Tom Kettle and the War against Nietzsche

Tom Kettle and the War against Nietzsche

Tom Kettle, the brilliant Home Rule academic and demagogue, pioneered the war propaganda of Liberal Imperialist England in early August 1914.  When the European War started at the end of July, he was in Belgium buying guns for the Home Rule Army.

The war which he anticipated was war between Home Rule Ireland and the Ulster Unionist movement, which he had compared the previous year to “a nigger minstrel band”.  But that war was destined not to happen.  It was displaced by the decision of the Liberal Imperialist Government to join France and Russia in making war on Germany.

The apparently sudden decision to make war on Germany disconcerted the mind of Liberal England.  Though an inner group of the Liberal Party leadership, which controlled the major Offices of the State, had made careful arrangements for it, the Party masses had not been propagandised about those preparations, and about the need to destroy Germany.

Unionists had freely discussed the need to destroy Germany.  England was the new Rome.  It was the bearer of a civilisation which was destined to dominate the world Imperially for centuries to come.  But a calm civilising dominance required a monopoly of power.  It was not something that could be done in competition with a rival.

Christianity collapsed in the 1890s as a form of mass belief in England.  It ceased to be a medium of actual thought in the world.  As a medium of thought it was thereafter confined to private groups withdrawn from the world—that is to say, from politics. This was not a problem for the ruling class, or for the State insofar as it was in the hands of the ruling class. The State had declared itself an absolute sovereignty, independent of the world, in the 1530s.  That was the meaning of the break with Rome. The English breach with Rome was not caused by the development of a form of Christian belief in England that could not tolerate the vulgarity and idolatry of the Roman Church.  It was primarily an act of State, a political act. After breaking with Rome, and with the European civilisation connected with Rome, the English State made up a religion for itself as an ideology of State.

The State religion was not invented all at once as a coherent whole.  It was made up piecemeal over a number of generations and it never acquired spontaneous force as a medium of belief and thought.  At its best it was a form of Confucianism—of upper class manners which elicited lower class deference.  And it was preserved in this form for centuries by the State not allowing its Church to meet as a Church to discuss religion.

That was the State as a ruling class, with a Church conducted by Bishops who were gentry of the ruling class and who handled religion sceptically as ideology. But the middle classes became religious, and took the formal Protestant Christianity of the state in earnest as religion.  In the 1640s and 1650s they gained control of the State, tried to put believing Protestantism into effect and failed.

It was after this failure, and through experience gained by it, that the durable ruling class of what is called the Glorious Revolution came into being and made itself the State from the late 17th century until the middle of the 19th. During this long period, believing middle class Protestants were excluded from politics, but were given their head in market affairs.

In 1829 the ruling class Parliament ended the exclusion of Catholics under the threat of a mass rebellion in Ireland posed by Daniel O’Connell, at a time when the population of Ireland was half that of England.  The ending of the religious test was followed three years later by a reduction of the property franchise which opened Parliament to an upper layer of the middle class.  Further franchise reforms followed in the course of the century. Exclusion from politics preserved the religious belief of the middle classes during that century and a half, as they became wealthy by participation in the expansion of the Empire.  Their return to political Office after an absence of almost two centuries was accompanied by an explosion of public religious enthusiasm.  England today is littered with abandoned Churches built during those decades.  And a conscientious prudery flourished in which even table legs were covered.

The Whig Party, the Party of the great aristocrats who had been the core of the ruling class in the 18th century, became the party of middle-class Nonconformists who could not tolerate the sexual indiscretions of Sir Charles Dilke, Gladstone’s lieutenant, not to mention Parnell.

And then the belief collapsed.  This seems to have been due to the combined action of politics and science. Nonconformists believed in the literal truth of the Bible, and chastised Catholics for not doing so.  And they were of a scientific disposition, through engagement with technological advance in manufactures.  They put the Bible to the test of science, naively trusting that the two would confirm each other, and found it wasn’t so.  And, of course, engagement in the politics of governing a State like the British Empire was corrosive of belief.

