From many of the comments regarding Nietzsche, it is clear more needs to be said, or re-said, since most of this was pointed out in my or other’s responses in the comments.
From the Stanford source on Nietzsche, some points are rather clear:
“Because Nietzsche’s two most common — and closely related — specific targets are, however, Christian and Kantian morality, the critique of the descriptive component of MPS [“morality” in Nietzsche’s pejorative sense”] figures prominently in Nietzsche’s writing, and any account of the logic of his critique that omitted it would not do justice to his concerns.”
From this source as well:
“Nietzsche’s philosophy contemplates the meaning of values and their significance to human existence. Given that no absolute values exist, in Nietzsche’s worldview, the evolution of values on earth must be measured by some other means. How then shall they be understood?”
That is the question he is asking in direct and logical connection to the death of “God”. I don’t know of any source or interpreter who doesn’t think his question above and his answers are not linked to his atheism. If one is gone (God/spirit/transcendence), and such was the source of our morality, then we need to come up with something else. That is called logical connection. And that something else, whatever it is, cannot simply mirror or imitate what was previously based upon a lie, especially once people know it was a lie. Thus, Nietzsche was also critical of Kantian morality and the Enlightenment’s attempt to ride on the back of Christian morality under the guise of some imagined universal “reason”. He said, “No” you simply live in the shadow; what are you going to do now that you know the source is dead?
More importantly, he criticized Christian morality not simply because he thought it based on a falsehood (God’s existence), but because he also thought it promoted weakness, that it was ugly, dishonorable, low, and death-affirming rather than life affirming. He criticized Kantian morality, Enlightenment morality or humanism, because it held to the same morality but had cut it off from its source so now not only was it still ugly and death-affirming, it was hollow and no longer believable because it had killed the God who gave it its peculiar and unique character, one that had completely defeated and swallowed up the pagan ethics of antiquity.
So given, he thought, that the west simply goes on, smiley like giddy idiots, even though there is no longer any basis for their morality, given it is simply a cover for saying, “I want or like this,” what do we do now? And his answer is a morality of “higher” and “lower” of the stronger over the weaker, the honorable over the dishonorable, but it is based purely, not in a universal reason, or a god, but in a sensibility or “taste” thus arbitrary, subjective, and purely an assertion of will.
Now, as to power. What is spoken here is of a strong or weaker form of the argument and whether one has a realist or anti-realist understanding of the will to power. Of the strong realist form, we are told:
“…the view at issue presupposes an unusually strong doctrine of the will to power: a doctrine, to the effect, that all life (actions, events) reflects the will to power. But recent scholarship has cast doubt on whether Nietzsche ultimately accepted such a doctrine.” -Stanford
So what, then, is a proper understanding according to the Stanford source?
“What, then, does Nietzsche believe about will to power? As others have noted (e.g., Clark 1990: 209-212), Nietzsche’s doctrine of will to power in its original deployment and most of its later development is psychological in character: the will to power is posited as the best psychological explanation for a wide variety of human behaviors.”
What this means is that Nietzsche isn’t asserting a “will-to-power” as a positive, realist, universal objective criteria that is out there somewhere that explains everyone’s actions. If he were, it would undercut his anti-realist and subjective views to begin with. So the above only speaks to a realist (objective) reading of “will-to-power” which is clear from further reading:
“There is an additional, textual worry for the argument that will to power provides an objective criterion of value lurking here as well.”
So the Stanford source is not saying there isn’t a “will-to-power” in Nietzsche, but that it isn’t a realist objective criterion of value, outside his subjective psychology. So how should we view Nietzsche’s understanding of power? As anti-realist (all morality is subjective).
“If Nietzsche is not a realist about value, then he must be an anti-realist: he must deny that there is any objective fact of the matter that would privilege his evaluative perspective over its target. (This, in fact, is the most familiar reading outside the secondary literature on Nietzsche; one finds this view of Nietzsche’s metaethics, for example, in the sociologist Max Weber and the moral philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre, among many others.)”
And, as far as I can tell, this is Bernard’s view as well—although if one is agnostic, how can he “deny” there is any objectivity to morality? Isn’t the correct answer if one is agnostic, to reply: “I don’t know.” That little problem, has yet to be answered. Anyway, from the Stanford source, it is only the strong realist argument regarding what “will-to-power” means that is criticized, not the weaker, anti-realist form. Thus, this still leaves intact the view that words like “flourish” “good” “evil” “progressive” “higher” “lower” and the like are meaningless beyond saying something like, “I am emoting this way right now.” They are like checking the weather and then reporting on it in terms of pure physical measurement. Nothing more is being said. Thus, the “power” issue speaks especially to areas of conflict. If we have two people reporting what the psychological weather in their head is like and it’s leading them to do “thus” and the other person reports the weather inside his head, leading him to do the contrary, what now? If there is nothing outside the weather reports in either’s head they can appeal to, then power is the only option left as a solution if there is a conflict.
