Nietzsche’s Social Ontology: (Un)harnessing the Chaos

comments 6
coding / Deleuze / grand politics / guattari / individuality / instrumentality / Laruelle / Nietzsche / ontology / Politics / society


The individual is a chaos necessary to every political and social order, a chaos enveloped in a structural social machine. This chaos should be distinguished from a random distribution of intensities or an undifferentiated aggregate but instead should be thought of as overdetermined. From our point of view (against a flow of power that remains obscure in origin) this is precisely the problem that must be addressed according to the collective nature of the individual, including the individual’s own place in the social order at large.

From the other point of view, it is the individual that poses the problem to society—hence the horrifying solution of micromanagement wherein the individual-as-problem is solved according to algorithms that divide these ‘solutions’ to their respective function in the social body. And when we say body in this sense, we take the ‘solution-individual’ to mean precisely the transformation of the individual into a tool—the instrumental individual—that nevertheless, if we risk the metaphor, functions as a cell assigned to certain duties in relation to different organs (conceived as institutions directing molar quantities of power) linked to the Organism-State (the constituted Whole that literally exceeds its parts through its miraculation as surplus value, projecting a dominant image of repres(sive)entation). The problem with this view is at least twofold: first, the problematic of the individual cannot be solved from a hierarchical political position (without violence, even considered in terms of psychic/collective repression); and secondly, there are criteria upon which to decide where the Whole lies, because the Whole is precisely the illusion of the State as an entity or organism, when in fact the individual calls into question (if its problem is diagonally posed) the (de)stratification that a certain social body undergoes (through entropy and (planned) states of equilibrium).

The problem may not even be that of creating new values. It seems more appropriate to say that what is required is more like an ethics, which we conceive as the methods by which values are genetically traceable in their becoming and questioned in relation to what values can do—what their real effects (potential or actual) are and what types of environmental stresses or affects (social and physico-biological) combine to produce these values (values inherently related to nihilism, both negative and affirmative).

There are, in fact, a number of different ways of approaching the ‘problem’ of the individual. As Gilles Deleuze reminds us in his essay “Nomad Thought,” Nietzsche’s philosophy has (especially in France where the two strands are dominant) ceaselessly been synthesized with Freudianism and Marxism (for better or worse)<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[1]<!–[endif]–>. Deleuze argues that unlike Freudianism and Marxism (more their strands than the thinkers of Freud and Marx themselves), Nietzsche has opposed the ‘recoding’ of individuals into a framework beneficial to the state. For Freudianism, this involves trapping the individual into representations of the family (drama), and for Marxism, the ‘illness’ of the individual—caused by the state—is to be cured by the state (betraying behind the political (revolutionary) process the real goal of political (fascizing) normalization). Unlike these strands, Nietzsche’s type of philosophy encourages a ‘decoding’ of the individual in relation to society, one that is a ‘decoding’ in the absolute sense, for we have not been deterritorialized enough—or, as Nietzsche would say, decay (in both the individual and society) is an irreversible process that cannot be sidestepped but must be accelerated and augmented through a reevaluation of the coding (legal, contractual, institutional) process.

This train of thought can be traced through Nietzsche’s texts as well as recent French philosophical theory. Both Deleuze and Guattari in Anti-Oedipus and François Laruelle in Nietzsche contre Heidegger approach the prospect of a Nietzschean politics through an engagement with the questions of state formations—the former insist, like Nietzsche, that institutions and cultural guarantors (the state) must be injected with a little death instinct, i.e. political formations must always be mortal, or, in another sense, must guarantee the renunciation of their will to power (understood as the will to erect a stable being, reproduced through the molecular individuals that come to take on and be identified with the social roles and instrumental values through which the state guarantees itself). Like Deleuze and Guattari, Laruelle understands that there is both a fascist and a revolutionary side to Nietzsche, just as there are fascist and revolutionary readings of Nietzsche (we are all fascist and revolutionary readers of Nietzsche). His contribution, which we will engage with more fully later, is the singular undertaking to isolate a Nietzschean politics that is irreducible to the Marxist history of economy and production (thus undermining the quick readings that turn Nietzsche into an aristocrat, an elitist, a bourgeois, automatically nullifying any politico-revolutionary value in his text from the start).

<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>


<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[1]<!–[endif]–> In fact, Maurice de Gandillac in the discussion following Pierre Boudot’s essay in the Nietzsche aujourd’hui collection, argues that it might be better to refrain from permanently bringing Freud and Marx to bear on Nietzsche’s thought. In Daybreak section 206, we detect a strong resistance to (and overturning of) Marxist conceptions of class struggle. More on this later.

–Taylor Adkins

The Author

Please feel free to email me about anything and everything that's on the site. I love every chance I get to engage in stimulating conversation.