The State was constructed by sceptics manipulating belief.  The ruling class did its best to shield the beliefs of the middle classes by running the world for them.  The illusions of the people were dear to them.  But the middle classes didn’t know what was good for them.  They were not content to be active and prosperous in a world that was laid on for them.  They insisted on forcing their way in, behind the scenes, in order to make things even better.  They insisted on biting the apple of knowledge.  Their Paradise vanished.

The generation who held strong Protestant belief in the middle of the 19th century was also the generation in England that conclusively established its economic dominance in the world.  This was signified by the repeal of the Corn Laws, for which the Famine in Ireland was made the excuse.  Free trade in corn did not actually save the Irish population.  That was not its purpose.  Its purpose was to free manufacturing capitalism in England from the constraints of the English agricultural economy by arranging for the world to supply the industrial proletariat with cheap food.  Very different measures would have been required to save the Irish population.  But Ireland was seen from London as being overpopulated already and, in that age of middle class belief, the potato blight was seen as a Providential intervention which redeemed the Irish economy from Irish improvidence, made it suitable for the investment of English capital, and removed the threat to English well-being of a densely populated Ireland, without settled ways, which might become rebellious at any moment.

Free-trading Capitalism, based on Naval and industrial dominance, was established by the enfranchised Protestant middle class in the 1840s.

There was a moment two centuries earlier when believing Protestantism in power had considered establishing the Mosaic Law in England, and abolishing the misnamed Common Law, which was the law of the gentry.  Mosaic Law allowed for market activity but would prevent its consequences from getting out of hand and overturning society by cancelling debts at the end of two generations.  In such a system the gentry would wither away.  But Cromwell was overcome by a conviction that without its gentry England would not be England.  And the Puritan State had come to understand that it was viable only with Cromwell as its “Protector”.  So there was no rebellion of the faithful when he dispersed the Parliament that was seriously intent on reproducing Jerusalem in England while it was still green and pleasant.  That left the Puritan revolution without a purpose.  It dragged on for a few years as a mere fanatical dictatorship until Cromwell died and things fell into disarray.

One of the Puritan generals then took matters in hand.  General Monk brought back the King, and himself became the Duke of Albemarle.  The gentry then flourished for a couple of centuries.  They constructed a state whose stability lay in the fact that they were its authoritative ruling class rather than in any constitutional forms.  They constructed a far-flung Empire.  And they fostered a capitalist economy powered for more than a century by the Slave Trade, in which England became the dominant trader in 1714, and the industrial slave labour camps on the Caribbean.

The Protestant middle class, excluded from power, were active entrepreneurs in the interconnected development of the Empire and the home economy.  Though remaining Old Testament Protestants in other respects/, they discarded the ideal of a Mosaic economy.

When slavery had served its purpose of primary accumulation of capital, it was abolished with appropriate feelings of virtue.

The Protestant middle classes came to power in the mid-19th century as the capitalists of a strong market economy with ramifications all around the world.  They had constructed that economy, but had done so under the guidance of the ruling class State.  They forced their way into Parliament in 1832 by threatening financial rebellion.  Then in 1848 they subverted the power of the old ruling class of landowners by repealing the Corn Law.  Government then increasingly became middle class business.

The Empire had been constructed by the old ruling class, by means of its European policy of balance-of-power.  That meant that European Powers should be kept more or less evenly balanced against each other and kept in conflict, with English intervention being decisive in the outcome.  The Empire was constructed through a series of balance-of-power wars from the 1690s to 1815.

When the Protestant middle class came to power, English manufacturing capitalism and the Royal Navy were the dominant power in the world.  Free Trade became the ideology of the new order of Manchester Capitalism and Liberalism.  The balance-of-power wars—by means of which the arrangement of the world in which Free Trade was enormously advantageous to England was brought about—were condemned.  Free Trade was imagined as being inherently productive of peace and prosperity, and being capable of extension without war.  That was the ideology of Cobden and Bright, which was absorbed into Gladstone’s Liberal Party.

It was the ideology of the believing Protestant middle classes when they came to power in the middle of the 19th century.  It was curiously interwoven with their Protestant belief.  And it was a residue that remained with them in the early 20th century after otherworldly belief had withered.

