InDepth – longread: Learning to See. Nietzsche, Trump, and the New Digital Media*

© Christiane Gundlach

Paul Stephan

I. Introduction: A Case Like No Other

On January 20, 2017, the inauguration of the 45th President of the United States of America, Donald Trump, took place under the motto “uniquely American.” Trump already suspected on January 9 that “[w]e are going to have an unbelievable, perhaps record-setting turnout for the inauguration.”[1] In his own speech, he accordingly invoked the eventfulness of this historic moment and claimed: “You came by the tens of millions to become part of a historic movement the likes of which the world has never seen before.”[2] However, this statement applies, in a literal sense, neither to the number of those who voted for Trump, who surprisingly won the election but who was clearly inferior to Clinton regarding the number of votes and who greatly underperformed regarding the delegate numbers in the electoral college compared to former presidents, nor to the size of the actual crowd gathered in Washington, D.C. at that time. Aerial photographs of the National Mall quickly circulated, clearly showing that Trump’s audience was only a fraction of that of Obama’s in 2009.[3] Although it is difficult even for experts to give an accurate estimate: all the evidence suggests that Trump not only attracted far fewer supporters than Obama, but also that his inauguration witnessed at best an average attendance – even when one considers the ratings for his speech on television and digital media.[4]

But all these facts did not matter to Trump and his followers. Trump himself accused the media of lying the day after the ceremony and claimed to have seen 1.5 million followers from his podium. The wording of this statement is significant: “I made a speech. I looked out, the field was, it looked like a million, million and a half people.”[5]

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer blew the same horn that same day, saying that his boss had attracted “the largest audience” in Washington, D.C. and around the world “ever to witness an inauguration.”[6] He backed this up with several inaccurate factual statements and repeated Trump’s media scolding. Trump’s consultant Kellyanne Conway, however, finally became the laughing stock of the media.[7] The next day, in an interview, she spoke of “alternative facts”[8] that would support Spicer’s and Trump’s daring claims. The moderator replied: “Alternative facts are not facts; they’re falsehoods.” (Ibid.)

The controversy about the exact attendance figures for Trump’s inauguration is just one of many inconsistencies surrounding this inauguration[9] – and only one of countless examples of the, to say the least, loose handling of facts by Trump and his team. It is nevertheless a particularly telling case. Meanwhile, Trump-friendly CNN commentator Scottie Nell Hughes provided a kind of philosophical justification for this peculiar relationship between Trump’s movement and truth as early as November 2016:

“One thing that’s been interesting this campaign season to watch is that people that say facts are facts — they’re not really facts. Everybody has a way — it’s kind of like looking at ratings or looking at a glass of half-full water. Everybody has a way of interpreting them to be the truth or not true. There’s no such thing, unfortunately anymore, of facts.”[10]

Hughes does not make a fundamental, epistemological statement here, but rather a diagnosis of our time: in the cultural climate in which we live, there are no longer any facts, everything has become the subject of interpretation. This diagnosis of our time is not new. Already in the early 1990s, Jean Baudrillard[11] formulated the view that the enormous extent of mass media manipulation makes it impossible today to distinguish between the real fact and its media representation. What’s new is that it’s used, at least implicitly, as a powerful argument in political discourse: if it is unclear what is “Lügenpresse” or “fake news” and what not, it seems legitimate to simply start from one’s own view of things and refer to one’s own “alternative facts” – in extreme cases, as in the case of Trump, simply from one’s own perception.

II. Two Different Views

This conclusion would be justified in many cases in which one’s specific situation in the world allows one at least an adequate, ideally even a privileged access to certain facts. But Trump was not in a particularly good place at the time under discussion, but in a particularly bad one: as photos show, it is not possible to get an adequate overview of the huge National Mall from the grandstand – the crowd always looks equally enormous.[12] Moreover, it is certainly not rational to immediately accuse someone of lying if he or she, on the basis of the facts, comes to a different conclusion than oneself – instead, this represents an additional statement of facts that cannot be deduced from the mere (actual or supposed) error of the other person. How is it even possible to have a rational discussion with someone who fundamentally distrusts all recognized sources of facts and accuses them of systematic lying?