  1. Wonderful work, man! I’m curious about the juxtaposition of the two viewpoints in the beginning of the paper. Aren’t both of these views held at once, isn’t their co-existence precisely psychic repression? Isn’t collective repression also the simultaneous co-existence of the endlessly stratified individual and his unceasing effort to decode himself quickly enough?

    We don’t know how to be dangerous anymore. We think we’re being dangerous when we’re being complacent. And perhaps, we think we’re being complacent when we’re actually being the most harmful and irresponsible. Well, the decoding must go on. I’m with you in separating Nietzsche’s voice from Marx and Freud. Deleuze mixes the voices, but I want to say he mixes them well, critically and clinically; I would like to say his project spontaneously advances and challenges Nietzsche’s critique. After all, Nietzsche begs to be subverted, even to be abused and misunderstood and taken lightly — his work demands it, that we remember to be light and playful, even and especially when we are being the most serious… Again, great work, keep it up!

  2. Justin McDaniel says

    My possibly viable Nietzschean ‘ego’ interpretation, watch out ;-()

    Justin McDaniel
    September 19, 2007

    (115) The so-called ‘ego’ Pg. 115)
    “Language and the prejudices upon which language is based are in manifold hindrance to us when we want to explain inner process and when we want to explain inner process and drives”
    Contrary to the belief of many philosophers hoping to escape the shortcomings of metaphysics (at least as far as WWII destroyed all intellectual ‘assurance’)… During the great British logical positivist stage, Nietzsche brings a fundamental criticism to the validity of language in determining truths; that is, the validity of truths that correspond to mathematical or linguistic certainty. Philosophy itself is based in language analysis; accordingly language serves as the primary means for communicating meaning from one individual to another. It is easy to believe then that universal truths can be derived from language, and therefore that the universal truths we derive correspond directly to a ‘fixed’ concept of space and time. . Nietzsche correctly sees the pitfall in such a claim, since language derives itself from the need to fulfill drives. In other words, language is only the expression of desires, not the desires in themselves. It is drives that form the foundation for the formation of language, not the opposite. He continues: “ because of the fact, for example, that words really exist only for superlative degrees of these processes and drives
    “Anger, hatred, love, pity, desire, knowledge, joy, pain—are all names for extreme states; the milder, middle degrees, not to speak of the lower degrees which are continually in play, elude us, and yet it is they which weave the web of our character and our destiny.”
    This is revealing in terms of the will to power. The most profound of all states are essentially to be thought of as eruptions, as an overflowing of the more constrained, consistent drives that are constantly in play, even though they may be eclipsed by a momentary explosion of another drive. The network of drives that underlie and form our being are said not only to be unknown, they also are driven to a ‘destiny’ that is neither known or certain. In affect Nietzsche here asserts his determinist view quite frankly.
    “We are none of us that which we appear to be in accordance with the states for which alone we have consciousness and words, and consequently praise and blame; those cruder outbursts of which alone we are aware make us misunderstand ourselves”
    These outbursts of the will are now said to be the only knowledge that we have of ourselves. Yet they cause us even still to misunderstand ourselves? Must it then follow that it is only in great exaltation that we are to become aware of ourselves, even in a misrepresented, ‘special’ case? This seems to be justifying a leap into the Dionysian, for it seems that misrepresented knowledge is better than no knowledge at all.
    “Our opinion of our self, however, which we have arrived at by this erroneous path, the so called ego, is thenceforth a fellow worker in the construction of our character and our destiny”
    The ego here is understood as self-consciousness (a contradiction). The knowledge that we do have of ourselves, that stemming from this illusory self-knowledge is also complicit in the construction of the self. Nietzsche paints a grim picture here, considering that not only are we unaware of the forces that underlie our selves, we only erroneously gain knowledge of those drives through an intense outpour of a drive (and to that extent, all experiential knowledge is misconstrued in order to ‘fit’ into internal paradigms (serving our own ‘needs’) and also external paradigms (conforming the needs of the given social system). Then the knowledge that we believe we have about ourselves is unreliable as we float on toward a certain (though not predetermined) end. This shit is thankfully complicated, no?

  3. Justin McDaniel says

    oops. by “British logical positivist stage” I meant more “dogmatic rationalism:, to emperical models and such

  4. Justin McDaniel says

    Perhaps demonstrating various arguments and interpretations in Nietzsche would be more fruitful utilizing text as apposed to lofty generalizations such as : “the state”; a term that in itself would necessitate and explanation with regards to Nietzsche. Your a great writer and close, I believe, to hitting on some pretty great points, however perhaps a little more text elucidation and less reliance on the French interpreters is in order before we can start dealing with Nietzsche’s social critiques and corresponding ‘projections’, so to speak.