The Liberal backbenches remained predominantly Gladstonian in outlook in 1914.  A balance-of-power war in Europe was something they could not support.  But the leaders of the Party declared a war which looked suspiciously like a balance-of-power war.  And it was of course a balance-of-power war for which the Government, supported by the Unionist Opposition, had been making quiet preparations for a number of years.

The Tories understood the world in different terms.  They knew very well that Free Trade was not a universal panacea for prosperity and peace.  It had been advantageous to England in particular circumstances, but those circumstances were changing.  And the Pax Britannica with which it had been associated was a peace dependent on overwhelming British power.

The Tories had merged to form the Unionist Party with a group that split from the Liberal Party in the 1890s—the social reformist and Imperialist Liberals led by Joseph Chamberlain, who was the only manufacturing capitalist at the top level of politics.  The Unionists understood the world in terms of conflict of interest which had to be resolved in one way or another—as distinct from half-secularised millenarianism of the Gladstonian backbenches.

But the Unionists were not in power when the moment came to put the war plans into effect.  They were in total opposition to the Government on the Irish Home Rule issue and had carried that opposition to the brink of civil war.  If they had been in power, they might have prosecuted the War as a necessary means of resolving the economic conflict of interest that had arisen with Germany to Britain’s advantage.  As it was, they made a brave effort to present it in these terms.

But the Liberals were in power, and the inner group in the Liberal leadership saw the need for a balance-of-power war against Germany.  They declared war at the appropriate moment, though they understood that feeling on the backbenches was strongly against.  And they knew above all that the War must not be presented in balance-of-power terms.

The inner group of Liberal Imperialists which had gained control of the Party consisted of Asquith, Lord Grey and Haldane—Prime Minister, Foreign Secretary, and the War Minister who had prepared the Army for European War but was now Lord Chancellor.  None of them was a powerful demagogue, and demagoguery was required.  But the Liberal Imperialists did their duty though expecting resignations from the Government and rebellion in the back-benches.  They sent the Empire to war, with Unionist support.

And then the demagoguery was supplied from an unexpected quarter:

“…now that the lightnings have been released, what is the stake for which we are playing?  It is as simple as it is colossal.  It is Europe against the barbarians…  The  ‘big blonde brute’ has stepped from the pages of Nietzsche out on to the plains about Liege…”

That was John Redmond’s firebrand, Tom Kettle, in the main Liberal newspaper, The Daily News.  He cut through all the disabling complications of the middle class Liberal mind when presented by its own Government with what looked like an old-fashioned balance-of-power war in Europe—the one thing that in its post-Christian mode it was clearly committed against.  This new war bore no real resemblance to those old wars that they abhorred.  It had nothing to do with Imperial Power.  It had to do with the saving of civilisation from a barbaric force, a philosophy of evil, that had gained control of a new European state and with Mephistophelian energy was committed to laying waste the civilisation that Europe had constructed during its fifteen centuries of Christianity.

The post-Christian middle-class English Liberals lapped it up.

They knew in their hearts—or in the rudimentary sense of political prudence which underlay their intellectual hubris—that they were fundamentally beholden to the Imperial State, which had in fact become their State, and that they could not stand against when it went to war, as their great forbear Charles James Fox, had done in the Great War on France, in the days when there was a ruling-class which tended to affairs of State leaving middle-class liberal idealists free to nourish their ideals if they had a mind to.  Those days had gone.

The Editor of the other great Liberal paper, the Manchester Guardian as it was then, C.P. Scott, said as much.  In late July 1914 he sensed what his friends in the corridors of power were going to do and he argued against it.  But, on the eve of the declaration of war, he said that tomorrow all argument must cease.  The British Empire at war must be supported.  His paper must publish war-mongering hate of Germany.  He found this distasteful to do himself so he delegated the writing of war-editorials to his Assistant Editor, C.E. Montague—another Irish Home Ruler.

Montague followed Kettle’s lead: “The German campaign of barbarism in Belgium is simply Nietzsche’s bookish dream of a conquering pitilessness put into practice”  (Manchester Guardian, 13 October 1914).