Trump and his followers share a fundamental mistrust of all recognized institutions, especially science and the media, and in a world of lies they feel justified in believing their intuitions and subjective experiences more than what they are told by the establishment. The diagnosis that had a critical motivation in the case of Baudrillard and others has thus been reinterpreted under reactionary auspices: instead of striving even more eagerly than the established media to collect objective facts and produce consistent interpretations and, in extreme cases, complaining that this is no longer possible today – but for that reason also abstaining from a counter-judgement – in the case of Trump, subjectivism is indulged in without reservation.

It seems, then, that Trump and his followers have a qualitatively different understanding of truth and rationality than the common sense view that guides serious science and journalism. It is irrelevant whether Trump, Spicer, and Co. actually represent this ‘alternative’ understanding – Conway’s hesitation before speaking of “alternative facts” and her laughter during and after this statement are quite significant in this respect – but it is clear that they use it with great success as an instrument of agitation to mobilize their followers. In doing so, they refer to something that could be described as a ‘childlike’ conception of truth: the child cannot yet draw a clear line between the factuality of the world and its interpretation of it; in case of doubt it defiantly insists on its wishful thinking. The adult learns to abstract from his or her interests in looking at the world and to let his or her interpretation be guided not by these but by the facts – a laborious and often quite dolorous process. How much easier is it to see the world through the eyes of a child and to find his or her own feelings reflected in it!

This view is massively promoted by the fact that the new, digital media have managed to make a fundamental mistrust of established, analog information suppliers more plausible than ever before – and at the same time provide an incredible wealth of information that every user can access within seconds and use to piece together his or her own view of the world. This flood of information has an enlightening effect under the premise that I assume an adult understanding of truth and use it specifically to form a world view that is as nuanced and differentiated as possible on the basis of as many perspectives as possible. However, if I assume a childlike understanding, the sheer unmanageable flood of information serves me precisely as an excuse to pick out exactly those that confirm my intuition and to blank out all the others – and thanks to the algorithms of Twitter, Amazon, Google, Facebook and the like, I am even spared this active selection because it is entrusted to machines. I can passively surrender to the flow of data and its sensations, which provide me with entertaining or shocking news to which I react immediately according to my already established world view, which is always confirmed in this way: I always learn only what I have already known before. My attention will always be drawn to the person who is best able to stimulate my childlike reflexes – by polarizing, ‘scandalous’ statements in the shortest possible sentences and with the most ‘striking’ images. The discussion about Trump’s inauguration is also symptomatic from this point of view: what heated up the minds in the social networks was – as so often ­– not the content of Trump’s speech, the false statements it contained, and his political agenda; it was solely about a battle of images, which was decided in this case by Trump’s opponents  by means of the striking juxtaposition of aerial photos. But was it not a Pyrrhic victory in the end and did his opponents not eventually fall for Trump? Were they not distracted from the actually relevant scandalous content of his politics? And was the impression not confirmed that today there are no more facts, but only manipulations through images and slogans? Is it actually the case that Trump’s opponents credibly embody a completely different relationship to truth – or is it just as much just an interest-driven political clique that is courting attention?

All of this leads to a question that is no longer merely a diagnosis of our time, but rather a genuinely philosophical one: Is there really such a big gap between the ‘childlike’ and ‘adult’ perspectives? Is the reference to the strict separation between the two not itself a clever rhetorical maneuver with manipulative intent? And as far as there is a substantial difference between the two understandings of truth: What good reasons can one give at all to convince someone to choose one over the other? How can I convince someone who basically considers argumentation to be an idle game of mere instrumental value of the value of arguing for its own sake?

III. The Rabble Against the Philosopher:[13] Two Different Truths in the Philosophical Tradition

The suspicion that the philosophical basis of reactionary political movements is a fundamental irrationalism and subjectivism is not new and was clearly articulated by Sartre[14], Adorno and Horkheimer[15], Lukács[16] and Habermas[17] against the background of the struggle against fascism and National Socialism. However, the fear of a tyranny of demagogues who skillfully appealed to the instincts, not the intellect, of their listeners, and who gain support by an uneducated rabble, already haunted the thinkers of antiquity; as a counter-image to this, they invoked the rule of the philosophers, or at least of educated aristocrats, based on reason. At the same time, however, there is an equally important tradition that calls into question the clear demarcation between reason and irrationality, such as Foucault’s work on madness[18].