Even if this sort of power does not come into play, say one side, for whatever reason (the weather in their head changed) changes their mind, and they concede to the other person’s will, there is nothing that has happened here except an event, movement, matter-in-motion. Thus, “power” is still the absence of direction and telos; it is movement, it is something that happens, it is pure decision and this out of a determined, purely natural, world and environment. The “winners” the “great” men get to label the happening, the choice, the decision, as “good” or “evil” and such is what it then becomes, even if the next day they reversed the labels. How is this not all about power?
Unless one can point to something else, it reduces to power or movement alone. So there are two aspects to “power” being noted here. The power in relation to conflict and the use of violence and power in relation to an absence of moral description, so that all is ultimately only movement, matter-in-motion, event, change, flux, and so forth, thus description is only like noting the weather or physiological changes in our bodies. I don’t know of any source or interpreter of Nietzsche who doesn’t think there is where letting go of an objective basis for morality leads (it is entirely logical), and where Nietzsche thought it led too. So, if the word “power” bothers you or that is some sticking point, one is missing the point. The point is that without an objective referent, one is just reporting his inner psychological weather or noting an event, movement, motion, change, or happening. Thus the “power” aspect in this relation should be thought of as “power” in physics and the laws of motion. It is like the “power” of a feather falling from a roof. We don’t note such to be good, bad, or indifferent, we simply report what happened: A feather fell from the roof. With no objective referent, all is power in this sense along with the obvious meaning of power in relation to conflict and opposing parties.
Again, from IEP source, there is further explication of the idea of “power” as used here:
“From within the logic of will to power, narrowly construed, human meaning is thus affirmed. “But to what end?” one might ask. To no end, Nietzsche would answer. Here, the more circumspect view could be taken, as is found in Twilight of the Idol’s “The Four Great Errors”: “One is a piece of fate, one belongs to the whole, one is in the whole, there exist nothing which could judge, measure, compare, condemn our being, for that would be to judge, measure, compare, condemn the whole….But nothing exists apart from the whole!” Nietzsche conceptualizes human fate, then, in his most extreme vision of will to power, as being fitted to a whole, “the world,” which is itself “nothing besides” a “monster of energy, without beginning, without end…eternally changing and eternally flooding back with tremendous years of recurrence.” In such manner, will to power expresses itself not only through the embodiment of humanity, its exemplars, and the constant revaluation of values, but also in time. Dasein, for Nietzsche, is suspended on the cross between these ontological movements—between an in/different playing of destruction/creation—and time.”
Clearly then, meaning disappears and each metaphor we use is simply a poetic way to speak of movement, change, flux and nothing else. Thus, movement, whether peaceful, like a stream flowing, or movement like a Holocaust, are the same—power, movement, change, signifying nothing greater—indeed there is no “great” nor “low” nor “high” or any other type of difference. Difference disappears.
Now, what is the difference between this scenario and a conflict between two people who believe in an objective morality? First of all, if the morality is basically the same, then each side can feel that no matter what happens, it wasn’t just one person’s will or power over the other that decided the issue. In other words, a poor person in a dispute with a wealthier person could feel equal and that he was not going to lose simply because the other person had more money (power). Or, as already noted by my civil rights movement example here in America and the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.
Second, if the morality is different, then the dialogue can be toward the opposing moralities, their sources, and not the persons themselves, as persons. Rather than opposing people or attacking people personally, they can direct their arguments at the moralities, at the arguments, at the source of the morality, the lines of thought and their support—the overall narrative. Otherwise, we are left with opposing the weather reports inside the heads of each other and that can only be seen as a personal attack (because it is). We are left with accusing the other person of either being mentally impaired, illogical/irrational, or of having invalid feelings or emotions and thus we are entitled to use violence against them. Wow.
Now, what happens when two parties who believe in an objective morality (say, for instance, the Taliban and the U.S.) cannot come to an agreement regarding something? One would assume, in the absence of peaceful dialogue and negotiation, after everything has been exhausted, violence may ensue. Does believing in an objective morality mean violence never happens? Of course not, and no one claims such—that doesn’t even follow. Violence is possible whether one believes in an objective morality or a subjective morality—it’s irrelevant to the discussion—no one is arguing otherwise (We can put aside an argument for pacifism for now). The huge, and glaring, difference however, between violence used in such a situation and where it is arbitrary, or as a bully would use it, just to get his way, or because he can, he is more powerful, is that in one case, there is a greater principle or objective referent appealed to, rather, than in the opposing case, the two sides are simply pointing toward their inner personal subjective weather reports that happen to vary at the moment. In this scenario, we have people threatening violence because the other person does not emote or “feel” or think the way the other does. I can’t imagine a more unreliable, unreasonable, irrational, irresponsible, or immoral reason to justify using violence. It is the rational of the bully.