    Cheers buddy

  5. The passage of your writing I would like to comment on is this:

    ” ….and secondly, there are criteria upon which to decide where the Whole lies, because the Whole is precisely the illusion of the State as an entity or organism, when in fact the individual calls into question (if its problem is diagonally posed) the (de)stratification that a certain social body undergoes (through entropy and (planned) states of equilibrium)…”

    If one follows Nietzsche’s perspectivism, then certainly any notion of the Whole will appear to impose itself on other possible perspectives which are necessarily silenced. However, the idea that the State is an organism is regarded as relevant by only very few. If one looks at the greatest challenge to Nietzschean politics, the combined presence of the Ethics and the Politics of Aristotle, the possibility of a politics that is not simply imposed and an ethics that is not merely an display of forces becomes possible. As Aristotle writes regading the citizen:

    “ but there is also a sort of rule in accordance with which one rules those who are similar in stock and free. For this is what we speak of as political rule, and the ruler learns it by being ruled —just as the cavalry commander learns by being commanded, the general by being led ……. Hence this too has been rightly said, that it is not possible to rule well without being ruled. Virtue in each of these cases is different, but the good citizen, should know and have the capacity both to be ruled and to rule, and this very thing is the virtue of the citizen —knowledge of rule over free persons from both (points of view)… ” (Politics III *4 1277b5-15, P. 91, Carnes Lord)

    A citizenry capable of ruling and being ruled provides a dynamic that can,as you say, un-harness the chaos of the political by being moderated by the presence of political philosophy. In this respect Classical Political Thought is the most important challenge to Postmodernism.

  6. Justin:

    Self-knowledge isn’t contradictory. It’s just fake, a self-deception. If you’re searching for liberation, you won’t find it by reading a book. It’s an objective process of deterritorialization, of breaking apart the codes by tracing their historical lineage. It’s about seeing the future in the present. The philosophical challenge posed by Nietzsche is to make self-knowledge (of a role, a life, a people, an era) into something untimely, to make theory work against time and so work upon and through time in order to pierce through it and ourselves. Taking apart illusions to get back to the smooth material space is not enough! We also have to take apart the material world by a genealogical process of decoding nature/culture (i.e., without arbitrary divisions, only provisional ones)… Transformative knowledge stems from this critical (extra-)historical position which is finally able to evaluate, not merely to describe. Not unification but multiple extraction; critique has many sites of digging up and setting free subterranean flows. Criticism is archaeology: we unearth many dislocated networks of transit and exchange. It is only through this process of reconstruction that we suddenly find ourselves able to initiate change, no longer merely to criticize. I think you are even saying this: thought must start from a real reading, by unearthing actual history… The textual context alone is not enough for true realization. Context, like clarity, is always beyond us, and can never be finally achieved, only provisionally — like all forms of energetic engagement, criticism and diagnosis are continual processes of establishing the proper distance to an event or process, gaining a perspective. We desire a dimension of height, a sufficient vantage point for planning a strategic engagement. Thus to ourselves we eventually become fortresses; in order to gain self-knowledge we must be led in by secret pathways and mysterious passages to the underworld beyond surface appearances where all the real ‘activity’ is occurring…


    Is a political philosophy always a politicized philosophy? This seems to be the fuzzy issue with ‘postmodernism’ (though I really dislike the word, it means too much or not enough.)

    Can we talk about political rule without desiring it? I want to think we have to start unbinding our love for power in order to unharness chaos; our micro-fascist compulsion towards personal and social order ultimately alienate us so much we begin to desire our own oppression. Similarly I would generally tend to think (in this era) a push for Aristotle amounts to a push towards self-negation, not collective liberation.

    It is curious, though; that the capacity to rule involves being oneself ruled is an idea employed by Nietzsche to demonstrate the principle of differential morality, that the active ‘virtue’ of an individual is structural (position in an ordered chain) and creative (ground-disrupting, strata unbinding.) In order to have power, you have to be able to command. In a bureaucracy, no one is command; it is like being taken captive without knowing whether or what you have done, whom exactly is holding you or even where you are being held…

    I mean, I think we’re probably in the opposite, or even at the extreme limit of the classical political situation. The social architecture is full of holes, it’s made of holes; the conservative move is to try to plug all the holes, to stop the precious flow from leaking. But you can’t stop it, the rational choice is to accelerate the decoding process. Thus only when global capitalism is actually at its strongest will resistance begin to have a post-historical meaning… But is this also a conservative move in disguise? This is where I see your point about Aristotle really having a lot of vigor and force. Thus the challenge is precisely the degree of knowledge about oppression… But — when a desire for our OWN psychic and social oppression is being produced — etc…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s