The precariousness of this distinction can already be observed in Descartes, who articulates in his Meditations[19] a similarly universal doubt as today’s “fake news” ideologues. He can overcome it only with recourse to a good God, who after all ensures the recognizability of the world. Applied to the current debate, his argument would be that we have to believe in the fundamental trustworthiness of the institutions providing information in order not to fall prey to universal doubt and make imagination and truth indistinguishable – they must be met with an almost religious confidence. It is clear, however, that the meaning of this ‘must’ cannot be logical, but only pragmatic – even if it provides one with a useful tool to mistrust any universal mistrust against institutions.

Both the idealistic ancient philosophers and Descartes and his successors would now have a fundamental objection to face: What is wrong with skepticism and subjectivism, anyway? Do they not drive history forward? Do they not refer to objective problems that are by no means just idle illusions? Are they not a sign of modernity, a condition of freedom? Would not the subjectivist squaller have to described rather as a hero who repeatedly rises up against cultural, economic, and political elites – and the philosophers as desperate conservatives who, under the guise of ‘rationality,’ only work on systems of legitimation for their privileges?

The objection to this objection is just as clear: What about Trump – worse still, what about Hitler? If this objection counts: Does this leave only the choice between rationalism and unfounded subjectivism, which ultimately leads to fascism? Between a philosophically dressed-up trust in existing morality and religion on the one hand, violence and arbitrariness on the other? – But does not the suspicion suggest itself that even the last word of reason is not freedom but violence, arbitrariness, and assurance? The question arises whether there is not another alternative to think the difference between reason and unreason without at the same time identifying the two. The thesis to be substantiated is that such a model of self-critical rationality can be found in Nietzsche.

IV. The Reason of the Rabble: Nietzsche

Nietzsche is something like the Diogenes of modern philosophy: like the latter, he walks across the marketplace of modern ideas and reveals their hollowness by means of dialectical finesse and polemical gesture. He is regarded as an advocate of radical subjectivism – and thus, for example in the works of Lukács and Habermas mentioned above, as the most important intellectual pioneer of fascism. “[F]acts are just what there aren’t, there are only interpretations,” he writes in his notes from 1887[20] and thus seems to be a mastermind of Trump’s “post-factual” understanding of politics and corresponding ideologues like Hughes. The child is regarded by him as the highest level of the mind[21] and he levels the difference between childhood and adulthood, fiction and truth.[22]

Nietzsche is undoubtedly an important icon of the “alt-right” movement and also of the “new right” – but for Trump and even his chief strategist Bannon, Nietzsche is not even suitable as a keyword giver. They have never made any public statements about Nietzsche; instead, they both claim to be conservative in a rather classical sense and refer positively to the Bible and traditional values. If you enter the search term “Nietzsche” on Bannon’s, some hits appear, but in these articles, Nietzsche is either evaluated neutrally or described as a mastermind of prevailing “postmodern relativism.” The question would be whether Trump, if not consciously or at least publicly, is at least an objective Nietzschean, insofar as he embodies a type that is already pre-figured in Nietzsche’s philosophy. Is Trump, then, a “child” in Nietzsche’s sense, even a superhuman in the sense of Napoleon or Cesare Borgia? Does he pursue “great politics” free from (slave) moral constraints?

In order to better understand and classify Nietzsche’s critique of truth, it is helpful to look at the above-quoted sentence from his notes in its context – a sentence that seems to be repeated almost mantra-like in the current U.S. debate concerning Trump and Nietzsche:

“Against the positivism which halts at phenomena – “There are only facts” – I would say: no, facts are just what there aren’t, there are only interpretations. We cannot determine any fact “in itself”: perhaps it’s non­sensical to want to do such a thing. “Everything is subjective,” you say: but that itself is an interpretation, for the “subject” is not something given but a fiction added on, tucked behind. –

Is it even necessary to posit the interpreter behind the interpretation? Even that is fiction, hypothesis. Inasmuch as the word “knowledge” has any meaning at all, the world is knowable: but it is variously interpretable; it has no meaning behind it, but countless meanings. “Perspectivism”. It is our needs which interpret the world: our drives and their for and against. Every drive is a kind of lust for domination, each has its per­spective, which it would like to impose as a norm on all the other drives.”[23]