In his pioneering article, which set the pattern of the war propaganda with which the world was deluged for the next four and a half years, Kettle explained:

“I do not wish in any way to exaggerate.  France has her corruptions.  But the whole set of her thought even when it abjured Christian ‘illusions’ was towards solidarity, towards reasonableness and co-operation.  Russia has her vile tyrannies.  But from all Russian literature there comes an immense and desolating sob of humility and self-reproach.  Great Britain has not yet liquidated her account with Ireland, nor altogether purified her relations with India and Egypt.  But Great Britain does not, at any rate, throw aside all plain, pedestrian Christian standards as rubbish.  In the Rhineland too, and in the south there are millions of hearty men and women not yet Prussified, and who still think it possible that there may exist a Being greater in some respects than the Imperial Kaiser.  But all the central thought of Germany has been for a generation corrupt.  It has been foul with the odour of desired shambles.

“The issue, then, is Europe against the barbarians…”

The story was that the mind of Germany had been poisoned by the Prussian State which had adopted Nietzsche’s philosophy.

Germany had been the battleground of Europe during the centuries when it existed as a multitude of petty kingdoms.  (They were reduced to fifty at the Congress of Vienna at the end of Britain’s Great War on France in 1815.)

The Prussian State was the only State of the modern kind amongst the 50.  In the early 19th century it was much admired in nationalist Ireland as a Protestant state in which there was religious freedom, and for its land reform.  In the course of the next half-century it exerted a gravitational pull on many of the other German states and expanded territorially without war.

It fought two small wars in the 1860s, one against Denmark over the disputed territory of Schleswig-Holstein and the other against the Austrian Empire over precedence in the loose German Confederation.  Then in 1869 the French Empire made war on it with the object of disrupting the process of unification, but the effective Prussian defence actually led to the completion of the unification.

Nietzsche was then a young Professor at Basel in Switzerland—a historian of the meanings of words.  He served as a stretcher-bearer in the war of defence against France, but he subsequently saw the new German State as the antithesis of what he understood Germany to be.  And he became a Francophile even in music, preferring Bizet to Wagner.

There is certainly a lot to be said for French music.  Messager’s Veronique is the most delightful Opera ever written:  marvellous froth from beginning to end, and all about nothing much.  And Carmen has its moments too.  But Nietzsche’s judgment against Wagner in favour of Bizet can only be regarded as aesthetic perversity caused by political resentment.  Wagner wrote the only Opera about civilisation that I know of, The Mastersingers, which is about the bourgeoisifying of an aristocrat—the civilising of an aristocrat.

But that’s of no consequence.

Nietzsche and Wagner have been made a pair, like Voltaire and Rousseau, and they are the spirit of Prussianism, even though the one was made possible by Switzerland and the other by Bavaria.

Kettle did not trouble to explain when and how Nietzsche was woven into the political culture of Prussia.  Nor did Oxford University when giving official status to Kettle’s revelation in Oxford War Pamphlet No. 65, Fighting A Philosophy:

“Some people who profess to know Germany well are trying to make out that the temper of the ruling caste has not been influenced in any considerable degree by Friedrich Nietzsche…  Nevertheless the exact agreement between the precepts of Nietzsche and the policy and practice of Germany cannot possibly be a matter of chance…  In many cases, no doubt, it would also be possible to find texts of an opposite tendency…  But the dominant ideas of his philosophy… are precisely those which might be water-marked on the protocol-paper of Germany diplomacy and embroidered on the banners of German militarism.”

The writer, William Archer, an early collaborator with G. B. Shaw in the writing of a play, does not illustrate the coincidence between Nietzsche’s philosophy and German foreign policy. It can be assumed that this is because he could not find any.  His case depends on the general observation that Nietzsche was a stimulating writer:

“He recklessly flung forth wave after wave of thought:  those waves which were tuned to harmony with the pervading vibrations of the national spirit carried the message far and wide;   those which were not keyed to the right pitch dissipated in space…

“A new philosophy may be a more powerful enemy than all the navies in the world…”

“That Nietzsche was a man of genius there is no doubt.  He had flashes of amazing lucidity.  He had a disintegrating intellect of such an abnormal power that at last it disintegrated itself…  But one gift he never possessed… the gift of sanity.  His attitude to life is thoroughly morbid, his reading of its laws essentially mad;  and his mad philosophy was at once an effect and a very potent cause of that German madness which is convulsing the world.