An additional element here is that no rational, reasonable, person uses violence against another person simply because that person did not agree with or go along with the other person’s “tastes” or personal preferences. People and states do not use proactive violence to force their personal opinions, tastes, or preferences upon others (unless of course, that is what one, like Nietzsche, thinks is really always going on). Are we all bullies? If one is making the case for us all to be bullies or that such is what is really going on, regardless the metaphorical poetic cover language we are using, then Nietzsche agrees with you and please just come out and say so.
Also, we are talking about cultures and civilizations, not just our personal lives or one person. Whatever argument one makes, it must be applicable to an entire culture. No one cares about personal anecdotes in such a conversation. No one cares if one person, somewhere, would not force, by violence, his personal subjective “tastes” upon others and also happens to believe all morality is just “taste” (after growing up, of course, in a Christian culture!). Well, good for you. However, if a state imposes, whether a democracy or otherwise, its collective “tastes” and collective preferences upon others by force and violence, appealing to nothing more than, “This is what we want and we are more powerful than you”, then we are left with power only. Unless one can point to something objective, to something else other than power, then we are only talking about power. I don’t see any way around this. And no one has proposed a way around it either.
So I’m not sure how one cannot see this difference, in principle, even if one does believe that everything does really boil down to “taste” or personal subjective preference. In other words, he should be able to say, “Yes, if there truly is an objective referent, then such (what I outline above) is what’s happening.” So, it doesn’t take a belief in an objective morality to see this obvious logical difference, regardless of who is ultimately correct. Further, it has real world and practical implications as well.
One final point as to Nietzsche. There is something very telling, very revealing, about the argument Nietzsche makes and, in fact, anyone who makes his argument regarding anti-realism and morality just being “taste” or subjective personal preference. It is almost disingenuous. Or, it marks some need to be heard or recognize, but in a passive way, as one is saying at the same time, “None of this matters.” But they say it passionately, publicly, will argue about it, and say it over and over. Do they protest too much? The Stanford source picks up on this as well:
“There remains a final interpretive difficulty: for Nietzsche simply does not write like someone who thinks his evaluative judgments are merely his idiosyncratic preferences! On the metaethical position elaborated here, it seems Nietzsche must believe that if, in response to his point that “morality were to blame if the highest power and splendor actually possible to the type man was never in fact attained” (GM Pref:6), someone were to say, “So much the better for morality!”, there would be nothing further to say to that person: at the best, Nietzsche might turn his back and say, “Oh well — doesn’t share my evaluative tastes.” Yet there seems to be a substantial amount of Nietzschean rhetoric (see, e.g., BGE 259; TI V:6 & IX:35; EH IV:4, 7, 8) that cannot be reconciled with this metaethical view, and which cries out instead for some sort of realist construal…”
My own theory here is that no one, deep down, truly believes their desire to see justice and fairness, to see their family and children treated well, their aversion to torture or seeing someone suffer and it moving them to help, to be “merely…idiosyncratic preferences.” I think they are stuck. On one hand, they can’t bring themselves to believe or affirm the existence of God/spirit/transcendence and they know what this means as to morality and ethics. But on the other hand, they know what they feel and recognize within themselves, as to ethics, things they fight for, are passionate about, and might even cause them to use violence, cannot be reduced to something like, “Well, I just prefer vanilla ice cream—it’s my favorite.” However, their presuppositions, their worldviews, prevent them from saying their passion for justice, for people to be treated with kindness (which I truly believe they have), is anything more than saying, “I like kittens.” By the way: how deep and well thought out a justification—especially after living in a culture that teaches one to like kittens (or follow the Ten Commandments). Anyway, I think there is a cognitive dissonance for such a person (one would think anyway, hope?) and many have wondered if this dissonance was finally too much for Nietzsche and played a part in his decent into madness.
To conclude, I would say that any narrative or view of the world, that cannot categorically, without reserve or hesitation, say that torture, rape, the Holocaust, slavery, murder, genocide, and other such categories, to be entirely evil (meaning for everyone, for all times and places,) to be a false, ugly, dangerous, and an utterly destructive and degrading narrative or view. It is the very opposite of tolerant or thoughtful. In my estimation, it is here where we can decide whether a narrative is true or false, beautiful or ugly, redemptive or un-redemptive. And anyone who would reduce their objections to those categories (to say that they too are against those things “me too”) but place their objection as on the same plane or category of their not liking sushi or vanilla ice-cream is …well, beyond belief really as to the cluelessness and insensitivity. To reduce them to such is to offend and bring down every torture victim, every rape victim, and every genocide victim. It boggles the mind really.