often presupposes prevents us from appreciating thecomplexity of Arendt's relation to Nietzschebecause it stopsus from askingcritically whether Nietzsche's agonism is really "excessive" and"antipolitical" (p. 276). Once we pose these questions, other ofNietzschean however, aspects agonism surface and ourunderstanding of theArendt-Nietzsche engagement is andcomplicated. deepened Is Nietzsche's In an early agonism excessive? essay, "Homer'sContest," Nietzsche showsthesamelove of theworld anddevotion to thecontest as thesamefear that theagon'swinners Arendt, couldshut downtheagonand theforces fracture havethepowerto maintain that, united, and preserve it. Herehe espousesnota radicalsubjectism buta commitment to theresponof a public, siblemaintenance shared space of appearances forthesake of

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Nietzsche is not unrestricted. Thisagonism andsecures. itenables contest the from the agon protect to of ostracism practice Greek theancient endorses him, For rest."2 the above towers who by a single"individual domination to its commitment a but ofexcellence an intolerance not evidences ostracism opa structured secured theagon,ostracism By preserving (re)production. owndistinctive their anddevelop themselves totest for individuals portunity andcommonalityequality, theplurality, The agonprovided excellences. positas the andArendt Nietzsche both domination-that from thefreedom action. ofvirtuosic conditions necessary muchin eviis stillvery "Homer'sContest" whowrote The Nietzsche endorses Nietzsche Morals, of works. In On theGenealogy denceinhislater limit and measure impose to is itspower oflaw whosevirtue a conception contest of site ordered an stabilizing agonism, unrestricted an otherwise that areremarks his work throughout it.Andscattered dominating without for their reverence and for Rome admiration echo Machiavelliin their maintain and organize, found, to the human capacity as wellas for institutions of these Villa makesno mention or power.3 of knowledge communities Nietzsche's to references his repeated Indeed, inNietzsche's thought. elements forwillto powerand Dion'ysian thirst Nietzscheans') (and thepostmodern must be occluded 299). They them 276, 290-91, (pp. to occlude much flux do underlines judgment totaste Arendt's turn hisclaimthat ifVillais tosustain metaphysa universal, between "Nietzschean dichotomy of the falseness the discursive postmetaphysical anda fragmented, metadiscourse grouned ically false, is,indeed, willtopower" (p. 301).Thedichotomy by]the [driven realm institutions for agonistic ownreverence Nietzsche's Nietzsche's: butitis not cutsacrossit. notin The Lifeof theMind,whereshe knewthat, herself And Arendt the will,butin The Human of emasculating accuses Nietzsche wrongly forseeing"with clarity Nietzsche unequaled where she praises Condition, ofmaking promandthefaculty human sovereignty between theconnection of notonlythestabilizing practice Arendt borrows ises." FromNietzsche, also but inthesecond essayofGenealogy, theorized byNietzsche promising, release"theorized by mutual a processof "constant thatof forgiveness, In the inthefirst essayofGenealogy.4 ofdismissing as a practice Nietzsche theArendtian agonandforgiveness protect promising place ofostracism, that forces action-from might thespace of freeand meaning-generative resentofa single thedomination passion, figure, great overwhelm it,from to the somepredictability these bring practices orideology. Together ment, without domesticating boundlessness ofaction's theeffects agonandsoften and without condition depriving is action'snecessary that thecontingency theagon "tame" andgenerative Theydo not power. ofitsexhilaration action

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condition and structure itin waysthat (no morethan judgment does); they toagonistic action than eventaste judgment is.5 aremoreinternal theorization ofpromising andforgiveness doesdepart from ButArendt's that and promising Nietzsche in one important respect:the forgiving endeavors. binds himNietzsche's promiser Nietzsche prizesareindividual to some future himself self in time;he commits actionbut notto other of Nietzsche's ofindifference lordsis a shrug Andthedismissing persons. them andothers; in no wayconstitutes an ongoing between that relationship itis meant that. to wardoff Arendt's on thecontrary, precisely By contrast, andpromising constitute lasting political communities; promising forgiving intime bonds tosurvive andforgiving those bindssometoothers empowers theorizes Arendt evenin thefaceof action'sunpredictabilities. forgiveness that Nietzsche thought forthesake ofa politics of founding and promising of conditions could not (and shouldnot) take place in the inhospitable modernity. to a Does thatmean thatNietzscheis, as Villa suggests, committed realm [driven discursive by] the will to "fragmented, postmetaphysical so.6 But to leave matters is to all? Arendt often thought there power"after most oneofthe oftheArendt-Nietzsche suggestive aspects leaveunexplored is for IfNietzsche's aestheticism individuals andnot for groups, engagement. ifitseffect than rather bindthem is to individuate andevenisolatepersons that is not, wastoobeholden becauseNietzsche together, contra Villa,simply in which of of existence" his "positively notion to an "aesthetics valorized . . . than rather rather political, hisartistry isolated difference remains poetic" often thought-asdid Arendt, thanpublic(p. 300). It is becauseNietzsche inan age likeours, whenever peoplegather together (whether enough-than theconditions ofmassness to setin. begin as actors oras judging spectators) that the Arendt thebestresponse tothis predicament was toretrieve thought ofan authentic theriseofthe action capableofresisting possibility political of thelate modern new social and theadministration stateby establishing ofmeaning this communities andnewsitesofresistance. Nietzsche rejected a radicalsubjectivist notbecausehe was first, but last,andforemost option that a period becausehe thought ofpreparation andbreeding must precede theadvent of great individuals Through aesthetic self-discipline, politics.7 on themselves willtovengeance must work andtransform their into negative In the absence of properpreparation and individual positivecreativity. Nietzsche sometimes toas a period ofrecovery refers self-discipline (which andconvalescence), actionwillinevitably sinkintoressentiment. political For Villa, Nietzsche'sprojectof self-fashioning standsas a "crucial in a of "his contribution to thinking plurality and difference limitation" might wellrespond, this(aesthetic) political way" (p. 300). But,Nietzsche