“What a calamity that this national aberration should have found a man sympathetically aberrant to interpret and and intensify it!  In a very real sense, it is the philosophy of Nietzsche that we are fighting…”

And it was Home Rule Ireland that revealed to Oxford University the true nature of England’s new enemy, which made it necessary to deal with him mercilessly, as it had never dealt with its normal enemies.

Earlier wars had been contests of strength over conflicts of interest and had been concluded by settlements with the enemy.  But this was a war against an evil madness which must be concluded not with a settlement but with hangings:

“If justice between peoples has any meaning, then somebody has got to be hanged for Visé.  Somebody has got to be hanged for Louvain.  All the other public crimes that have sent Europe shuddering back to barbarism have got to be liquidated in due retribution”

—as Kettle wrote in the Daily News of 12th September 1914.

And so it was in 1919.  There was no settlement, only retribution.  Though the Dutch unconscionably refused to hand over the Kaiser for hanging.

After the War Clive Bell remembered it all in a book called Civilisation, dedicated to Virginia Woolf:

“Since from August 1914 to November 1918 Great Britain and her Allies were fighting for civilization it cannot… be impertinent to enquire what precisely civilization may be.  ‘Liberty’ and ‘Justice’ have always been reckoned expensive words, but that ‘Civilization’  could cost as much as I forget how many millions a day came as a surprise to many thoughtful tax-payers.  The story of this word’s rise to the highest place amongst British war aims is so curious that, even were it less relevant, I should be tempted to tell it…

“If I remember right, England entered the war because Germany had violated a treaty, it being held that a European war was preferable to an unavenged injustice—fiat justitia, ruat caelum, let justice be done through it bring the house down.  The unqualified acceptance of this formidable doctrine may well have aroused in reflective minds a sense of insecurity, which sense may have induced those publicists and politicians who had to justify to chapel-goers and liberal newspaper readers our declaration of war to back the moral with a religious motive.  Whatever the cause, that was what happened.  Someone… struck out the daring figure—’The Cross versus Krupps’.  And as from the first the newspapers had welcomed the war as Armageddon, it stood to reason that Kaiser Wilhelm II was Antichrist…  And yet, remembering His Imperial Majesty’s engaging habit of pressing into the hands of young ladies a little book called Talks with Jesus, some of us found the identification unconvincing…  And was it prudent to involve the God of the Christians too deeply in a quarrel where French infidels, Japanese miscreants, Moslems and Parsees from India, and cannibals from Senegal, were banded against that pillar of the Catholic Church, the late Emperor of Austria.  So, just when we were beginning to wonder whether the war could be exactly described as a crusade, some cautious and cultivated person, a writer in The Times Literary Supplement I surmise, discovered that what the Allies were really up against was Nietzsche…”


There they go again, these Celtophobe English, cheating us out of our major contribution to world history in the 20th century!  It wasn’t a cultivated person in the TLS.  IT WAS TOM KETTLE who switched the doubtful War into a heartfelt crusade for the only half-believing chapel-goers!

Maybe I should explain what a chapel-goer is, because I was well advanced in years before I understood.  In Boherbue long ago there was a Chapel.  It was also a Church.  I thought the names were synonymous.  Then I discovered that in proper English Chapels were the meeting-houses of Christian dissidents, while Churches were where members of the State religion went.  And now I notice that, during my absence from Boherbue, the word Chapel has fallen away and the building is invariably called the Church, though it is a dinky early Vatican 2 construction much more suitable to be called a Chapel, while the old Chapel accorded much more with one’s idea of a Church.  I don’t know what this signifies, if anything.

In England the chapel-goers were the principled and thrifty believers who availed of the secular opportunities arranged for them by the sceptically Christian aristocratic state and shunned its entertainments.  The wars through which England became Great Britain were conducted by the aristocracy with shiftless elements of the lower orders in tow.  But the war declared in 1914 by middle class Liberals who were rising into a pseudo-aristocracy could not be fought in that way.  The chapel-goers had become a major political power, and if the war, declared by Liberal opportunists who had escaped from their control, was to be fought, they could not stay at home virtuously as in the past.  And, in their condition of habitual Christianity resting on suspended disbelief, they needed a cause to fight for that was neither the one thing nor the other—a mind-boggling cause.  Tom Kettle supplied it—and since Clive Bell suggests so, I assume the TLS followed his lead.