At first, it’s noticeable that Nietzsche formulates the sentence as a response to a certain position, which he calls “positivism” – and this, moreover, in the subjunctive. Thus, it is by no means to be read as a simple thesis, but rather as an anti- and hypothesis. This “positivism” claims the following: there are clearly discernable facts in the world, which are directly accessible to consciousness without further ado. The special thing about Nietzsche’s response is, of course, that he also treats the “subject” as such an illusionary “fact”: even the subject must still be seen as fiction. A subjectivism that regards the world as a meaningless sea of isolated facts that should be interpreted at will is only the flip side of a naïve realism that presents facts as last certainties. Both ideas are abstractions of how real knowledge works: before any conscious, reflective interpretation, we have always already interpreted the world through our unconscious impulses. If we are not in the mode of reflection, we do not see “facts” and we’re not “subjects,” but rather playing children who experience the world in a very naïve way according to our needs.

The delicate, often raised question that arises here is, of course, why that conception of knowledge should be less “a fiction added on” than that of the positivist or subjectivist. However, Nietzsche concedes that the world is “knowable”, “[i]nasmuch as the word ‘knowledge’ has any meaning.” Of course, meaning is now attributed to the word “knowledge” only, inasmuch as a drive corresponds to it, i. e. insofar there is a drive to knowledge. Such a drive undoubtedly exists, otherwise there would not be positivism, subjectivism, etc. In other words: the reflected, ‘adult’ attitude to the world, which implies subjectivity, objectivity, and facts, is indeed an imagination, but it is (of course) no ‘mere’ imagination. It too expresses a certain mode of access to the world; even more so: the epistemological considerations of this aphorism are themselves written in the mode of this access to the world. From the ‘adult’ perspective itself the knowledge arises that there is no knowledge. Knowledge as a mode of world access is therefore not fundamentally devalued; it is only discernable as one among many possible perspectives and is confronted with another one, which could be described as the ‘childlike’ perspective and which appears as a precondition of the ‘adult’ one, inasmuch as the adult perspective recognizes qua turn against itself, that it is always located in contexts of meaning not set by itself; and recognizes as well that it makes only sense because it arises from such a non-reflexive context of meaning.

This self-knowledge of knowledge is connected to a critique of a rationalist position, as it characterizes the entire philosophical tradition: reason is recognized as being nothing original, but something mediated. This also results in a relativization of the positive evaluation that the philosophers always gave to the ‘adult’ part of the soul: it is now no longer anything good as such (as there is now nothing which is ‘good as such’ any longer), but only something relatively good in relation to non-rational needs, which are neither good nor bad ‘as such,’ but that are simply there. But this also does not mean that reason as such is evil or bad: proceeding from certain driving constellations, reason may very well be good.

The main benefit of the ‘adult’ attitude to the world is obvious: a person who always acts according to his or her ‘lower’ instincts and who arranges the world according to them, will in practice fail in the long run, unless he or she is very lucky or has someone who takes care for him or her, even though he or she may have a short-term advantage over the more thoughtful reflective person by means of his or her childlike enthusiasm and determination. Reason would accordingly be the servant of the instincts, and its task would be to promote them in their flourishing.[24]  This, however, does not yet answer the question of which instincts it should be that reason should promote or suppress. With respect to this question it seems to amount simply to a struggle in which the stronger ones assert themselves, the weaker ones perish. Politically formulated, then, everything boils down to a pure power struggle, in which arguments and considerations only play a purely instrumental role – the question is then whether it would not indeed be better to give as little weight as possible to the drives in order to calm the power struggle and to consider all drives equally. We would then again be faced with the question of rationalism against irrationalism, only now against the background of a perspective that is no longer moral but rather benefit-oriented. And it would be completely unclear how one could build a bridge between the two perspectives, since taking the benefit-oriented perspective already presupposes that one has internalized certain standards of rationality.