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preparation is a necessary condition of a possiblepolitics in modernity: a prelude.8 Moreover, thelatemodem Nietzschean might add,theproject of aesthetic preparation is itself political (not prepolitical) becauseitspractices of self-fashioning challengeexisting distributions of power,disrupt the hegemonic social,and proliferate political spaceswhenthey interrupt the routine, predictability, and repetition on which(on Arendt's own account) ofprivate realm dominant patterns identity depend. Arendt's insistence onthe purity ofthe political andher segregation ofthe thepublicprevent herfrom character private from seeingthepolitical of Butinthe endthe ofArendt's ownpolitical success Nietzschean preparation. of individuation thesuccessof Nietzsche's project presupposes project (or intomass action inconcert risks Arendt's ofone likeit).Otherwise, sliding ofself-transformanotonlyis theNietzschean behavior. Conversely project thesupport itcannot succeedwithout tion itself already political but, further, like Arendt's. Nietzsche's institutions of agonistic Otherwise, projectof risks into mere withdrawalism. Thatis, andtransformation preparation lapsing itsfate. itisnot Arendt's ofNietzsche's the risk indeed, project-but necessarily hers. is torepeat for the latter. Villa'serror former the error wastomistake

NOTES
of and theAestheticization Nietzsche, Good and Evil: Arendt, 1. Dana R. Villa,"Beyond 20 (1992): 274-308. PoliticalTheory Action," Political andedited translated Nietzsche, inThePortable "Homer's Contest," Nietzsche, 2. Friedrch 1954),36. Viking, (New York: Kaufmann byWalter byWalter GM), translated ofMorals(hereafter On theGenealogy Nietzsche, 3. Friedrich The example, 1969),ii, 12. See also,for Vintage, (New York: and R. J.Hollingdale Kaufmann (New York: andR. J.Hollingdale Kaufmann byWalter WP),translated Will toPower(hereafter Kaufmann (New York: translated by Walter RandomHouse, 1967),#480;The Gay Science, Theory inPolitical atlength for institutions reverence I discuss Nietzsche's #356. 1974), Vintage, 1993),chap.3. Press, University NY: Cornell (Ithaca, ofPolitics and theDisplacement ofChicago THC) (Chicago:University Condition (hereafter TheHuman Arendt, 4. Hannah buthercriticism towilling, for hishostility Nietzsche criticizes Press,1958),245,240. Arendt vol.2 ofThe Willing, TheWill from toPower.Compare onan incomplete quotation inpart turns 1978), BraceJovanovich, (New York:Harcourt by MaryMacCarthy Lifeof theMind,edited also tumson a partial of promising account 170; and WP,#585(A). Her debtto Nietzsche's ofthesecondessayof GM).And twoaphorisms THC at 245 andthefirst (compare misreading I argueforit and discusstheseand is unacknowledged. on forgiveness herdebtto Nietzsche chaps.3 and4. ofPolitics, and theDisplacement issuesindetailinPoliticalTheory other is totaste judgment aboutArendt's turn that Villavaluesmost 5. Becauseone ofthethings (thesamegrounds) aregrounds action internally (288), there heraestheticized itmodifies that andforgiveness equally. ofpromising thepractices toprivilege

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inpromising inherent failed toappreciate thepower ultimately Nietzsche thought 6. Arendt oftheisolated inthewillpower ofall power tosee thesource prejudice becauseofhis"modem to a buta commitment prejudice (THC, 245). As I arguebelow,thiswas no mere individual" action. to political ofpreparation prior practice and powerand to mastery, talkof greatpolitics-his allusionsto battle, 7. Nietzsche's thosewhoare so and legislators-provide commanders, men, philosophers, great aristocratic, Butthese racedomination. himas an advocateof master to treat withtheresources inclined to agonism and withhis are ill at ease withhiscommnitment thought of Nietzsche's elements can be interpretation Neither and self-discipline. of self-command of practices valorization I others. and highlighting in Nietzsche's thinking some elements subduing without sustained letus as toAristotle: toNietzsche "Letus be as charitable formulation: AlanWhite's agreewith to exploit will notattempt and self-affirming that thosewho are mostnoble,admirable grant 1990),130. Routledge, (New York: Labyrinth Nietzsche's Within others." White, Willful Flathman's drawson Richard ofpreparation as a theorist 8. My view of Nietzsche NY: Comell andPractice inPoliticalTheory (Ithaca, andIndividuality Voluntarism Liberalism: Press,1992). University

Sheis author at Harvard University. ofGovernment Professor HonigisAssociate Bonnie Press,1993) (CornellUniversity of Politics and theDisplacement Theory of Political of treatments writing a book on moral and political theoretical and is currently dilemmas.

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