Bell continues:

“The discovery was, at first, a great success. Nietzsche was a butt for the high outrageous mettle of every one of us.  That he was a German and a poet sufficed to put him wrong with the ruling class;  and since he was said to have despised mediocrity the middle and lower had some grounds for disliking him.  Down with Nietzsche!  Ah, that was fun, drubbing the nasty blackguard, the man who presumed to sneer at liberals without admiring liberal-unionists.  He was an epileptic, it seemed, a scrofulous fellow, and no gentleman.  We told the working men about his being the prophet of German imperialism, the poet of Prussia and the lickspittle of the Junkers.  And were anyone who had compromised himself by dabbling in German literature so unpatriotic as to call our scholarship in question, we called him a traitor and shut him up.  Those were the days, the best of 1914, when France and England were defending Paris against Nietzsche and the Russian steam-roller was catching him in the back.

“And yet this holding of the fort against Nietzsche was not wholly satisfying either.  For one thing it seemed depressing to be on the defensive everywhere.  For another Nietzsche was so difficult to pronounce;  and besides it seemed odd to be fighting against someone of whose existence, six months earlier, not one in ten thousand had heard.   We wanted not merely to be fighting against things;  something we wanted to be fighting for.  For what?  Belgium seemed too small, not to say grubby (he means Catholic, B.C.), Christianity indiscreet, the balance of power old fashioned, ourselves improbable.  We longed for a resonant, elevating and yet familiar objective;  something which Christians and Agnostics, Liberals, Conservatives and Socialists, those who had always liked war and those who on principle detested it… could  all feel proud and pleased to make other people die for.  And then… came the fine and final revelation that what we were fighting for was Civilization:  and then to me this urgent query—And what is this civilisation for which we fight?’…”  (Civilisation, 1928, pp2-6)).

After that brisk opening, Bell carries on about civilisation for a couple of hundred pages without getting anywhere.  On page 244 he remarks that “The perfectly civilized are essentially defenceless”—which means of course that civilisation is impossible.

The practical meaning of civilisation is:  Us.  The Way We Are.  And what we are is something that we no longer know in this era of the War of Civilisations—the war of post-Christians and the Muslims we have failed to brainwash.  So let’s forget about civilisation.  When it became the watchword, the war was just about the war.  Having started it, Britain did not dare to settle it on any terms, because the financial dominance of Sterling, on which life in Britain depended, would not survive a draw.  It was an unnecessary war that became an absolute necessity—a matter of All or Nothing—once it was started.

Tom Kettle’s vision of Nietzsche played a part in getting it started well in those awkward first weeks.  No doubt another way would have been found to energise the chapel-goers for total war if this Irish gun-runner, with close ties to the Liberal backbenches forged by two years of intensifying conflict with the Unionists over Home Rule, had not been at hand with his own Nietzsche problem to put that spin on things in the English mass-media in the first days of the War.

The Nietzsche business was not just a matter of plucking a delusion of absolute evil out of the blue for mass consumption.  Clive Bell’s “one in a thousand” is actually a lot of people in a population of over 40 million.  Nietzsche was well known, for a German philosopher, among British intelligentsia.

What did he say?  Zarathustra came down from the mountain to bring the news to the people in the market place that God was dead;  and that he had looked into the eyes of life, and wherever he looked he had seen the will to power.  And what was man to do without God?  He was to develop through the will to power which gave purpose to life.

The death of God was a problem for English society, not for German.  In German academic life there was free thought which surveyed the world and wrestled with problems that were not (yet?) German problems.  In England there had been a great Revival of Protestantism when the chapel-goers were admitted to political power.  It had led to a collapse, amidst heated debates, and the triumph of Darwinism in nature and society.  In Germany Lutheranism had never been the destructive force on traditional culture that Protestantism, in its two waves under the two Cromwells, had been in England.  And Catholicism had not in Germany been put down by a powerful State for which Protestantism was a device of power, as was the case in England.