“Perspective” is the key term that has already been dropped, which could help us to gain a fundamentally different understanding of the relationship between rational and irrational perspectives. In this regard, we should recall the famous passage in which Nietzsche articulates his concept of “perspectivism” most clearly:

“Assuming that such a personified will to contradiction and counternature can be made to philosophize: on what will it vent its inner arbitrariness? On that which is experienced most certainly to be true and real: it will look for error precisely where the actual instinct of life most unconditionally judges there to be truth. For example, it will demote physicality to the status of illusion, [ . . .] similarly pain, plurality, the whole conceptual antithesis ‘subject’ and ‘object’ – errors, nothing but errors! To renounce faith in one’s own ego, to deny one’s own ‘reality’ to oneself – what a triumph! – and not just over the senses, over appearance, a much higher kind of triumph, an act of violation and cruelty inflicted on reason: a voluptuousness which reaches its peak when ascetic self-contempt decrees the self-ridicule of reason: ‘there is a realm of truth and being, but reason is firmly excluded from it!’ [. . .] Finally, as knowers, let us not be ungrateful towards such resolute reversals of familiar perspectives and valuations [ . . .]: to see differently, and to want to see differently to that degree, is no small discipline and preparation of the intellect for its future ‘objectivity’ – the latter understood not as ‘contemplation [Anschauung] without interest’ (which is, as such, a non-concept and an absurdity), but as having in our power the ability to engage and disengage our ‘pros’ and ‘cons’: we can use the difference in perspectives and affective interpretations for knowledge. From now on, my philosophical colleagues, let us be more wary of the dangerous old conceptual fairy-tale which has set up a ‘pure, will-less, painless, timeless, subject of knowledge’, let us be wary of the tentacles of such contradictory concepts as ‘pure reason’, ‘absolute spirituality’, ‘knowledge as such’: – here we are asked to think an eye which cannot be thought at all, an eye turned in no direction at all, an eye where the active and interpretative powers are to be suppressed, absent, but through which seeing still becomes a seeing-something, so it is an absurdity and non-concept of eye that is demanded. There is only a perspectival seeing, only a perspectival ‘knowing’; the more affects we are able to put into words about a thing, the more eyes, various eyes we are able to use for the same thing, the more complete will be our ‘concept’ of the thing, our ‘objectivity’.”[25]

In the first half of this section an absolute intensification of rationality is described, which goes so far that in it even the basic categories of ordinary rationality negate themselves and in the end nothing more than a complete emptiness remains. It is the same movement of the self-absorption of reason that Nietzsche attempts to carry out in the posthumous fragment quoted above. An unusually strong will to power is cited as the psychological motif of this self-negation.

However, skepticism, driven to the extreme, renders possible something quite different: namely a perspectivist conception of knowledge – one, of course, that does not consist in the unconditional affirmation of a particular drive, but in the ability to take up several perspectives on a thing. This does not make the thing an “object” in the sense of the criticized classical epistemology, nor can it be grasped even approximately “objectively” (for there are an infinite number of possible perspectives on the thing) – but neither is the thing simply identical with the perspective on the world that is taken up in each case, otherwise taking up different perspectives would not be possible at all.

What is the value of incorporating several perspectives and thereby arriving at a better, if not more objective, understanding of the subject matter? Here, too, it is quite clearly about power, namely, on the one hand, the joy of having one’s own urges in check in such a way that one can also make other urges great in oneself than those immediately present; on the other hand, the increased power over the thing, which I am thus able to adapt to myself to a certain extent.

It is not, of course, about the accumulation of a larger quantity of “facts” about an object – but it is about the ability to recognize that, based on the same set of facts, quite different perspectives on the object are possible, which cannot be synthesized into a new, comprehensive overall perspective. One’s power expresses itself precisely in the ability to endure the contradiction between different views without rashly seeking to mediate them. After all, the child is not content with just one perspective, but what drives him or her is precisely curiosity and delight in new and surprising stories and images that allow him or her to see completely new, undreamt-of aspects of the world. So, there is something in the body ­– call it the will to power, curiosity or thirst for adventure – that drives the body out of itself, without any rational consideration of purpose, to transcend itself and to adapt to oneself larger aspects of what is not body – and to transform oneself at the same time.

In another passage in Nietzsche’s late work, he describes this attitude in somewhat different words:

“I will immediately put forward the three tasks that require an educator. People must learn to see, they must learn to think, they must learn to speak and to write: the goal in all three cases is a noble culture. – Learning to see – getting your eyes used to calm, to patience, to letting things come to you; postponing judgment, learning to encompass and take stock of an individual case from all sides. This is the first preliminary schooling for spirituality: not to react immediately to a stimulus, but instead to take control of the inhibiting, excluding instincts. Learning to see, as I understand it, is close to what an unphilosophical way of speaking calls a strong will: the essential thing here is precisely not ‘to will’, to be able to suspend the decision. Every characteristic absence of spirituality, every piece of common vulgarity, is due to an inability to resist a stimulus – you have to react, you follow every impulse. In many cases this sort of compulsion is already a pathology, a decline, a symptom of exhaustion, – almost everything that is crudely and unphilosophically designated a ‘vice’ is really just this physiological inability not to react. – A practical application of having learned to see: your learning process in general becomes slow, mistrustful, reluctant. You let foreign things, new things of every type, come towards you while assuming an initial air of calm hostility, – you pull your hand away from them. To keep all your doors wide open, to lie on your stomach, prone and servile before every little fact, to be constantly poised and ready to put yourself into – plunge yourself into – other things, in short, to espouse the famous modern ‘objectivity’ – all this is in bad taste, it is ignobility par excellence.”[26]

To give in to the stimulus and to deal immediately with all “facts” and arguments means precisely not to have one’s drives under control, not to have a particularly factual, free access to the world. The ability to see, however, is the precondition for all further intellectual faculties beyond this, for all rationality and virtuousness.

So it is not that certain people are resistant to facts and arguments out of malice – the problem is that they cannot see, that they therefore lack the calmness and self-control to not simply follow their immediate inclinations and jump at everything that corresponds to them in each case and on this basis immediately take action, but to first calmly consider the different possible points of view in each case and to act without pressure, and to act only then. It is not so much a question of harm being caused by rash action – to tame one’s drives out of fear of harm alone would itself still be a sign of weakness of will; rather, the will for self-control is to be seen as an end in itself, the motivation lies in the joy of growing in power.

Now this inability to see is indeed nothing that can be countered by arguments because “you do not refute an eye disease. […] The concepts ‘true’ and ‘untrue’ do not seem to me to have any meaning for optics.”[27] But at the same time it is nothing that would be a unique characteristic of these people. Rather, it is – as Nietzsche himself sharp-sightedly recognized – a general phenomenon of modern society: both sides of the political battlefield are equally blind in the sense that they are incapable of really understanding the respective other perspective – which would also mean to assimilate the possibly justified aspects at the position of the other and thus strengthen one’s own. Instead, the political debate turns into a battle for the clumsiest slogans and the most attention-grabbing posts and tweets.

What Nietzsche points out ­– not very different from Hegel for instance – is that irrationality is not merely a particular but a structural problem of modern societies. But, unlike Hegel and most other philosophers, he describes the problem as physiological: it is not a struggle between two ontologically different ‘realms,’ but it takes place on one and the same level; it is a struggle between different drives or drive constellations. These are not simply given statically but can be changed by education. So, what is eventually at stake is a new kind of education: an education for seeing.

V. Conclusion: For an Education Enabling One to See Far

The philosophical diagnosis thus relativizes the strict separation between the ‘party of reason’ and the ‘party of unreason.’ There are not simply ‘the good’ and ‘the evil,’ there is only a type of politician, characterized by a certain weakness of the will, which stems from a cultural milieu that is characterized by such a degeneration: the postmodern Facebook world receives the president it deserves. This is said without malice, but is rather meant to call for not simply viewing Trump’s presidency from a moral point of view, but rather to take Trump seriously as a symptom of a much more fundamental social tendency, which could be described with Nietzsche as massive “desubjectivization and depersonification”[28]. A tendency that would have to be countered by fundamental reforms in the educational system, not simply by hostility or moral appeals. The problem, then, is not the “subjectivism” of Trump and his followers, but rather the fact that they are not actual subjects.

Thus, the answer to the question “What shall we do, if arguments fail?” cannot be an immediate instruction – this would be just the symptom of a weak, hasty, short-sighted mind. It can only consist in raising a more fundamental question: How can we change not only our educational but also our cultural institutions, our social and political order, so that the type of Trump can no longer emerge? A first step would be to exercise oneself in being able to see far and not to prematurely think of oneself as being on the side of the ‘good,’ ‘adult’ and ‘reasonable’: a bit of Trump is in all of us.

© Paul Stephan

Paul Stephan studied philosophy, sociology, and German language and literature in Frankfurt am Main and Dublin from 2008 to 2015. He is doing his doctorate at the University of Freiburg under the supervision of Andreas Urs Sommer and Hartmut Rosa on Kierkegaard’s, Stirner’s, and Nietzsche’s concepts of authenticity. He has published on various aspects of Nietzsche’s philosophy, Marx, the history of Nietzsche’s political reception, and the philosophy of the beard.

