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John Mandalios, Nietzsche and the Necessity of Freedom

Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2008. xv + 224 pp. ISBN: HB: 978-0-7391-1004-01. Cloth, $80.

Reviewed by Allison Merrick

It is widely assumed that there may be a tension in Nietzsche’s views concerning freedom. In particular, Nietzsche seems to deny certain views of free will (GM I:13) and warns against “the hundred-times-refuted theory of ‘free will’” (BGE 18). Nevertheless, he also appears to admire the sovereign individual––“the man who has his own independent, protracted will […] this master of a free will” (GM II:2)––as well as those who have forged a “free spirit” (GS 347). John Mandalios’ text Nietzsche and the Necessity of Freedom is a contribution to a growing secondary literature that seeks to render these ostensibly contradictory claims coherent. Mandalios seeks to establish two claims. First, he argues that the problem of freedom should be seen as one of Nietzsche’s foremost philosophical concerns. And second he claims that Nietzsche’s critique of certain conceptions of free will does not preclude him from positing a positive view of freedom. Accordingly, this work may serve as a touchstone for scholars interested in these growing debates.

Chapter 1 is principally a “hermeneutic interpretation” of Nietzsche’s views of freedom (2). That is, Mandalios attempts to render intelligible Nietzsche’s positive formulation of freedom and argues that such a view comes bundled with a particular notion of the will. He puts the point this way: “Nietzsche linked his concept of freedom both to will and resistance, arguing that it always comes at a cost: freedom has a cost because it is part of a more general economy of forces and expenditures. Its purchase only comes with forms of resistance and the defeat of an other’s resistance itself embodies a form of expenditure. To give over some thing necessitates power but it also requires a particular kind of expenditure” (2). In an attempt to further explain the relation between a positive conception of freedom and the will, Mandalios draws on Nietzsche’s own query and subsequent response in TI “Expeditions” 38: “How is freedom measured, in individuals as in nations? According to the resistance which has to be overcome, by the effort it costs to stay aloft.” Mandalios’ central claim is that Nietzsche’s positive formulation of freedom involves the following three constraints: “the will to self-responsibility, the willingness to sacrifice one’s own life for power, and, third, gaining mastery of the instincts” (10).

In considering the first of these restrictions, Mandalios argues: “The noble or free being is one who can bear the greatest responsibility and so not collapse under its onerous weight, as exemplified by a Caesar, Napoleon or Venetian aristocrat” (9). So understood, the first component of freedom involves assuming the “‘greatest responsibility’ endurable” (9).

The second facet concerns the role of the will to power and Mandalios seems to move between suggesting that the will to power is the will to “domination over ourselves and others” and arguing that the will to power is the will to overcome resistance (12). Consider the following passage:

Therefore, you could say that that the will to power is a way to affliction that remains inescapable for us. According to Nietzsche, this process involves our striving for distinction or put differently, a striving for domination. We value this domination over ourselves and others so much that even when it hurts us we can still sense happiness, because happiness is the feeling that power increases, that a resistance is overcome. This is where the martyr who feels the highest enjoyment by enduring himself. However, the martyr is a tragedy of a drive for distinction in which there is only one character which burns and consumes oneself.So in both cases where one inflicts one’s will upon oneself and upon others there is an implicit happiness at the site of torment. (12)

Mandalios suggests that the will to power may be expressed in “our striving for distinction” or “a striving for domination” as well as in the overcoming of resistance (12). Bernard Reginster, for example, has persuasively argued that Nietzsche’s conception of the will to power is rather more nuanced than simply our striving for distinction or domination. He argues that this sort of understanding of the will to power mistakes the “by-product or consequence,” in this case distinction or domination, of the will to power, for that which the will to power “consists of,” the very activity of overcoming resistance.[1] Hence, Mandalios may be correct when he argues that the will to power is best understood as the will to overcome resistance, yet his invocation of the notions of domination and distinction serve to obscure rather than clarify this complicated point. Accordingly, his argument for this constraint is not as convincing as it otherwise may have been.

Lastly, Mandalios thinks that the final restriction, of gaining mastery of the instincts, has the following significance: “to be possessed by the affects…is to be a slave, not a free spirit. A free subject is one whose spirit is free or ‘higher’ and this of necessity negates our servitude to the affects or other slavish morals, thus affirming mastery” (8). As such, Mandalios claims that freedom, as exemplified by the “noble or free being,” involves forming a hierarchy among divergent drives (8). By contrast, the inability to order our affective responses implies a state of unfreedom.