England, in the generation that straddled 1900, needed Nietzsche.  It seized on Zarathustra to be its Pilgrim’s Progress for Christianity in collapse.  It was published in English translation in 1900.  Then Nietzsche died at the age of 56.  It was set to music in England in 1905, the only work of philosophy I know of that was ever set to music.  It is a kind of Oratorio, called The Mass Of Life, and Zarathustra’s coming to terms with the death of God—O Mensch, gib acht [O person, take care]—has the strongest melody I know of in English classical music, which on the whole is a very poor thing.

In 1941, when England was making war on Germany again, and losing, it was published as an Everyman book, in which edition I read it in Slieve Luacra about a dozen years later—and was therefore very surprised when I later discovered that it was the book against which England fought the Great War, its malevolence being pointed out to it by a brilliant Irish Home Rule intellectual.

Official Ireland is currently going through a phase of Redmondite revivalism, with Great War militarism at its core, and is searching for evidence that Redmondism was a thing of consequence in the world.  Yet it has failed to notice the crucial part played by the outstanding Home Rule intellectual in transforming a vulgar war for Imperial dominance into a post-Christian Christian Crusade for the masses of lapsing chapel-goers of England.

The Home Rule block of 80 MPs made the War politically possible as a Liberal War by throwing their weight behind the minority Liberal Government.  And Kettle made it morally possible with the note of dogmatic certainty which he introduced into the moral flounderings of Liberal England. The impact of Kettle’s simplifying revelation on the shaken kaleidoscope of English opinion would have a Philosophy or History department of an Irish University devoted to it, if Ireland had an academic life worthy of its formal status as a sovereign state.  It caused England to forget itself for a critical moment, after which it never really found itself again.

Of course it got over the Nietzsche nonsense.  In fact it already knew that he could not be the philosophical source of Prussian militarism—supposing that such a thing existed.  That was made as clear as could be in Zarathustra“The state is the coldest of all cold monsters”.

Most of Nietzsche’s writing was done as a Swiss citizen who despised the German State.  And his intellectual peers were the Basel academics, Bachofen and Burckhardt.  Switzerland is not often thought of as a forcing-house of philosophy, but Basel was then. England got over the Nietzsche phobia of the Autumn of 1914, but not of the War which it facilitated.  It rediscovered what the pre-War edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica had already said:  “His revolt against the theory of state supremacy turns him into an anarchist and individualist”.

Nietzsche was not a State philosopher but a philosopher against a State.  And, as for the Will-to-Power, which he saw as characterising human life after the death of God (which he lamented),  an American commentator, (it might have been Mencken), couldn’t understand what all the British fuss was about, since all Nietzsche did was describe life in capitalism.

Home Rule Ireland incited Britain to real war on a fantasy object—Nietzschean Prussianism—in 1914, and made itself stupid as well as bloodthirsty.  James Connolly stood out of line, praising Nietzsche in The Workers’ Republic—but Connolly, after he became a household name in 1916, was quickly pigeonholed as a kind of well-intentioned working class simpleton of whose ideas no notice should be taken.  This was done by his warmongering Anglo-Irish Home Rule publisher, Maunsel.  It reissued his Labour In Irish History with a malicious Introduction by Daily News war-propagandist Robert Lynd, who had seconded Kettle in 1914. I don’t know that Nietzsche was again mentioned in Irish public life until Conor Cruise O’Brien listed him as one of the contributing causes of the Holocaust. (Kettle was a brother in law of O’Brien’s father). This required some fancy intellectual footwork since Nietzsche was what any decent Anti-Semite would call a Jew-lover.  I did not notice any protest against that conjuring trick.

John Minahane, provoked by Irish Times stupidity about Heidegger, is undertaking the Herculean task of educating educated Ireland in 20th century philosophy.  That is more than I could contemplate.

But I became familiar with Nietzsche in the mid-fifties in the pre-education culture of Slieve Luacra, and for that reason I found Heidegger useful when I came across him in the middle of the war in Belfast.  I will try to give an account of further adventures with Nietzsche in another article.  This one is to mark the centenary of the atrocity perpetrated by T.M. Kettle, Home Ruler, in the London Imperialist press on 10th August 1914.

Brendan  Clifford

Panta Rhei


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