* This is a slightly altered translation of this essay done by Reinhard Müller and the author himself. It has originally been published under the title“Sehen lernen. Trump, Nietzsche und die neusten Medien“ in: Markus Kotzur (Ed.): Wenn Argumente scheitern. Aufklärung in Zeiten des Populismus, Münster 2018, pp. 33–52. In 2017, it won the second prize of the scholarly essay prize of the Forschungsinstitut für Philosophie Hannover as a response to the question “What shall we do, if arguments fail?”.
[1] Patrick Healy: Donald Trump Says He’s Not Surprised by Meryl Streep’s Golden Globes Speech, in: The New York Times, 09.01.17, (accessed 10/15/2020).
[2] Donald J. Trump: Remarks of President Donald J. Trump – As Prepared for Delivery. Inaugural Address, (accessed 10/15/2020).
[3] See e. g. Troy Griggs / Tim Wallace / Karen Yourish: Trump’s Inauguration vs. Obama’s: Comparing the Crowds, in: The New York Times, 01.20.17, (accessed 10/15/2020).
[4] See Dan Evon: Matters of Size, (accessed 10/15/2020).
[5] Timothy B. Lee: Trump claims 1.5 million people came to his inauguration. Here’s what the evidence shows, (accessed 10/15/2020).
[6] Elle Hunt: Trump’s inauguration crowd: Sean Spicer’s claims versus the evidence, in: The Guardian, 22.01.17, (accessed 10/15/2020).
[7] Ibid.
[8] Aaron Blake: Kellyanne Conway says Donald Trump’s team has ‘alternative facts.’ Which pretty much says it all, in: The Washington Post, 22.01.17, (accessed 09/08/2017)
[9] See Chloe Farand: Donald Trump did not write his inauguration speech, White House admits., in: Independent,22.01.17, and Linda Qiu: Fact-checking Donald Trump’s inaugural address, in: Politifact, 20.01.17. (both accessed 10/15/2020).
[10] Blake, Kellyanne Conway says.
[11] See Jean Baudrillard: La Guerre du Golfe n’a pas eu lieu, Paris 1991.
[12] Lee, Trump claims. (I have meanwhile been to Washington, D.C. and can only confirm this point from my personal observation while standing at approximately the same spot as Trump did.)
[13] Regarding the recent debate concerning the rabble see Frank Ruda: Hegel’s Rabble: An Investigation into Hegel’s Philosophy of Right. Martin 2011 and Dieter Thomä: Troublemakers: A Philosophy of Puer Robustus, Cambridge 2019.
[14] Jean-Paul Sartre: Anti-Semite and Jew, Paris 1948.
[15] Theodor W. Adorno / Max Horkheimer: Dialectic of Enlightenment. New York 1972.
[16] Georg Lukács: The Destruction of Reason, London 1980.
[17] Jürgen Habermas: The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity. Twelve Lectures, Cambridge 1987.
[18] Michel Foucault: Madness and Civilization. A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason, New York 2009.
[19] René Descartes: Meditations on First Philosophy, Cambridge 2018.
[20] Fragment 7[60]. Friedrich Nietzsche: Writings from the Late Notebooks, Cambridge 2006, p. 139.
[21] See e. g. the speech “On the Three Metamorphoses” in Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra (Cambridge 2006, pp. 16 f.).
[22] See e. g. Friedrich Nietzsche: Human, All Too Human, Cambridge 2009, p. 277 (Assorted Opinions and Maxims 270).
[23] Nietzsche, Writings from the Late Notebooks, p. 139.
[24] See e. g. already Nietzsche’s early writings On the Use and Abuse of History for Life and On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense, and the speech “On the Despisers of the Body” in: Thus Spoke Zarathustra (pp. 22–24).
[25] Friedrich Nietzsche: On the Genealogy of Morality. Cambridge 2007, pp. 86 f. (III, 12).
[26] Twilight of the Idols, Germans 6; in: Friedrich Nietzsche: The Anti-Christ, Ecce Homo, Twilight of the Idols, and Other Writings. Cambridge 2007, pp. 190 f.
[27] The Case of Wagner, Epilogue, in: Ibid., p. 261.
[28] Beyond Good and Evil, p. 97.

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