The mini-cons’ eternal tone deafness

Here’s a reader’s response I’ve submitted to The Weekly Standard about John Podhoretz’s misapplication of a famous passage by, of all people, Nietzsche. Since it’s unlikely they’ll publish it, I’m posting it here as well.
To the Weekly Standard:

It’s remarkable how almost every time one of the younger neoconservatives makes some literary allusion, he gets it wrong. As an epigraph to his article on Rathergate, John Podhoretz quotes the famous passage from Nietzsche’s The Gay Science in which Nietzsche introduces for the first time the idea—central to his philosophy—of the Eternal Return. According to the Eternal Return, everything that has happened in the universe, including all the events and experiences of one’s own life, will recur, with all details exactly as they have been before, over and over, for eternity. Furthermore, a person who can affirm this horrifying prospect and say Yes to the eternal repetition of all that triviality and pain and suffering in his own life becomes a Superman, one who lives in joy by overcoming.

There is absolutely no parallel between Nietzsche’s idea of the Eternal Return and Podhoretz’s article about CBS’s repeated offense of broadcasting false stories. If Podhoretz were writing an article about a bank robber who had carried out several similar bank robberies over a period of years, or about a serial killer who murdered his victims the same way each time, or about a politician who told the same kind of lies over and over, or about a journalist who repeatedly used literary quotations incorrectly, would Podhoretz use Nietzsche’s Eternal Return as an illustration of it? The examples I’ve given, like the CBS story itself, are instances of behavior patterns recurring within an individual’s life span. It is common that persons commit the same kinds of mistakes or wrongful acts over and over. That is human nature. The Eternal Return, by contrast, has to do with the cosmic repetition of the entire history of the universe, including each person’s own life-span, in all its details, forever.

Podhoretz wanted to give his article a patina of profundity by quoting Nietzsche. All he succeeded in doing was to demonstrate his ignorance and incomprehension.

[For a further example of the neocons’ unerring habit of misusing literary and historical references, see my recent post on Victor Hanson’s wildly inappropriate reference to the French Revolution.]

Posted by Lawrence Auster at September 25, 2004 08:06 AM | Send

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