Chapters 2 and 3 represent Mandalios’ attempt to demarcate the terrain that the concept “necessity” transverses. Mandalios begins the second chapter in this way: “Overcoming is the condition of overcoming blind necessity—this is a necessary truth of the condition of freedom. In this chapter ‘necessity’ will incorporate the dictates of nature herself. To conceive human freedom is, for Nietzsche, therefore to ponder the extent to which human beings negotiate the limits of their own ‘nature’ and conditions of existence while simultaneously acquiring varying degrees of self-mastery, or, more accurately, self-overcoming” (33). Mandalios attempts to achieve these aims by reconstructing Nietzsche’s “philosophical anthropology of human nature(s)” (34). Accordingly, Mandalios claims: “We shall see that Nietzsche’s understanding of freedom presupposes a potentiality inherent within each horizon of the future and the kind of ‘soul’ mankind has developed historically” (35). The importance of history is further echoed in the third chapter in which Mandalios sheds additional light on the role of necessity by investigating Nietzsche’s “historical philosophy” (82). Here Mandalios offers a “civilization-analytic; and its task is to demystify the voluptuous unfolding of human natures in the complex plenitude of the world (‘earth’)” (82). As such, this chapter explores Nietzsche’s genealogical investigations into the origins of morality to show “why things are the way they are and how they came to be so” such that we may attempt to acquire a kind of self-mastery (91).

Chapter 4 takes as its principle object of inquiry the relationship between freedom and responsibility. In considering the interdependence of responsibility and freedom, Mandalios draws on TI where Nietzsche asks: “what is freedom?”—and answers “That one has the will to assume responsibility for oneself” (TI “Expeditions” 38). Hence, Mandalios argues, freedom, in this robust sense, “is difficult” to achieve “because of its demands for responsibility” (46). Further he argues that the sovereign individual may be viewed as Nietzsche’s ideal in this regard. Although Mandalios readily acknowledges that “contrary to most continental interpretations, the ripe ‘sovereign individual’ is what Nietzsche conceived as a ‘free spirit’” (103) his argument could have benefited from a systematic treatment of this issue. Christa Davis Acampora, for example, has cautioned against what amounts to “nearly unanimous agreement…that the ‘sovereign’ is Nietzsche’s ideal,” suggesting instead that “Nietzsche most certainly is not upholding what he calls ‘the sovereign individual’ as an ideal for which we should strive.”[2] Further, Brian Leiter has recently claimed that the sovereign individual should not be viewed as Nietzsche’s ideal.[3] Accordingly, Mandalios could have said a bit more in support of the claim that “the ‘emancipated individual’ as Nietzsche himself described the ripest fruit of existence is therefore not one emancipated from responsibilities but rather from their evasion” (16). That is, if, as Mandalios suggests, our “modern” understanding of freedom is “predicated on a capacity to make promises that in time may be fulfilled” then it seems as though we need a detailed account of why the sovereign individual should be viewed as representative of Nietzsche’s ideal of “freedom” (51). Further, if there is a compelling argument to be had, then we are in need of a cogent account of how the sovereign individual promises in this way, and in what sense the sovereign individual’s promises may differ from other kinds of agreements. In considering this latter point Mandalios writes that such promises are “trust exchanges of ordinary socio-legal intercourse” (176). Nevertheless, it still remains far from clear why these particular “trust exchanges” should be held up as Nietzsche’s ideal of promise keeping—or freedom.

Lastly, chapter 5 deals with the notion of irresponsibility, which Mandalios argues is an outgrowth “from what Nietzsche called the ‘instinct of revenge,’ an instinct that negatively pursues ‘a cause’ for a harm or injury done to oneself to attribute ‘responsibility' to someone (enemy) or something (gods)” (175). And there is much of interest here—notably, a treatment of the concepts of revenge and resentment (176-184).

Nietzsche and the Necessity of Freedom succeeds in bringing to the fore a set of constraints that may govern Nietzsche’s positive conception of freedom and of genuine agency, though it is not without some faults. On the production front, the text lacks careful copyediting and there are a few typographical errors (for example, “Clarke” for “Clark” (43, 77)). On the philosophical front, the book lacks a clear introduction.  This makes the text feel, at times, like a collection of independent musings on the topic of freedom rather than a sustained argument. Further, it is written in a complex style that may render the text inaccessible to certain audiences. And, finally, as above noted, it could have engaged more readily with recent scholarship. Nevertheless, Mandalios’ work will certainly serve as fodder for those interested in the vexing questions that arise when considering Nietzsche’s thoughts on freedom, agency, and responsibility.

University of Arkansas at Little Rock

[1] Bernard Reginster, The Affirmation of Life: Nietzsche on Overcoming Nihilism (Cambridge Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2006), 105.

[2] Christa Davis Acampora, “On Sovereignty and Overhumanity: Why it Matters How we Read Nietzsche’s Genealogy II:2,” in Nietzsche’s On the Genealogy of Morals: Critical Essays, ed. Christa Davis Acampora (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2006), 147.

[3] Brian Leiter, “Review of Janaway, Beyond SelflessnessNotre Dame Philosophical Reviews, June 3, 2008, http://ndpr.nd.edu/news/23543-beyond-selflessness-reading-nietzsche-s-genealogy